Watch out for “Solar Cowboys” and Phoenixing!

Published: 16 August 2021

Solar power is a fantastic renewable energy solution for many Aussies, however it can be hard to find a quality installer with so much clutter in the market. Read on to learn more.

When solar power is used correctly, it can reduce your electricity bills for decades. However, there are low-quality solar products in the market, and many installers who are not qualified, often called ‘Cowboys’. You can even find companies who claim to be the leading solar installers in Australia, but they are just resellers who offer the cheapest panels available. These companies also rely on external contractors without any accreditations, to reduce their costs even more.

Incentive programs have been very helpful for Australian homeowners who go solar. However, there are also many companies trying to profit from these programs with no regard for their customers. For example, they may pressure you to buy an overpriced solar system that does not meet your needs, and then claim an incentive that is not subtracted from the price you pay.

Solar panels offer an excellent return on investment, and a typical payback period of less than five years. However, there are three important conditions if you want to achieve the best results:

  • Solar panels, inverters, and all other system components should be of high quality.
  • The installation must be completed professionally, and according to Australian standards.
  • You should look for a solar provider who will be available in the future, in case you need help with a warranty claim or other issues.

Phoenixing is very common among shady solar companies. They will simply close and reopen with a different name and ABN, avoiding claims for low-quality work under their previous name. In this article, we will give you some tips to protect yourself from these “solar cowboys”.

1) Check their track record online

Solar cowboys often show fake reviews and accreditations on their websites. However, you can look for solar companies in Google or Facebook, where they are open to the public for comments and reviews. If a provider has a long track record of satisfied customers, there will be evidence online.

When a solar company claims to be a CEC Approved Retailer, you can search for them by name on the Clean Energy Council website. You can even ask for the name of the person who will be in charge of the installation, and check if they’re a CEC Accredited Installer. Shady solar retailers will often show CEC logos on their documents and website, but you will not find them in the CEC website.

2) Request a professional solar assessment before accepting any quotes

Most solar cowboys have the same “business model”: getting the highest possible profit from you, and even from incentive programs. Since they want to sell as quickly as possible, they will often send generic solar quotes without home assessments. They will also pressure you to buy the system ASAP, especially if they plan to reopen under a different name when unhappy customers start to accumulate.

A solar power system can only be designed correctly with a professional site assessment. This is necessary to find the ideal areas for solar panels, and also to avoid shadows that reduce their productivity. A reliable solar company will also review your power bills, so they can size the system properly.

Solar cowboys are not interested in giving you a long-term solution, and they will not take the time for a proper solar design. Many of these companies only have a sales team offering a generic installation, and no technical staff – they can’t design a solar power system properly in the first place!

3) Solar financing options are not a proof of quality

Some shady solar companies offer financing options – you get a loan and pay $0 upfront, and then pay the loan with your savings. This works great when you get a professional solar installation, since the savings are much higher than the loan payments. However, a low-quality system will produce little or no savings, but you still have to pay off the loan!

Solar financing options may give you a false sense of security, since they create the impression that the company is trusted by banks. However, many solar cowboys are just resellers, and don’t have partnerships with financial institutions. They are simply referring you to a bank, and they can disappear overnight while you are left with a loan to pay. 

In cases where these solar companies are liable, they will simply use the phoenixing tactic to avoid legal and financial consequences.

4) Ask for Solar Panel Validation before they are installed

The Solar Panel Validation Initiative (SPV) was created by the Clean Energy Regulator and the Australian solar industry. All solar panels approved for Australia are registered individually by serial number, and they can be scanned with an app to prove they are original. Homeowners can ask their solar provider to scan the panels onsite, just before installing them, and any counterfeit panels can be detected right away.

Before accepting a solar quote, tell the provider that you will ask for validation right before the solar panels are installed. Any company that declines this request is probably using counterfeit products. On the other hand, a company that uses quality solar panels has nothing to hide.

Many solar retailers have already joined the SPV, including Instyle Solar.

For more, visit our product page.

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