Are you a Solar Orphan? What Can You Do if Your Solar Retailer is No Longer Operating?
Every year, several solar retailers go out of business for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, it’s the customers who get left behind in this situation. Hundreds, even thousands of customers become stranded when their solar retailer stops trading, leaving them as solar orphans. That means no more warranty repairs, no customer service, no convenient maintenance of your solar system. It’s frustrating, because when you buy solar panels in Australia, you expect it to be a positive experience.
If your solar retailer has gone out of business, this article will give you some tips on how to manage the situation.
Why do solar retailers go out of business?
Unfortunately, the solar industry is still only mildly regulated compared to other industries. This means it can be attractive for shonky businesspeople looking to make a quick buck. When these types of people start a solar business, they usually don’t have any passion for the work, and it’s simply a money-making venture. This attitude means they cut corners, take very little pride in the quality of their installations, and sell cheap, unreliable solar panels and inverters.
In today’s digital age, word gets around pretty quickly, and these business practices just don’t stand up to the public test. Ultimately, the business disappears, leaving their customers stranded. In some cases, the practice of ‘phoenixing’ is prevalent too. A company owner may close their solar company and re-open under another name, shedding all liabilities (including customer warranties) from the previous business. It’s morally wrong, but extremely difficult to litigate against.
Of course, there are also cases where businesses just fail. There doesn’t always have to be something sinister behind a business closure, however, the end result is still the same for the customer who now finds themselves as a solar orphan.
What issues do solar orphans face?
When solar retailers go out of business, it becomes nearly impossible for customers to access their warranty. When you buy solar panels in Australia, you usually get two different warranties. One is the product warranty, which for example may be 10-12 years. This protects you against equipment problems that aren’t your fault. Then there is the performance warranty, which covers you against unreasonable degradation of solar panel performance.
These warranties are provided by the equipment manufacturer, not the installer. However, many of the solar companies that go broke usually sell cheap equipment that’s manufactured overseas. This can put them out of reach, and even getting assistance from Fair Trading, an Ombudsman or the ACCC can prove difficult because the manufacturer isn’t an Australian company.
In addition to warranty issues, there is also the fact that you can’t get your solar panels cleaned, maintained, or checked by your original installer. If you’ve signed up to a deal that gives you solar panel cleaning, for example, that turns into something you’ll have to pay someone else to do.
What to do if you can’t contact your solar retailer
If you have any issues with your system, such as solar panel efficiency or inverter problems, the first thing you should do is contact your solar installer. Of course, if they’ve gone out of business, it will be difficult to get in touch with them. Here are some tips to help you reach a resolution if you can no longer contact your retailer:
Check their business status
The first thing you should do is check the company’s business status. You can use the ASIC Connect website, or alternatively the ASIC Register of Insolvencies. These sources can help you determine whether the business is still in operation or not.
If they’re still an active business, it’s worth searching high and low for a contact number. They may have moved or changed numbers. So, try searching online, including social media, to see if you can obtain new contact details. If not, try moving on to this next suggestion.
Contact the product manufacturer
You can always contact the product manufacturer directly, especially if you’re trying to make a warranty claim. This won’t be a relevant step if you have other issues, such as poor installation, but if the equipment itself isn’t working, this is your next best step.
Check the documentation you received when your system was installed, as this will have the manufacturer’s contact details. Explain to them that your solar retailer has gone out of business or won’t respond to your requests, and hopefully they can help you out.
Lodge a complaint with Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading
Finally, if you don’t have any luck with your product manufacturer, you can contact Consumer Affairs of the Fair Trading Agency. Bear in mind that if your product manufacturer is based solely overseas, Australian agencies may not be able to do much to assist you. However, many solar panel manufacturers have offices in Australia, meaning Australian authorities should be able to assist in some way.
Still no luck? Find a new CEC approved solar installer
Finally, if you have no success getting your warranty issue sorted out, you may have to find another solar retailer to help. Obviously, this will come at a cost, but at least you’ll have your system back up and running efficiently. By choosing a Clean Energy Council (CEC) approved installer, you’ll also have a point of contact for any future issues you may have.
How to avoid future problems
The best way to avoid becoming a solar orphan is to always choose reputable retailers for your solar purchase. Of course, it’s impossible to guarantee you’re dealing with a good company, but there are some signs to look out for.
Check their business history using an ABN search. If they haven’t been in operation very long, it might be best to find a well-established retailer.
Ensure your retailer is CEC approved. Also, make sure the products are high-quality, and from reputable manufacturers. Where possible, always choose manufacturers with a presence in Australia.
It can be tempting to sign up for a great new solar deal when you see it advertised, but the best advice is that the cheapest isn’t always best. Do appropriate checks on the company you’re buying from, and make a well-informed decision on your solar panel system.
Captain Green has been providing quality solar panels, inverters and battery solutions to Australians since 2010, and we’re an approved CEC retailer. If you need any help with existing solar systems, or you’d like to purchase your first system, contact us today on 1300 361 682.