Choosing a solar installer

Choosing an installer

Once you decide to go solar, the first thing you have to do is choose an installer. You should get proposals from two or three installers. In preparing the proposals, the installers will access your PG&E bills to determine your historical energy use and, using fancy software and satellite pictures of your home, determine the number and placement of the solar panels. The proposals should spell out the specific equipment to be installed and a fixed price.  

WARNING: more than a few residential solar installers are sleazy and less than reputable.  A favorite tactic is offering the system at a monthly price with a supposedly low interest rate, but not disclosing the artificially inflated price. Even if you intend to finance the system, get cash prices from the installers and compare  financing options from two or three companies.

The following installers have been recommended by Rossmoor residents. However, installers not on the list may be perfectly reputable and worth considering.  Also, this list does not in any way imply Sustainable Rossmoor’s formal endorsement of any of these installers.

Choosing equipment

All solar equipment is not the same. The equipment proposed by an installer may be influenced by what they have in inventory or by a distributor’s special deal. Before signing an installation contract, you should at least know who the major equipment manufacturers are, and be comfortable with the brands your installer is proposing.

Inverter

This is the brain of your system: not only does it convert the DC power from solar panels to AC, it enables you to monitor the power your system is producing, detect problems, etc. (See How does solar work? for details).  The two global inverter brands commonly used in Northern California are Enphase (HQ in Fremont) and SolarEdge (HQ in Israel).  Both are well-respected, multi-billion-dollar companies; both were founded in 2006. However, the technology used by the two companies is quite different—some installers are passionate proponents of one, some of the other. As a result, you should try to get one proposal from an Enphase proponent and one from a SolarEdge proponent, then see if there’s a feature that makes a difference for you.

Solar panels

These are the engine of your system, converting the sun’s light to electricity.  All residential solar panels are about the same physical size but the similarity stops there:

  • Some panels put out 25%-33% more power than others: 370 or even 400 watts vs 300. Higher-powered panels are more expensive per panel, but since you need fewer of them, there may be little overall cost differential. Also, fewer panels take up less roof space, important on shared Rossmoor roofs.
  • Most Mutuals require the panels to be a uniform black color, however, many panels have white lines separating individual solar cells
  • Many installers will say they use only Tier-1 panels. This is a reference to a list published quarterly by Bloomberg New Energy Finance; the only criterion to be on the list is a company’s short-term financial stability — and there is no Tier-2 or Tier-3.  So saying a panel is Tier-1 is essentially meaningless.
  • Solar Review publishes a quarterly list of both the Tier 1 and “Above Tier-1” manufacturers. To be included in the Above Tier-1 list the manufacturer has to have an elite product with a 25-year or better warranty.

Companies that manufacture all black panels with 25 year warranties are Solaria (400W panels), LG (365W panels), and Panasonic (330W panels). Solaria and Panasonic are rated as Above Tier-1, LG as Tier-1

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