Narrowing down Your Choices
Right now, we are seeing a flood of new solar companies joining the solar installation ranks in Southern California. Every day, a new website goes up proclaiming years of experience and yet, there are only a couple dozen real players out there. Every year, several hundred solar companies try their hand at solar and you never hear from them again. The next year, a whole new group of 200-300 companies enter the field. The question becomes, how do you choose a solar company that knows how to properly design and install a solar system that will be safe, will function at a high level of efficiency, and will be supported over the long haul?
Solar Companies–Large or Small, Local or Global
There are a number of very large solar companies in the United States that are trying to gain market share by keeping their prices low and expanding rapidly into new markets. These companies are losing staggering amounts of money. Most of these companies are privately held and it is difficult to show just how much money they are losing. However, one good example is Akeena and here is a link to their financials. Just looking at it briefly, Akeena stock went from a high in 2008 of $15.00 to a current price just below $1.00. This company has posted huge quarterly losses as far back as I can remember. This past quarter, Akeena lost $2.4M on $6.5M in Revenue. There are a number of other large solar companies in this same boat. Losing money at this rate in the good times isn’t sustainable. So the question is, should you choose a large solar company for your solar installation because they seem on the surface to be a safe bet, or should you choose a smaller, well run local company that is financially stable? If you decide to invest in a solar home, you will have to answer this question for yourself.
Check the Solar Installation Company Contractors License
The first thing I would do before choosing a company and investing in a solar home is look their contractors license. Typically, the best type of license for solar electrical installation is the C-10 Electrical license. The State of California allows General Contractors (B), Grading Contractors (A) Electrical Contractors (C-10) and Solar Contractors (C-46) to install solar in California. You can check a solar company’s contractors license here. You can determine from this site if a Contractor has Workers Compensation, is bonded and if their license is current or expired. You can also tell how long they have had their license and/or how long the license or licensee has been affiliated with the company.
The next thing to do is see if the company is staffed with NABCEP certified installers. There are only a few hundred certified installers in the State of California so this certification is somewhat rare. It is important that a company have at least one NABCEP certified installer overseeing the design and installation processes for the company. If a company doesn’t have an NABCEP certified installer, you should seriously consider going elsewhere. California allows general contractors, grading contractors, electrical contractors and solar contractors to install solar. The NABCEP is the only organization that requires documented solar experience and rigorous testing.
Corporation, Single Proprietorship or Partnership
Many of the mainstream solar companies are corporations. You can look up a solar corporation’s status on the California Corporation page.
Check out Their Web Page
Photos of solar installations on a web page are very telling. If the photo of a solar installation on a home looks like it was taken in Germany, it probably was. If you live in California and are looking for a solar installation company with local experience, look at the photos on their website. There should be dozens and dozens of different installations featured and they shouldn’t look like they were photos plucked off the web or purchased from istock. Local experience with local building codes and local officials is very important. Experience with local codes makes the solar permiting and inspection process go much smoother and end up costing you much less.
Check out their BBB listing
Make Sure they are Listed on the CSI database
The California Solar Initiative has a list of Resellers and Installers that are approved to sell and install solar in California.
Check out their references
Most Solar Companies are very proud of their reference lists. Ask for a list and call a past customer at random.
Check out their Local Installations
Most solar companies that have been around for awhile will have at least one installation in your area. Ask to be able to at least drive by one installation.
Evaluation Solar Companies–The bottom Line
If you have decided to go solar and need to evaluate solar companies, look for a contractor you can trust.