Important Consumer Issues
Being cold-called by solar companies? Here’s our guide to what is a good deal and what isn’t.
We’ve been getting a lot of enquiries recently from concerned PV system owners – and their worries can all be broadly categorised as consumer issues. It appears that lists of people who own solar PV installations are circulating the solar installer market, and people are being contacted direct with a range of offers from other installers. Some are reasonable, and some are not. So here’s our guide to some of the messages that are being peddled to solar PV owners at the moment.
Battery Cold Calling
I gave a talk recently to the Sustainable Kirtlington community group; a smallish affair with an audience of about 20 people. I was greatly surprised to find that of those, three had received cold calls from companies looking to sell them a battery system as an add-on to their existing solar PV array. Everyone was wondering whether this was a good deal.
Joju Solar’s view is that battery systems are a new technology and still comparatively unproven. Payback periods tend to be long, and as such they are not suitable for everyone. The battery market, being in its early stages, is really only for genuine technology enthusiasts at the moment, who might be willing to deal with a long payback for the experience of trying out a new technology – what we’d call a classic early adopter, or innovator.
There are many reputable companies out there with solid technical knowledge who will provide you with good advice. However, as with any cold-calling, we urge people to be very cautious about what is a very hard-sell sales tactic. If you do decide that you want to talk to a cold caller about batteries then we can’t stop you from doing so. But you should always find counter-quotes from reputable installers.
- Look at their websites. Do they have a proven track record of selling battery systems?
- Look at the photos – are these stock images, or photographs of actual installations by that company?
- And be aware of people overstating claims. Anyone claiming you will use 100% of your solar electricity is mis-selling to you. We know from our years of experience that batteries fill up quite early in the day in the middle of summer, and that you will still be exporting back to the grid in the afternoon. This means its impossible to get 100% capture of your solar generated electricity.
The difficulty here, is that unlike solar PV which was tightly regulated through the MCS scheme, the domestic battery market is essentially unregulated which leaves it open to more unscrupulous operators. Furthermore, because the solar market has shrunk since the feed-in tariff cuts of early 2016, many renewable companies are desperate to sell anything in order to stay afloat; this desperation also leads to some less than savoury sales tactics. At Joju Solar, we don’t consider ourselves to be in that boat financially, so we can always give you impartial advice without the pressure of having to make a sale.
We are also seeing existing solar PV owners being approached to sell the feed-in tariff income from their system, most notably from a company called Lightsource. I should state straight up that Lightsource are a very reputable company in the UK solar industry. They are by far the largest solar company in the UK, and have invested £2.2bn (yes, really!!) into solar PV projects, mainly at the solar farm scale. Their business model is to own solar assets and generate a return from the long-term income streams of these projects. With the collapse of the solar farm market, and with commercial PV installations proving a difficult sector, Lightsource are looking to buy up existing solar assets, including residential PV installations, to add to their portfolio.
How would it work? Well, you will have a long-term income stream from feed-in tariffs for the remaining period on your system. Let’s say you have 20 years left and it’s earning you £500 per year – you’d have an expected income of £10,000, but of course you have to wait in order to get that full value. Lightsource will make you a cash offer for your feed-in tariff, and if you accept, it is a simple task to transfer the FiT to them. You still retain the benefit of the solar generation and not having to purchase from your supplier (i.e. you still get lower bills).
Of course, Lightsource are a business (and a pretty slick corporate one at that), and they’re not going to offer you £10,000 for that income stream, and it is likely to be substantially less. I’m guessing here, but I expect it to be around ½ the value of your remaining income stream. However, you would get that money now.
So in this instance, I would say that it really is your decision whether to go ahead or not. Would you prefer money every year until the end of your FiT period, or would you prefer to cash that in for a lesser total amount now? That’s really a decision for your own personal finances, and whether you think the offer is attractive enough.
SolarEdge inverter replacements
A further offer we are seeing being pushed heavily at the moment is for solar companies to approach you and recommend replacing your existing inverter for one made by SolarEdge.
Solar Edge inverters use a different technical approach to most inverters. SolarEdge optimises the performance of every single panel, whereas conventional systems wire all the panels together in one electrical circuit before it reaches the inverter. This gives SolarEdge 2 advantages:
- When you buy solar panels there is a small spread of power actually produced by different modules. A nameplate 250W panel might be anywhere between 250W and 255W, so by optimising each panel individually, you can benefit from the slightly higher powered modules. However, this effect is very small, perhaps only a 1% improvement in yield.
- If your system suffers from shade, a conventional system will reduce in performance when part of the array is shaded. Because the modules are wired together in a chain, the overall performance is only as good as the weakest link in that chain (e. the shaded module). A well-designed system should not suffer from shading effects, but some installers are less rigorous about avoiding shade from chimneys etc. However, if you have a flat surface of panels with no obstacles, there is no advantage to swapping to SolarEdge (aside from the module mismatch outlined above).
Swapping to SolarEdge inverters is a complex process; not only will the inverter need replacing, but the roof will need accessing and the individual panel optimisers installed at roof level. This is very costly, so you must be sure that the economics of doing this are worth it. In all but the most extreme cases of shading, this will not be worth the effort.
The companies offering these swaps are also pressurising customers, by saying that their existing inverter is out of warranty. This may be true, of course – standard inverter warranties only last for 5 years. However, we believe that inverters will last for 10 years or longer. Joju Solar have now been in operation for over 10 years, and whilst we have had the odd technical inverter failure in that time, we are not really seeing inverters failing from ‘old age’. It is our view therefore, that this warranty argument is being overstated, and is being used as a sales tactic to encourage what is usually an unwise swap to SolarEdge. You will be better sticking with your existing system, and replacing your existing inverter when it fails (whenever in the future that might be).