You’ve decided to proactively support the environment, save energy and cut down on electric bills. It’s time to go solar. But how should you get started, where should you turn for advice and what basics should you know? If you thought you could simply walk into the showroom of your local solar panel company and pick out panels, you would be surprised to learn that they do not exist. In order to choose and purchase the right panels for your property, first, you have to select a solar installer.
Find Solar Panel Installer
Just as you would hire a roofing contractor when shopping for a new roof, you’ll need to find the right solar installer when shopping for solar for your home or business. Your aim should be to hire a reasonably priced and knowledgeable professional, who has the solar options that best fit your needs. But how do you pick out the true pros?
Getting tips on solar panel installation and relevant information on the different types of panels, cost ranges, and financing options will help take the mystery out of choosing an installer.
The main factors to consider when choosing a solar installer are location, knowledge of the industry, the types of panels available, and the payment and warranty options.
Solar Panel Installer near you
One of the first considerations in choosing a solar panel installer is the location. Apart from convenience, it’s best to go with a local provider who will be familiar with area weather trends and regional or state incentive programs – both critical factors in solar power implementation. Your solar installer should also be familiar with the latest products and code issues in your area. For example, California has very strict codes regarding fire safety to protect first responders from injury while protecting your home from a fire.
When choosing a solar panel installer, it is important to find out how knowledgeable they are about the technology and the local industry. Here is a general checklist of considerations for finding out more about the solar installer:
- What training and certification does your solar installer have?
- How much experience does your solar PV installer have?
- How long has the company been in business?
- What does the solar installer know about the local utility and incentive program requirements?
- What does the solar installer know about electrical requirements and codes?
- Can the solar panels installer provide references?
- What post-installation services are offered?
- What warranty plans are available?
If your solar panel installer understands the technology, the local building, and electrical codes, the local incentive programs, and has a strong history and references, chances are they are a good pick.
Make sure your solar panel installer is a start-to-finish pro who handles all aspects of the job from site survey, system design, permit acquisition, system installation, rebate applications, and post-job inspection meetings. Your solar panel installer should also know about all of the federal, state, and local solar incentives and assist you in filling out paperwork. If the solar installer you are using doesn’t meet the preceding criteria, keep looking for someone who does.
Panels & Inverters: What’s Right For Me?
Do you have a small area reserved for your solar panel or is your setup a sweeping rooftop? Is cost-driving your decision? Do you need to dodge chimneys and dormers, or mount panels on different roof sections? What percentage of your roof has shading?
When choosing a solar installer, be sure they have experience with a variety of systems and components, including various panel types and inverter types. They should also be familiar with the latest technology and state-of-the-art products in the market, to provide insight into the full range of options. With this knowledge at their fingertips, your solar PV installer will know the best solution that suits your needs.
Here are a few product options to keep in mind:
- Panel Types: There are various types of solar panels, which each have different strengths.
- High-Efficiency Crystalline – High efficiency means more electricity from a given panel area. This is ideal if you have limited space or if you want to maximize the amount of electricity your system produces. Crystalline panels last 25-30 years.
- Standard Crystalline – These are cheaper but less efficient. If cost is a driving force, this is a good solution. These panels also last 25-30 years.
- Inverter Types: The inverter is the key piece of electronics that converts the direct current (DC) power from solar panels into alternating current (AC) power which is used in homes.
- Central Inverter – This is the traditional choice for all solar systems and is most cost effective for very large systems. These inverters last 10-15 years.
- Micro-Inverter – Micro-inverters are a relatively new technology which convert the power from a single panel, allowing for flexible system options. This is a great option if you need a modular system design, have shading, or want to boost the electricity generated by your system. The life span of most micro-inverters is a decade but there are more reliable ones in today’s market that have 20-25 year lifetimes.
Paying for It All: What Are My Options?
Before choosing your solar panel installer, get several bids and make sure you know what each bid includes and how much you’ll save on your monthly electric bill. Also, be sure to find out how much of your electricity will come from your solar system. Is maintenance additional? What kind of warranty is available? What are your financing options?
Payment-wise, there are three basic options to choose from:
- Capital purchase – You use your own cash or take a loan to buy the solar power system. With this plan you own, operate, and maintain your system and recoup costs via savings earned on utility bills and renewable energy credit sales.
- Power Purchase Agreement – With a PPA, you purchase the kilowatt-hours you use monthly at a pre-set rate that incrementally increases over the term of the agreement. In this case, a third party would own the hardware that is on your roof.
- Leasing – With a lease, you pay a fixed monthly fee not tied to actual use. It’s like a car lease with unlimited mileage where you are responsible for system performance, operation, and maintenance.
When cash or loans are a barrier, PPAs and leasing are the obvious choices, but agreements may be complex. It’s important to note that PPAs and leases mean host customers usually give up tax deductions, cash incentives, utility rebates and, if available, renewable energy credits that typically go to the system owners.
Choosing a solar installer doesn’t have to be a mystery.