Cheap vs expensive solar: Is there a difference?

You want to get solar, but you aren’t sure if there’s any real difference between cheap and expensive solar. Is the $5k quote the same as the $15k one? It’s a good question. There are a few important differences between cheap solar and more expensive options.

In this article we’ll explore how the following things impact the cost and outcome for your solar system:

  1. System size
  2. Type of solar panel
  3. Type of inverter
  4. Accessories
  5. Quality of installation

System Size

The size of your solar system directly impacts its cost. A larger system has more solar panels, which means it generates more electricity.

If you get a larger system it costs more up front, but it will also give you more savings in the long run by generating more electricity to cover your needs. On the flip side, if you get a cheaper, smaller solar system it might not meet your energy requirements, which means you won’t save as much on bills.

It’s also important to think about your future electricity needs. If you plan to buy an Electric Vehicle (EV) in the future, or convert gas heating, cooking or hot water to electricity, then it might make sense to get a larger system that can cover those future electricity needs. 

Use our solar calculator to estimate the system size that you would need both now and in the future.

Type of Solar Panel

The type of solar panel you choose is also important. More efficient panels are better at capturing the sun’s energy so it can be converted into electricity. A more efficient solar panel can generate more electricity than another panel of the same size that is less efficient.

  • Monocrystalline panels are known for their high efficiency (17-22%), but are generally more expensive due to their complex manufacturing process.
  • Polycrystalline panels, while slightly less efficient (15-17%), offer a more affordable option without a significant drop in quality​​.
  • Thin-film panels, although the cheapest and most flexible, are less efficient and might not be suitable for all homes​​.

If you have a roof that receives full sun and no other complex factors then cheaper less efficient solar panels could be fine.

However, if you have a roof with partial shade, or a smaller roof that can’t fit as many panels on, you would be better off getting a more expensive panel that is more efficient and will make better use of the available sunlight.

Cheap vs expensive solar - cheap solar panels (left) often appear more bulky while more expensive solar panels (right) appear more sleek.
Cheaper solar panels (left) often appear more bulky and visible on the roof, while more expensive solar panels (right) appear more sleek and in some cases have different colour options to blend with the roof.

Type of Inverter

The inverter is the heart of your solar system. It converts the power from the solar panels (DC electricity) into power that you can use in your home (AC electricity). The choice of inverter can make a big difference to the overall performance and longevity of your solar system.

Quality inverters are expected to last over a decade and offer better efficiency. In contrast, cheaper inverters may fail within just 1-2 years, leading to additional costs and headaches​​.

There are also different types of inverters that have different prices:

String Inverters

In systems with string inverters, multiple solar panels (or a string of panels) are connected to a single inverter. String inverters are usually the cheapest option. They work well for simple installations where the roof is in full sun. If you have a roof in full sun, and plenty of space to house the inverter, then a good quality string inverter can make sense and save you money.

Microinverters

In systems with microinverters, each solar panel has its own mini inverter that sits with it on the roof. Microinverters are more expensive than string inverters, but they are important to use if you have partial shade.

If your roof is partially shaded and you have a string inverter the whole solar system will be affected (even the panels not in shade). However, if you have partial shade on your roof with microinverters then only the shaded panel is affected, and all other panels continue to perform at maximum output

Microinverters also make it easier to add panels, so if you are planning to get a smaller system for your current usage but want to add more panels in the future then the extra expense of microinverters could make sense.

Monitoring

Monitoring apps also affect the cost of your system. Cheaper systems often don’t come with an app to monitor your electricity usage. If something isn’t working you might not be able to tell right away.

Mid-range systems usually come with an app for monitoring your usage, but it will only monitor the health of the solar system overall (not individual panels). 

The most expensive systems often come with an app that not only allows you to monitor your consumption, but also monitor the performance of each individual solar panel – and may even alert your installer if one of them isn’t working properly.

How important the apps are for you depends on your lifestyle, and whether you would like the installer to be able to monitor the performance of your system and maintain it proactively.

Quality of Installation

A high-quality installation makes sure the solar system operates efficiently and safely over its lifetime.

Opting for cheaper installation services might save money upfront but can lead to issues like poor system performance or even safety hazards​​.

It’s important to choose experienced and reputable installers who use high-quality materials and take care in their work, ensuring that your system is installed correctly and built to last.

Common issues with cheap installation include:

  • Inverters being installed outside in the sun, which affects their performance long term.
  • Low quality racking or cable ties being used to attach the solar panels to the roof, which can degrade over time (particularly in coastal areas).
  • Damage to the roof or walls where wiring is brought inside, leading to ugly or unfilled holes.
  • Installers not providing ongoing maintenance for the system.

We screen all our partner installers for licensing, accreditation, and history of high quality service. Book a free inspection with an installer to meet them before committing to an installation.

Conclusion

Choosing between cheap vs expensive solar depends on your circumstances. If you have a simple roof that gets full sun then a cheaper solar system can work well. However, getting a cheap solar installation in the wrong circumstance (such as if you have partial shade) can mean that your system fails to generate enough electricity long term. 

Very cheap solar installations by lower quality installers can also result in a shorter lifespan, and the potential need for replacements or repairs. Investing in a slightly more expensive solar system, with a high quality installer, can provide better efficiency, reliability, and peace of mind, ultimately offering greater value for your money.

Need help getting home solar?

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