Editors Note: In 2020, SunPower announced the completion of the strategic spin-off of its manufacturing division into a separate business named Maxeon Solar Technologies, Ltd. As a result, SunPower has expanded its offerings to drive future growth. The SunPower Equinox® system now offers multiple panel options, including front- and back-contact panels, all of which are responsibly and rigorously quality tested to provide the best energy solution for your home.
Solar is a booming industry. New companies and contractors are popping up every day to get in on the action. If you use Yelp to search for “solar installation” in the San Francisco Bay area, you’ll get nearly 500 results. With hundreds of hit or miss options, what’s next?
Let’s narrow down the field of potential solar contractors so you can start generating clean energy without worrying about what’s happening to your roof.
Find out which types of solar systems they offer
There are many pieces of hardware involved in a home solar installation. Solar panels, inverters, wiring and cables. Many (even most) solar installation companies tend to “Frankenstein” their solar systems together without testing how they’ll really perform in the real world. This may cause problems. Not just problems in the initial installation, but down the road in terms of overall system performance.
If you’re shelling out thousands on a solar system, make sure your installers are using quality equipment that works well together. They should be able to provide you with an accurate energy estimate for how much your system will produce each year. If you choose wisely, it’s likely that your system will be generating energy for decades. (If you choose a SunPower solar system, it’s likely to be over 40 years.)*“SunPower Module 40-Year Useful Life,” SunPower whitepaper. Feb 2013. Useful life is 99 out of 100 panels operating at more than 70% of rated power.
Find out how long they’ve been installing solar
Yes, it’s true that every master was once a beginner. However, experience matters in solar. When people are attaching heavy equipment to your roof, tying it to your electrical system, and in most cases allowing you to sell energy back to the grid, you want someone who knows what they’re doing.
In that vein, it’s extremely important that you know that they are licensed in your state, insured and certified. Ask to view their credentials (solar, electric and general contractors licensing). The best solar installers have staff members that are certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).
Another common practice is subcontracting. Ask if they use subcontractors for different parts of the installation. Checking the credentials of the core company isn’t as meaningful if people who don’t have the same credentials install the system. Simplify the process and have peace of mind by choosing a company that can manage your project from start to finish, including design, installation, permits and system maintenance.
Find out if they are familiar with all the incentives
Most people don’t have time to research every possible rebate or tax incentive. Rebates and incentives vary wildly by state, county, city and even utility provider, leading to a patchwork of regulations. Good local solar installers know the ins and outs of all the incentives you are eligible for. The best companies will file all the paperwork for you so you don’t have to worry about it.
Find out what is under warranty and how long
There’s nothing worse than getting everything installed and then finding out that your solar system isn’t working like it should be. A great way to compare solar installation companies is to ask them about what happens when something goes wrong.
What’s covered under the product warranty? How long does the coverage last?
What's covered under the power warranty? How long does the coverage last?
Who pays for the shipping and labor to replace defective components?
Is there a warranty on the installation itself?
What happens if something goes wrong and the installer is no longer in business?
What happens if my system doesn't generate the amount of electricity I was expecting?
Find out what your payment options are
There are many ways to pay for a home solar system, but not all companies offer every option. Leasing isn’t for everyone. Ask the solar installation company up front for their available options so you can compare them to other bids you’ll receive. While you’re at it, make sure they clearly explain any annual fees your utility may charge for your system to be connected to the grid, if any.
Find out how you can monitor your system's performance
Many companies offer monitoring applications that work on both Apple and Android phones so you can monitor your solar system’s performance. It can be very fun and gratifying to watch your system save (or even make) you money and its positive effects for the planet.