Buy Local When Choosing a Solar Installer Or Contractor

I am sure you have heard the words, “buy local,” when referring to locally grown food.  This motto is transferable to all other goods and services.  A locally owned business is more likely to produce income, jobs and tax receipts for a given community over many generations. 

As adoption for solar energy systems grows, your options for choosing a solar panel installer are increasing.  I want to first describe the major types of solar installers and then talk about why it makes sense to contract from a local solar panel installer. 

1. Solar Panel Manufacturers – Their business is primarily manufacturing panels, but they also bid on utility-scale photovoltaic projects. Solar Panel Manufacturers are well suited for larger projects since they can supply the panels directly and eliminate the middleman, reducing overall system costs.

2. National Solar Installers – National players usually operate in multiple states across the country, with many having their national headquarters in California.  National Solar Installers tend to handle the largest volume of installations per year.

3. Regional or Locally-owned Solar Installers – This group specializes in only solar installations for a certain local area usually designated by state. 

4. Other Contractors – The largest group of solar contractors are those that offer solar panel installations as  part of their portfolio, but specialize in something else – many are electricians, roofers, door and window contractors, or general contractors.

Why Buy Local?

  • Local contractors are better acquainted with the local weather conditions and how to design a system to fit those requirements.
  • A PV installer that is based in your area will be more familiar with regional permitting rules and electric codes reducing design errors, speeding up time to installation, and providing the best overall service.
  • Statistics show that buying from independent, locally owned business, rather than a nationally owned business,  will infuse three times as much money in your region’s economy, strengthening the economic foundation of your community.
  • Locally owned contractors tend to make more local purchases requiring less transportation.  This reduces congestion and transportation-related emissions.
  • Small businesses hire locally and will support green jobs where you live.
  • A local installer will help you maximize the incentives for your solar projects because they have a greater awareness of different rebates, tax credits and exemptions, loan programs, SRECs, etc.

4 Steps to Choosing the Right Solar Installer

You’ve had enough of over-priced utility bills and decided to take control of your own energy destiny by installing a solar electric system, so now comes the next major decision – choosing the right solar installer.

This can be an arduous, time-consuming process, but one that’s extremely necessary if you’re to reap the full benefits of your new system.

Following this 4 step process will hopefully make things go more smoothly for you.

1. Support Your Local Installer

One of the most important steps in choosing the right solar installer is to conduct an interview with each prospective candidate, preferably in person. An installer located nearby would generally be best. There are several reasons why this is so important.

First of all, thanks to their relative proximity, a local installer should be able to visit your home or site to perform a site inspection and analysis in order to provide a reliable estimate of exactly what equipment you’ll need and where that equipment should be installed, particularly the solar panels, since these will need to be placed where they will receive the maximum isolation possible.

Secondly, this will provide you with the ideal opportunity to conduct the all-important interview, where you can and should ask every conceivable question you may have regarding not only the system you need (asking these questions and the answers the candidate gives should give you a good feel for whether or not the person knows his stuff) but also the kind of training and background the candidate has, their experience, how many installations they’ve completed successfully, etc.

Thirdly, you’ll get the chance to know the person behind the company and whether or not you feel comfortable with them on a personal level. You may wonder why this is important. Well, the reason is that, since you and your installer should be working together as a team to get your project completed, you’ll want to feel that you’re able to communicate well and that the installer is open and honest in his dealings with you.

2. Check The Credentials

A prospective candidate may not carry any certification, since that is not a requirement for a person to become a qualified installer, so this may be a matter of checking more intangible qualifications such as what type of training the installer’s completed, along with any courses they may have attended. Any installer worth their salt should be open and above board about their background and experience, and any reticence or uncertainty in this area on the candidate’s behalf should be cause for concern. After all, you don’t want to find out you’re this installer’s guinea pig, otherwise known as their first installation!

It’s not unusual for installers to have had an electrical background, which probably means they carry a NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) certification. If they’re also certified in solar energy, even better.

Be sure to ask for and check references. You should make a point to call each reference and ask about their experience, good or bad, with the installer, and, if possible, ask permission to visit the site of the installation to see the work done firsthand.

You should also make sure the candidate has liability insurance, uses top-quality products and can offer written guarantees, along with service contracts.

3. Find Out How Much The Labour Will Cost

What does a good installer cost? Ah, yes, the $64,000 question. Well, hopefully, not that much! Actually, this is hard to quantify, because it all depends on the size of the job, and most quotes given cover the entire job with the cost of installation being factored into the total cost.

But, as a rule of thumb, the amount that covers installation should be around 15% of the total cost. But, since the installation can make the difference between a PV system that performs at the peak of efficiency and one that causes you constant headaches, this is an item you should not skimp on, all other things being equal.

4. Get Several Bids

If you’ve managed to find a few installers you think might be suitable for your project, you should request bids from them, 3 or 4 at least would be good. Take a look at the various bids and make sure that everything you’ve requested and that the installer promised is included. Be sure to negotiate to get the best price possible. There’s plenty of competition out there these days, so don’t be afraid to make a counter-offer, provided that it’s reasonable, of course.

If you follow these steps, you should have done your due diligence and be in a position to make a decision and choose the right solar installer for your system. But, if you’re still not comfortable with any of the candidates, there’s sure to be one out there that can fill your needs, so repeat these steps until you’re successful.

Colorado Solar Installations

There are over 200 solar installation companies in the state of Colorado. In the first six months of 2010 they competed for a little over 1,000 installations statewide. Solar industry professionals have been quoted as saying that “less than 20” of the companies currently installing residential solar energy systems in the state of Colorado follow best practices. In short, these are dangerous waters for unwary consumers.

Solar is an Investment
A typical integrated residential solar installation in Colorado amounts to a $25,000 investment (out of pocket costs vary but can be as little as $12,000 after incentives, rebates and tax credits). To get a very rough estimate the cost of a solar installation take the average monthly KWH times 12(months in year) and then multiply that number by $3 per kilowatt of solar module creation.

Example: If we use XCEL’s number the average Colorado home uses 650KWH per month the calculation would be: 650 x 12 x $3 = $23,400. Note: The $3 per kilowatt hour figure represents a significant drop over the past two years.

Over the life of the system the rate of return of a well planned, professionally installed solar installation is between 5 – 12% depending a variety of factors (including orientation, mounting and demographics). However, if that system is not properly installed or uses poor quality components the ROI can quickly become negative.

Why use a Solar Quote System
Residential Colorado solar investors should research solar installers to determine professional affiliations (often paid for), number of years in business, capabilities, and feedback from previous customers. After obtaining the information for 30 or so companies the potential customer could then filter out those with less than stellar credentials. But, who really has time to research thirty plus companies?

Thankfully, the research has already been done. Many solar industry professionals recognized early on that ensuring that consumers got value for their money was essential to the growth of the industry. A few of these pioneers developed a comprehensive list of fully credentialed solar installers and then placed them in a playing field where they competed only on price. This competitive bid system provides consumers with piece of mind regarding both the quality of the solar company and the price of the system.

Competitive quotes are provided free for consumers. Installers, who must first pass rigorous requirements, pay for the privilege of bidding on projects. If industry professional want to bid on the projects they must be adhere to a high level of professionalism and integrity.