As we ride out the summer heat wave, there’s another energy trend heating up — solar power. The solar industry is not only booming in Michigan, but also across the United States. More and more solar companies and equipment providers are entering the market as a growing number of people discover the power of solar in their homes and businesses.
Now that you know the benefits of home solar and you’re ready to get your very own solar energy system, you probably turn to the Internet to get started. After some research, you find some familiar local solar installers or those recommended by a friend, but you also stumble upon a lengthy list of other companies you’ve never heard of. You may also see sponsored ads for solar companies advertising services for “zero money down” or “no out-of-pocket expenses” — promises you should rightfully be wary of.
And while you’ve likely already looked into basic information, like how solar power systems work and how much they cost, you find yourself wondering what information you can trust and how to choose the right installation company. Analysis paralysis, anyone?
This process can be confusing for any homeowner, especially someone totally new to solar. That’s why the Michigan Saves team reached out to some of our authorized solar contractors to get to the bottom of what you need to know. They have given their expert advice on what residential customers should look for (and avoid!) in choosing solar installers and what to expect during the installation process.
What should customers do before working with solar installers?
- Do your homework to see if the solar installation company is reputable. An easy first check is to see whether they are a Michigan Saves authorized contractor. Other handy resources include the Better Business Bureau® and SolarReviews.
- Determine whether the company has industry-certified staff. At a minimum, find out if the contractors performing the work have certification from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners®. Other certifications could include master electrician or engineer licenses.
- Ask how long they have been in business and where they are located.
- If they subcontract some of their work, such as electrical, you can perform similar searches on the subcontractor or ask the solar installer how long they have worked with the subcontractor and what certifications they have.
What should customers expect of their solar contractor and the solar panel installation process?
- As with most major purchasing decisions, good customer service is important. A quality solar installer should ask what your goals are and review your electricity bill (especially kilowatt hour usage to understand how much power the utility provider will allow you to produce). They should also ask for other pertinent information, such as whether you’ve made any other energy-efficiency upgrades or major changes over the last year.
- Once they have this information, they should perform a thorough analysis that, depending on the company, may include reviewing historical data, using laser imaging and conducting a radiance test where the arrays are being installed.
- After the analysis, the installer should walk you through the results and answer any questions you may have. If solar is a viable option for your home — whether it’s solar panels on your roof or an array on a parcel of land — they should provide a proposal that outlines the recommended equipment (including the warranty, pricing information, how much power the arrays should produce on average per month/year and the expected return on investment). They should also review financing options — like Michigan Saves’ Home Energy Loan Program — and other incentives that are available, including the 2019 30 percent federal tax credit. As a customer, you should feel empowered to ask why they recommended specific equipment or request additional information that may not have been in the proposal.
Pro Tip 1:
A great tool to verify a company’s solar array proposal and ensure its accuracy is through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWatts® Calculator. You can enter a proposed array to include the size, direction and angle to get a third-party estimate of how much power the array should produce.
- Conversely, if your home is not a good fit for residential solar, the installer should advise you of that and give you a thorough explanation as to why or what adjustments could be made so that it is possible.
- Once a solution is reached, the contractor should work with you to obtain any additional data needed to ensure the system design meets all applicable codes and then seek the appropriate permits and utility approvals. When all permits are issued and the utility has approved the application for the array, the solar company should then provide all of the necessary equipment and perform the system install per the manufacturer’s specifications while following any national codes and local requirements.
- Lastly, the contractor should coordinate with your utility to inspect the system, and — once it’s approved — get the system up and running.
Pro Tip 2:
Another good idea is to contact multiple contractors and request quotes to ensure you’re getting the best equipment, service and price possible.
What are some things customers should avoid when choosing a solar contractor?
Oftentimes, a customer can identify red flags upfront by doing basic research and asking the right questions. If you run into any of the following situations with a solar contractor, something is probably fishy.
- They don’t talk to you about energy savings in your home before trying to sell you solar.
- They don’t perform any analysis before offering a proposal.
- They promise immediate savings.
- You check their proposal against the PVWatts® Calculator and find a major discrepancy (i.e., they promised the panels can produce more energy than they actually can).
- They don’t disclose what type of equipment they’re selling you.
- They are unable to answer technical questions.
- They make you feel uncomfortable or pressured.
Pro Tip 3:
In some cases, should you decide you want to cancel a contract with a solar company for your home’s solar system, there are certain laws in Michigan that allow you to do so. However, it’s best to discuss this with the company before signing anything.
What are some common misconceptions about solar systems?
- Going solar is difficult and unprofitable. Going solar is actually relatively easy, and it is a cost-effective, long-term energy solution. If you have high electric bills or live in an area with high energy rates, solar can help you save energy and money. Moreover, depending on how much energy your system produces and how much you consume, it can dramatically reduce — if not offset — your electricity use, which means lower electric bills. And because solar panels help control energy costs, your bills become more predictable, helping you plan for the financial future.
- Summer is the only time you should install solar and can reliably produce power. There’s never a bad time to install solar. Even though Michigan’s winter months tend to be cloudier, solar power systems can produce electricity even on cloudy and overcast days. In fact, planning for solar during the winter season will give you plenty of time to work through the utility and permitting approval process while also offering some of the best pricing.
Ready to take energy generation into your own hands? Go solar with Michigan Saves.
Our low interest loans for renewable energy make the switch to solar simple and affordable — no gimmicks or gotchas. Simply use our find a contractor tool and check the box for “Solar Photovoltaic Installation” to find Michigan Saves authorized solar installers in your area, or contact us to learn about how we can help you finance solar and the other ways we can help you save energy and money.