Thanks to our friends at EnergySage for this unbiased, independent piece on why more factors than cost-per-watt should be considered when selecting a solar installer. This perspective is very relevant to smaller, local companies like New England Clean Energy that compete with large, venture capital-financed national companies. In fact, “consider whether you want to support a local company” might be the one thing missing from the EnergySage list below. (Originally published on the EnergySage.com blog.)
When shopping for solar photovoltaic (also known as solar panel, solar electric) systems, many businesses and homeowners focus mainly on price. To that end, dollars per watt is a key metric when comparing quotes because it allows the consumer to adjust for differences in system size. While price is certainly an important factor, maximizing the value of your investment both financially and environmentally, involves consideration of several other, equally important factors. Here are some that we think are vital to making the right decision.
- Workmanship Warranties – These warranties often ensure that there is no additional out-of-pocket risk in the first few years of system ownership.
- Technology Choices – All panels, inverters, monitoring systems and racking / mounting equipment are not created equal. Some are better than others and the choice you make will impact your system production and reliability, which are critical to generating solid financing returns.
- Installation Quality – Just like equipment, installers can vary in quality, too. You should ask questions about your installer’s approach to quality assurance. Your system’s performance is dependent on the quality of your installer’s workmanship.
- Installer Reputation – Ask your installer for references. Happy customers are a good barometer for a successful installation at your property. Even better, check third-party ratings and reviews like the ones we provide on EnergySage.com. Reviews can tell you a lot about the company’s customer service and quality performance.
- Solar Electricity Production Estimates – Ask how much solar power your new system is expected to generate in the first 12 months (in kWhs). When you divide that number by the system size (in W), the result will be your production ratio. Do this calculation for each proposal you receive, compare the results, and inquire about any differences.
- Shade Mitigation –Intermittent shade due to trees or other obstructions will impact the amount of electricity your system produces (less sun equals less energy!). Ask your installers how they will address this—would they suggest using micro-inverters to help keep the system producing at a high rate despite some shading? If they don’t know what this technology is, you may want to look elsewhere.
- Installation Date – Most property owners want their systems completed and interconnected yesterday. Make sure you understand and agree upon a timeline. If the installer has a large backlog of installations to complete before yours, this may be an important factor in your decision.
- Attention to Aesthetics – Make sure your installer pays special attention to how your installation will look. For example, are the panels positioned in the same direction? Will conduit and wiring be hidden or visible? Some installers will go the extra mile and hide conduit in fake downspouts, paint it to match the roof shingles or siding or make other adjustments. Aesthetics are important to most property owners so ask how these issues will be handled.
- Experience and Commitment – You want a provider who has the experience needed to design and install a system that produces pure solar joy, no headaches. Ask how long he or she has been installing systems—how many systems similar to the one you are considering have they installed? Equally as important, you will want an installer who will be here in the long term so they can honor their warrantees. Make sure this is not in doubt before proceeding.
- Customer Service – Does the installer follow-up with you quickly when you have questions, do you get periodic updates on the status of the system design or quote preparation? These are indicators of what your experience will be with the company after you have signed on the line and definitely something to consider when evaluating your options.
Going solar is an important financial decision and price isn’t the only factor in determining the success of your investment. In fact, a more expensive system often can deliver better financial returns for your family or business. As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider. By automating this process and providing information that is key to the decision-making process, our EnergySage Solar Marketplace makes shopping for solar easy for the consumer. If you’re ready to start the shopping process, you can access the Solar Marketplace here.
Are there other things you think should be considered that we didn’t include? Feel free to chime in below in the comments section.
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