Read This Before You Commit to a Solar Company


Lisa Halverstadt

Sullivan Solar Power employees install solar panels on the roof of a San Diego home.

Solar panels are a complicated and costly long-term commitment.

Whether you decide to lease or buy them, you’ll be stuck with those panels for the long haul so you want to make sure they’re producing all the clean energy and energy cost savings you’re hoping for.

I’m teaming with Consumer Bob of NBC 7 San Diego to answer questions about what it takes to go solar, and the latest one we tackled was one of the most common I’ve received in the early weeks of my quest: How do you pick a solar company and make sure they’re offering a good deal?

Bob and I went over how to avoid the worst-case scenarios in this segment:

Here some additional tips I got from experts at the Center for Sustainable Energy, a San Diego-based nonprofit that aims to push solar and other environmentally friendly energy sources.

• Get bids from at least three solar companies and ask them to give you information in a way that allows you to easily compare them.

Many Voice of San Diego readers and NBC 7 viewers have confessed they’ve struggled to evaluate which deal might work best for them.

The Center for Sustainable Energy created a handy worksheet.

• There are two ways to measure the output or wattage of a solar panel. There’s direct current, which is the form of energy that solar panels produce, and alternating current, which is the energy used in your home.

Ask companies to quote the likely system output in AC wattage, ideally using the California Energy Commission’s so-called CEC-AC rating. Bids in DC wattage could lead you to believe your system will be more powerful and cost-effective than it really will be.

• Your panels will likely come with a product warranty but it’s also crucial to get a workmanship warranty. This is essential should you find the positioning of your panels or some other installation issue is compromising your solar power production.

• Do your research on solar companies. Check out the Better Business Bureau and Yelp for reviews and look up the licenses or certifications their workers have. Search the Contractors State License Board site to see if workers have one of the following licenses: A (general engineering contractor), B (general building contractor), C10 (electrical contractor) and/or C46 (solar contractor).

Solar gurus say it’s also worth asking if the company or some of its workers have certifications from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

• San Diego Gas & Electric and the Center for Sustainable Energy have sometimes offered solar and energy efficiency assessments – but only if you specifically request one, or are already getting solar panels. If you get a call suggesting you sign up for one from a similarly named group or even what sounds like a state agency, don’t agree to an on-site visit.