Solar scammers are, unfortunately, still out there. Avoiding companies that only sell at cheap prices and have little after-sales service can be difficult.
Today, solar scam companies use telemarketing calls, social media, and celebrities to appeal to mass markets. If you see one of these companies advertisements, we strongly recommend you do your background research and verify the company's credibility before purchasing.
Choosing a CEC-accredited installer with a minimum of 10 years of experience is recommended. Choosing a trustworthy, reliable, and experienced local family-owned company is recommended to avoid poor solar outcomes and achieve long-term solar installation benefits via a long-lasting system.
Are you buying from a solar scammer or a real installation company?
So how do you think you could work out what the best solar company is to go with? Who can you trust? Who are the solar scammers?
It is important to research companies to ensure the quality of installation, service and support that you would expect for the sales process and backup service for the long term. Don’t rely on quotes to decide; research the company’s website, Facebook install samples, Google reviews, and other review companies. Additionally, ask your friends for their experiences and recommendations.
Solar is not impervious to scams like any other thriving but relatively new industry. Therefore, when researching, remember the old saying: “If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Here are some tips on what to look out for, both the positive and the red flags to be wary of.
The two types of solar companies
The first are the ones solid on strong marketing and cheap prices, famous personalities and charity donations are known as solar sales companies. They spend all their effort winning the customers, but the products and installation are mediocre. When something goes wrong, such companies are often very unresponsive, as they have moved on to the next sale.
Then there are the smaller solar companies, usually family-owned and local. Their effort goes into securing excellent products and a solid installation. This is often done by their in-house installation team and not via subcontractors. Ongoing after-sales service and word-of-mouth recommendations are valued highly, as is the local reputation.
We strongly recommend purchasing from the second type of company, even if the initial price looks a little higher, because over time the system installed by a solar installation company lasts longer and gives a better overall return.
Attributes that define a smart solar sale
We always recommend going with a local established company. Buying from a local company gives you a better service experience. The local company can visit your home for a service or technical issue. The local company works and lives in the local area, so its reputation and word-of-mouth referrals are incredibly valuable. They are more motivated to keep you happy than a big solar sales company from out of the area.
If you go to a sales company that is not local and, in many cases, interstate, it is far more difficult to get them back to look at and support and repair any faults or issues you may have with your solar system down the track. This unpleasant experience has been had by around 1/3 of all installed solar system owners, who went with low price over local & quality.
Look for the company’s history
Look for a company that has been around for a few years, ideally ten or more. This tells you that the company has had good business practices and has lasted. Given this, they are more likely to last long term and will be there to support you than a company that has been around a few months or only a few years or where the directors already have gone bust twice before. While companies have to start somewhere, the reality is that many new companies fail.
Check how long the company has been in operation by doing a company search via the ASIC website to see how long the company has been registered. Check the company’s website and marketing information to see if the ASIC information aligns with their marketing claims. Some companies claim a long history, but their company registration is only recent. That is another red flag.
Recommended licences and accreditations
The company should also be able to demonstrate its licensing and accreditation. While there are some small differences in requirements in different States, look out for the company to have the following:
- Clean Energy Council membership as a company
- Clean Energy Council Certified installers as employees
- Electrical Contractors Licence
- Building Contractor’s licence
If they do not have these, they may be operating illegally or trying to operate off another company’s license.
Site visits versus remote quotes
A quality company should offer an onsite assessment, or at least conduct a site visit and assessment before installation. In regional areas, some companies are a long distance away, and therefore some site visits are not always possible. This is especially true if you are in any town or city. Here, you want to meet the company representative and ideally, the installer. If they are the same – even better.
This is important because you, as a consumer, can get a better feeling and understanding of the company’s quality and how it presents itself to clients. During the visit, the representative can also inspect the home, roof, meter box and switchboard to provide an accurate quotation. Many considerations cannot be identified over the phone or via an aerial Google Maps image, adding extra costs to the installation and leading to a less-than-ideal outcome for your home. Better to be warned than surprised.
Inhouse installation teams versus subcontract installers
You should look for installation companies using teams that are fully employed by the company. This enables the company to have better control and oversight of the quality of the installation. It also ensures that there is a clear responsibility of the company to manage any faults or issues with the installation down the track. They will not be able to fob you off to the subcontractor.
Often, sales companies and “fly-by-nighters” will engage sub-contract installers to complete installations on their behalf. They will pay the lowest discounted install rates to the installers to keep pricing low, which puts pressure on these contract installers to complete the job as quickly as possible and move on to the next job.
This desperation to make a buck for a lowball payment (due to a lowball price) leads to shortcuts and a lack of care on the installation because the subcontractors need to be rushing, increasing the risk of overlooking something and issues down the track.
Also, in the future, when there is an issue, there can be a separation between the company that sold the system and the one that installed the system, and then, the finger-pointing begins.
Have a look at several review sites for customer reviews for the company. Several different sources for reviews are worth looking at, and it is worth looking at more than one as they have their strengths. The two best would be Facebook and Google. We do not give much credibility to general product review sites as there have been vested interests in some cases.
Facebook enables customers to leave reviews for the company and accumulate over time. Therefore, seeing strong reviews from many customers is a good sign. However, if you go to a company’s website and they don’t show their reviews, this usually means that the company has specifically chosen to hide their reviews, most likely as they are not good.
What about Google reviews?
Google reviews can be a great site source as well, as it is very difficult for a company to have these removed. They can only reply to them. You can read through the reviews and see the company’s feedback, responses, replies and how they respond to bad reviews. You can also search and sort the reviews to see the bad reviews (1 star etc). The number of these and comments will give you a good idea of the company’s quality.
But then again, even Google and other product-type reviews can, and often are, faked. One little red flag is if the company has been in business relatively shortly but already has many hundred, e.g. 2- 3 hundred Google/other reviews. This is done via overseas 5-star review purchases to drown out the 20 or 30 real reviews, which are usually poor. Check the low scores, which will give you the true picture, not just the relatively high rating.
You can also ask the solar company to provide details and contacts for a couple of their clients that have had a system for more than a couple of years as references that you can talk to determine their quality in service, installation and backup over time.
Avoid companies that practice the “hard sell.”
Sales and marketing companies will try hard to sell. Whether by offering you a cheap price, an offer that expires today, a special discount or an extra service – it’s all part of getting you to sign on the dotted line. These are all efforts to try and stop you from being able to do your research and find out the real value and benefits and being able to make the best decision for your home and your family.
A quality solar company will take the time with you to understand your needs and design a solution that best suits your home. They will provide the information to understand what you are being offered and what it will do for you. You should clearly understand the real savings it should provide for your family. But most importantly, they will not rush or try and force you to decide on the spot. An ethical company allows you to consider the proposal and do more research before deciding on your own time.
Cold callers & door knockers
Typically, door knockers and cold callers are your classic hard-sell sales company-based options. They often target people in their homes with misleading information on the solar system’s value, quality and potential savings. They will inflate the system’s price, usually by thousands, and put the hard sell on to get you to sign on the spot.
The same applies to interest-free offers or no-deposit sales. Any interest costs are already added to the sales price, which is much lower for the type of quality if you had not chosen the interest-free option.
Cold calling about solar & battery usually leads to a hard sell over the phone, or more likely, having an appointment made for someone else to contact you back or come to your home to go through the hard sell process outlined above. Just say politely – not interested, and hang up.
Website marketing gives away the Cowboys
If you go on a solar company’s website and they are heavily focused on basic packages (one size fits all approach), showing a low price on the front page, or maybe with a famous popular person, please proceed cautiously. Maybe the better advice is – to close the page and RUN.
This type of solar sales website should be a concern. A quality company will focus on the quality of the solar solution. This ranges from quality site inspection to custom design based on the home, energy consumption patterns and usage. They can not offer one price fits all, as they have not seen your house. Do you have 2 storeys and a steep roof, Is your switchboard 60 years old and needs an upgrade? Are your roof tiles brittle and hard to walk on? These are the issues the installer needs to explore, as they affect the final install price.
There will also be a focus on the quality of the products they use, the reasons for these products etc. Suppose a company focuses their marketing purely on the low price of an install and give you generic products. Such companies give their focus on sales & marketing and often not on the installation part and the long-term reliability of the solar solution.
Quality companies on their website show their products, explain the various options, and display past system & battery installations. They will also tell you details about their own company, usually in the About Us section.
Social media solar companies
Social media has made it easier for companies to advertise to a wide audience. Advertising on these platforms, especially Facebook, is just as easy for unscrupulous businesses to advertise as for well-respected companies.
Keep an eye out for ads that are claiming special rebates by postcodes, ending rebates or other big claims, or crazy low pricing. Treat these with caution, and if you get a quote from these companies, always take time to get comparison quotes and do your research. The quality of the product and service you receive may be poor, leaving you with a worse long-term result. It would help if you researched any advertising you see on social media. Especially the ones that aim to hook you with a displayed low price. Read reviews and get comparative quotes from others.
The solar industry is home to many guidelines and accreditation standards to safeguard consumers from scams. The prime body of solar accreditation is the Clean Energy Council (CEC) which approves companies for solar retail. Unfortunately, the CEC, in the past, approved even poor sales practice companies.
If you are hesitant about their capabilities, you should read their reviews and look for their trade name on the CEC’s accredited solar installer list. The Clean Energy Council also has a list of approved inverters and modules that are only approved if they meet Australian standards. Small-scale technology certificates give the property owner installing the solar PV system a government subsidy/rebate. However, if the Clean Energy Council does not accredit the installer, system designer and components within the system, then the property owner will be unable to receive this rebate.
Summary – we also created a guide on this issue which can be found here
Disregard solar businesses that:
- Display the low price on their social media and on their website;
- Have pushy tactics to try and get the sale, such as asking for your signature ASAP, using door-to-door sales or saying, ‘Act now’.
- Exaggerate claims, such as “no more energy bills, or bill buster system, biggest in the country“;
- Use a one-size-fits-all system quote;
- Have been around for less than six years;
- Don’t have many case studies and information about the company’s staff (as they have a high turnover of sales hustlers).
Search for companies that:
- Have a local domestic head office near you;
- Has been in operation for at least ten years;
- Has a CEC installer accreditation and uses its own install crews;
- Offers system designs reviewed by a CEC-accredited system designer. And make sure the system quote meets your needs and is within your budget;
- Has a decent customer base – talk to customers who have used the company before and learn about their experiences. Did the system have any problems? Was the company able to follow up with them? What was the communication like;
- Are more than willing to come to an inspection to visit your house rather than give you an on-the-spot quote;
- Do not offer a low price at the 1st contact in a sausage cutter; one or two sizes fits all approach.
We also suggest you visit the Federal Government’s scam watch website here. Sometimes there are good warnings about cheap solar companies, on the site.