“Buyer Beware” is a common refrain when conducting a purchase and it’s also appropo with solar energy. Installing solar panels on your home is a great way to save money, and the planet, but you need to be aware of these top (secret) questions to ask your solar company. Click on the questions below to have a more detailed explanation appear.
There are many solar companies that are basically just solar sales organizations. These solar providers actually hire solar installation companies to do the work. Sometimes the sales entity will do some of the design work and sometimes they pass on the whole package to the solar installer to do everything.
There is nothing, by default, wrong with this approach but as a solar customer you should be aware about who is installing and, possibly, warranting the solar PV system and you should know this information up front.
Whether you are looking for a lease, finance, ppa or purchase with cash you should always compare the proposal with the contract your signing. The proposal can sometimes be the contract but it’s not always the case. Often the contract will be sent to you via email and/or it will need to be signed digitally. You might be under pressure to scroll through quickly and sign. This is a mistake, you should take your time and, at least, read the customized numbers that are relevant to your project.
Ensure the system size, production estimates (or guarantees) and price are all what you were sold on. Compare the numbers and make sure they are accurate. If there are changes after you signed the contract, sometimes called “Change Orders”, find out, specifically, what technical changes are being made and if the price has changed.
The system size is defined by Watts (w) or Kilowatts (kW) while the amount the system produces is defined as Kilowatt Hours (kWh). So 20 300watt panels will be a 6kW (or 6,000w) system, which is the amount of energy it produces per hour in rated conditions.
Over the course of the year it will produce a certain amount of kWh of energy. This amount is heavily influenced by a few factors. The most important are shade and azimuth (the direction the panels are facing).
You can verify the production estimate by taking the relevant information and plugging into the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) calculator (PVWatts) at https://pvwatts.nrel.gov/pvwatts.php. You can ask the solar company for the shading report; they would have needed it to come up with the estimates.
Sometimes the finance or leasing entity has their own calculations so it can deviate a little from the PVWatts range, but you’ll get an idea.
If you are installing solar panels on your roof you need to make sure your roof is in good enough shape to have solar panels installed on it. If you have any doubts you should contact a roofing company to do an inspection. A local roofer can charge around $150-$350 for an inspection; a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Although a reputable solar company warranties any penetrations in your roof it’s still more worthwhile to do the repairs before the installation. In most states, part of the solar permitting process includes an engineer to sign off on the installation of the solar panels on the roof, but that only covers the structural load, not any leaks.
There are many solar companies that had their “moment in the Sun” and then went out of business. The longevity of the solar company is important, due to the warranty that you might need to rely upon if something goes wrong. A solar installation company that has been around a while gives a certain level of comfort.
There are, obviously, other little details that can also be important but these top questions will ensure that your decision will be an educated one. Happy shopping.