The difference between a quality install and dodgy install has become a major talking point within the solar industry. At Westsun Solar we take pride in identifying our customers solar needs, helping them every step of the way including design and installation.
This article goes through key points that seperate a good install from a bad install. Including, whether your solar installer has actually added value to your home not just a future headache for you to deal with down the track.
All solar work is legally required to be installed by a licensed electrician with an attached CEC-accredited license. Firstly, you should check that the company that is completing your install is both insured and licensed – this will protect you and your home in the event of anything going wrong, and prevent you being added to the list of casualties who have been caught out by using unlicensed tradespeople to install solar on their home.
Anything with solar requires a Clean Energy Council Accreditation, this ensures that the electricians installing your system have completed the required courses and is properly educated in regard to the correct installation procedures.
Finding a licensed installer will help prevent any future headaches and can be found here:
There should always be appropriate labelling and identification on the inverter, isolating switches and switchboard. Acceptable forms of signage should include some of the stickers pictured below.
On the inverter you should be able to see:
- A clear warning place card with a detailed shutdown plan
- Warning about disconnecting DC cables without isolation
- If there is more than one MPPT used
On the switchboard you should be able to see:
- Clear labels for your main switch (grid supply) and the main switch (inverter supply)
- Solar array open circuit voltage and current
- A green PV sticker on the outside of the switchboard
These labels are there to ensure in the case of an emergency, appropriate actions can be taken. For example, if there is a house fire a firefighter can quickly be made aware of the solar system that is installed on the home. This includes, the size and danger of it with the ability to locate the correct isolators to disable it.
Racking is an essential part of the solar system that physically holds the panels to the roof. Comprised of rail, mids, ends and tin or tile fleet depending on your roof type, the install of this racking will be a major indicator of whether or not your panels will actually stay bolted to your roof for the next twenty plus years. A poorly installed racking system may result in water leaks – this is why we recommend using a solar professional who is CEC certified.
To ensure your roof is adequately protected, whether tile or tin, it’s an important part of the racking that is penetrating the roof and bust be installed correctly.
When installed on a tile roof, one of the most important things to look over is that the tile has been correctly ground down so it sits flush back on the roof after the foot has been installed.
Once a tile foot has been screwed into the truss, it is essential that the tile it sits under is shaved back properly. If these isn’t shaved correctly and a substantial gap is left it will result in a water leak.
Similarly, on a tin roof it is crucial that the tin foot is installed with a rubber spacing underneath it. Generally, the previously existing screw is taken out and replaced with a new screw rubber foot. Therefore, it’s important that the rubber foot is in place to prevent water leaks.
Apart from this, another vital thing to check is the rigidity of the system. It should all be bolted down and locked in place – give a panel edge a jiggle. It should feel solid and not flex around in place. Loose panels or missing clamps directly affect the integrity of the solar install.
Any installer who knows what they are doing will understand the importance of clamping zones.
Clamping zones are used to indicate the best location for clamps to clench on the panel. This mitigates panel flex under strong wind conditions and ensures your panels will last during harsh weather events.
Have you ever seen panels that look like they have been thrown on the roof and bolted down? We don’t want that happening to you.
Not only is that hazardous, it is installed completely wrong. In face, there are requirements in relation to how close panels can be to the ridge line and gutter line on your roof. These are called the ‘exclusion zones’ and are there to protect your solar system from wind.
In Australia we have wind zones that are graded A, B, C and D with A being the least severe and D being the most.
The exclusion zones are usually classified by the racking manufacturer’s guideline. A general rule of practice is to have the panels at least 20cm from the edge of the gutter and roof line all the way around.
A gap on the gutter line also allows for water runoff, especially during heavy rainfall periods. If an insufficient gap is left it will cause to ‘sheet’ off your roof and you’ll end up with gushing water coming straight over your gutter.
Panel alignment is more of an aesthetically pleasing feature of your solar install. However still incredibly relevant. You are paying for a premium service and deserve for your panels to look good on your roof. These are the things a professional installer will ensure they complete properly as they understand the importance of an aesthetically pleasing system.
Don’t end up with panels that look like this…
DC cables have have more character than your standard house wiring. The cable is, by design more resistant to corrosion and cuts however it is built stronger. DC cable carries higher voltage and lower current and due to the nature of inverter technology, DC cable is usually not RCD protected. Moreover, there is still a circuit breaker in place, and if your cabling has been installed in a potentially dangerous way in or on your roof, this can lead to hazards such as electrical arcing or fire.
If you can, you may hop in the roof and check the cable run from the inverter to the solar panels on the roof. All DC cabling should be installed in HD solar conduit or appropriately mechanically protected. The conduit should be clearly labelled as DC solar conduit as well as being appropriately held in place by straps and saddles.
Protecting your cable runs with heavy-duty conduit vastly reduces the risks of damage to the cabling.
Additionally, a common area for water ingress is the penetration that allows access for the conduit up to the solar panels on the roof. A recommended form of roof penetration is through the use of Dektite.
The Dektite should be installed with a clean bead of silicone and a visible amount of conduit protruding onto the rail on the roof, and preferably under a panel to protect it from the UV rays the sun produces.
Directly out of the dektite there should be a nice clean fixing to the rail with no sags or bends.
Moreover, sag on the roof will lead to early degradation of the cables and is generally an indicator pf a poor installation. A degrading DC cable is dangerous as it will eventually arc and could potentially cause a fire. On a tin roof, this can could even cause the roof to become electrically charged which is incredibly dangerous.
One of the most important parts of your solar installation is the shading on the panels. With the way that DC solar operates, any panels that are even slightly shaded will decrease in performance. Whilst some people may think the more panels on your roof the better, this is not always the case if panels are blocked by trees or even buildings throughout the day.
It is probably likely that shading may only occur at some times of the day. However, you can invest in optimisers that benefit you in the event that there is shading blocking your panels for some part of the day. We are here to help and there are many ways to negate this situation, and it is an important step when looking to reduce your power bills.
Moreover, panel maintenance plays a major role in the efficiency of the system. Cleaning panels set of dirt and keeping it free from leaves and dirt will ensure the panel operates at full potential.
The inverter is the brains of the entire system – the inverter transforms the voltages and converts the sun’s energy from DC solar power into AC house power and helps to minimise your power bill. Therefore, this is the single most important part of the solar installation and it is incredibly important that the inverter is installed correctly in a well-ventilated area free from dust and water ingress.
Inverters installed to manufacturer standards will usually have an exclusion zone around them for heat dissipation, as well as a required location to allow for their IP rating to stay relevant.
In areas closer closer to the sea, corrosion cal also be an issue and will require the inverter to be placed in a location that keeps it safe from any sea spray that may occur.
Another important thing for you to consider is the location of the inverter in regard to the sun. A good installer will work to avoid walls that experience large amounts of sunlight on the basis that the sun will cause heat rise in the inverter. Inverters are made to automatically clip performance based on increased heat and will also end up with a faded screen after a couple of years.
There are a number of factors that go into a properly commissioned inverter and if you are running a system that uses a high-end inverter such as a Fronius, there are things you are going to want to check to ensure that your system has been set up to operate in the most efficient way possible.
Whilst it is difficult to check these things by yourself, having a chat with your solar installer on the day about what is being set up on the inverter can lead to a greater understanding of your system and its long term health.
Inverters can be incredibly complex and can be the difference from your 5kW inverter running at 98% or at 65% efficiency. With an investment around the same cost as a second hand small car, it makes sense to be properly educated and make the right choices in your decisions. This is what we are here to do, to make your life as easy as possible along your solar journey.
Lastly, Westsun Solar place an emphasis on educating our clients in regard to their solar investment. It is more likely that you will experience a higher energy saving as opposed to simply expecting the system to run and waiting for it to break down. By understanding your solar system, it is a great way to produce green energy and save on your electricity bills.