Well, to use an old saying, you’d think it’d be a fairly cut-and-dried answer. But, sometimes it’s not quite so simple. What you can do is break up the “what’s involved” into two separate processes; a pre-sales process and a post-sales process. But, before we start, let’s stop to consider something first.
You might already have a plan, if your home qualifies for going solar, you’d prefer to own the system, as opposed to leasing it or entering into a Power Purchase Agreement [PPA] … and … you might not.
Whether you do or not, many homeowners don’t know which is better; and rely on the solar rep they talk with to let them know what’s best. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either. There’s something to be said for that.
The expectation is the solar rep is a professional in the solar field; and after they have all the details needed, they should be able to help you determine whether or not going solar makes sense for you, your home and your family; and be able to figure out between leasing and owning, which is the best option for you.
In an ideal world, it would make good business sense, and every solar company would have agreements in place too, with the necessary vendors, in order to be able to provide their reps with the ability to offer homeowners the option to buy a system outright, finance it, lease it, or enter into a PPA.
The real world model though, is that some solar companies are focused on leasing systems, or entering into PPAs with homeowners. Other solar companies may not offer leases or PPAs at all; and only provide cash or finance options. Then there’s a subset of solar companies which offer all the solutions; however, some of the offered solutions may not be available in all areas. So, why is this important?
The reason this is important is because even though solar reps work for solar companies who are doing a lot to help our environment and our civilization; the sales processes and management in the solar industry are, in many ways, very much like other types of companies across corporate America. Here’s one of those issues that face every vertical of the home improvement industry, as well as most any large, regional or national sales organization.
All too often some companies will push their reps and sales people to sell products or services to people or companies, regardless if it’s a wrong or inappropriate solution for the customer. You want a solar rep that’s going to work for YOU First and Foremost!
You could always ask them at the onset if they represent more than one company or have the ability to offer you a comprehensive set of options, including different purchase options? If you were to ask that you’d probably want to also clarify why you’re asking, so they know the reason you’re asking is because if, in the event you were to decide to go solar, you want to know if they offer more than one type of purchase option, or what are the options? That’s a good way to get first indicator to see if the solar rep is going to be working For You during the process, or trying to qualify you for the purpose of selling you whichever products and services his/her company offers. You’ll want to listen to how they respond, and evaluate what they tell you.
All that said, let’s go through the process should you end up choosing to invest in a solar energy system for your home. So, despite increasing numbers of homeowners adopting to go solar, most are not initiating contact with a solar company. Usually the process begins in response to a flyer on the front doorknob, or a call on the phone, or a knock at the door, or a referral from a friend, neighbor or family member.
If your first contact is in person, such as someone at your front door, it depends on the rep and company, how they will plan to proceed. Some companies policy is to have the person at the door get your basic contact information, a copy of your current electric bill and they might take a few pictures of your house, showing the main electric panel, the electric meter, the roof and any shade or obstructions; and they’ll set a time with you then to come back with a proposal to show you. What would be next is that they would come back and go through the proposal and a presentation of some sort. Other companies might plan to knock at the door, come in and go through a presentation all at the same time, as their primary objective.
If your first contact is via phone, text or email contact then you’ll most likely get a call from the rep who will get any additional information they need and request a copy of your current electric bill, as well as a few pictures of your house, showing the main electric panel, the electric meter, the roof and any shade or obstructions. They might not need all of those photos, or they might need some different ones as well. However, they will need the pictures and a copy of the electric bill in order to be able to design and mock up a proposed solar energy system to present to you.
If that first contact was at the front door, and they scheduled an appointment with you to go over their report, or proposal then one option is that they will return to your home for that appointment. However, they might conduct that appointment with you over a Zoom call; which has grown in popularity lately, for reasons everyone is becoming more aware of.
So, regardless whether it’s in person, or it’s a Zoom call, the process during that visit should include an updated proposal based on your conversation; because, the size of your solar energy system will depend on how much electricity you use on a monthly basis, as well as the weather conditions where you live; plus, they should ask if you’ve recently bought an electric vehicle [EV] or about other changes, or about future plans to buy an EV, put in a pool, add to your family, or add A/C, etc. Because, if they don’t do that they’ll be designing a system that won’t scale with you and it won’t offset all of your electric usage; leaving you with a solar energy system payment and also an electric bill that grows; which, is not what you probably want.
You can go into the process thinking of it as how can you solar for the least amount of money; or in comparison you could look at opting for premium panels as a means to invest into solar energy plant and your home, looking at the long term savings from potentially longer life spans and the increased performance output down the road 25 – 30+ years. Certainly, I expect if you’re making this type of investment into your home, you want peak performance from your solar energy system for as long as possible, optimally.
So, go into your meeting with the solar rep with your list of questions, and after they go over your energy report and their proposal, and answered your questions, it should either make sense and feel right to go solar, or not. If not, is it because you still have some questions that weren’t answered, or answered to your satisfaction? If it makes sense to you at this point to go solar and it looks like your house qualifies, and you’re ready to see if you qualify, that’s great. But, if you don’t see the savings, or there’s unanswered questions, or it just doesn’t add up or make sense, then don’t say Yes. That’s not the right time! It needs to make sense to you and you see the value and benefits of going solar; because sometimes the numbers just don’t work out. Sometimes, there’s no savings. Sometimes, it might be a little more expensive right now to go solar. And sometimes, the savings aren’t the main reason anyway. There are so many other reasons to go solar in addition to the savings.
Your credit, if you choose to finance will be looked at; often with a soft check. Generally companies who finance solar energy systems, are looking for a 650 credit score or higher. Accordingly, some homeowners will not qualify for financing; prompting a closer look at lease or PPA options.
Solar leases and solar PPAs are similar to renting your solar panel system. You enter into an agreement with the solar leasing company that entitles you to the energy that the solar panels generate for the term of the contract, which is generally around 20 years. The shorthand version of the difference between solar leases and solar PPAs is that a Solar Lease is where a 3rd party installs a solar energy system on your roof and property and you have a rent or lease payment you pay to them; whereas, with a PPA you are also entering into a long term agreement with a 3rd party to pay an agreed rate for the energy you use from the energy, which they generate from their solar energy system they installed on your rooftop.
One other area you might want to be thinking about when you ponder solar; and that is whether or not you would use or need a battery backup for your solar energy system. If you live in California, or if you live in Florida, or now, if you live in Texas a battery backup might sound like a good idea. Battery costs are still fairly substantial, so there needs to be a balance to justify the added costs to include it to a solar energy system.
Technology has improved to the point that these systems should last 25 – 30+ years. Now, they’ve got peace of mind style warranties with terms up to 30 years. So, you can feel fairly safe about your investment over the long haul. But of course, these warranties are often not included with system proposals. It depends a lot on the rep. Know what questions to ask and you’ll be fine.
If everything worked out and you got your questions answered and you and your house qualified, alright; you’ve about concluded the pre-sales process. As we start to go through the post-sale process, these steps are premised on the idea you’ve financed your system rather than paid cash, signed a lease, or PPA … which is the most common way to own your own solar energy plant.
I’ll break down anticipated expectations for this part of the process in eight stages.
** It’s definitely recommended you’re home for this onsite property survey to ensure an accurate solar design, because a site survey could determine that some change(s) need to be made to the design or there are other previously un-detected issues to resolve.