How Do I Evaluate Solar Quotes?
The market for solar panel installations in the UK has grown massively over the last decade or so. This means, for the consumer, there is now a wide range of choices to be made regarding products and installing companies. So how do you best evaluate which product to use, which installer to go with, and what overall quotes are the best?
First, let’s look at some of the components of the quotes in terms of equipment and labour. There are a few different types of solar panels on the market, generally divided into polycrystalline/monocrystalline and different types of doping substrates. There are also thin-film panels, such as the ones used on portable chargers and so on, but they’re typically not used for domestic purposes. That all sounds very technical: the upshot is that most solar panels perform roughly equally: polycrystalline panels are generally a little cheaper but may have a slightly shorter lifetime and a slightly lower efficiency, for example. The difference is noticeable but not massive, 15% efficiency for polycrystalline vs 20% for monocrystalline.
The installation isn’t just the panels though! As solar panels produce DC electricity, you’ll need an inverter to convert this to the AC
used in the home and on the national grid. There are three main types of inverters used in domestic solar: string inverters, microinverters and power optimisers. Of these, string inverters are most common, and also the cheapest, but microinverters work best when some of the solar panels might be shaded during the day, for example. Microinverters and power optimisers also allow greater monitoring opportunities, as the string inverter takes an aggregated feed from all of the panels, rather than individual lines from each panel.
Generally, the installation process for a solar system is fairly simple and takes a few days’ work. Any structural work needs to happen first, which can add time to the process, but after that, installation of the panels and wiring into the main household network shouldn’t be too disruptive, provided access is good. A lot of people ask for a solar monitoring system to be installed along with their panels, inverter and wiring, so that they can monitor how much the system is producing. This shouldn’t be too expensive an addition, and there are a variety of proprietary and off-the-shelf smartphone apps these days to do just that. Finally, batteries, a matter of some debate. Do you need battery storage with your solar power system? Well, not necessarily, but it depends a lot on how you use electricity. If you’re out all day and work, and still want to use renewable power when you get home, then a battery is a great idea, for example. This can add cost to the system, but also means you get more out of it, with longer periods running on renewable electricity.
Other than technology, there are a few other things to consider. Is the quote within your price bracket? It’s a good idea to shop around to see what kind of prices are on the market for the size of system you want. Choosing a reliable installer is particularly important: make sure the installer has experience and expertise in the area, backed up by reviews and/or case studies.