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Confused to say the least. Expert advice needed!!!

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  1. #1
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    Default Confused to say the least. Expert advice needed!!!

    Hi All,

    Am just starting to look at Solar, having finished spending money on all the other important stuff around the place and am more than confused. AND, the sharks are circling (i.e. I made the mistake of trying to get a quote before I really knew what I was talking about.)

    So, I am in NSW, have a 30 degree north facing roof, have power consumption of approximately 1000kWh for each summer quarter, and 3000kWh for each winter quarter. It seems that I can expect to generate around 1500 kWh per kW installed from most systems on the market. (About the same as Canberra).

    Since the super generous schemes have all gone away, It is hard to find out just what the benefits might be. In NSW is your consumption simply offset by your generation (at the same $) or are there still some "incentive"benefits?.

    If it is just $ for $ then the payback of 6 - 7 years for most systems makes you wonder "why bother". The world may change in that time (probably for the worse, of course).

    If anyone is up to speed on the situation in NSW I would love to get your understanding of the state of play. Any non NSW input is welcome also, of course.

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    I'm not sure what the rules are in NSW these days but:

    1. A 1.5 KW system should produce at least 2000 kWh per annum. Even in Tasmania you'd come close to that for a good site (no shade) and there's more sun in NSW than in Tas. That said, the key here is NO shade on the panels - check for things like TV antennas etc as shading just one panel kills the output of the entire system.

    2. Payback of 6 - 7 years is an awful lot better than you're likely to get with anything else you do around the house, including the decision to buy rather than rent in the first place. And that works out at about a 15% annual return on your investment (based on 6 - 7 years payback).

    Where else can you invest your money at 15% and pay no tax on the earnings at a rate of return that rises along with electricity prices?

    (Note - that 15% figure was based on your stated 6 - 7 year payback as I don't know what the actual NSW electricity prices are).

    3. In terms of the actual equipment, I would insist on buying an Australian / German / Japanese / USA etc made inverter (NOT a Chinese one) but for the panels themselves "made in China" is usually fine. I'm not trying to be racist here, it's just that Chinese inverters don't exactly have a good reputation whereas there are plenty of good quality products from Australia, Germany etc.

    It's worth paying the extra for a quality inverter in my opinion but I wouldn't personally choose to pay for premium brand (BP, Sharp etc) panels for a typical grid-connect household system (but of course you'd gladly accept top brand panels if you got them at a good price...).

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    Thanks Smurf. Our current rate is $0.26 per kWh (which went up from $0.22 a few months ago) and is the basis of the 6-7 year payback on a 1.3kW system that generates 2000kWh per year worth $520 and costs $3740. i.e. it generates about 25% of our current usage. I don't know what rule of thumb people use since I know of situations where people are throwing big money at generating almost all of their power this way. But 25% seemed to be a good place to start. Does the value of the property increase appropriately? I don't know but I imagine there is some $ (as well as psychological) effect kicking around in the wonderful world of real estate salesmen.

    The above outcome is similar for 1.1kW and 1.5kW systems according to Origin Energy figures. Origin have just taken over from Country Energy as our retail supplier and are offering a reasonably attractive two year deal of $x up front and $y per month for a number of different size systems. No details yet on the source of the components.

    Yes, an effective 15% return is pretty good, but it gets up my nose a bit to think that not long ago you could get $0.60 per kWh and the new State Government pulled the pin on it. At that rate the payback was only 3 years!

    I guess I am trying to get my head around the traps and pitfalls, who are good suppliers and who are sharks. Like most things, "what you pays for is what you gets". Like most people on the forum, with many jobs I reckon I can do it myself. The smart thing is to know when you can't and get someone who can. Although I spent a lot of time in the electrical contracting game, solar is outside my field of knowledge and so I am back in the pack with all the other "punters", thus your comments on the source of components etc, are great.

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    In my opinion, anyone wanting solar panels should first look at what their actual service supplier has to offer. Working with them, you know their reliability, and if you have any problems you have better access to them, and know they won't disappear a few years down the track. There are quite a few dodgy installers around. If you don't want to use your supplier, use a company that has been in business for several years, with a good track record.

  5. #5
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    Hmm.

    Does your $0.26 in NSW include GST?

    1.5kW Solar Kit !! 8 x 190W + 1.5kW Inverter CEC Approved! | eBay

    You could do much of it yourself, see the above link.

    However it would not really save that much.

    The current scheme in NSW may change again.

    As sub stations are having allot of problems dealing with all the solar feed in during the day.

    Good luck

    Pulpo

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    Thanks Ken and Pulpo
    Lots to think about. Just had a look at my bill... hmm, GST is added after the $0.26. That changes the payback by 10% doesn't it. Origin Energy (our retail biller) is offering a 1.5kW system for $4280 which is $1500 more than buying the bits as per the above link. How much hassle is the metering, is it all worth $1500 to pay for someone else to do it? (goes against the grain of all renovators). Confused before?.... what about now????

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    We went down the supplier path and put in a 3.2kw system with Origin in June, although we are still waiting for a smart meter from SP Ausnet. Power usage (net) dropped to about 25kwh per week. Origin gave a reasonable rate as we had previously put in solar hot water with them and the system came in at around $9.2K in 12 easy deductions (ouch!) from the credit card.

    I wouldn't install myself, you still need to get an electrician in and the appropriate inspections as well as a new meter in most cases. Once factoring in the extra costs plus the stuffing around I can't see any gain in DIY if you end up with long delays getting up and running. The inspector that checked ours off had done eight others that day and ours was the only one to pass, seems there is plenty of dodgy installers and he wasn't even interested in doing DIY because they are nothing but trouble in his words.

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    If you are thinking about do-it-youself, you have to take a few things into consideration.
    Ataching the converter to the panels and the switchboard must be done by a qualified electrician, or it won't be passed on inspection.
    If you fit the panels yourself, you don't have an installation guarantee, and probably not a panel guarantee. so if there ar any problems, you're on your own. One slip in the proper fitting, and you've lost the saving.
    I may be wrong, but you may not qualify for goverment grants without a certificate from an approved installer. Even if you can, have fun with the paperwork and waiting for your rebate.
    I would get the whole lot done, and save the hassles

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    Last I heard the NSW scheme was still in limbo land. We had the 60c a unit gross meter to good to be true scheme. Then the

    Labour gov got dumped and big Bazza changed it to 20c for new customers with old customers to remain on the 60c scheme.

    Then he dumped the 60c scheme and put every one on the 20c scheme. Then he did a back flip and reinstated the 60c scheme

    for the original customers and I think new customers are back on the 20c scheme. Then he of course appointed a committee

    to inquire into the whole business and report at some time in the future. So I hope that cleares it up but I could be wrong.

    The 60c gross meter to good to be true scheme is where you sell all the power you produce at 60c and buy back what

    you use at the going rate 26c hence the name

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    Thanks all, it has been an interesting exercise. Yes, I am wondering what Big Bazza and his mates are going to do. Do I jump in now and stitch up the current deal or wait for the next one which might be better or might be worse. Anyone got a crystal ball?

    Yep, even though I still have my electrical contractors license (retired but still do a bit). It all seems too hard. I think I will contribute to the local economy and get someone to do the lot (then I can lean over their shoulder and grizzle... every tradie's favourite customer!). The Origin "dollar down and a dollar a week" seems to be as competitive as anyone.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chalkyt View Post
    Yep, even though I still have my electrical contractors license (retired but still do a bit). It all seems too hard. I think I will contribute to the local economy and get someone to do the lot (then I can lean over their shoulder and grizzle... every tradie's favourite customer!).
    I suspect that it is more complex than simply holding an electrical contractors licence. Some (all?) of the rebate/export schemes require the system to be installed by an accredited installer (e.g to hold something like an accreditation issued by the BCSE).

    It makes me wonder if this is a closed-shop within a closed-shop?
    There is no middle ground between facts and fallacies - argumentum ad temperantiam

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    I purchased my 1.5KW system through Orgin. Cost me only $950 after the taxpayer kindly forked out the rest.

    Supply and install went over without a hitch, the electricians even done a bit of work on the side for me for a few beers.

    Had it for around 18 months now, not a problem. Reduced the power bill by about $200 to 300 dollars a quarter.

    I'm not that pedantic to examine KW usage from pre to post panels. But, I do know that even with a glimmer of light that sucker is still producing..............

    Great investment! very sound economical and decision which will continue to dividends with minimal to no overheads , nearly as good as my decision to invest in a bigger beer fridge!

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    Hi Chalkyt,

    If you haven't done so already, I suggest checking out the Whirlpool-GreenTech forum "http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum/143" - I've learnt a lot about solar PVs from a great variety of knowledegable posters, but I'm also reluctant to take the plunge until I get my head around the impact of all the recent changes.

    Admin EDIT
    Cross forum link removed

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    Quote Originally Posted by chrisp View Post
    It makes me wonder if this is a closed-shop within a closed-shop?
    I can assure you that's exactly what it is...

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    Yes, I think Smurf and Chrisp are right. You can't easily get all the info that you want... only some. Almost everyone has an impressive "green" sounding name. I wonder if it will eventually turn out to be a high tech roof insulation shambles once some of the more dodgy installations start to play up. Unfortunately for some poor installer, I am likely to be a PITA customer if they don't do it right (or at least what I think is right). Looking forward to the fun.
    Last edited by chalkyt; 10th Nov 2011 at 11:52 AM. Reason: Whoops, left Chrisp out

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    I'm no accountant but I think you are overlooking the return you could get on the cash for the purchase plus depreciation on the solar unit. You could get 6% on the outlay and, if you write the system off over 20 years, that is another 5% which comes to 11%. That leaves you roughly 4% better off than putting the money in the bank in the first place. Maintenance could also be an issue etc etc. No doubt electricity costs will only go up but I'm not sure that it is all worth it.

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    PV is a long term commitment and you need to be aware of new developments. Bluegen ceramic fuel cell technology is tipped to fall from the current price of $38,000 to $8,000 within 4 years and it has the advantage of 24 hour electricity generation plus it provides free heat for the hot water.

    Also consider how long you are likely to stay at your current address. Real estate agents will tell you that PV does not necessarily increase property values and some systems look downright ugly. Will your ugly rooftop appeal to buyers in a few years or will it be a liability once there is an alternative but superior system available at a viable price?

    To reduce your energy bills, you should first do an audit of your usage. Many households have made significant energy savings by doing just this and there is a lot of information available online re identifying high use areas and ways to reduce that usage.

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    I'm personally not keen on the Bluegen simply because at the end of the day it's just a gas powered generator, albeit a rather efficient one.

    It's no secret in the gas industry that Australian gas prices are low by world standards and that the LNG plants planned for Qld will help address this issue (ie increase domestic gas prices to match their export value). Add in then a future revaluation of gas as a transport fuel and I'd expect we're talking about some fairly hefty increases all up.

    Bluegen and solar aren't really comparable. One turns gas into electricity and by-product heat 24/7 whilst the other turns sunlight into electricity during daytime. It's virtually impossible to compare the two unless you have a firm view about future gas prices and the value of the off-peak electricity the Bluegen will produce overnight.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Smurf View Post

    It's virtually impossible to compare the two unless you have a firm view about future gas prices and the value of the off-peak electricity the Bluegen will produce overnight.
    Agree, and of course 'they' also keep changing the PV goalposts. I think there are interesting times ahead and the current concerns about renewables overloading the grid in some areas is yet another fly in the renewable ointment that we will be hearing a lot more about.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/nati...-1226165360822

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencete...gy-expert.html

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    New joiner here, too late to read all, but can't help wanting to at least throw a little info into the 'cussion at this first read. (How stupid am I?)


    1st recommendation -- buy a good quality (bigger screen makes it easy, cheap & OK at Jaycar) power outlet current/usage meter. Plug in. Plug one gear in and sort it out. Now take an hour and record the draw of all your gear. (Don’t forget the computer controlled washing machine. You may (? will) be surprised.) Oh, yes. The kid’s room, and that PC asleep in the corner. 1 kw/hr usually. Record.
    Pick up jaw. Close mouth. Turn things off that'r not being used, etc etc,
    After doing that I have reduced my total household drain to about 200 ma standing current, total draw now 4-5 kw/day (Brisbane, 2 old adults, A/c for super-hot only, was 8-10 kwh/d)

    It's easy. Turn it off if you're not using it. Except for the fridge.



    1st data -- 1 kw basic install (thanks, govmnt) Brisbane 27.6 degrees S, panels at 28 degrees to horizon (e.g. the equator) pointing 10 degrees east of north, switched to Origin Energy for their extra 10c/kw/hr feed-in tariff, 2 (now) power nazis, simple house, we use min pwr by day, do heavy lifting at night, clothes/dish washing, ironing, etc., retired and try to take one reading a day. I do it 9am, FWIW.


    Since installed Feb '10, the panels have produce 41% of our power, and we have taken 59% of our power from the grid. With a feed-in of 50C/kwh, and drawing power at the full tariff (no option if you have solar in SE Qld) of 23c/kwh, I was constantly in an increasing credit situation with the electricity bill, which used to be average $1,680 pa. I now take 100% green grid power at a loading (IIRC) of 5c/kwh, and the book is balanced.


    (A member of A.T.A. -- recommended -- I now have 14 very cheap 220W panels downstairs about to go upstairs. I had every intention of installing them myself, but the advantage of finding an installer who would pick up my pieces and run with them (BNE, Ian, solarissolar com au) will frequently cover the cost of their labour by a) relieving you of the horrendous paperwork involved if you are making a Federal /State install grant, ditto for getting a feed-in tariff meter installed (it always comes well after the panels go up, delete 3 months from your spreadsheet feed-in projections), usually has access to better mounting gear at better prices than you will be able to negotiate, knows how to do it all in 1/2 - 1 day, and can be trusted to navigate you through the bureaucratic minefield that is 'Australia, a world leader in solar energy!'. Not.)


    Cheers

    (p.s. My new panels will take me up to close to 5 kw solar rated power, the current limit in SE Qld. That still pulls a smallish benefit -- around $1,700 -- which I wasn't aware of, and which will fully cover the cost of my installer (Ian's) cost to supply and install the tilt frames, inverter(s) et al. Perhaps I'm just getting lazy, and find it easy to find an excuse these days to buy an expert whenever there is bureaucracy involved (|?)

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Danny View Post
    Agree, and of course 'they' also keep changing the PV goalposts. I think there are interesting times ahead and the current concerns about renewables overloading the grid in some areas is yet another fly in the renewable ointment that we will be hearing a lot more about.
    Agreed although it's a problem that applies to distributed generation in general regardless of the energy source being used. The same problems would exist if it suddenly became popular to install a grid-connected diesel genset at home, for example.

  22. #22
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    Thanks for all the discussion and info. Thought it might be worth outlining our experience in case anyone else is going down this path.

    Having trawled through everything I am about to place an order with a "known company" with a very competitive price, who hasn't been rubbished very much by not so happy customers on the various feedback web sites. What more could you want?

    Went through the daily/nightly consumption bit and found that we consume 10-12 kWh per 24 hours in summer. This is basically constant and comprised fridge, freezer and standby electronics. Winter is another matter.

    Having done the PB arithmetic, current prices on 1.5kW systems (which will generate around 7kWh per day) give the best outcome. For some strange reason I can get 2x1.5kW systems for less than the price of a 3kW system. Why? do I hear you ask... "don't know is the answer".

    Anyhow there is a wide range of prices on offer, with one of the tricks being to exclude metering to make the price lower. Also smaller efficient panels (needed if you have limited roof space) can push the price up. As ToneG suggests, Whirlpool is a good source of information, especially about bad performance, customer service etc. In fact it pointed me away from one organisation that I was seriously considering. Similarly, Solarquotes.com.au is a good source of info especially as they will organise quotes for you which points you to a few companies that you might not otherwise consider. They have good checklists, PB calculators and info on traps to avoid.

    So, the rough arithmetic suggests that we can generate roughly 1/3+ of our summer consumption. Under our circumstances, FIT doesn't play a big part with a 1.5kW system (we currently don't have FIT in NSW but a new scheme is supposed to be released in April). It is a different story with a 3kW system, of course. So we wait to see what Big Baz comes up with in NSW.

    Thanks again for everyones' input. Couldn't have done it without you!

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    One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the quality (or lack of) of panels and Inverters used in the elcheapo offers. Some of the early installers who got-in and got-out quick after earning a bundle have used inferior Inverters that are now dying and some panels are yellowing. With no local agent for warranty claims the consumer is left high and dry, unless they try and deal with a Chinese company, with a worthless non-working system and are having trouble getting another installer to look at it, I guess they fear opening a pandora's box of trouble.

    More confusion is created between states all seem to offer varying Feed in Tariffs. In SA my FIT is 52c/Kwh, and I think increases slightly later in the year, but for recent installs its dropped to 16c, but then systems are cheaper now.

    I nearly went nuts spending days reading up everything on Whirlpool before selecting my 3.04Kw system which was installed about 9 months ago, which currently covers all my electricity usage, covers the gas bill and gives me around $3 -- $400+/Qtr. If I have one regret its that I didn't go for another 4 panels to max out the roof area, but the price was just out of reach.

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    Thanks Tannwin

    Been through the going nuts bit with Whirlpool etc. It actually turned me off someone who was on the shortlist. As well as contacting the "high profile" organisations I also used Solarquotes to source quotes in the end, and this introduced me to a few companies that I hadn't considered. I have gone with a company that has been around for quite a while, with a fairly substantial parent behind it. Their salesman was knowledgable the support information was good and the price was O.K.(I am a retired sparky so the @@@@@@@@ meter was fairly active). I looked at doing it all myself and found in the end, that by the time I bought the gear, went through the paperwork hassle etc, at best I would save a few hundred bucks. It is worth that to watch someone else running around the roof. I can just stand and grumble to my wife that they aren't doing it the way I would!

    In the end, I went with a 1.5kW system on the basis that it will cover our normal daytime load (measured over a couple of months) and we have no real feed-in tariff for new systems in NSW at present and don't have any expectation that Big Baz and his mates will do anything worthwhile. The PB on bigger systems is very sensitive to the FIT and so for now this is out of the equation. Interesting to see your experience as I also found that 3-4.5kW was probably the optimum with a decent FIT.

    Am actually waiting for the installation crew to do the job this afternoon. Interesting that with the rebates, prices are very low at present and you can get a 1.5kW system for less than half the price of a 3kW system.

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    I decided what components I wanted (Suntech panels and SMA Inverter) then sorted through companies until I found one that seemed OK and had a reasonable review on Whirlpool. However I later learnt the installation subbies were a former painter (same with the proprietor) assisted by a labourer. They did a reasonable job but didn't notch the rail brackets into the covering roof tile so the tiles sat down flat. Plus they left broken tiles in the roof that would have leaked. The (smaller) company proprietor virtually called me a liar saying all my tiles were broken to begin with and dismissed my complaint, site unseen, and ignored my emailed photos.

    I spent a tortuous day in the roof with a small angle grinder notching the tiles, and removed a couple of panels to access and change the broken tiles. I wrote a factual critique including photos on the Whirlpool site and he went into a rage, threatened legal action unless it was removed (it wasn't).

    Recently my Inverter started coming off the wall and they sent the young sparky, who doesn't do their work anymore, back to fix it -- with my assistance. He had used 70mm long dynabolts that didn't hold in the perforated bricks!

    I guess its always the same when they send inexperienced boys to do men's work, but its working OK now and will see me out.

    There, I feel better now!
    Last edited by Tannwin; 2nd Feb 2012 at 03:42 AM. Reason: clarity

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    Oh dear it seems I spoke too soon.

    Returning home lunchtime today I find my SMA 3000TL Inverter has died. All the isolators are on but its generating ZERO. I switched it off for a while and switched it on so it could reset, but its still not generating and I'm getting info displayed at the bottom of the window thats never happened before. The Inverter which is under my carport has been running hot to the touch, but I put this down as normal on our hot summer days

    Once again I am at the mercy of the electrician or in the event of a replacement, the solar company, which Ive learnt has moved on to another more lucrative business. Time to show some patience.

    Update-- the isolator between the Inverter and switchboard had shorted and cooked its self, I guess I was lucky I didn't have a fire.

    Now replaced under warranty

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    I'm more than happy with my slightly less efficient but virtually bulletproof inverters. Nothing fancy here, just two SMA Sunny Boy 1100 inverters and two separate strings of panels, one 8 x 170W and the other 8 x 190W.

    Yes, there are more efficient inverters out there than these old designs which are "only" a bit over 90% efficient. But I like the idea of something that is designed and actually made in Germany, is tried and tested and which has a decent warranty rather than buying something from China. That plus, being a discontinued model, the second one was ridiculously cheap (and I got the first one free under the old solar grant scheme).

  28. #28
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    Tannwin - you should be reporting this incident to the Clean Energy Council CEC - Home specifically here: Accreditation - Dispute form or at least lodge a complaint with the SA Fair Trading mob: OCBA - Consumer and Business Services
    Advice from me on this forum is general and for guidance based on information given by the member posing the question. Not to be used in place of professional advice from people appropriately qualified in the relevant field. All structural work must be approved and constructed to the BCA or other relevant standards by suitably licensed persons. The person doing the work and reading my advice accepts responsibility for ensuring the work done accords with the applicable law.

  29. #29
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    Hi Bloss. Thanks for your advice but---

    I contacted OCBA who it seems only offer verbal advice on what the consumer can do in going it alone.

    Then the Office of the Technical Regulator, who first refer you back to OCBA. Then bury you in paperwork before doing an inspection of the system where 'if unsafe will shut-down your system until the solar company/electrician return to fix it'.

    I contacted the CEC earlier regarding the quality of my install and they were about as helpful as an ashtray on a motor bike.

    I think the problem is that far too many opportunists easily gained their licences, hopped on the solar band-wagon to make a quick killing have now moved on to the latest gimmick, leaving customers in the lurch. I heard one regulator say 'current problems with solar systems are only the tip of the iceberg and will eventually make the pink batts scandal look like Sunday school picnic'.

  30. #30
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    Sorry to hear that you are having problems, your story was the sort of thing I was worried about. As it turned out, I am fairly happy with my installation so far (waiting for the metering to happen, now). A few things done differently to what I would have done, but generally neat and workmanlike (I am a bit anal about concealed wiring and fittings). The important things like protecting the roof penetration under the panels, surface wiring in conduit with proper fittings, silicon rubber sealing around the external switchgear, etc seem to have been done.

    An electrician and two offsiders turned up, got stuck into the job and had it done in two hours. They claimed to be employees of the company, not just contractors. The only real nitpick is that I would have liked a bit more loose cable in the roof (I was taught "leave a bit of slack cable for the next fellow, he might be you!"), but I can probably re-route it a bit and replace the cable ties with "proper" clips just to keep me happy.

    The "bonus" is that they didn't have the quoted 1.5kW inverter in stock so supplied a 2kW unit instead. Supposedly this will allow me to fit a couple of extra panels if I am so inclined. (but I understand also that a "bigger" inverter than you need can be a little inefficient... time will tell if I have got a good deal or been dudded). The inverter has German labels all over it except for the little one that says it was made in China!

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