Making the decision to investigate renewable energy technologies, and in the case of this blog PV, can be motivated by a number of factors. Whether you’ve had enough of the “Big Six et al” constantly upping their prices and want a bit of stability or if you’ve decided that interest rates on offer from your banks simply don’t stack up to those achievable with solar; everybody has their own reasons and in the majority of cases it’s a mix of quite a few. However, this mix is quite often very different from person to person and the importance of one particular driver can vary greatly with some holding self sufficiency at a much greater importance than financial gain, for example.

With this in mind it still surprises me that people are being “sold” an “off the shelf PV system” without the installer really considering the individual values held by that particular person. It is this approach that can frequently result in you ending up with a system that might tick a couple of the boxes, but just isn’t quite the whole package. Hopefully the following information will help you get that perfect fit.

1)      Research

I know this seems quite obvious, but it’s a really important step, as starting the process off in the right way is going to make the road ahead a lot smoother, less winding and all in all easier to negotiate. Firstly if you don’t already have a little bit of basic knowledge about the subject it’s going to be worthwhile getting up to speed with things. There are plenty of books out there, but a free and very useful option is the PV section on the Energy Savings Trust website. Similar explanations are available on installer’s websites, but at least with the EST you can rest assured they are not trying to sell you their particular piece of kit. Secondly research the companies you are thinking of inviting round to quote; YouGen obviously has a brilliant installer search function, as well as the Which? Local website. Both of these offer honest reviews of companies; both good and, often more importantly, bad. If you know someone who has had an installation already, ask them. If one of your neighbours that you don’t know too well has had an install, don’t be afraid to ask them either; you’ll find people are often very happy to talk about their experiences.

2)      The Survey

Once you have decided on the companies you would like to quote for the installation they should really be visiting the site to conduct a full and thorough survey. Quite often I hear of prices being given for systems over the phone, using Google Earth or similar to price jobs. This is fine for rough estimates but should not be used for a final price, there are so many unknowns to a system that can only be determined during a site visit, all of which will have a bearing on the cost, performance and therefore return and payback of your system.  A mechanic couldn’t give you an accurate price to fix your car by simply looking at a photo of it, neither can a PV designer price a system accurately without a site survey.

When the surveys have been booked it’s again a good idea to do a little bit of prep work before the surveyor visits. As mentioned previously PV appeals to different people for different reasons, so it’s really important that you know exactly why you want it and what you are looking for in a system. Once you know this, be honest with the person visiting you. Sticking with the car theme, you wouldn’t go into a dealership and ask for the best fuel efficiency when really you’re after the highest top speed. If you did, you’d end up with a car that would get you from A to B, but not in the way you want. This is the same for PV. A good installation company will have access to a range of panels and inverters and are able to tailor your system to suit your specific needs. Companies like SunGift who are not tied to a particular supplier have the ability to provide different panels and/or inverters for different scenarios; high efficiency modules can be used where roof space is limited and the total profit of the system is important, a short payback period can best be achieved by modules with a lower initial cost and although all panels must achieve pretty stringent environmental standards there are those that go above and beyond by using recycled silicon, available to those people that are particularly green motivated. Unfortunately there are still companies out there who only offer a single type of panel; quite clearly this is not going to be the perfect solution for you, your next door neighbours and the Smiths opposite if you are all installing solar PV for different reasons.

3)      The Quote

When all the systems and prices are in it’s a case of deciphering the information in front of you. This can be a bit confusing as you’ll likely have a wide range of different equipment and figures to work through. My best advice here would be to use the surveyors as a resource, ask them to critique their competitors offering.  A knowledgeable surveyor should be able to highlight important differences between them. Recently I was asked why a system I had suggested was estimated to produce almost half of the profit shown by one of our competitors, even though they were using the same kit. After a quick investigation it was clear that the competitor was using what we feel are pretty high assumptions about inflation and utility cost rises within their calculations. Another common occurrence is where other installers are selling kit from manufacturers that have gone bankrupt, which they failed to mention during their sales pitch.

Make sure you know who will actually be installing your system. A number of MCS registered installers are actually now sub-contracting the installation work.  Using your own install teams, as SunGift do, gives you a much better control over the quality of the installation and improves the bank of knowledge in the company. Ask for the qualifications or background of the installers, those that have been doing this for a while will have much better experience and can help a job run smoothly.

More expensive often means more comprehensive; if a company’s price is higher it can be because there is a lot of hidden value in their offering. Structural surveys, detailed bespoke system design, project management teams and comprehensive aftersales services often go unnoticed and are unfortunately most obvious in their absence. If one company’s price is higher than the others, tell them! Speaking to them may unearth some hidden advantages of their system or gaps in the proposals of others that you may have not considered. Don’t be afraid to discuss what you like and dislike about each proposal with your contact within the company. If you can be flexible in your needs then there may be some flexibility in price; using end of line stock or installing at short notice can sometimes result in a reduction in price. At the same time, be wary of special offers and reductions designed to make you “snap up” a deal without putting in some real research. Remember; cheap is a benefit you get only once.

By SunGift Solar