When going solar, you’ll find that more than one company based near you offers the service you’re looking for. Let’s consider a complete home solar assessment and turnkey installation for a solar energy photovoltaic system.
Here’s how to evaluate differences in your solar quotes, make adjustments to see how the proposals really stack up, and ultimately choose the proposal that will fit your expectations best.
Right-Sizing and Price Per Watt
When purchasing anything, one of the main questions to answer is how much does the customer need. Whereas the right number of seats in a car or servings of potatoes are easy to count, the number of solar panels in the ideal solar array is more complex. If two companies are telling the same customer they’re going to propose a larger or smaller solar energy system, here are some explanations why:
- One company may be presuming greater utility electric rate increases in the coming years, that would help make a larger solar installation pay for itself faster
- One company may be thinking your electric usage will stay about the same over the years, as you replace old appliances with more efficient new ones even as you add more electronic devices
- One company may be offering cookie-cutter solar packages, preferring the ease of recommending similar size solar energy systems to all its customers in a given area, rather than approaching each as a customized and unique setup
- If total budget is a consideration, the solar company may be restricting the size of the solar system to keep overall cost in check, leaving room for expansion later
Customers wanting to get an honest price comparison should do a little math: Verify the price per Watt by dividing the total contract price by the proposed wattage. Like referring to unit price on the grocery store shelf, this is a good way to see the best deal, all other things being equal.
Lastly, make sure you break down the price to you before and after any incentives you’ve discussed with the solar company. Keep in mind that customers taking the 30% federal tax credit will still have to pay cash or finance the full system cost.
Quality, Value and Risk
In a solar installation, quality manifests in a few ways. These include the products used, most of all the inverter and the solar PV modules also known as panels, as well as the design and labor involved. Even the communication among team members and between the solar company and the client can have a bearing on the successful outcome of your project in your eyes.
Watch out for technical debt in your solar project. This is a situation in which your installer’s or product’s shortcomings reduce the value of your solar purchase. This might be evident from seeing electric bills that don’t reflect the reductions the customer expected to see, or problems might surface in the data that the monitoring software is reporting. In this case, the buyer either lives with the system that’s not producing like it should and forgoes the difference in performance or hires a different solar company at added cost to make corrective modifications to the solar energy system. Project delays that your installer is responsible for are another form of technical debt. Find a solar installer with a track record of good customer reviews and don’t let technical debt sink your solar economics.
See if both installers you’re comparing have NABCEP-certified staff, have been around operating in your area for a good while, and have good ratings on online sites where customers give reviews.
There was a time when attractive financing was a rarity in solar contracts. Now, more installers offer financing plans that make going solar easy. For clients that qualify, a variety of structures are available with favorable terms. See if your solar installer offers an option where either the first payment or bulk of the down payment would not be due for you until after you receive your tax return for the year your solar was installed. That way, the tax credit for 30% of your project will be coming back to you just at the right time when you want those funds to pay down your loan.
Rather not finance? See if your solar company provides a discount for cash customers (they should!).
Plus keep in mind that whether you finance or pay cash, you might still have an electrical bill if there’s a very cold or very hot month that makes your electric cooling or heating system work harder - it’s about a middle- and long-term strategy to lock-in affordable energy. No solar company can guarantee your utility bills will be totally gone after your solar is online, and even energy production guarantees tend to be a tool to encourage customer confidence rather than a real mechanism to protect the consumer. Pay more attention to labor and system warranties! These will tend to be quite consistent in language between solar manufacturers and installation companies.
Affiliations and Giving Back
If it’s important to you, consider what kinds of community engagement and sponsorships your solar installer chooses to do. For example, in the past Ipsun Solar has funded arts events and competitions and has hosted internships and other learning opportunities to advance our industry. We maintain just a few strategic memberships in organizations that align with our hiring, advocacy, and industry goals, like SEIA and the Virginia Renewable Energy Alliance.
If you prefer to choose your own philanthropic causes, watch out for solar companies that have extensive charitable work especially if you get the sense they market it heavily. If you’re looking to save on your solar installation and donate to organizations separately, this may allow you to pay less per Watt in your solar installation and get a better idea of the direct cost savings from your solar over time.
If you get more than one solar quote, which you should do, you'll get a sense of the company that is a better fit and more likely to work better for you. When in doubt, ask your solar consultant or sales representative for real, unpaid client references you can talk to. With a little diligent research and asking the right questions, you'll expect to get more for your money and enjoy a solar experience that's more like what you want and what you're comfortable with. Have fun going solar and working with your installers!