What the Guru says
Hi, Solar Guru, someone came to our town recently to promote a solar and battery group. Are they worth it?
Buyers groups, they can be worth it, but you know, at the end of the day, I really don't think there's huge savings to be had. And you've also gotta ask yourself what's gonna happen when the buyer group goes on to the next big buying group campaign?
Look for a good dealer. Get a good deal through your local dealer.
What are Solar Buyers Groups?
More than a decade ago, Solar Buyers Groups were quite popular, but one hears about them less and less nowadays.
Solar buyers group, also known as a solar collective, is a community-driven initiative that aims to purchase and install solar energy systems in bulk, usually in one community. The group typically consists of at least 10 individuals or a mix of individuals and business premises. In a particular town or region, they join together to get a better price due to the combined buying power.
In theory, therefore, solar buyer groups are a good idea because they want to make solar energy more accessible and affordable for their members. The plan is to enable members to benefit from volume discounts or favourable financing options. That would otherwise be challenging to obtain as individual buyers.
Buyers Group organisers often sell the following perceived advantages to generate interest
- Cost savings: The group can negotiate lower prices by purchasing in bulk. Potentially reducing the upfront costs of installing a solar and battery system.
- Quality assurance: Members can benefit from the collective knowledge and experience of the group. Ensuring that they select reputable installers and high-quality solar equipment.
- Streamlined purchasing process: The group organiser usually handles administrative tasks, such as vendor selection and project management. Simplifying the solar installation process for individual members.
- More information and support: Members can access guidance, information and support from fellow participants who have already installed solar systems. Facilitating informed decision-making and addressing common concerns.
- Community benefits: By promoting renewable energy adoption, solar buyer groups contribute to the growth of renewable energy in their local communities. Reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainability.
Unfortunately, the reality often looks very different
- Undeclared conflicts of interest: Sometimes, the buyer’s group organiser negotiates with the winning supplier a special deal on the side. They get additional benefits from a larger discount to a “free system” if they can bring all this work to the installation company. This means that many unsuspecting group members will not get a cheaper deal, but their combined buying power benefits only the group organiser.
- The recommended and chosen product is not the best quality: Because most Buyer’s Group members are not experienced in solar & battery purchases. They often trust the leader in their recommendations. Sometimes leaders can be wrong, and we have seen poorly supported panels and inverters becoming part of the winning bid only because they were cheap.
- Can require a decent time commitment: Solar buyers groups can require a significant time commitment from their members. Members may need to attend meetings, review information, and decide about their solar installation in a group. This sometimes can take much longer than if individuals make an informed decision.
- Dominating organisers can be painful: Not all solar buyers groups are created equal. Some groups may have more experience and resources than others. Often it comes back to the organiser. If they have a domineering communication style and a forceful decision-making process. The experience can become frustrating for individual members. Disagreements, differences in preferences, or logistical challenges can slow down the decision-making process or hinder the group’s effectiveness.
- There might be a joining fee: Some solar buyer groups charge a fee to join. It is important to factor in the membership cost when considering whether or not a solar buyers group can deliver advantages.
And there are more disadvantages
- Limited choices of available products: A solar buyers group to get economy of scale might offer fewer options when selecting solar equipment or installers. You might like the full black panels, but they are not offered in the proposal. Be prepared to get limiting offerings compared to directly dealing with an installation company.
- Timing and availability do not always suit: The group’s solar & battery purchasing and installation timeframe may not align with individual members’ preferences. For example, the installation window coincides with your planned holiday. It may take time to reach a consensus on vendor selection and installation scheduling. Potentially delaying individual projects.
- Not meeting expectations: The different members of a solar buyers group may have different energy generation needs, a range of property characteristics, or different budgets. Balancing these diverse requirements and finding a relatively homogenous solution that suits everyone can be challenging.
- Using the buyer’s group to sell unsuitable products: Not everyone needs a solar storage battery. However, I have witnessed the buyers group being sold the advantages of a battery in an overblown way by unscrupulous solar sales companies. As everyone got excited about the presented benefits, I spotted single pensioners in the group, where a 15kWh battery was certainly NOT the right fit.
- After-sales service can be missing: With so much attention on the buying process, the long-term system support often gets overlooked if the winning bid was an out-of-town installation company using cheap contractors. Bringing the solar & battery installer back for after-sales service can be challenging. Often it is advisable to give the job to the local installer – as he/she will be at least around when issues arise.
So overall, solar buyers groups sound like a great idea, but upon closer inspection, we would advise against them. As we have seen individuals are being tricked, misinformed and taken advantage of.
Buyers Groups remind me of the old saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.
So weigh up the pros and cons before joining a group. We recommend buying an individual solution from a quality-focused installer.