Q: How Do I Select The Best Solar Installation Company in New Jersey?
Choosing the best solar installation company can be one of the most challenging parts of your solar buying process. While solar panels and equipment can be classified by product specification, and different financing options have costs and benefits that can be compared, verified solar company reviews with standard metrics to evaluate solar panel installers can be difficult to find.
What should you look for in a solar installer
Any solar installer that you consider when conducting solar company reviews should meet a three basic characteristics just to be in the game:
1. The solar installation company's expertise
Obviously, the solar installer should have expertise in installing solar energy systems. Many solar review sites suggest that the installer should be a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioner (NABCEP). While we do have this certification, it really doesn't hold much value in the real world.
2. Check the licenses and insurance of each solar panel installer you are evaluating
Solar installers should have all necessary business licenses and insurance policies, which vary by state and occasionally local jurisdiction. Typical business licenses for solar installers include general contracting, electrician, home improvement, or home performance contracting licenses. At a minimum, installers should also have general liability insurance.
3. Make sure the solar panel installation company has the right experience and a great reputation
The best place to conduct this research is on reputable reviews sites such as the Better Business Bureau and Angie's List. These sites verify that the reviewer is actually a customer. Also, when checking out the Better Business Bureau website for solar reviews, don't forget to look at the complaints section to see if there have been issues with the company.
We suggest staying away from some of the specialty solar review sites as they are typically engaged in getting you to fill out their form so they can sell your information to solar installers. We get calls from these guys trying to sell us "leads" every day.
We also suggest that you visit each solar panel installer's facebook page to see pictures of their work and to get a better feel of how they post and interact with the public.
The Really Important Stuff
After ensuring that the solar installation company has met the standards above, the question really becomes how do you choose the best solar installation company for your specific needs. Try asking these questions:
1. Does the solar installation company want a short-term transaction or long-term relationship?
Your solar installer should be someone that that you want to do business with, as well as a professional with the competence that you expect. But this needs to go beyond the sales person. You need to trust that the company is seeking a long term relationship that is based on a win-win for you and them.
2. What equipment choices does the solar panel installer offer?
Understand the products, warranties, etc. for each part of the solar power system. The best solar installation companies should be able to offer the right combination of the following equipment categories that are tailored to your specific needs.
- The solar panels that create the DC energy;
- The inverter that makes the power useable in your home or business by converting it to AC;
- The mounting system that connects your system to the roof and protects your house from leaks;
- The ANSI C-12 Meter that records your energy production so we can create SRECs;
- The monitoring system that lets you know how well your system is functioning.
3. Will the solar design and installation look nice?
Seems like a silly question. But it's not. Ask your prospective installer if they will relocate vent pipes on your roof so that the panels can be laid out in a more aesthetically pleasing manner. Vent pipes should be relocated by a licenced plumber and roof patches made by a certified roofing professional. Also, check to see if conduit (that ugly tube used to protect and route electrical wiring) will be run on your roof or in your attic. Check out our Hall of Shame for some examples of how not to install solar.
4. Does the solar panel installer offer multiple financing options?
Be leary of installers that are pushing one financing option such as a lease, PPA or a single loan product. As your get deeper into your evaluation process, you'll discover that the right financing option will give you the proverbial keys to the solar kingdom. Check out the Bonus Section: entitled "Selecting The Best Solar Loan" for details.
5. What is the workmanship warranty? Does the solar installer provide any post-installation services?
Understanding the workmanship warranty and post-installation services is one of the most critical things for you to understand.
Workmanship warranties are specific to designing and constructing the solar energy system, and generally range from 1 to 25 years. It's really important to understand the term of the workmanship warranty and what's included. Be careful because some solar panel installers have a different warranty term for roof leaks!
At a minimum the workmanship warranty should include the following provisions: The design, assembly, and installation are all done in accordance with manufacturer specifications, National Electric Code, and/or Uniform Construction Code; The system will perform as defined; Any Workmanship defects that may arise will be fixed free of charge.
At a minimum the leak warranty should warrant each roof penetration made in connection with installing the System, and the surrounding area within a five (5) inch radius of each penetration, against damage to the roof and against water infiltration through the roof.
Post installation services of leading installers can also include the following:
- Remote Solar System Monitoring
- Maintenance & Support
- Annual Inspection and Solar Panel Cleaning
- SREC Management, Aggregation and Sale
- Money Back Solar Energy Production Guarantee
6. What is a fair price for the solar installation?
If you are going to pay cash for you solar panel installation, then your focus should be on getting a fair price per installed DC watt. Just make sure that you are evaluating similar equipment and post installation services. The calculation for cost per watt is: Total system cost divided by system size in DC watts.
If you are evaluating solar loans, you want to calculate the fully financed cost per DC watt. You will be surprised how many times a seemingly higher priced system actually costs less when you add up all of the the loan payments. The reason for this is the effect of the tax credit, the interest rate, and the loan term. Bonus Section: entitled "Selecting The Best Solar Loan" for details.
Solar Installation Company Evaluation Criteria
The chart below consists a category for virtually every question we've been asked as it pertains to a client evaluating us and our competitors. Feel free to print or export this document into a spreadsheet to help you select the best solar installation company for you and your family. Hopefully you select Green Sun Energy Service. Good luck!
Solar Installation Packages Offered
Bonus Section: Selecting The Best Solar Loan
Solar loans are a great solar panel financing option if you want to own your system for just $99 out-of-pocket. With over 100 solar loans available through Green Sun Energy Services, you can finance the entire cost of your system. Some of these solar loans may be secured (using your solar panel system as collateral) or unsecured (tied directly to your personal credit). Solar panel loan terms range from 5, 10, 12, 15 and 20-years at fixed rates from 2.99% to 9.99% depending on your credit.
When you're thinking about financing, it's important to understand how the loan term and the interest rate impacts how the solar loan meets your financial objectives of short terms savings (longer loan term) or long term profit (shorter loan term).
When evaluating loans from multiple solar installation companies, it's best to ask for the same loan term. Note that each installer may have a different Gross Price for the system and offer different loans, so it's important to ask for the same loan term.
Then you can do some simple math to determine the Total Cost of Principal & Interest Per DC Watt. The formula is fairly simple:
1. Calculate the Total Cost of Principal & Interest as follows: Total Loan Payments MULTIPLIED BY The Loan Term
2. Calculate the Total System Size as follows: Number of Solar Panels MULTIPLIED BY DC Rating of Each Panel
3. Calculate the Total Cost of Principal & Interest Per DC Watt as follows: DIVIDE the Total Cost of Principal by The Total System Size
Example: Let's assume you are going to purchase 30 pv solar panels that are 315 watts each; and you've secured a 10-year, 2.99% loan with payments of $233.30 per month. Oyay, The Total Cost of Principal & Interest is $233.3 X 120 = $27,996. The Total System Size is 30 X 325 = 9,450 Watts. So, the Total Cost Of Principal & Interest Per DC Watt is $27,996 DIVIDED BY 9,450 = $2.96.
Evaluating Solar Financing Options
Once you've selected your equipment and made the smart decision to purchase (not lease) your solar panel system, it's time to discuss price and financing... and, more importantly the true cost of solar ownership. Here are a few examples of solar investment objectives (Reference to Chart below to see the details):
Objective A. I want to save as much as possible right now!
As outlined in the example below, the 20-year solar loan has the lowest monthly payment at just $154.48 per month, so it provides really nice short-term savings. However, when you multiply $154.48 per month by 240 months you wind up spending $37,075.2 (or $3.92 per fully financed DC watt) in total principal & interest over the terms of the solar loan.
Objective B. I want the lowest purchase price!
Okay, we don't blame you. The lowest purchase price of the FINANCED options in the table below appears to be $30,838.06. This comes with a 10-year solar loan at 6.99%... not a bad deal. Now, let's add up the 120 loan payments at $249.38 per month to get a total cost of principal and interest of $29,925.6. GREAT, that's a LOT lower than the $37,075.2 (or $3.17 per fully financed DC watt) for the 20-year solar panel financing option.
Objective C. I want the lowest cost of solar ownership!
Smart! Although the purchase price of the 10-year, 2.99% solar panel loan option seems the highest at $34,673.17, the lower interest rate produces the lowest monthly cost for a 10-year solar panel loan at just $233.30 per month. Now, when we multiply 120 months of loan payments by $233.30 our total cost of principal & interest is just $27,996 (or $2.96 per fully financed DC watt). So, this is the best deal!
If you are focused on short terms savings, a longer solar loan terms is best for you. If you are focused on long term savings, paying cash or taking out a short term solar loan is best for you.
BUT, make sure you focus on the Total Cost Of Principal & Interest per DC Watt (as opposed to the solar installation price) as illustrated in the table above.