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Questions to ask a solar consultant

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solar panel with big question mark superimposed on itBelow is a list of questions I used for reference when solar consultants from REC Solar and Real Goods Solar came to our home to offer an estimate.

It’s an extensive list, but I won’t pretend to say it’s exhaustive.

 

You may, or may not, wish to ask all, some, or none of these questions.

 

Your visiting solar consultant may, or may not, have the time to answer all of them during the visit. Of course, if not, you can always e-mail some of the questions to the consultant after consultation.

 

Hopefully, this list will serve as a sort of springboard into your own list of questions.

 

Certainly, it’s important to be prepared for a visit by a solar consultant.

 

The better prepared you are, the more you will get out of the visit, and the better positioned you will be to make a decision about:

  • whether you really want to go solar;
  • what size system you wish to go with if you decide to go solar;
  • which company to go with, if you decide to go solar

I’ve divided the questions up into the following sections.

THE PANELS

  1. What kind of solar panels would you put up?
  2. How many watts would they each produce? Why these and this output?
  3. Where are the panels made?
  4. What are they made of?
  5. What is the environmental impact of solar panel construction/distribution, disposal, etc.? How long does it take for panels to break even in terms of energy it took to produce them vs. energy they have produced?
  6. Why do you use the brand, type of solar panels you do?
  7. How quickly will we be left behind by more efficient and/or more aesthetically pleasing solar panels?
  8. How durable are the panels? (Hail, etc.)
  9. What are some typical problems with this type of panel?
  10. What inverter(s) do you use? How durable are these?
MONITORING THE SYSTEM
  1. How do I know if my panels are working?
  2. What do you offer the consumer (software, online monitoring, etc.) so that we can monitor what’s going on in our system? How much does this cost? How much detail does it offer (averages, annual totals, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, rates, etc.)?
WARRANTIES AND GUARANTEES
  1. What guarantees/warranties do you offer?
  2. How much does it cost to fix a broken system?
  3. What are typical maintenance considerations?
  4. How long is the life of the panels – and do they become less efficient as time progresses?
  5. Will my home owner’s insurance go up because I have solar panels? If so, how much?
  6. Will the installation damage my roof? What are the chances of leaks, etc. caused by the installation? What guarantees do you have against leaks – for how long?
  7. What happens when the roof needs to be replaced?
  8. Will solar installation void warranties on roof shingles?
FINANCIAL QUESTIONS
  1. What happens if we sell our house in five to seven years? Is it worth it to invest in solar, or will we lose money on our investment?
  2. How long is the typical pay off for a system?
  3. What happens to system pay-off when you factor inflation into the equation – when you adjust costs for inflation, that is?
  4. Our average electric bill is $60 per month, about $750 a year? How much more are we going to be paying per month for solar, and for how long, before we reach payoff?
  5. How much will Excel energy pay us for extra energy we send back into the grid? Will Excel pay me more at certain peak times (summer days, for instance), or is there a set rate no matter when I feed back into the grid?
  6. Are there typically any problems with net metering, sending power back into the grid – how receptive is Excel to this, and what are some of the snafus that can happen?
  7. What will happen if feed-in tariffs are adopted? Will we be out of luck because we adopted solar before the feed-in tariff was approved?
  8. What’s your take on solar leasing?
FINANCING
  1. What financing do you have available? What are the interest rates? And, when interest is taken into consideration, what is the typical payback time?
  2. What forms of payment do you accept?
  3. If solar leasing arrives in say, 1 ½ to 2 years, will we have lost out? In other words, how, and in what ways, is buying solar better than leasing?
HOAs
  1. Do you have experience with HOAs? What problems might I face, since I live in an HOA? What can I/we do to help ensure that the HOA is receptive to our plan?
THEFT/VANDALISM
  1. Have you ever heard of any cases of vandalism of Solar panels? How do I protect my panels from theft/vandalism?
CONTACTING OTHER CUSTOMERS
  1. Can we talk to some other customers, and maybe even visit them and go see their systems? Do you know of anyone who is powering an EV already by way of a system you have installed? Can we talk to them, maybe visit them?
WHY GO WITH YOUR COMPANY?
  1. Why should we go with your company, and not another one? What can you offer us that others don’t?
  2. Do you have a referral program?

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