Local solar companies
Local solar companies are growing market share because they now have access to more sophisticated financing options previously only available to the large solar leasing companies.
Local solar companies tend to be very knowledgeable, do high quality installations and have high quality consumer reviews scores compared to the large solar leasing companies.
However, there is a significant variance on both pricing and reputation between the local solar companies that operate in your city. This is why comparing reputations of both solar companies and the solar panel brands they offer you is so important. Remember, solar is a fairly new industry and many of those rushing into the industry will not have the business skills to last or understand the need to provision resources for after sales warranty support.
The company you choose to install your solar will be messing around with your roof (the thing that keeps everything else you own dry!!), and so there is something to be said for having confidence in the workmanship and professional pride some of these companies show rather than choosing the cheapest offer you can find.
I can't emphasize enough, the secret to getting the best deal on solar is to do your research both on the solar installers reviews and also reviews of the equipment they are selling you. If the brands check out and they have 20 or more reviews of decent quality then they could offer real savings.
If they offer good brands of solar panels and inverters but you are worried about their track record then a great tip is to ask to meet the actual installers who are going to do your installation before you sign the contract. Check them out and see if they are trades people that you are happy to have work on your house. Make it clear to them that you want to inspect your roof when they have finished the penetrations but before they lay the panels. This way you can ensure that your roof is watertight while you can still see it.
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Solar Leasing and Solar PPA Companies
The third group of companies are the solar leasing and PPA companies such as:
Let's be straight, all of these companies are massive sales machines and so you will be treated like a number once you sign the contract regardless of which one you choose.
Each of these companies have amongst the lowest consumer reviews scores in the industry on each of the major SolarReviews websites. However, any company that installs 10,000 or more homes per year with solar are always going to run into a few logistics and organizational problems and it is typically only the unhappy customers that are motivated to go and write reviews. Each of these companies probably also have tens of thousands of happy customers but we just don't hear from them.
What these larger solar leasing and PPA companies have done is to get investors who want long term stable returns to put up money to fund installing solar panels on your home. They maintain them and they own them until the end of the contract (usually either 15 to 20 years).
You simply pay them an amount for each kWh of power that the solar panels generate with this rate being less than what you currently pay for power. So, for example, in Massachusetts where your average rate paid per kWh of power from your utility is currently around 19 cents (as at January 2017) you might have a PPA solar contract at 14-17 cents depending on the solar PPA provider and the term of the PPA or lease contract. (if it is a third party owned lease it will be a fixed monthly fee but will probably equate to about this much per kWh). This would equate to a saving of 2-5 cents per kWh. So for an average home using about 600 kWh per month a saving of $12-$30 per month.
Advantages of using this type of solar company
- No up front investment
- The solar company maintains the equipment
- Some savings for no outlay
Disadvantages of this type of solar leasing or solar PPA company
- Have to sign a long term contract with solar company (usually 15-20 years)
- Can make it more complicated when you sell your house
- The PPA contracts often have escalation clauses in them meaning you pay more for the power each year.
- The savings are much less than if you buy the solar panels outright
- They take the tax credit and other incentives that you would be entitled to if you bought a solar system outright and you can't claim these again
- These companies typically have much worse consumer reviews than smaller local solar companies that sell you the systems outright
These savings should grow each year but the problem is that these PPA agreements usually include an escalation clause at between 2-4% per year meaning each year you pay the solar company more money for the power the system produces. This means that if utility power costs grow at less than this rate the amount of savings may actually shrink over time.
With these third party lease and PPA vendors the savings are pretty small but the investment on your end is zero so you can't really complain about small savings.
These solar companies do very well out of these deals because they take the 26% tax credit and the other incentives that the owner of a system is entitled to (in Massachusetts this includes the SREC's and in other states there are state tax credits).
I don't have a problem with these large companies because they make solar available to people who either don't want to make any investment in solar or do not have the federal income tax liability to be able to get benefit out of the 26% solar tax credit. However, the issue I do have with them is this:
- They typically inflate the cost of the cash purchase option (if they offer it to clients at all) to make the PPA or lease option seem more attractive. As at April 2017 average sized, good quality, fully installed solar power systems should be available currently in the range of $3.20-$3.30 per watt, (less for very large systems). I would like to see them offering their clients this alternative;
- A lot people sign up for these zero down offering not realizing that the savings can add up to $30,000-$50,000 over 25 years in many cases if they actually bought the system outright. With a third party lease or PPA the lion share of these savings goes to the solar company. This allows the solar company to take most of the benefit of the incentives that your government has decided that you as a homeowner should be entitled to if you go solar.
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Why are local solar companies growing market share?
Third party leasing and PPA companies have become the largest companies in the residential solar industry because of the popularity of zero down solar offerings. However, their dominance is starting to slide because of the emergence of specialist solar loan platforms like Dividend Solar, Greensky and Mosaic. These loan platforms allow thousands of local small solar companies to offer zero down options to their customers to allow customers to purchase their solar panels outright.
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How to find the right solar company for you?
The secret to finding the right local solar company for you is to do your research into solar panel and solar inverter brands and then once you have decided what brand of solar equipment you want to buy then seek out the local installers that sell those brands. Here are lists of the best solar panels and best solar inverters based on reviews by consumers.
Once you have found the local installers that sell the equipment you want then you simply need to compare each of these solar companies based on price and quality of service.
The best measure of relative quality of service between solar companies is to look at their reviews.
Enter your zip code to compare the reviews of each solar company in your area
Comparing the reputation of solar companies
When buying solar panels for your home, there are three separate things you need to do to ensure that you get the best on solar and also the best ongoing support (if needed) over the life of the system.
- You need to compare the reputations of the installation companies that are quoting you;
- You need to compare the reputations of the different brands of solar panels;
- And perhaps most importantly of all, you need to check the reputation of the solar inverter brands that you have been offered