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Published on February 2nd, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan

22

Considering Solar? Of Course You Are…

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February 2nd, 2013 by Zachary Shahan
 

Home solar panels & cash via Shutterstock

We currently have close to 3,000 articles on CleanTechnica filed under the “Solar Power” category, more than any topic other than “Clean Power” (which is Solar Power’s parent category). But sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees… and that includes us!

What am I talking about? I’m talking about the fact that I don’t think we’ve ever written a post on how to go about getting solar panels put on your roof!

It may seem obvious — close your eyes, dream about them, and then put them on your list to Santa (and, of course, make sure you are being nice, not naughty, throughout the year). Unfortunately, it actually takes a little more work than that. However, not too much more.

There happen to be many different ways of getting those cleantech superstars on your roof, but one or two of those options dominate the huge majority of installations:

  1. Paying a local solar installation company for the solar panels, and for putting them on your roof. (For many of us, this would also require taking out a loan from the bank.)
  2. Paying a solar service company to install a solar power system for a much smaller fee (or even nothing at all), and then leasing the system (or the electricity it produces) from that company for a couple decades to come. This option is dominating residential solar installations these days, primarily due to our aversion to spending a lot of money at once for anything (even if it saves us money in the long term), or in some cases an inability to do so.

Of course, there are other ways to go solar, such as: paying for a portion of a solar garden (if possible in your area), buying solar panels (or even finding free ones) and installing them yourself, using PACE financing (if it’s available in your area), or at least taking part in crowdfunding a solar project. But, as stated, the first two options I listed above are how almost everyone goes solar.

But one question remains — how do you find the best company?

That step has, for several years, put up a big block to going solar. There are many solar installers out there, and now many solar service companies, but which is the best? Well, a handful of companies have actually popped up to help people find the best deals in their locale.

If you’ve noticed (and how could you not?), we’ve partnered with one of those companies* (Cost of Solar, CostOfSolar.com) to feed people into that comparison shopping step more quickly and seamlessly. And also because we know Cost of Solar is doing a good job providing a great service to thousands of consumers interested in cutting their electric bills, saving money, helping prevent mass suicide of our species and other species, and other good stuff.

So get a solar system put in!

*Full disclosure: CleanTechnica does get a cut of the revenue earned from leads through the solar ads on this site. So, if you want to support CleanTechnica while going solar, you know how to do so! (It doesn’t effect the price of your solar system in any way.)

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • surfgeezer

    Easiest is to just buy a small “grid tie inverter”, these basically just plug into your wall outlet with a simple connection to the solar panel. They don’t need a permit in my area because they will automatically shut down on power loss to the Grid and can’t “back feed” shock a power company worker. You can buy as small as a couple of hundred watts and it will lessen the grid draw and your bill.
    Fun way to start learning. I bought a single 100 watt panel for camping with the 12v battery tie in controller, then also bought a small 300 watt Grid tie inverter for the house to plug the panel into when I am not camping. Now I can have the system pay for itself when I am not camping by what it saves on my electric bill at the house and maybe later add a couple more 100 watt panels.

  • OnceTwice

    The third, and MUCH better way, is to install your own system. I have, yet, to meet a solar installer who won’t rip you off.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I have.

      And you’re spamming.

      • OnceTwice

        How much did you pay for your system… over the cost of materials? How much did that amount to in wages per hour, to the folks the installer is using, to slap a trivial amount of technology on your roof?

        I’ve had a number of quotes… and not one was commensurate with a fair ratio between work and quoted price. The problem is the way the solar subsidy law works: by giving the subsidies to the installer, rather than the owner, the government has invited widespread fraud.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I would guess you’re in an immature market which has not built up enough for competition to kick in.

          And in what country do you live where the subsidies don’t go to the system owner?

          • OnceTwice

            I am in a distorted market. The way the subsidy is awarded in the US basically amounts to free money to installers. You can’t get it without them, so they don’t have to work for it, at all. They can, however, slap their labor charge on top of it, while also overcharging you for materials like it’s 1999. Most people around here seem to believe, that solar panels are still $4/W, when in reality installers can get them for little over $1/W. Other common ways to overcharge, are by selling gold plated, oversized inverters and unnecessary wiring items.

            Don’t get me wrong… solar installers are not the only ones with questionable business practices in the US. I had similar problems with roofers, plumbers, AC installers and contractors in general. But the solar trade has undoubtedly more freedom to operate in such a manner, because most folks know less about it than they know about e.g. the cost of concrete or fence work. This may change in the future, but I haven’t seen a change to the better, yet.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’d call that a business opportunity.

            Roofing companies are in an ideal position to get into the solar installation business. They are already experts at working on roofs and would need only to subcontract out the wiring part. They’ve got the staff and equipment for roof work. They know how to thread the permit process. They are already going to have working relationships with electricians because sometimes service lines have to be moved when roofing.

            If you’re interested in pushing things along in your area you might want to spend some time contacting roofers, or even general contractors, and letting them know that there’s the potential for a lot of business for a company that wants to price their services fairly.

          • OnceTwice

            “I’d call that a business opportunity.”

            It is: for more solar installers to use the same tricks to overcharge customers. Economics can’t fix fraud. That’s why we have laws and don’t leave it to “competition” to fix crime.

            “Roofing companies are in an ideal position to get into the solar installation business. They are already experts at working on roofs and would need only to subcontract out the wiring part.”

            There is little to “contract out”. Today’s solar installations are basically plug-and-play. There is almost nothing you need an actual electrician for.

            “They’ve got the staff and equipment for roof work. They know how to thread the permit process. They are already going to have working relationships with electricians because sometimes service lines have to be moved when roofing.”

            And they are doing all of this, already. For two or three times of what could be considered a fair price. What’s your point? That roofers are more trustworthy than dedicated solar installers??? By what law of nature?

            “If you’re interested in pushing things along in your area you might want to spend some time contacting roofers, or even general contractors, and letting them know that there’s the potential for a lot of business for a company that wants to price their services fairly.”

            You are kidding, right? Half the companies in my area, that offer solar, are also roofing companies. They simply do what everybody else does: charge the going rates, using the same techniques to rip off their customers.

            But thanks for playing, Bob.

          • Bob_Wallace

            In my experience people who exhibit a “that won’t work” attitude rather than looking for solutions accomplish little.

          • OnceTwice

            Solar does work, Bob. I have plenty of it installed on my roof. I just didn’t pay three times as much for it, as I had to. I did it myself, with exception of a simple electric connector, that I had an electrician install for me at the main junction box. Solar, today, is the equivalent of an Ikea furniture assembly kit. Every guy, who is even a little handy, can do it himself.

            See, a can do attitude goes a long way, my friend, and it saves tens of thousands of dollars. You should adopt it, some time, instead of trolling these sites as an apologetic of an installation industry, that keeps ripping its customers off.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ve been off the grid with solar for over 20 years. Did my own installation, including all the wiring.

            Quit being such doofus.

          • OnceTwice

            Ah, so you do know that solar installers are ripping you off… and that’s why you did it yourself, too.

            In other words: you are simply a contrarian.

            Thanks for playing, Bob.

            :-)

          • GotSolar

            No one shows how they find rafter centers, I have created a Tool Set and method for finding underlying rafter centers on shingle/composition roofs. The Tru-Center Rafter Clip System is based on the mathematical principle of “Translation”, inside the attic a rafter clip holds and references a standard tape measure to the first rafter of a horizontal run. The tape is pulled across perpendicular
            to intermediate rafters to the end rafter of the horizontal run and attached to the end clip. Intermediate rafter centers are then marked onto the tape, the tape reference is “Translated” through the use of alignment holes to the
            outside of the roof, translation plates hold and reference the tape measure along the horizontal run on the outside of the roof where the marked rafter centers can easily be transferred to the roof. http://www.trucenterrafterclips.com I believe this Tool Set will be a great advantage to the one time or first time installer who may not be comfortable
            with the “sounding”, method or drilling “test holes” in there roof. Your opinion of this concept would be greatly appreciated, Thank-You in Advance.

        • ann

          Look at DSIRE website for each state’s incentives which may combine with Fed. incentives. In VA , for example, a “solar rights”‘ state….. no one makes you hook up to the grid. Electric coops exist there but why should you have to sell back when in essence utiiity companies will go the way of the dinosaurs, thankfully !Selling back electricity is only prolonging the agony for them living longer.
          It would just be better for them to join the wave and commit to solar installation packages.
          Really, if electric cars are our future it will be beneficial to everyone who builds a new home to use geothermal hydronic radiant heating in floors coupled with a larger solar system than you need for the house, assuming a future owner will be able to charge their electric car for free from their very own solar electric.
          I’d GLADLY reduce square footage in exchange for free electricity for house and car.

  • Olaf Havn

    So what happens if you lease for twenty years and then decide not to continue? Does the company come out to your house and remove the panels and hook-ups? On a lease arrangement, if the panels fail or begin to underperform for a variety of reasons does the company replace unit or make repairs without charge?

    • OnceTwice

      The value of 20 year old panels is the same as that of a twenty year old car: next to nothing. If they still work (and they should), you keep using them until they stop working, but nobody is ever going to get into a fight over them.

      Truth to be told: it wouldn’t be much different with brand new panels. Once they are on your roof, the only place where they have any economic value, is on your roof.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Truth be told: you’re long on complaints and short on knowledge and solutions.

        Solar panels lose about 0.5% output per year. 20 year old panels will, on average, produce 90% as much electricity as they did when new.

        I could have had one of the installers I know install my panels for a reasonable price, but I chose to do the job myself. Just as I chose to build my house myself rather than hire someone else to do it.

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  • SolarHunt

    One Block off the Grid told me they bought and now own CleanTechnica. Is that true? Something about them wanting your “leads”? I just want to know if your recommendations are honest, or if CleanTechnica has become another Consumer Reports?!?!

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      1BOG bought us a few years ago (actually, a mutual parent company bought us both, but then 1BOG took it over), but it then sold us back to the founder a while later.

      So, nope, 1BOG doesn’t own us.

      That said, we do get a cut from leads sent their way. Thought I had a note about that, but not seeing one, so will add it. Frankly, though, I’d write such a post if we got a cut or not. And if you know of a better or equal service, I’m happy to include it — 1BOG’s is the best I’m aware of.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      By the way, when did they tell you this? I hope it wasn’t in the past couple years or so! Will chat with them if so.

  • jburt56

    I think we have to keep fighting until solar is 10% of planetary energy supply. It should be big enough then to fight it’s own battles.

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