The renewable energy industry – and in particular the solar industry – in North America has been on fire recently. We have seen some exciting growth in an incredibly short period of time. Many recent reports have cited that new construction for renewable energy generation is now outpacing that of fossil fuel generated power. In fact, all indicators seem to point to the death of fossil fuel power generation in the near future, with renewables taking on a larger and larger role, with over 80% of new power generation coming from renewables by 2030. In an industry that is so new, and evolving so rapidly, it is critical that your installation company be competent, capable, and customer focused.
So how do you protect yourself once you decide to embrace and participate in this energy revolution, when there are an ever increasing number of “experts” appearing every day? Despite the fact that we are stepping into an era of new technology, the answer to this question is as straightforward now as it has always been – do your homework. In this context, what exactly is that homework, however? This is where we would like to focus, to assist those searching for the right partner to make the leap to solar, and aid those who wish to begin on the path to energy independence. We will start with these five questions:
1. Why Is The Company Your Are Considering Hiring In The Solar Business?
It goes without saying that businesses exist for many reasons, not the least of which being to make money. And unless a business is a not-for-profit, or charity, or other similar organisation, it must make money to survive. But that does not mean that making money needs to be the only, or even the primary, aim. Truly great companies have another purpose for doing what they do. Indeed they are smart about the manner in which they manage the revenue they generate, but they recognise that their customers are more critical than profit. In the renewable energy industry, a great partner is one that cares deeply about the environment and the path we are all on together on this little planet of ours, and ultimately, one that will successfully guide you toward attaining all of the benefits of going solar, while ensuring your installation lasts well beyond 30+ years and performs flawlessly during that time.
2. Who Is Actually Going To Complete The Solar Installation?
This may not come up during the sales process, however, a great number of solar installation companies do not actually install solar. They are primarily sales driven organizations who sub-contract the installations out to the lowest bidder. This is an important point when considering the complexities of a solar installation. A typical solar installation adds thousands of pounds of equipment to your home, i.e. solar modules, mounting system, wire, etc., which is affixed permanently by way of mechanical attachment to your roof. Over the course of any given year in Ontario, temperatures can swing from 40+ to 40-, both of which are extreme environments for exposed equipment. Add to this rain, ice, snow, or a combination thereof, and any work done on your roof that is not professionally completed, flashed, and sealed, could cause issues after only a couple of years. A great renewable energy company installs their own projects, employs skilled, dedicated professionals, and is accountable for all of their own work. They will also have the capacity to complete all service and maintenance requirements themselves.
3. What Equipment Is Your Solar Provider Going To Be Installing?
Not all solar modules are created equal. The same is also true for mounting systems and inverters. It is for this reason that is well worth taking some time to understand a little about the technology you are about to invest in. The installation company you are considering partnering with should absolutely be ready, willing, and able to take the time to talk to you about each component, their performance characteristics, warranties, and maintenance requirements. Each component is critical to system performance and longevity, and it is well worth your while to gain some understanding of their quality and insurability. Consider asking for reference projects that your installation company has completed in the past, and review the actual performance versus predicted performance for those projects. A great company will measure and track this over time, and will be able to show you results from past projects.
4. How Do You Know You Are Been Given A True Predication Of Solar Production And Revenue?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that all solar companies model system performance for their customers prior to installation. If your solar installer is not doing this for you – run away. You are served well, however, to keep in mind that the system specifications, electrical losses, shade analysis, and expected sun exposure are all input into modelling software by the installation company providing you the proposal. For this reason, it is an area that warrants exercising caution. It is very easy to make predictive solar production models look tantalizing with the push of a button. Great solar companies will come to your home and conduct a feasibility assessment that includes measuring the roof, marking roof vents, dormers, etc., and performing a shade analysis. This information is then input into solar estimating software to produce annual expected generation figures. Ask your solar installer what data they used, as well as any assumptions made, to run the model. You will know you have partnered with the right company if they take the time to review the data with you, and explain how the modelled outcomes are arrived at. This is another great opportunity to inquire about their previous projects to see how close past modelling has been to actual performance.
5. Is Project Pricing Competitive, And Are There Any Hidden Costs?
There really is only one sure fire way to know the answer to this question…talk to more than one company, and get more than one quote for your project. Remain vigilant, however, as there can be hidden costs that are not obvious to you at the time of signing. A best practice here is to ask whether the price you are being quoted is an all-in, turn-key price. If the response comes back yes, its best to ensure that it is agreed to in writing. The best solar installation companies have simple, easy to read installation agreements, with no “fine print”, and that clearly state the system capacity (size), project price, and everything that is included in the scope of the project. The right company to partner with is one that guarantees you the price they quote, and guarantees they will not come back asking for additional amounts after the project has commenced. It should be relatively simple for an experienced solar company to accurately cost out a project, so there should be no surprises once the project gets started, and therefore, there should be no surprises for you once you select your partner and start down the path to energy independence!