Before going solar, it's important to research your installer as well as the technical aspects of your system, such as your equipment brands and potential energy production. However, meaningful research into solar companies often comes last on the list of a client's priorities. If you have ever had a poor relationship with a contractor, you already understand what overlooking a company's qualifications can mean for your solar contract.
Choosing a solar installer is similar to choosing a contractor for any other purpose, but there are a few solar-specific qualifications and guideposts that are worth noting. In the end, it comes down two three major qualities, experience, quality, and sustainability, that set the top performers in the solar industry apart from the rest.
It may seem as if a company's level of experience is easy to determine, but when it comes to solar installers, not all experience is equally legitimate. Aside from the number of projects completed or how long an installer has been in the industry, there are a few other things to look for that distinguish top-tier solar companies from the rest.
Look for a company that has at least two or three NABCEP certified installers or salespeople on staff. The highest and most comprehensive certification in the solar field is from the North American Board of Certified Electrical Practitioners (NABCEP). Encouraging employees to receive this certification, or hiring based upon past certification, suggests that the company that has not jumped into the industry for the short term just to capitalize on incentives without building up real knowledge or expertise.
Look at the locations and specifications of past installations. Has the solar contractor installed systems throughout your state or region? Have they contracted with a variety of clients? Have they shown through past projects that they can handle a wide range of complex and difficult installations? Make sure your installer is truly dedicated to serving your region, and won't skip town as soon as your system is installed.
Always ask for a solar production guarantee from the solar contractor you select. The company may cite warranties from manufacturers for its solar panels and inverters, which are also great for consumer protection. However, your contractor will also estimate the minimum kilowatt hour (kWh) output for your particular system, and they should be able to guarantee that output for a number of years to make sure they have not made an error in their design, thereby guaranteeing your investment. A good production guarantee generally follows the guidelines of manufacturers' warranties, lessening slightly each year. Make sure there is a workmanship warranty in your contract as well, to protect you from a shoddy installation.
Before going solar, be sure to ask the installer who will design your system and verify that it meets engineering and production standards. Verify that there is a structural engineer on staff to sign off on the wind load and layout specifications. For instance, we review every one of our system designs to ensure it will withstand 140 mph winds and has as many attachments as necessary to prevent damage to the roof.
Aside from gold-standard qualifications like NABCEP, find out what partnerships and affiliations a company has to strengthen its position in the industry. Find out if the company receives special pricing and access to nationwide support and expertise. For example, Joule Energy belongs to the Amicus Solar Cooperative, an alliance that allows us to pool purchasing power and share best practices, so clients get lower prices and the best installation possible.
Client satisfaction is also a good guidepost for choosing the right installer. Speaking to clients about their experience with a company can give you a good sense of what to expect. To get this information, ask for a list of references or testimonials, look up the company's grade on Better Business Bureau and other rating sites, or search for client reviews online.
It’s important to support companies who are in their industries for the long haul, supporting their employees and striving to become leaders in their community, as well as in their industry. Look for a solar installer that is also a B Corporation, or B Corp, because this designation means the company also meets “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency” with the hopes that others in the field will follow suit. Companies in any field can choose to become a B Corp, and you probably know a few B Corps already, such as Patagonia and Method.
Diversification within a solar company is another crucial component of determining its staying power. Everywhere, solar incentives come and go, and can shake up the industry when they do so. Whenever this happens, companies who are fully dependent on incentives suffer, and a few may even go out of business. So when going solar, look for a company that has a diversified portfolio. This may include extensive commercial and government installations or work in the LED lighting field.
Don't forget to also find out how active your solar installer is within the local community. Community involvement may seem like a superfluous metric for a company, but remember that the largest and most successful local companies often invest their time and energy outside of their respective industries. Getting involved in a community means that your company at least cares about the long term enough to want to build a local reputation, and at best, that it values its community enough to give back.
Going solar is more impactful than upgrading windows or installing a new air conditioning system, so it matters more who is installing your system and whether the company plans to stick around for the long term. After your system is installed, you want to rest assured that your installer will be on hand for any issues that arise. And no matter what your reasons are for going solar, it's best to work with a company that believes in what it does, because that often translates into better service, better performance, and a better overall experience going solar.
Post by Sam Fleming