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background checks

Shonky Solar businesses are at epidemic levels in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.

With the help of glossy websites, sales sharks and phoenix companies (rising from the ashes of their last failed solar company) are becoming experts at masquerading as solar authorities. Here I’ll help you with five simple online background checks you can do to ensure you end up with more than “roof bling”.

 

 

Background check #1

The ABN lookup

www.abr.business.gov.au

With this search, you can find how long the company has been in business.  It’s so easy to start a Solar business in Brisbane, build a glossy website and pose as a solar authority. A glossy website is one thing, a business that will last is another. It’s difficult to get realistic statistics of how often startup business fail, but Brisbane Solar businesses would lift the average.

ABN searches can be difficult and glitchy. If you type in MC Solar for example, you won’t come up with MC Solar & Electrical, but with different companies not related. So ask the ABN of the company and search for that. However, this can also be glichy. Take us just for an example.

We display our ABN and ACN on our website. If you look up our ACN, it will display this:

However, click the company details link and you will see we were registered as a company in 2010.

If you look a little further, you can see we registered the business name MC Electrical when I was installing Solar as sole trader in 2009.

Just to be sure, we trademarked “MC Electrical”“MC Solar & Electrical”, and “MC Solar” in 2018.

I could list many examples of solar sales companies that are posing as authorities but have just recently started out, or even worse, have recently phoenixed (closed down their last failed company to start another) but I’ll refrain.

Try the ABN lookup and Business Name Lookup yourself. It’s eye opening!

 

Background check # 2

The Electrical Contractors License search

Perform a QLD electrical contractors licence search

Solar is an Electrical Contractors game. I’ve been in the electrical industry since 1993 when I was a 17-year-old apprentice working in Brisbane for SEQEB (now Energex). In 2008, I became an Electrical Contractor. Solar is far too complicated for a sales company. That may sound protective, but let me justify my position.

Firstly, a salesman trained by a salesman will sell ice to an Eskimo.
In contrast, a consultant trained by an Electrical Contractor and Solar Designer has more chance of designing solar from a technical point of view. Usually, the consultant will take more care because the licence on the work – belongs to the bloke that pays his wage. We’re not here just to sell roof bling, but to genuinely design and install the best system at a realistic price.

Second
,  It really matters who the blokes are on your roof putting panels up. In Queensland, if you buy from a sales company rather than an Electrical Contractor, the sales company cannot legally employ Electricians. They may claim to use their “own electricians” but  that generally means they rely on transient junior Electrical Contractors (usually sole traders) to install your system for a fiercely competitive price. The sales company then either bows to the authority of the junior installer or, tells him how to take shortcuts on his job. After the junior contractor gains experience and becomes more confident, he moves on to earn a decent living. The cycle continues.
Doing solar well takes experience. Solar should be an Electrical Contractors business.

However having an Electrical Contractors licence does not automatically exclude a company from the junior Sub-Contractor cycle. Larger sales companies often still hold an Electrical Contractors licence, but their business model chooses to use junior Electrical Contractors to cut costs.
I help you to verify that we directly employ our field staff by introducing the MC Electrical Team  on my website. As Brisbane based Electrical Contractors who train and employ Electricians and apprentices, we work to a much higher standard. I choose the best sparkies and apprentices that I can find. I know a good apprentice and a good sparkie because I’ve been there. Between my Electrical supervisor Ryan and myself, we keep up with rapidly changing regulations and best practices and pass that knowledge onto our tradesmen. We both still jump up on a roof regularly and make improvements to the way our electricians and apprentices work. Because Ryan and I were installing solar well before they were, they respect our guidance.

Background Check #3

The Google street view

Check out a business address on Google Street View

So the company you are dealing with has been in business for 5 years. How are they going with that? I’m guessing by now they would be established enough to have  a business premises. Well, why not do a Google street view of their claimed premises. If the company is operating from a residential address, it might be cause for concern for how established the business actually is.

 

Background Check #4

Online Reviews

Try it with us: “MC Electrical review”.

Once you have worked out that you are dealing with a legitimate business that has been around for a while, go to Google and type in the business name followed by “review”. Online reviews can be a great way to see what customers have to say about the service of any given business,  but you need to be cautious online reviews can be bought or faked.

One recent example of fake and bought reviews is from True Value Solar who were bust by the ACCC for offering incentives for positive online reviews. True Value had previously been fined by the ACCC  for misleading advertising. ACCC have also taken action against Eurosolar  for publishing fake online testimonials.

However, if you put on your detective hat and take your time, you should get a good feel for how the company treats their customers. Large sites like Google and Facebook are a good start. However, companies will often not open themselves up to these review platforms because they fear they cannot control the bad reviews. Fin Peacock’s site SolarQuotes is a great resource for testimonials. Fin is really passionate about solar and knows the industry well. It’s hard to be a fake in the solar industry and fool Fin’s team.

If you were suspicious of glowing online reviews and wanted to cross-check them, call up the Solar Company with five or so names in the Brisbane area that you want to check. We’ve had potential customers request this from time to time, and while it may take a day or two to get in contact with our past customers, they are always more than happy to vouch for us.

 

Background Check #5

The Clean Energy Council Approved Retailer

The CEC approved retailer list

While I would strongly advise you to do the above checks, if it’s all too hard, there is a short-cut. The Clean Energy Council has various accreditations, but none like the Clean Energy Council Approved Retailer status. If you really have your game together in solar, you would want the governing body to validate that. The Clean Energy Council is scrupulous about doing background checks. They make sure the company is legitimate and is not a phoenix company. They will ensure the director or managers have not previously been bankrupt. They use a fine-tooth comb on terms and conditions so you can be confident they are clear and fair. They enforce that the method of sales is informative and ethical.

Unfortunately, one thing the CEC do not require is for the company to be Electrical Contractors. I think I’ve made a reasonable case in “Background check #2” as to why this is important.

To be clear, a CEC Approved retail is not the same as a CEC member or a CEC installer. I explain this in my post “What is the Clean Energy Council Code of Conduct”. So far, less than 30 companies in Australia have passed the CEC Approved retailer test, and only a handful in Brisbane.

 

Bonus check: Solar Rail

This may seem like a  weird one to throw in, but I believe solar rail is a litmus test for a quality solar install. We choose to pay more for Brisbane based Radiant Solar rail. The only rail that comes close to the quality of Radiant is SunLock. After this, you really are looking at low-end Chinese rail, with no consideration for a quality of install in mind. Let’s not beat around the bush: both Radiant and Sunlock rail are about $400 more for a 5kw system on a tile roof. But a quality installer will use a quality rail. With their attention to detail on nonmarketable items such as rail, you can make a reasonable assumption that they will install with quality in mind. Your investment in a quality rail may be the best $400 real estate investment you have ever made.

Conclusion

When you are looking for a Brisbane Solar company, you first want a business that has been around more than just a couple of years. A minimum of 5 years is a good guide. Second, you probably want to deal with an Electrical Contractor who understands what they are selling and can legally employ and control their own staff. Third, check out their business premises on Google Street View. Next, I would check out what customers are saying on by Googling the company name and “review”. As a fifth point, I would always recommend you went with a Clean Energy Council Approved Retailer – but preferably one that is also a contractor.  Finally, I would suggest you investigate the brand of rail the company is offering, as a litmus test of a quality of installation.

I hope I have assisted you in finding a real solar company and help separate the wheat from the chaff. I’d be keen to hear your experiences below – be they positive or negative.

Mark Cavanagh

Leave a Reply

10 Comments on "Five simple Brisbane Solar company background checks"

10 Comments on Five simple Brisbane Solar company background checks

Electrician Coquitlam said : Guest Report 3 months ago

You have really helped me by giving the valuable information through this blog. Thanks and keep sharing this kind of information.

  • V3B 2J5
Mark C said : administrator Report 5 months ago

Oh Good Greif!!! I wish I replied to this earlier. I'll just say, RUN FOR THE HILLS!! Hopefully, you haven't already purchased. Look up CEC approved retailers in your area.

Coral Manning said : Guest Report 7 months ago

Morning Mark, I have tried to research info on Aus Solar Co, 8 Gough St VIC Can you please help and advise me?

  • 4054
Mark C said : administrator Report 12 months ago

Hi, Stephen, Thanks for pointing that out. The business name is actually "MC Solar & ELectrical PTY LTD", but we trade as MC Electrical. If you type in MC Solar, we will come up. I'll ask the CEC if they can add in our trading name also.

Stephen said : Guest Report 12 months ago

Hi Mark, As advised by your blog, I am trying to do some background check on some installers. I tried to do Check 5 (Approved CEC retailer list) but it does not return any results. So I tried submitting using your coming "MC Electrical" but still the result is negative! Am I missing something? Regards

  • 4116
Mark C said : administrator Report 2 years ago

Interesting Mark! definitely is a lot of fake reviews out there! Sime sites do a good job of vetting fake reviews (like solarquotes) but others are a bit of a concern.

Mark Stevens (Infinite Energy) said : Guest Report 2 years ago

Regarding #4 (online reviews), if the company only has 2 or 3 testimonials published on their website, copy/paste some of the sentences into Google. You'd be surprised how many dodgy companies copy their testimonials from other websites. For example, copy/paste the below sentence into Google "everything went well. The installers were efficient and polite, and after sales service has been attentive and effective"

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Don Smith said : Guest Report 2 years ago

I undrestand where you are coming from.I ama licensed builder qbcc licence No.42892 . I have had dealings with possibly six various so called solar companies of which only one presenter was an electrician with a solar licence. He was from .... Electrical Company and he appeared to be reasonably technically informed. I hope your sales person is also technically informed. I have a brief to have 18 Sunpower spr-x22-360 panels installed on a 30 degree N/W facing shed with a 32amp sub main underground to a Hager sub board. I hope your company can give me a competitive estimate. This job will not be starting until late June or July.Inverters to be SMA or Fronius. this will be a 5KW system as it is single phase. Yours faithfully Don Smith

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Plu42jiKoyh said : administrator Report 2 years ago

Thanks Ben, I hope it helps.

Home Security said : Guest Report 2 years ago

Hey Mark, Great post on how to do background checks for people interested in solar panels. This is a great way to ensure that you get a quality provider in your area and one that is safe too! Thanks for the tips, Ben

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Home Security
Guest

Hey Mark, Great post on how to do background checks for people interested in solar panels. This is a great way to ensure that you get a quality provider in your area and one that is safe too! Thanks for the tips, Ben

Don Smith
Guest
I undrestand where you are coming from.I ama licensed builder qbcc licence No.42892 . I have had dealings with possibly six various so called solar companies of which only one presenter was an electrician with a solar licence. He was from …. Electrical Company and he appeared to be reasonably technically informed. I hope your sales person is also technically informed. I have a brief to have 18 Sunpower spr-x22-360 panels installed on a 30 degree N/W facing shed with a 32amp sub main underground to a Hager sub board. I hope your company can give me a competitive estimate.… Read more »
Mark Stevens (Infinite Energy)
Guest
Mark Stevens (Infinite Energy)

Regarding #4 (online reviews), if the company only has 2 or 3 testimonials published on their website, copy/paste some of the sentences into Google. You’d be surprised how many dodgy companies copy their testimonials from other websites. For example, copy/paste the below sentence into Google “everything went well. The installers were efficient and polite, and after sales service has been attentive and effective”

Stephen
Guest

Hi Mark, As advised by your blog, I am trying to do some background check on some installers. I tried to do Check 5 (Approved CEC retailer list) but it does not return any results. So I tried submitting using your coming “MC Electrical” but still the result is negative! Am I missing something? Regards

Coral Manning
Guest

Morning Mark, I have tried to research info on Aus Solar Co, 8 Gough St VIC Can you please help and advise me?

Electrician Coquitlam
Guest
Electrician Coquitlam

You have really helped me by giving the valuable information through this blog. Thanks and keep sharing this kind of information.

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