Choosing a Solar Company: Finances, Best States, Considerations

Choosing a Solar CompanyGoing solar is much easier than what it used to be. Many solar companies can customize, size, design and install the solar system appropriate for your home.

Even though solar costs have reduced throughout the year, many think that they cannot afford a private renewable energy system such as solar. But many do not take into account the government’s local and national incentives for solar energy (e.g., ITC). In fact, some companies offer loans or even lease a solar system for your house.

This article will help you to take a look into what to search for when considering solar companies for installation at home. Some of the most important things to take into account when buying or even building a system will be addressed in this article.

Important Considerations when Choosing a Solar Company

On the solar market, several companies specialize in the manufacture, distribution, installation or even finance of equipment for a solar system.

Most of the time companies are dedicated to one or two sectors, but as a homeowner, you’ll be mostly dealing with retailers and installation companies.

  • Solar manufacturers create solar cells and assemble solar panels. They focus mainly on innovation and research on their products. They usually focus on fabrication at amazing production facilities. The best solar panel manufactures own local supply chains, such as Tesla, SunPower or Renogy.
  • Retailers are the distributors for manufactures and are the ones at the forefront for installers and customers. They can work with several brands, but usually, they focus the sales towards a partner brand. Check several retailers for good deals as sometimes they can have the best price options.

When looking for a solar system for your home, installers are like the dealership that facilitates the whole process. They typically source their panels directly from a manufacturer or throughout a partner retailer to achieve good pricing for the system. Their primary business is getting those solar panels on your rooftop, but many can help you with the design and sizing, or even offer certain solar loan deals to help you achieve the solar system you want.

The bottom line, one of the most important factors when choosing a solar company is to take into account the quality of the products they offer, in solar panels, inverters, charge controllers, and battery energy storage options. You must research what the top quality brands available for each product and verify if your solar company offers those products, this will give you a reference for the quality of the solar installer as well.

Installers can be small or large companies, and serve certain local areas or operate nationwide.

National solar electric companies vs local installers.

Bigger companies such as national installers usually have better warranties for their services but they don’t tend to have the best prices nor customer service. Local companies are more familiar with state ambient, conditions, incentives, and permits.

Online tools can help you compare local installers, more easily. Many companies offer loans or lease options to help your finances when selecting the solar system for your home.

How do I choose a solar company?

Before making any decisions, research multiple solar energy companies and read their customer reviews. Client comments can be a better reference to the company’s service than what any advertising may show. Request pricing quotes from at least three of your researched companies.

Ask for guidance on sizing your system, taking into account the energy consumption of your home and the current size and state of your roof.

Request information on warranty cover and duration. Also, verify if the company is aware of local permits and state requirements.

DIY vs Hiring a Solar Company

Many adventurous homeowners wonder whether to do the installation themselves or if hiring a company to have a solar installation done on their residential rooftop.

The main benefit from doing it yourself, of course, is reducing the total cost by cutting off the installer price, nevertheless, it requires a lot of time from the homeowner, as you have to design, size, purchase and install all the required equipment and accessories.

When installing yourself you have to remember that you are designing a system that should last at least 25 years without any problem. Do not go cheap on equipment for a mounting structure and compare as many prices as you can for the gear that fits your needs. Keep in mind that DIY projects are only suitable for off-grid systems since the grid-tied or grid-tied with battery backup systems require permits for interconnection to the power grid which must be signed by an approved installer.

The main benefits of a DIY solar panel installation stand out for off-grid projects. Home solar kits made the first approach to solar installation way more friendly and cost-effective. But these kits tend to be of small capacity and cannot be connected to the grid, as they are for off-grid appliances such as boats or RVs.

If you choose to hire a company, again, make sure to get at least 3 quotes from different local solar companies, getting multiple quotes can save you up to $5,000 from the total cost of the system. Licensed and qualified installers can help you complete permits and applications, in addition to the warranty of their own work.

Remember that if you want to interconnect to the grid, your inverter must be suited for it, and you need to have authorization from the utility company. Not every equipment can have these features, and solar installation companies undoubtedly have much more experience on the subject.

Must-Haves For Your Solar Installation

Apart from the equipment needed for a solar system, such as high-efficiency solar panels, mounting structure, solar inverter, charge controller, monitoring system or a battery, you must consider certain concepts for your solar installation.

  • Your roof must be able to support your solar system. This one seems obvious, but not many take into account how old their roofs are. Taking the time to repair the rooftop where your solar panels will be placed, is just as important as the installations itself.
  • The sun must reach your home, as it is the main tool for your panels to produce electricity, make sure they are facing directly at the sun during most, if not, all of the daylight. Shading is the worst enemy of a solar array, make sure that threes or nearby homes don’t prevent the light from reaching your system at any time.
  • The angle at which solar panels rest on the roof is a common over-looked aspect of solar installation. They need to be at least tilted approximately 10 degrees, always facing max exposure of sunlight, to effectively “self-clean” with rain.

Financial Structure of Your Solar Installation

Solar modules and installation costs have gone down throughout the last decade. Still, solar systems are not affordable for everybody.

The average price ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 for a solar system of 5 kW. Considering the average of the monthly consumption of a U.S. house is about 30 kWh, these systems can cover much of the energy consumption of any home.

Some companies offer loans similar to most other home improvement loans, and some states offer subsidized solar energy loans with very low-interest rates. Other companies offer a lease on the solar system allowing consumers to use solar panels equipment for a monthly fee.

The state governments have implemented certain policies that are a mix of laws and rules to boost solar generation.

As an example, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) are certificates given by a certified agency that represents 1 MWh of electricity generated by your renewable energy source. The government requires utilities to generate a certain amount of power from the sun. And to avoid penalties, utilities buy “proof of generation” (REC) from solar generators. Creating a market base on solar generation.

Other ways to enhance solar installation are through incentives such as, Investment tax credit (ITC) which is a federal tax incentive that deducts 26% of your solar installation cost from your federal taxes. ITC is available to anyone who owns a solar energy system up to 2020 as deduct of 26% from the cost, and up to 2021 as a 22%.

Best States for Solar Installations

Solar adoption depends on many things from tax deduct incentives to solar irradiance.

For example, the most solar capacity installed out of every other state, and by far, is in California, with almost 27,405 MW as of Q4 2019. No surprise due to the high solar irradiance in the state.

But actually, the best state for a solar installation depends on more factors than just irradiation.

State policy surrounding solar (laws and rules) such as net-metering or local electricity prices, and incentives such as RECs, ITC or Tax exemptions must be considered as much as solar irradiation for a good installation.

The best US states to invest in solar are Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the payback time for a 5 kW solar system can be done in just 6 years thanks to tax incentives and the high price of electricity in those states, which makes the investment even more appealing. While in the other U.S. states, on average you can reach full payback for the same system between 10 to 12 years.

While New York and New Jersey, take a spot at the top thanks to their great net-metering systems and RECs programs. The interconnection in-between homes create a healthy and strong solar energy market. These states even have low-income household programs to make solar more accessible.

Residential Solar by State

We’ve put together all-inclusive guides on each state’s solar incentives, whether it’s worth it, and the best solar providers. Check out the write-ups:

FAQs About Choosing a Solar Company

How big should my solar installation be?

The power of your solar system is usually determined by your energy consumption in kilowatt-hours (kWh). To determine your home average energy requirement, check your past electric bills from your local utility or service provider. Once you have an idea of your energy requirements in kWh, divide the total amount by the wattage rating (kW) of the panels to have a rough idea of how much panels are needed.

Of course, ambient conditions will deeply affect the size of your system.

Typical US households will consume around 10,000 kWh a year. Commonly, the smallest solar system offered by installers is 5 kW which optimally can produce an output of 850kWh a month. In California, a 7 kW solar system can cover up 100% of the energy need of a household.

Expert: You can use the tool developed the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) called PVWatts. Enter your location, typical capacity (you can just try different capacity values), keep the other fields default, and then submit. It will return the estimated solar production per year for your location. You can match this with your annual electricity usage (kWh) to get an idea of how much solar capcity (kW) you need on your rooftop.

Do I need a battery with my solar rooftop?

One of the most asked questions about solar. No, you don’t need a battery system to operate your solar rooftop. You use the energy at home right at the same moment your solar panels harvest it, and you can even sell the excess to the grid!

Battery systems are used to capture unused energy, and use it whenever you need it, mainly during the nighttime or blackouts. Batteries are just essential for standalone appliances, where you need energy at night time when there is no grid to supply it.

Can I charge my electric vehicle with my solar installation?

Electricity generated by your solar panels can supply any appliance. So, yes, solar systems can charge up your electric vehicle with the proper equipment. The interconnection in-between solar and your car is made by a charge controller or by an inverter, you just need to size them accordingly, as well as the solar array.

In fact, many brands offer the whole package as an energy solution for your home. As an example, Tesla offers its solar tiles and battery storage system interconnected with their amazing electric vehicles to achieve a complete energy solution.

Will I be a ZNE home if I install solar?

Of course! Your home can absolutely be a Zero Net Energy home. The energy produced by your solar rooftop will reduce your electricity consumption while generating renewable energy.

Even if at times you do need to consume non-renewable energy from the grid, the surplus energy produced by the solar system at midday, can be delivered back to the net, leaving zero net energy consumption.

Becoming a ZNE home can increase your real estate property value and save you money. Being the best way to fight global warming ZNE can be the solution to bigger problems.

Written by Carlos Huerta

Electrical Engineer with background in solar PV designs for residential and commercial projects as well as power systems development. Fan of renewable energy topics and projects. Technical writer for papers, articles and research in related topics to sustainability and especially solar power. Follow Carlos on LinkedIn.