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Questions to Ask Solar Panel Installers

Updated on April 17, 2013

Ask the right questions when getting quotes for Solar PV

There's a considerable initial cost to an Solar PV system so you really need to make sure you do your research. Here's a list of questions that you should ask an company that provides you with a quote for Solar PV.

Will you be able to provide a quote and answer questions during the site visit?

When you make an appointment for an installer to do a site visit check that they are going to be able to provide a quote on the day or immediately afterwards, and that they will be able to answer your questions.

Most vendors were able to provide a quote while they were still at our house and answer all of our questions about the technology and the government feed-in-tariffs, etc.

We were caught out by one exception. The guy turned up as expected, did a site survey and then told us he wasn't trained to do anything else and that we'd get a quote in two weeks (it actually took longer than that). If you're close to the decision point then a visit like this is a waste of time.

Is Solar PV suitable for my property?

Pretty much the first thing you expect a vendor to do is to check the orientation of your house. You need a roughly south-facing house - south east to south west is the general rule.

They should also confirm that your roof can take the weight of the panels and is in good enough condition, and that you don't have excessive shading (trees, other buildings etc).

Solar PV is not suitable for all homes. The installer should quickly check these factors.

Are you MCS Certified?

This one is really important. In order to receive government feed-in-tariff payments your photovoltaic solar solution must be fitted by MCS certified installers. Check your installer is on the list of MCS Certified Solar Photovoltaic Installers.

What is the size of the system?

The size of a solar PV installation is measured in kilowatt peak (kWp) and will be roughly in the range of 1kWp (small system) to 4kWp (large system).

Note that the government feed-in-tariff maximum payment only applies to systems up to 4kWp.

The installer should tell you how many panels will be installed. Panels from different manufacturers are different sizes and outputs, but you can expect the number of panels to be in the range of 4-16. The installer should know the dimensions of the panels and be able to explain how they will fit on your roof.

How much will it cost?

An obvious one! A guideline is £4000 per kWp.

You should check whether VAT at 5% is included in the quote.

And how long the quote is valid for. Personally I'm uncomfortable with any offer that is reduced if you sign on the day. I'd far rather have a realistic quote in the first place and time to consider.

How much electricity will the system generate?

This figure should be roughly 800 * the kWp for your system e.g. 4 x 800 = 3200 kWh per year.

But this figure is dependent on your location (the further south the better) and the system efficiency.

The installer should be able to explain how they come to the figure.

What payments and savings can I expect?

In the first year the calculation is:

Electricity Generated in kWh x FiT generation payment + Electricity Used x Electricity Unit Cost + Electricity Exported to the Grid x FiT Export Tariff

E.g. 3200 x 0.413 + 1600 x 0.10 + 1600 x 0.03 = £1529.60

But you really need to factor in the cost of the original system, affect of inflation, etc to understand what this really means.

The calculation is explained in detail in the Payback from Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Panels in the UK lens.

And we've developed a solar pv payback calculator to help you estimate this (coming soon).

When are payments to the installer due?

You shouldn't have to pay the full amount upfront. It's normal to pay an initial deposit and the remainder on completion.

What is the guarantee?

Check what guarantees and warranties are included.

It's pretty typical to see a several year warranty on the inverter - this is the component most likely to fail during the life of the system. It's likely that the inverter will fail outside of this guarantee period and will need to be replaced. Extended warranties may be available.

You should also get a product guarantee on the solar panels for several years. Solar panels are pretty simple so if they survive the first few years without any manufacturing faults becoming apparent then there's a good chance of them lasting longer than the 25 years covered by the feed in tariff.

You should also look for an output guarantee. This will typically guarantee a particular output level for a period of time. This protects you against the output of the panels reducing significantly over the life of the system.

Here's an example >a href="http://www.sharp.co.uk/cps/rde/xbcr/documents/documents/Marketing/Brochure/SHARP_Solar_Guarantee_Crystalline_Modules_3_01_en_de_fr_esp.pdf"> Solar Panel Guarantee from Sharp.

The there's the workmanship itself. The installers need to be MCS certified, this is supposed to guarantee a certain level of competence and service, but it's unclear precisely what this means.

When can you install?

Check what their lead time is from when you agree to go ahead. It might be a great quote, but if they can't install for six months they may not be your first choice.

What solar panels and inverter will you use?

The installer should be able to tell you the manufacturer and model of the panels and inverter they are proposing to install. The you can check out the specifications and the prices of these components so you understand what you are getting for your money.

Your installer should tell you whether the proposed panels are monocrystalline or polycrystalline (two slightly different technologies). There doesn't seem to be much to choose between them on a technology basis.

It's often said that monocrystalline is more expensive per Watt. But it didn't work out that way for us. And the smaller size of the mono panels (they require slightly less surface area for the same output and are more efficient) meant we could fit a greater capacity system on the roof.

The overall output/price ratio is the important factor, keeping in mind that a larger system will deliver larger FiT payments and therefore greater payback.

What does installation involve?

The installer should be able to explain how the panels will be attached to the roof.

They will need scaffolding so they should check access.

And internally they will need to install an inverter (typically in the loft) and run cables to the main distribution unit. Check whether cables will be routed inside or outside the house and what the end result will be

Installation of solar panels is pretty quick, around 2 days.

Who is responsible for informing the electricity supplier?

Your electricity supplier will need to be informed about the installation of a solar PV system so that you can export unused electricity to the grid and receive Feed in Tariff payments.

You should also ask your electricity provider how the process works and when and how payments will be made to you. As an example here are the E.On Feed In Tariff Terms and Conditions.

Can you provide references?

A good installer should be able to provide references from happy customers. Perhaps you can even ask them if actual output matches predicted output.

Solar Panels require a significant outlay. It's important to that you learn as much as you can on the subject. Michael Boxwell's book has been recently updated to include information on government incentives and gets good reviews: Solar Electricity Handbook 2010: A Simple Practical Guide to Solar Energy - Designing and Installing Photovoltaic Solar Electric Systems

Have we missed any important questions? Or got anything wrong. Any other feedback. We'd love to hear from you.

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    • profile image

      Lansanna 2 years ago

      my brother sent out these chtisrmas cards . the front was him and his wife wearing matching v-necks each holding their babies also wearing .. matching v-necks . phot shopped across the bottom was a tag that said *LagOnnis (our last name) like he is trying to brand our family name and have exclusive credit for the family name . On the back of the card . He has four paragraphs talking about how many vacations he went on this year, all of these amazing job offers pouring in and states He likes where he is working right now very much but still enjoys the amazing job offers that are pouring in. He says despite the economic downturn he moved into a much bigger and better house in a more family frienddly neigborhood . We live in an area where every house cost about on million and up . it's not hard to find a family friendly neighborhood here. When facebook isn't enough he created a mind blowing blog page so you can find exclusive details all about him and his family at their very own website. He also says how his two kids aged 11 months and two years old have a personal chef. Just upscaling everything Like honestly I hope those two infants have a personal chef they would die if nobody cooked for them. They are expecting another child and they said We are expecting a new child Next year our family is going to be bigger and better! And at the bottom they signed they're LagOnnis And didn't say they're names or anything . Just the corporate brand idea they're projecting out. Is this to much? I feel in the economy we are in right now saying how many vacations they have been on, the bigger and better house they moved into while other people in my family are facing forclosures or are struggling month to month, I feel it is just very unsensitive and rude. And, I am not jealous either. I have things I can brag about but I don't believe in this bahavior so I don't do it. What do you think? Also, my other brother installed solar panels on his roof, and this chtisrmas card brother took all the credit saying he installed all the solar panels and never mentioned any help from my other brother . And I get it, my other brother didn't help seeking any praise or approval but clearly this Christmas card brother is seeking praise and approval so it is annoying to me .. And . Matching grey V-Necks? Come on. Lifes not all rainbows and butterflies stop faking it.Ok so I was pretty irriated when i wrote this. It's not a million dollar and up area it's more like $900,000 and up but all the money aside . Just the way he is being so formal with his family and talking about how great he is IN THIRD PERSON point of view . So you think it's it's to much? You think I would get away with it? lolI agree with all of these responses .. The one person that said there is a lot more going on then what they tal about Agreed. It seems picture perfect on the outside but deep down inside of that family structure there is clearly insecurity. I agree everyone has one of those in the family And yes Matching V-Necks. What the hell.I have to admit .. I sent out my own Christmas card this year . After getting this years chtisrmas card and seeing that it is bigger than last years I decide to send out a card that looks similar to theirs but I am mocking the **** out of them. On the front I am holding my dog, I am looking really good but I am making a funny face and under my picture (I am awearing a grey V-Neck) I wrote See reverse for exclusive details all about me!!!!!! and I on the back I ran all over them I hope next years card either 1) Doesn't come at all or 2) Is drastically tuned down. The back clowns them pretty bad. I sent it to everybody The opening sentence to my Christmas Card is Hello Everybody, I know you all have been waiting for this years status report and I thank you all for being patient. I'mdoing extraordinary. Last year, (despite the ecomic downturn) I went on so many vacations. And when I say so many, it's relly an understatement. lol.

    • profile image

      Kamrul 2 years ago

      my brother sent out these chastimrs cards . the front was him and his wife wearing matching v-necks each holding their babies also wearing .. matching v-necks . phot shopped across the bottom was a tag that said *LagOnnis (our last name) like he is trying to brand our family name and have exclusive credit for the family name . On the back of the card . He has four paragraphs talking about how many vacations he went on this year, all of these amazing job offers pouring in and states He likes where he is working right now very much but still enjoys the amazing job offers that are pouring in. He says despite the economic downturn he moved into a much bigger and better house in a more family frienddly neigborhood . We live in an area where every house cost about on million and up . it's not hard to find a family friendly neighborhood here. When facebook isn't enough he created a mind blowing blog page so you can find exclusive details all about him and his family at their very own website. He also says how his two kids aged 11 months and two years old have a personal chef. Just upscaling everything Like honestly I hope those two infants have a personal chef they would die if nobody cooked for them. They are expecting another child and they said We are expecting a new child Next year our family is going to be bigger and better! And at the bottom they signed they're LagOnnis And didn't say they're names or anything . Just the corporate brand idea they're projecting out. Is this to much? I feel in the economy we are in right now saying how many vacations they have been on, the bigger and better house they moved into while other people in my family are facing forclosures or are struggling month to month, I feel it is just very unsensitive and rude. And, I am not jealous either. I have things I can brag about but I don't believe in this bahavior so I don't do it. What do you think? Also, my other brother installed solar panels on his roof, and this chastimrs card brother took all the credit saying he installed all the solar panels and never mentioned any help from my other brother . And I get it, my other brother didn't help seeking any praise or approval but clearly this Christmas card brother is seeking praise and approval so it is annoying to me .. And . Matching grey V-Necks? Come on. Lifes not all rainbows and butterflies stop faking it.Ok so I was pretty irriated when i wrote this. It's not a million dollar and up area it's more like $900,000 and up but all the money aside . Just the way he is being so formal with his family and talking about how great he is IN THIRD PERSON point of view . So you think it's it's to much? You think I would get away with it? lolI agree with all of these responses .. The one person that said there is a lot more going on then what they tal about Agreed. It seems picture perfect on the outside but deep down inside of that family structure there is clearly insecurity. I agree everyone has one of those in the family And yes Matching V-Necks. What the hell.I have to admit .. I sent out my own Christmas card this year . After getting this years chastimrs card and seeing that it is bigger than last years I decide to send out a card that looks similar to theirs but I am mocking the **** out of them. On the front I am holding my dog, I am looking really good but I am making a funny face and under my picture (I am awearing a grey V-Neck) I wrote See reverse for exclusive details all about me!!!!!! and I on the back I ran all over them I hope next years card either 1) Doesn't come at all or 2) Is drastically tuned down. The back clowns them pretty bad. I sent it to everybody The opening sentence to my Christmas Card is Hello Everybody, I know you all have been waiting for this years status report and I thank you all for being patient. I'mdoing extraordinary. Last year, (despite the ecomic downturn) I went on so many vacations. And when I say so many, it's relly an understatement. lol.

    • profile image

      Thevenin 2 years ago

      my brother sent out these chtasrmis cards . the front was him and his wife wearing matching v-necks each holding their babies also wearing .. matching v-necks . phot shopped across the bottom was a tag that said *LagOnnis (our last name) like he is trying to brand our family name and have exclusive credit for the family name . On the back of the card . He has four paragraphs talking about how many vacations he went on this year, all of these amazing job offers pouring in and states He likes where he is working right now very much but still enjoys the amazing job offers that are pouring in. He says despite the economic downturn he moved into a much bigger and better house in a more family frienddly neigborhood . We live in an area where every house cost about on million and up . it's not hard to find a family friendly neighborhood here. When facebook isn't enough he created a mind blowing blog page so you can find exclusive details all about him and his family at their very own website. He also says how his two kids aged 11 months and two years old have a personal chef. Just upscaling everything Like honestly I hope those two infants have a personal chef they would die if nobody cooked for them. They are expecting another child and they said We are expecting a new child Next year our family is going to be bigger and better! And at the bottom they signed they're LagOnnis And didn't say they're names or anything . Just the corporate brand idea they're projecting out. Is this to much? I feel in the economy we are in right now saying how many vacations they have been on, the bigger and better house they moved into while other people in my family are facing forclosures or are struggling month to month, I feel it is just very unsensitive and rude. And, I am not jealous either. I have things I can brag about but I don't believe in this bahavior so I don't do it. What do you think? Also, my other brother installed solar panels on his roof, and this chtasrmis card brother took all the credit saying he installed all the solar panels and never mentioned any help from my other brother . And I get it, my other brother didn't help seeking any praise or approval but clearly this Christmas card brother is seeking praise and approval so it is annoying to me .. And . Matching grey V-Necks? Come on. Lifes not all rainbows and butterflies stop faking it.Ok so I was pretty irriated when i wrote this. It's not a million dollar and up area it's more like $900,000 and up but all the money aside . Just the way he is being so formal with his family and talking about how great he is IN THIRD PERSON point of view . So you think it's it's to much? You think I would get away with it? lolI agree with all of these responses .. The one person that said there is a lot more going on then what they tal about Agreed. It seems picture perfect on the outside but deep down inside of that family structure there is clearly insecurity. I agree everyone has one of those in the family And yes Matching V-Necks. What the hell.I have to admit .. I sent out my own Christmas card this year . After getting this years chtasrmis card and seeing that it is bigger than last years I decide to send out a card that looks similar to theirs but I am mocking the **** out of them. On the front I am holding my dog, I am looking really good but I am making a funny face and under my picture (I am awearing a grey V-Neck) I wrote See reverse for exclusive details all about me!!!!!! and I on the back I ran all over them I hope next years card either 1) Doesn't come at all or 2) Is drastically tuned down. The back clowns them pretty bad. I sent it to everybody The opening sentence to my Christmas Card is Hello Everybody, I know you all have been waiting for this years status report and I thank you all for being patient. I'mdoing extraordinary. Last year, (despite the ecomic downturn) I went on so many vacations. And when I say so many, it's relly an understatement. lol.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great lens. home made Solar panels is a great idea.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Now this is a good idea for a lens. Asking the right questions can be the key!