How to Choose a Solar Installer
How to Choose a Solar Installer
1) If you intend to continue connection to your electric utility for some of your power needs, contact them first. Are you eligible for local incentives for your installation? If incentives are available, they are paid only to projects installed by professionals approved by the utility. If pertinent/available, a local organization such as Solar San Antonio’s Bring Solar Home program or Austin Energy can set you up with qualified installers. When talking to installers, be sure to ask which incentive programs they have access to and how that will affect your financing options.
2.)What’s the track record? How long has the company been in business, how many systems have they installed, and how happy are the customers? Ask for references (from most recent projects to a few years back) and contact them for their feedback. Look around your neighborhood for solar arrays and ask the owners about their experience with the installer.
3)Consider whether your installer can respond quickly to a warranty or service issue. Is there a service contract to insure performance? A large national company may have the best pricing but the smaller local installer may be able to respond more quickly to an emergency or outage.
4) Get three estimates. Expect to spend some time with the professionals discussing financing, incentives, and installation logistics. Comparing job bids will help you understand your expected costs and your energy savings.
5)Though there is rarely damage to solar arrays, we do live in a state with extreme weather. Hail damage is rarely an issue with today’s panels. Your roof is far more vulnerable, but check with your homeowner’s insurer to see if coverage is available.
Know your electric use in kilowatt hours. This is not the dollar amount on your bill, but the actual energy you use. Even before providing an estimate, an installer’s representative will want to sit down with you to review your use as a prelude to discussing how much you can expect to save on monthly bills and an estimate of installation costs. The estimator should be knowledgeable about your local utility rate structure, the net-metering policy, and may suggest ways to reduce energy use and thus the size of the PV or solar hot water system.
The estimator will want to climb on the roof to gauge the amount of sun it receives and what kind of shade to expect as the sun moves across the sky, summer and winter. A critical issue is the condition of the roof itself. The solar array components carry a warranty of 20 years or more, and you probably don’t want to bolt it onto a roof that will need to be replaced in five or ten years.
Ask about subcontractors. Does your solar installer subcontract any of their work? This is important because while you may trust your solar installer, you may not know the subcontractor. Is the installer going to bring in a licensed electrician or roofer? If so, who is responsible for the quality of their work? Who, for instance, will be responsible for possible roof leaks?
Be clear about the financial terms. The estimator will have a grasp of local incentives if available, the federal tax credit, attractive financing options for renewable energy projects and efficiency upgrades. Your solar installer should be fluent on the different financing options (ie. out right purchase, lease, power purchase agreement) available and they should explain how any financing costs wll impact the monthly savings on your electric bills resulting from solar power.
Once the estimates are in, compare them carefully. Are the estimates all for the same size system? Are there performance warranties? Who handles the permitting and inspection fees, and are all applicable fees accounted for? What are the warranty and service-visit policies? Is there a service contract available? What about cost overruns – if fees or charges rise unexpectedly, who pays?
Scheduling and installation
Once you’ve settled on an installer, negotiate firm dates for installation and commissioning (the completed system has been inspected, is connected to the grid and running). A post-commissioning visit from the installer should validate system performance, and the rep can explain the inverter’s monitor display so you can track power production. Be sure to get the equipment manuals and warranties.
Lucy Stolzenburg is the Executive Director of TXSES