One of the historic pitfalls of personal solar systems has been the perception of its complexity and prohibitive installation costs. While there was once a time when this was a reasonable concern, developments in solar technologies and its increasing popularity have resulted in a market that is much friendlier to new consumers.
Though this is a net positive for the environment and maximizing savings, it has also resulted in a greater number of solar installers to choose from. For those consumers looking to purchase their first solar power system, or those reacquainting themselves with a more diverse market, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing your solar installer:
Mastering the Vernacular
The primary piece of any solar system are the solar modules. These are more commonly referred to as solar panels and are the backbone of any solar system. Racking attaches these modules to a roof or level ground, and a cable connects your panels to an electric service panel. The final step sees one or more solar inverters convert the DC energy of the solar system into AC electricity used to power buildings.
When the solar modules convert sunlight into electricity, the process is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) with a total system-size typically described in kilowatts (kW). This number represents the maximum DC current capacity of a system and is found by multiplying the number of modules by the modules power rating. This number can still be different from your system’s yield, however.
Yield is the amount of energy a system will generate throughout the day and can depend on a great deal of factors including the array’s orientation, tilt, exposure to shade, DC-AC conversion rate, and other ancillary factors that go into its installation and placement. This furthers the importance of quality installation, as it can impact your system’s yield.
So how do you choose the best solar installer?
One method is to compare system price per wattage. Let’s take a 6kW system as an example. If the cost of the system is $12,476, then we divide it by 6,000 and see that the price per watt is about $2.08.
By using this formula, we have a method of properly comparing the costs of systems regardless of differences in size.
Another method of comparing systems is comparing the kWh per kW. This is done by dividing the number of annual kWh that the system is predicted to generate by its kW size. The issue with this method is that yearly kWh generation predictions can vary widely between different estimates and factors beyond installation impacting yield.
For this reason, both methods are best used as a way to compare the proposals of different installers. If an installer’s yield estimate is higher than the others, it might be good to ask why this is the case. With both methods, you can get an idea of what estimates are conservative, and which are more aggressive.
Outside of cost estimates, any wary consumer knows that there are other factors at play when choosing any professional installer. Warranties can differ between installers, both in the amount of time they apply and the quality of their coverage. Utility inflation rate is also something to consider. Again, some installers will use aggressive estimates while others will be more conservative. It is always best to choose an installer whose estimates take into account local rates.
Additionally, never be afraid to use third party applications and sources to determine the quality of an installer. It isn’t just the system itself that needs to be considered. An installation that maximizes the yield potential of your property can make a huge difference annually. Be sure to check sources like Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, and other online review sites to determine the quality of an installer.
Choosing a solar installer can be an intimidating process, but after learning a few terms and simple equations, much of the complexity can be overcome. After comparing prices, choosing an installer works much the same way as any other consumer choice. Ask questions, get estimates, and make sure to do your research. With these things done, you are sure to get a great deal, from a reliable installer, on your new solar system.
If you have any more questions about choosing a solar installer in the commercial or residential sectors, or are looking to get an estimate, feel free to reach out to us here.