How to determine if a Solar Person / Company is actually an Expert and really knows what they're doing? March 07 2017

In the last 2 years we've been shocked to hear and learn just how many "NEW" Solar Power companies have started up that CLAIM to be Experts in Solar Power & Battery Storage Solutions, and yet in reality have NO idea about how to PROPERLY design these systems to give great long term reliability and performance to customers.  Many don't even employ a qualified system designer, and simply rely on their sales people or their electricians to design their systems, yet these guys are hardly up to the task.

If you were serious about looking for a "GOOD QUALITY SOLAR SYSTEM" would you ever have in your wildest dreams ever thought about consulting with a Carpet Sales Person to design your solar power system?  Yet this is exactly the thing that happens today when many people are sold a solar power system by people that are NOT Experts in this field at all. 

We get numerous calls and / or emails each week from at least 4 new solar companies that have started up in the last year or so that ask us for advise and after asking these guys a few questions it's very clear that they have no idea about the solar power & battery storage industry at all, let alone what's required or involved to design a good high quality long lasting system.

We also get a lot of calls from people who have installed a system sold to them from the carpet salesmen, and then wondered some 4-6 months after having it installed WHY they are only saving $80 per month off their average monthly power bills, despite having spent some $22k on a new system (without any battery storage) and yet they're stuck dumping half (or more) of their daily solar production back to the grid per day.

After all you don't spend money on a Solar Power System to just have it sit there and look pretty on your roof right?  Unless it's giving you the savings that you expected then the system has often not been a good investment for you and you'll be left with a bitter taste in your mouth when your friends ask you how likely you are to recommend solar power for others.  This ends up a sad thing both for the customer and for the entire solar industry, all due to a few people out there who wrongly convince your average person that they know what they're talking about and yet in reality they have no idea.

Reverse Polarity

A lot of clients who are rural and on 3 phase supply for their residential homes out in the country also call us, and many of these guys are running 5 - 10kW worth of Solar PV at their sites and yet dumping half their power (or more) back to the grid per month and yet nobody tells them that this does NOT have to be the case if the system is designed correctly from the start,  yet the company who sold it to them 1-2 years ago never thought to tell these clients that you can actually resolve this dilemma and end up with a very efficient system (if that's your goal).

We get at least 10 calls a week from clients with existing solar power systems (some off-grid and some hybrid) who have stuffed their batteries within around 2 or 3 years, despite being told by the people / companies who sold it to them that it should last them 6-8 years which actually never possible when you look at the data sheets for the batteries themselves.  Most clients with battery issues have stuffed their batteries due to sulphation related issues which in turn dramatically shortens their battery life and their usable capacity after very short periods of time (as short as 1 year we've seen in quite a few cases and typically within 2 years as an average).

People then think and assume (wrongly) that their local electrician MUST be a Solar & Battery Storage Expert, because after all he's been an electrician for the last xxx number of years therefore he MUST know what he's doing right?  Sadly this is WRONG and couldn't be further from the truth.  Most electricians are great with AC electricial wiring but when it comes to DC systems they often have no idea and we get many calls each week from trained and qualified electricians who actually wire the positive and negative the WRONG WAY AROUND on systems (much to our shock), and this is a very common occurrance sadly.  Your average electrician has not usually spent 1-3 years training up specifically to be a Solar & Battery Expert, instead they often just do installations for other companies or maybe even started with some basic on-grid systems of their own and then though that they'd give off-grid systems a try also (after all how different can it be right)??  Sadly this is where they go wrong and the systems are quite different and unless they really understand hybrid and off-grid systems with battery storage then they should not likely be offering these to their clients.

If you wouldn't get your builder to design your house (you'd instead get your architect to design it and your builder to build it) then why do people expect that their electrician suddenly is a solar design expert?  You are instead better off leaving that to someone who actually is a solar power & battery storage design expert and instead leaving your electrician to simply just perform the installation to the correct spec and standards.

So with all this in mind HOW can you more easily identify the people and companies out there who are actually Solar Power & Battery Storage Experts, and not simply out to take your money from you and then run away when your system doesn't perform to your expectations down the track?

We've composed a small list of some key questions to ask your Solar Power / Battery Expert person or company you are dealing with, and depending on how they answer these questions this will help to determine which people / companies actually know what they're talking about (as Experts in the industry) and in turn are actually worth dealing with.

SOLAR AND BATTERY STORAGE Questions to Ask your Solar & Battery Company or person you are dealing with:

  1. What is the best angle and orientation for your solar panels to give best output performance?

  2. What is the difference between a HF and LF inverter and which one is better and why?

  3. What is the difference between High Efficiency and Low Efficiency panels, and why might you choose 1 over another?

  4. Which solar panel technology is BEST Suited for off-grid systems, and why?

  5. How does panel efficiency affect or alter inverter output performance, please give an explanation of how and why.

  6. What are the most efficient ways to deal with shading related issues for Solar PV panels for an off-grid system, if the shading on some of the panels cannot be avoided?

  7. What is the maximum wattage & current (Amp) output possible under NZ conditions from a 290w Solar panel that is rated 40.11v VOC, 32.54v VMP, 9.61A ISC, 9.22Amp IMP.

  8. How does increase and decrease in temperate affect solar panel output, and what things would we likely see occur at 5 degrees C on a sunny winter morning, and also at 32C on a windy summers day vs a non-windy summers day?

  9. How many panels (using the above specs) can we run together in series for an ELV off-grid system if the inverter can handle up to 130V maximum input voltage?

  10. How many panels (using the above specs) can we run together in series for an on-grid system if the inverter can handle up to 580V maximum input voltage?

  11. What size Solar PV DC cable would we use if we were connecting 9 of these panels together running at a distance of 25 meters away from the Inverter / MPPT controller and why?
  12. What are the main reasons that batteries on a solar system usually perform worse during winter periods and how would you typically fix / remedy this?

  13. How can a 1 off-grid solar power system (with the same number of PV panels and same wattage + the same inverter make & model) perform dramatically better than another if the only difference is the batteries used on the system, please explain.

  14. What calculations & considerations must be made before charging batteries via a generator for an off-grid solar power system?

  15. What are some common mistakes & issues that many electricians make when wiring up a generator onto an off-grid solar power system that often causes issues?

  16. What are some common mistakes & issues that many electricians make when installing an on-grid hybrid system with battery storage attached?

  17. How does a battery's charge and discharge rates affect the battery's life and the battery's performance and storage capacity?

  18. What affect does temperate have on storage batteries life, performance and storage capacity?

  19. What battery technology do we want to charge back to full on a daily basis, and what battery technology will benefit from additional life if NOT charged back to full each charge and why is there a difference?

  20. What are dendrites and when may you likely see this issue occurring and in what types of batteries?

  21. What is sulphation, and when may you likely see this issue occurring and in what type of batteries?

  22. If some batteries claim to be 80%, 90% and 100% usable, what considerations and issue also need to be taken into account in order to be able to get best and full usage of these batteries?

  23. Why do some companies recommend using a battery rack to house batteries in for an off-grid solar power instead of just having their batteries sitting on a concrete pad with some wood or metal around them to hold the batteries in place?

  24. What are the advantages of using Tigo Energy Junction Boxes built into some solar panels now days?

  25. How and why can some micro inverter systems actually give LESS power output than the same system with direct DC connected panels?  Please explain under what circumstances and the reason for this.

  26. If you already have an existing Solar PV system running either a string inverter or micro inverters, and you were wanting to add on 14kW of storage capacity then what are some of the most efficient ways and options to do this?

  27. With many 12v - 48v DC battery storage systems that are running with solar power systems what is one of the most common issues and failures that customers experience as a problem 6 months through to 1 year down the track that relates to installation, yet at the time of installation and checking the system during commissioning everything was checked as being fine and working correctly, and how do we avoid this issue from occurring down the track for these systems?

PS: No we don't give out the answers online here on this blog post, otherwise if everyone can just look up the answers then this defeats the point of making these questions available.  For those who want the answers then call us directly for a chat, and feel free to advise some of the answers that you were given by the people you deal with so we can advise if they are right on the money with their answers or if they are actually quite far away from knowing what they're talking about. 

Feel free to email us some of the answers that your solar & battery storage guys gave you if you want us to give honest feedback to you about how good these guys really are that you are dealing with (based on their answers and understanding of these systems).

Hopefully these questions get people talking which in turn will help the entire Solar Industry and also will help ensure customers are dealing with a person / company who actually knows what they're doing and what they're talking about.  Those who don't know what they're doing should really be up-skilling and learning correctly so that they can offer good advice, good service and long lasting systems to their customers.