Protect Yourself from Shady Solar Proposals

As consumers, we are safest when seeking goods and services we are at least somewhat familiar with. It’s relatively easy to do product research and compare prices when you have even a moderate base of knowledge. But when it comes to solar energy, other than the price, a lack of understanding is the most common reason people don’t go solar. While consumers have a right to expect that professionals in the business will be honest and forthcoming in business proposals, none of us should take that integrity for granted. With just a little bit of research on the topic and legwork on referrals, you can protect yourself from shady solar proposals and get the solar energy system that’s right for your home and budget.

We want all solar adopters to be thrilled with the entire process, from first contact, to the proposal, through installation and flipping the switch. So when you are getting a proposal from a potential installer, here are some potential issues to be aware of:

1) It is very important that you understand the warranties and rebates to which you are entitled. I have heard of cases where customers are enticed with claims of (fake) manufacturers’ warranties or state rebates (that didn’t exist), then told that time or quantities are limited in order to dial up the pressure.

With some basic research on the components listed in your proposal, you can learn whether or not the warranty you’re being offered is for real. When considering equipment warranties, solar panels should last and produce an output of more than 80% of the rated power for at least two decades. The lifetime of solar panels varies depending on quality of materials and the manufacturer. If a panel has a warranty of less than 10 years, you should exercise caution – 10 should be the very minimum.

For detailed information about available rebates and rebates by state, click here.

2) I’ve been told of instances where a sales professional has inflated the cost of the system and offered to cut the customer a check back on the “rebate” amount to increase the eventual federal tax credit amount. Another scheme involves offering to “give away” project components that might not be eligible for the tax credit and then inflating the project cost by the amount that these components might have cost in a transparent proposal. These schemes aren’t just unethical – they constitute tax fraud.

3) One strategy that I’ve seen time and time again on proposals clients have shown me is that some companies won’t specify the brand and energy output of the solar energy system in order to charge significantly more than the equipment they’re planning to use is worth. You have a right to know what you’re getting!

Your proposal should include brand names and the particulars of the equipment; we encourage you to do some research – particularly on the solar panels and inverter(s) – before signing any contracts. If you can’t find any information about a brand, you may not want to use that equipment – or the company – on your job.

As a solar client, you are making a long-term investment in your solar panels and what you think is a great deal on an unknown panel may turn out to be a bad deal in the long run. Additionally, because of the economies of scale related to solar PV production, often the largest, most reputable manufacturers have some of the lowest cost panels on the market. There are annual lists produced by solar publications (like PV-Tech, Solar Power World, Renewable Energy World, Solar Industry Magazine, and even Forbes) of the top PV panel manufacturers. These resources make it very easy to learn which manufacturers make a quality product – and which ones to avoid.

Other strategies that unscrupulous salespeople may use include proposals that incorporate additional panels on roofs with poor sun exposure, which inflates the cost of the system but has low return on investment for the customer; not being fully transparent about the need to replace an aged or unsuitable roof before installation, since that might scare the customer off given the significant additional costs; and making inflated promises about electrical output / savings on electrical bills and then blaming other factors when generation doesn’t meet customer expectations.

The design of your system and your budget will determine how much power it can optimally produce. By looking at your monthly power bills and the proposal for your solar system, it will be fairly easy to tell how many years it might take to recoup the cost of the system.

Because people don’t know much about solar, it leaves open the possibility of fraudulent or high-pressure sales tactics. Spend the time reading research by some of the resources I list above – take the time to learn about the top manufacturers, then interview three or four reputable contractors, check their licenses AND their references as well as online reviews (through Google My Business, Yelp and Yahoo, to name just a few), choose the one you prefer, and then prepare to sit back and enjoy the savings on your electric bill.

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