We moved house. That is where all this started, the house we bought was much bigger than our previous property and included another whole house on the side in the form of a granny flat, which is where granny lives so it is well named in that regard. The increase in the size of our house and having a whole additional adult human on site inevitably meant that electricity consumption was higher than we’d previously been used to. More than double, just about.
With that in mind, a few months ago we decided to look at how a solar PV installation might help us bring down those much higher electricity bills and, as the adverts kept telling us, the system would pay for itself and more.
The process has taken longer than we’d have liked, but in the end we’ve signed up to a system that we are happy with and it will indeed pay for itself and more over its lifetime. I was going to try and do the whole ‘we went solar’ blog post in one entry, but thinking about it I realised it would take more than just one session, I mean, you don’t know it yet, but there’s nearly 1500 words here already.
In this first bit I’m going to discuss the process of getting a quote, which can be much more ridiculously ridiculous than you might think.
Four quotes in to three.
We found there were two camps of solar installation companies. The first type is modeled on what appears to be a similar style as selling double glazing and is the reason we only ended up with three quotes and not four, which was our initial aim. The second is more like a traditional ‘we sell stuff you by stuff’ model, which I prefer.
Quote 1 – Would you like to go large?
I was cold called by a solar installation company, which as it happened was handy, they asked if I’d like a ‘no obligation’ quote from a ‘professional surveyor’ I agreed and a few days later a man turned up asking where my wife was. Bit odd.
Unperturbed by the lack of a wife at home he went on and on and on and on and on and on about the benefits of a solar installation. He showed me his electricity bills, pictures of his house and told me about an amazing store loyalty card and pack of free LED light bulbs that were included in the quote. So far, so very double glazing salesman. He put together a quote without so much as a glance at our roof, funny, but not too unsettling as the house and therefore roof is pretty big. 16 panels an inverter and all the work included came to about £9000.
Best of all during this quote was the call to his area manager (on speaker, naturally) to get an install code. ‘Can’t get government approval without them’ he said. Well, what would you know! They’d run out that day and only had the higher-tier codes left – this higher tier code meant we’d be getting black panels for a lower fee! But obviously I had to sign up there and then to benefit from this glorious stroke of luck.
The Green Deal loan was talked about a lot and even though I knew that particular government promotion was dead – he seemed not to. I didn’t mention that I knew the Green Deal incentive had finished, he insisted all the finance would be really easy because of it.
There wasn’t much talk about the efficiency of the system only to say that it was ‘the most efficient’ and ‘reliable’ available and as it was manufactured in Germany was of a much higher quality than panels from the far east. There was no evidence to support this other than a vaguely racist implication that Germany is better at making stuff than the Chinese.
After he’d gone I received a call from his ‘assistant’ telling me that there was a ‘massive backlog’ of applications for green deal financing and that it could take ‘several months to process’ he seemed nonplussed when I insisted there was no urgency and that I could wait, ‘Tesco’ he mumbled were ‘doing good deals’ and hung up.
Quote 2 – The ghost quote
‘Is your wife here?’ Again? I thought. Still, this one was more insistent ‘Legally I can’t give you a quote unless both house owners are present’ Legally? ‘Which law?’ I asked. Well, turns out there is specific legislation ‘from the government’ regulating the sale of solar panels. He seemed upset when I insisted that this appeared to me to be complete bollocks and that he could give me a quote or go. A little surprisingly he went, but not before he told me about the ‘specifically designed system with unique panels’ these would cost £12,000.
Quote 3 – Go local
A local company man arrived and didn’t even mention that my wife wasn’t there. The very first thing he did was ask to see the roof. So far so good. There was no hard sell and no mention of other systems’ performance, but what felt like an honest and open discussion of the best options for our house. There were two options that differed in price and complexity. The more expensive was for 16 panels and 16 micro-inverters, that is, each panel has a DC to AC module that then all feed together into the grid. The second and cheaper option was a 16 panel system with a ‘traditional’ single inverter setup where all the panels feed into one large DC to AC module before hitting the grid. The micro-inverter system was about £8000 with the single inverter price £1000 cheaper. This man knew the green deal was dead and was aware that the lack of any finance options was an issue for his company, but all the same the system was tempting.
Quote 4 – Cloudy with a chance of meatballs.
We were cogitating over the local installer and thinking about getting the more expensive system when my wife was told by a colleague that she’d just had IKEA round and they were good. Why the hell not we thought. I put my details into the website and a few hours later got a quote with the full price and expected returns.This seemed at odds with the experience so far, they never even asked where my wife was. The next day a man from IKEA (actually a sub-contractor called Hanergy) was on the phone asking if the quote was ok. Well, the IKEA system was the cheapest so far at £6000 and it had the same returns, but it was 30 panels not 16. Turns out that IKEA use a different type of solar panel that is rated at 120v and not 250v, which the majority of others use. Some sales obfuscation later and the sales pitch was: though you needed more panels they work more efficiently with lower light levels because of the lower voltage. The IKEA system used a single inverter module. The only difference with the IKEA quote, from the others, was that in order to have it finalised we would have to pay a £100 deposit for a site survey. *Shrug* we paid the £100 and a man turned up with ladder and measuring tape and a notebook. A few days later we had the survey returned and quote confirmed. And here was the true clincher for us – arranging finance took about twenty minutes – naturally, this will depend on your credit rating, but a 10-year loan for the total was sorted and, well, after a few days we signed on the dotted for a system from IKEA.
Our experience of getting quotes for a solar installation varied from laughably 1980s sales pitch to flatpack modernism, but I’m glad we got a few just to see. If we could have arranged the loan with the local company we might have chosen them, but the hassle of doing that and the fact they were a couple of grand more expensive put paid to that. There isn’t much chat online about solar panels that I’d put a great deal of trust in as, to a point, there’s not much to be gained or lost in the technology when you’re looking at a larger system. Micro-inverters, single inverters, thin-film panels, black-panels they’re all pretty much the same. Though a few forum dwellers seemed to have very strong opinions on the ‘right’ choices these were often based on the ‘this is what I bought so I really need it to be the best choice’ flavour.
If you’re looking to make a fortune from solar on your roof, then, well, you’re out of luck.
Can you smell astroturf?
It struck me when reading reviews online that many of them use similar or near identical language, which raised concerns in my mind. A number of times the phrase ‘multiple point of failure’ was used in relation to a micro-inverter system, but it didn’t seem to occur to these people that it would be unlikely for 16 inverters to break at once. Or, that if one breaks you still have 15 panels working, not something that would be the case if a single inverter system broke, then none of your panels would be working. Therefore a multiple point of failure system had its advantages. Still, one of the biggest factors on investing in our system was the ease of arranging finance and not necessarily the system.The generation targets and warranties were all much the same anyway, regardless of the system on offer.