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.


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• 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.

This is part of our quest on whether solar will pay off for San Diego. Check out our previous post, Lessons I Learned from Going Solar, here.

    This article relates to: Quest: Solar, Science/Environment

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about nonprofits and local progress in addressing causes like homelessness and Balboa Park’s needs. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

    3 comments
    Justin Lonson
    Justin Lonson

    Thanks Lisa for publishing this! I always find a great read here but this one hits close to home.


    I have been looking for a good independent resource on solar to direct my customers to. They always have so many questions that you answer very well here. I think you really got some of the most important points about considering a solar provider, especially about reviewing bids in DC wattage. This can be tough to explain sometimes. 


    I would only add two more things that everyone must understand before they start looking fort a solar provider:


    1. The most important aspect, as you stated, is whether to lease or own. But I would suggest you consider the ramifications of selling a house with leased solar panels and what they do to the value of your home. I would love to see Consumer Bob look into this!


    2. The other factor that can really help homeowners is to consider the condition of their roof. A good solar company will never install solar panels on a fledgling roof. Most people don't think of that, and the consequences can be tough to deal with.


    I might just submit a commentary on these! Thanks again!

    Mike
    Mike subscriber

    Wasn't San Diego suppose to do the Community Choice Aggregation thing?  I think Andy Keatts wrote about this a while back.  What happened to it?  When are we going to get it?  I remember he wrote that CCA was going to give residents one more option besides SDG&E as their power company.  And CCA can be renewable power which is a big part of San Diego's climate action plan.  What's the projected date for when all this is suppose to happen?

    I'm asking because if the power I use is already renewable then I won't worry too much about installing my own solar system.  I think he wrote that the price can be lower too.  Sounds like a win-win with much less work for me.  Is this CCA thing happening soon?