Yesterday I had the honor of joining one of our Energy Adviser’s on a few in-home solar education meetings. These visits are our opportunities to sit down with homeowner’s to really learn about their solar needs, answer questions, and understand the dynamics of their property. Plus, we all know that each solar customer has unique requests and varying needs, so our education meetings are just as educational for us as a company as they are for the customer learning about solar. However, at one specific meeting, the one idea that stood out the most was that this family had request nine solar quotes and been bombarded with nine overwhelmingly different quotes. And the customer asked “How do I know who to trust? I talked to nine companies, and no two had the same thing to say.”
A Big Industry Problem
For as regulated as the solar industry is, there are gaping areas where varying companies can engage in different business practices that result in wildly different customer experiences, prices and promises. We recently wrote a blog post and put together a short video that outlines some of the key questions consumers should be asking their solar installation companies (Top Questions you Should Ask Any Solar Company). However, there are some things to think about when receiving a solar quote that help explain why different companies can quote the same panels for grossly different prices.
Different solar installation companies have different ways of doing business. Many companies allow their sales representative to design and quote a system from their laptop. Although this may seem like a convenient option, most sales representatives are trained to sell, not to design. They have product and finance knowledge, but they are not trained designers. There are many codes, regulations and restrictions that go into designing a solar system. It is a major construction project – so, having someone who is in sales design a system often means that the array in the proposal is inaccurate and does not highlight the architecture of the home, follow safety code and regulation or answer to the energy production needs of a family.
Look for a company that has a specially trained design team. A Solar Designer is someone who has been extensively trained on the software used to design solar arrays. This software measures panels and system size of the energy needs a family or household has. Using a specific calculation, panels are systematically designed to be sized the appropriate energy output while also aligns with the engineering capabilities of a structure. A Solar Designer also works closely with the structural engineer and the City Planning Department to ensure that the array answers to city mandated safety and fire codes.
Dependence on Technology
Solar is an industry that is technology driven. Yet, as our dependence on technology has increased over the years, we know technology is only as a good as the data put into the system. Frequently, solar arrays are designed based off computer imaging and software and nothing else. Although this is primarily how systems must be designed, without viewing the home in its current state, software imaging is often out-of-date, meaning it is inaccurate.
In the course of a year, trees can create shade on roofs, where previously there was no shade, new structures could have been built in the next lot or even damage to a roof could have occurred, making a solar install without a new roof, impossible.
Depending only on technology for a quote increases the chances a quote is inaccurate and energy production projections are flawed. These types of errors can cost homeowners thousands of dollars of loss over the course of the life of a solar installation.
Lack of Home Visits
Residential solar installation companies often do not conduct home visits during the quote and selling process and it is not until the day of installation when someone sets eyes on the home getting solar panels installed. Although this can be tied in with company processes and an overdependence on technology, a fundamental issue with price differentiations in solar quotes are that sales representatives do not take the time out to visits their customers.
This home visit is pivotal. First, it ensures that both the customer and the sales representative can ask and answer any pertinent questions. It allows the sales representative to get to know their customers a bit more and ask better questions regarding energy use and potential increases of energy use in the future. This visit also allows the customer to ask lingering questions that might not have come up in email conversations.
Additionally, this visit allows the Sales Representative to look at the house. Determine if there has been change in the environment or landscaping that might impact the placement or production of the solar panel array. It allows the sales rep to ensure the roof is in good condition, inspect and take relevant photos of electrical panels and walk the property for other issues that might impact the solar installation process.
All Quotes Are Not the Same
The underlying concern for new residential solar customers of who to trust and which quote is the best quote is a valid concern to have. With so many residential solar companies and so many options to choose from, the best advice is to spend some time with solar company representatives. If a Sales Representative is not willing to visit your home and walk your property, there is high probability your solar quote is not as accurate as it should be. As wonderful as technology is, ensuring the right people are using the technology is vital. Plus, people are still a pivotal aspect of the solar equation.
We Believe in People
If you are unsure about the quality and the accuracy of your residential solar quote, reach out and speak with one of our Energy Advisers. We have the tools to ensure the quote proposal you are looking at makes sense for your home and answers to the demands of your energy use.
Emily Cross, Ph.D. is Manager of Processes and Procedures at Del Sol Energy, located in Historic Downtown Brentwood. Emily is a life-long Brentwood resident and proud to raise her three, active children in the same community she was raised in surrounded by four generations of family. Emily’s professional background spans academic, government and corporate boundaries, but her passion for business is embedded in small businesses that feed into the local community, economy and promote a cleaner, healthier environment.
Leave a Question or Comment below or feel free to contact Emily at anytime with questions regarding solar.