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9 Tips on Choosing The Right Commercial Solar Retailer
How to achieve value for money with your solar investment while meeting your business needs.
If you are considering installing a commercial solar system, a competitive process for procurement, installation and associated services is essential for achieving the best value for money while meeting your business needs.
Apart from price and financial outcomes, there are three key areas to consider when comparing offers for your solar project. They are:
- The Solar Retailer
- The Solution
- The Contract
In this article, we look at what to consider regarding the first – The Solar Retailer, specifically:
- CEC Accreditations
- Additional Services
- Quality and Environmental Management
There are three Clean Energy Council (CEC) accreditations which are a must for every solar project (without them, your project can’t generate STCs or LGCs):
- CEC Approved Solar Retailer is awarded to businesses to show their commitment to responsible sales and marketing activities and industry best practice (the solar retailer you sign up with for your solar project must be a CEC Approved Solar Retailer).
- CEC Accredited Designers and Installers recognises people who have undertaken the necessary training to design and install solar, batteries and other renewable energy systems (your chosen solar retailer may subcontract the design and/or installation so you may also need to check their subcontractors).
- CEC Approved Product is awarded to solar modules, inverters and batteries that meet Australian Standards (we will cover products in the next article on The Solution).
The solar retailer you choose should have demonstrated extensive experience and capability in design, contracting and delivering solar projects. Preferably this will be in projects with similar features to your own, as highlighted below:
- Geographical coverage: Relevant to your project locality and electricity network authority
- Solar array type: Roof mounted, ground mounted, car park, floating solar
- System size: Small (~10 to 100 kW), medium (100 to 1000 kW), large (>1 MW)
- System type: Grid-connected, off-grid, embedded network, microgrid
- Additional features: Battery energy storage, power factor correction, EV charging
- Contract type: Outright purchase, power purchase agreement, lease, rental
Depending on the size, nature and complexity of your solar project and the ongoing services you require, you may need a solar retailer who has additional capabilities. These may include:
- project management
- local planning and development approvals
- system performance monitoring
- fault or underperformance detection and reactive maintenance
- planned maintenance and cleaning
Choose a solar retailer that has the capacity to deliver your solar project on time. Compare the size of your project to the volume of annual solar installs for a given solar retailer. If the size of your solar project makes up a significant portion of the solar retailer’s annual volume of solar installs, they may struggle to deliver your project on time and with the quality and customer service you require, particularly if they have other ongoing projects in their pipeline.
Solar retailers that have a healthy balance sheet and cashflow are more likely to be around for the long term. This means they can continue to honour warranty periods associated with your solar system and any other contractual obligations such as performance guarantees. Completing a credit check is easy to do and helps you to assess the risk of a solar retailer entering receivership or external administration.
It goes without saying, you need to check insurances. This includes public liability, professional indemnity, and workers compensation. Make sure insurance certificates are current, the insurance policies have acceptable caps and do not have unacceptable exclusions.
There are two items to check when it comes to a solar retailer’s experience:
Year of first solar install
Solar retailers that have been around for a long time are more likely to have an effective senior management team, have people who are experienced in delivering solar projects, and have developed organisational experience and competitive advantage overtime.
Out of all the things to check with a solar retailer, customer experience trumps all others as it cuts through the glossy marketing brochures and sales pitches.
Always ask solar retailers for details and customer contacts for their most recent solar projects completed. If possible, don't let solar retailers cherry-pick as they will always choose projects where they know they have performed well.
Try to obtain a recent project example where the head contractor (i.e. the solar retailer's subcontractor that is responsible for managing the solar installation for a site) is the same head contractor proposed for your solar project.
For all solar projects contracted through Beam Solar, we obtain the following customer feedback regarding the solar retailer once the system is installed:
- Net Promotor Score (NPS)
- Contracting process
- Communication and project updates
- Design review and approvals process
- Project management and site coordination
- Safety and incident management
- Operational handover and documentation
- Value for money
We also offer our customers a free post installation inspection to assess the workmanship quality of their solar installation and to identify any defects. Further, we offer 12 months of free savings measurement and verification.
Our customer feedback process and post-installation services provide us with insights into the quality and performance of individual solar retailers and their subcontractors. This information is invaluable to our customers when evaluating solar retailers for their own solar project.
There are two key items to check when it comes to a solar retailer’s safety management:
Safety management system:
Your chosen solar retailer should have a safety management system that is certified against one of the following occupational health and safety management systems standards:
- AS 4804:2001
- ISO 45001:2018
They should also have a workplace health and safety manual (or equivalent) that contains the following:
- Safety procedures
- Job Safety Assessment (JSA) requirements
- Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) for all high-risk construction activities
A Loss Time Injury (LTI) is a single incident that results in a fatality, permanent disability or time lost from work. It could be as little as one day or shift. The severity of injury is not considered in the number. Ask solar retailers for company-wide LTIs and total hours worked covering all their solar projects for the past couple of years.
The Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR) can then be calculated by dividing the LTI by the total hours worked. As most solar retailers use subcontractors for the solar installation, it’s essential the LTIFR includes the LTIs and hours worked by all subcontractors that have been engaged by the solar retailer.
A solar retailer with a relatively high LTIFR compared to the industry average is a red flag and should be investigated further.
If a solar retailer cannot produce the numbers to report their LTIFR, then this is an even bigger red flag as it may mean they aren’t even monitoring and recording their safety incidents which indicates a general lack of safety management.
Safe Work Australia has a tool on their website to help you calculate the LTIFR and provides a comparison to the industry average.
Quality and Environmental Management
The last thing to check for a solar retailer is whether their quality and environmental management systems are certified as per the ISO standards below:
- ISO 9001:2015 – Quality Management System
- ISO 14001:2015 – Environment Management System
While ISO certification is not critical, it is preferred.
Click here if you want to keep reading about next key area to consider before buying solar – The Solution.
About Beam Solar
While the above items are not exhaustive, they are the minimum checks we recommend before you sign a contract with a solar retailer for your solar project.
When you engage Beam Solar for your solar procurement, you get access to the best solar retailers in the industry, rigorously vetted by us across all items covered above plus others. We can also tailor our process to meet your needs. This includes incorporating additional solar retailer assessment criteria set by you or inviting new solar retailers onto our platform and vetting them under our solar retailer assessment and registration process.
In the meantime, if you are wondering what solar can do for your sites, start a Beam Solar assessment by clicking the button below.