As solar becomes more affordable, companies with sales reps that have little solar experience are popping up everywhere to get a piece of the pie. Their advertising campaigns are pushing too-good-to-be-true solar deals all over social media. Many out-of-state “solar lead” companies are using aggressive marketing with hooks like, “get paid to install solar on your home” or “want to eliminate your electric bill completely?” Once they sell you a system, they’ve done their job to generate the “lead.” Many then contract with the lowest bidding local electrician, who may also have little experience with solar, for your job. This is leading to systems being installed in the shade, overpriced systems lacking safety requirements or proper permitting, or without required approval for the interconnection. The good news is there are many reputable companies here in Kentucky, but you need to know what questions to ask.
First, the basics: Is the proposed location suitable for solar? Just blocks from my house, a North Carolina based company recently financed solar placed in the shadiest location on the roof. A good company will do a proper solar site assessment to track the sun as it moves over your property, siting a system where it will bring enough savings to provide a good return on your investment.
Next, are there easy, lower-cost changes you can make to save on your bills before you jump into solar? There’s another house in my neighborhood that just got solar. With recent snow, while neighbors with good attic insulation still had snow on their roof, the only part of theirs that still had snow coverage was on the solar panels. This tells me the company they worked with did not advise them to consider attic insulation, a basic energy efficiency measure with a better return on investment than solar. If you’re spending more on your bills than you need to because of an inefficient home, some solar lead companies are happy to sell you an oversized system, bringing them more money.
What about financing? Marketing ploys like no money down, no payments for 24 months and very low financing for 20 years are tempting, but many times the loan payments, when they eventually hit, are much more expensive than the bill savings the solar has been providing due to a heavily marked up installation price.
There’s a lot more to say on this topic. Luckily, there are resources out there to provide Kentuckians with everything they need to know before they go solar. Kentucky Solar Energy Society has a ton of information on their website. Solar United Neighbors has a blog on what to look out for. And where I work at the Mountain Association, a nonprofit serving Eastern Kentucky, we can provide business owners, local governments, and nonprofit leaders a non-biased, third party assessment of changes that will save the most money, and what grants and financing options are available for efficiency and solar.
Legitimate solar companies, and lending organizations like the Mountain Association, will take the time to explain the terms and do their best to make sure you’re saving more than you’re spending on average. You want bill saving estimates that are on the realistic side, rather than the rosiest savings projections. We will be the first to tell you that it is difficult to know just how much you will truly save over the 30+ year life of a solar system; however, if installed at an appropriate price by a reputable – preferably local – installer who knows the technology, knows the area interconnection requirements and knows basic home building science, you can be assured of an excellent energy resource to call your own and save you money.
Josh Bills is a Commercial Energy Specialist at the Mountain Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.