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Thinking About Solar? Be “Bright” and Do Your Homework

  • Posted: 07.27.2020
Image of photovoltaic solar panels.
Photo: Oak Ridge Laboratories

Considering purchasing a photovoltaic (PV)/solar power system to help supply your home’s energy needs?

Just as you would for any major home-improvement project, doing your own research and finding the right contractor is key to a successful outcome. Will the end product be of high quality and will it perform as it should? What, exactly, is the company promising and has it proven to be true with past clients?

Beyond those obvious questions, there are some other aspects to consider before signing on the dotted line. Be sure to contact your electric cooperative if you are interested in renewable energy, including solar, so you can learn more about all options available, as well as the pros and cons of each. The co-op can fill you in on details such as understanding the true costs and benefits of owning a solar PV system, as well as let you know if community solar is available. Your cooperative can also help you determine the rates that will apply to you. Often solar installation companies use “typical” rates to calculate savings, which can be misleading.

Answers to these questions should help guide your research and make a decision on whether to install a PV system and which contractor will do the best job:

  • Know all the costs, not just those for equipment and installation. There are also “soft costs,” which will set you back for more than the system itself according to
  • Those soft costs include permitting, financing and “pass along” costs for marketing, advertising and research.
  • Thoroughly research the solar installation company you are considering. Is it a local company? Is it backed by the Better Business Bureau? How long has it been in business? Is it contracted to do business in Iowa? What do website ratings say about the company?
  • Are the people installing the system employees or subcontractors?
  • Have they been properly trained and are they certified in solar installation?
  • Will there be a master electrician on site?
  • Does the company hold at least a $1M general insurance policy for possible worker’s compensation and liability claims, among other types?
  • Is the company skilled at and does it have a solid track record of advising the appropriate/most advantageous type and size of system needed?
  • If there are incentives, who completes the paperwork for the potential tax credits, rebates and other incentives? What are the tax credit requirements?
  • How much energy will the system provide and is it enough? Too much?
  • How will the installer consult staff from your electric cooperative? Does the installer have experience coordinating/integrating solar systems with the electric grid?
  • What does the bid include, exactly? Is it just for equipment? Does it include labor and installation? What about other costs?
  • Does the bid and contract include break-down costs for every component/part, as well as labor and other fees, and projected start and end dates?
  • What are the complete short- and long-term costs and what will it save in the long run?
  • What do objective (not stacked) reviewers say about their experience with the company? About the pros and cons of solar versus electric?
  • What happens to my power supply when it’s cloudy?
  • Do savings vary depending on geographic location?
  • Does the company promise savings that sound too good to be true?
  • Who maintains the equipment and how much does that cost?
  • What are the safety issues surrounding solar? How is the power safely disconnected if needed?
  • Should I buy or lease the system and what is the difference?
  • What happens if I move?
  • Does your electric utility require any additional insurance for operating a solar array?
  • What happens with the renewable energy credits produced from your solar array?

These are only some of the details to consider. As with any major home project, it’s critical to do your homework before agreeing to a solar/PV system installation. For additional information on solar panels and fire safety and roof installation safety, read this previous Smart Choices article.

Please contact your electric cooperative before signing up for a solar installation so that we can coordinate energy grid hookup and answer any questions you may have.

Source: Safe Electricity