What to Know Before Buying Solar
Selecting a Contractor
With the ever-increasing utility rates solar continues to be an excellent investment for your home, business or church!
The real challenge is taking the time to educate yourself on what you should know before buying solar, to be able to choose not only a reputable solar panel and inverter manufacturer but a solar contractor as well.
Palomar Solar’s goal is to be patient throughout the process and help you make a great decision whether you choose Palomar Solar or not.
The first thing we tell anyone before you buy solar is that if someone knocks on your door, calls you, you meet them at a street fair, home show or big box store run. If someone offers you an iPad, Visa card, gas card, made up rebate or toaster this is another red flag and soon to be the invitation to a high-pressure sales person. Solar does not need a gimmick! In more than 10 years in the industry, these companies tend to be high pressure and not selling the best products nor do they have very good reputations. If they pressure you to make a decision on the first visit RUN! Do not be a lazy consumer you have to do some research. We are amazed at how many consumers still fall for the same old sales tactics.
Suggestions before inviting a company to your home, business or church:
- Check the CSLB (California State Board) to see how long the company has really been in business and how long the sales rep has been representing the company. Any sales rep who comes to your home, business or church should be licensed as well. At the end of the day, you are hoping that the person that sits at your kitchen table or boardroom will be around long after the sale to be your advocate in case you need anything. The CSLB will show you if the person you are meeting with is a job hopper and most likely making empty promises.
- Google the company name with the word complaints in the search.
- Find out if they offer per solar panel monitoring. If a company is unable to show you at least 50 systems they have under monitoring I would not do business with them. Palomar Solar has over 1,000 systems that have been made public by our customers to share with potential customers. Monitoring of the system as a whole is much different than at the panel level. Without per solar panel monitoring your panel and inverter warranties are meaningless. We have an excellent reputation that’s based on a higher standard than most solar companies who only give you system output as a whole for monitoring.
- What is the credit rating of the company you are considering? Remember you are entering into at least a 25-year relationship. Palomar Solar has an excellent rating and is happy to share this with you.
We hope these suggestions save you some time and headache. These steps are helpful to do before buying solar or choosing any type of contractor to work on your home.
We truly appreciate the opportunity to help you go solar!
The current standard panels now range from a minimum of 320+ watts each, in reality, the industry is now reaching 320-370 watts each. Anything less should not be considered. Many other companies will sell reduced output panels because they are able to acquire them relatively cheap, so “Caveat Emptor” or “Buyer Beware”.
Other factors you should consider before buying solar:
- In many cases, power output (ie. 300 watts per panel) is the most significant number to compare because efficiency ratings can vary and be misleading.
- What about efficiency? All high-quality reputable panel manufacturers have reasonable efficiencies, don’t fall for marketing gimmicks pertaining to efficiencies. 300 watt panel is a 300 watt panel, what is the total system size? 18 panels at 327 watts each is a 5,886 watt system, or 5.89kw DC. We would sell you 20 panels at 300 watts each for a 6.0kw DC system. Look at the total system size, not the efficiency.
- All reputable panel manufacturers offer a minimum of a 25 year production warranty. Check carefully as not all warranties are the same. Remember if you do not demand per solar panel monitoring then your warranty is meaningless anyway.
- We give you the choice between panel aesthetics and production. Choose between all black panels for aesthetics or the black frame with white backing for slightly higher production. We believe the aesthetics are worth the lower production, but the choice is yours.
Central-Inverters vs. Micro-inverters
- Why Inverters? We believe that solar panels are only 50% of the production equation. The other 50 % is the inverter you choose. It does you no good to buy the “highest efficiency solar panel or highest wattage solar panel” and pair it with an inefficient inverter.
- The Inverter: is used to convert the DC coming from your solar panel to the 110 volt AC used by your house.
- Central Inverters: Which is also known as string inverters, are an older technology option and not the most efficient choice.
- Warranty: Central Inverters generally have only 10-year warranties. Down the line, you will have an expensive headache from replacing your central inverter shortly after 10 years
- Output: Central inverters also lower their output based upon the lowest performing panel in the string. That’s right, ONE lower producing panel significantly affects the production of the entire sys.
- Aesthetics: Central inverters are big boxes that take up a significant space in your garage or an eyesore on the side of your home.
- Expandability: Additionally, it becomes much more costly to grow your system as you are limited to the capacity of your central or string inverter.
- Monitoring: Per panel monitoring is not an option. What are you going to do when you receive a higher utility bill than expected and cannot hold anyone accountable for the production that was sold to you?
Microinverters – Enphase Energy
Palomar Solar was an early adopter of Enphase and has installed all iterations of their products. Palomar Solar is an expert for all residential and commercial installations.
- Microinverters: Have the same function as a central inverter, but rather than tying all panels together before inverting the power from DC to AC, they are all independent and mounted under each solar panel. We highly recommend Enphase microinverters.
- Warranty: Enphase Microinverters provide peace of mind with a 25-year warranty that includes labor.
- Output: Enphase microinverters perform the their job at the panel level. Meaning, if one panel or inverter are suffering poor production it affects ONLY that panel, the rest of your system is still working at maximum output.
- Aesthetics: Enphase microinverters are installed underneath each panel and as such do not take up space in your garage or present an eyesore on your house.
- Expandability: With an Enphase microinverter system, you can simply add one, two, or more at a time to get your system dialed-in.
- Monitoring: Palomar Solar provides per solar panel monitoring with every system sold. You provide the internet, we provide the monitoring. This is what makes Palomar Solar unique as most installers only provide system output monitoring as a whole or no monitoring at all.
With better performance and a longer warranty, it makes sense to us to use Enphase microinverters, plus with over 30,000 units installed we can attest to their performance and longevity.
In conclusion, we highly recommend using Enphase to allow the per solar panel monitoring.
Ground Mounts vs. Roof mounts
Our solar consultants will help you determine which solution is best for you. At first glance, it seems simple “I have a lot of property, so I want a ground mount” But ground mounts are not always the best option just because you have the room. They will always cost more than a similarly sized roof mount. Factors that will come into place are the distance from the main electric panel to the proposed ground location, obstacles like concrete or boulders in the “trench” path as well as the ability to bring heavy equipment to the site. Digging by hand definitely, increases the cost of a job.
- Ground mounts – Palomar Solar has made a name for itself building high-quality ground mounts. We use a much stronger racking system than the typical fence post systems you have undoubtedly seen. Our systems are structures that are truly built to last well beyond your 25-year warranty.
- Roof mounts – Palomar’s roof mounts come with a 25-year roof penetration warranty in writing. We use the best racking systems on the market – they work better and require fewer penetrations than lesser systems.
Know your racking equipment. Most solar consultants will not even talk about racking. However, it is important and just like everything else, you get what you pay for. For example, we replaced a competitor’s cheap racking system (the racking twisted in the heat because it was such a long span) with our higher quality racking and made the “unsatisfied, satisfied”. We’ll state again, “At Palomar Solar, we install the best and service the rest”.
It is very important when getting proposals and before buying solar, that you ask if monitoring is included. And we aren’t just talking about the lease monitor that gives you limited access. Ask your consultant to show you the systems they are currently monitoring; Chances are, they do not offer “per panel” monitoring. By choosing Palomar Solar and Enphase microinverters, per panel monitoring is ALWAYS included as long as you have access to the internet. This is by far the best way to ensure all your panels and inverters are working correctly.
- Standard monitoring: Most companies provide some sort of monitor that shows the total output of the system, but stops short of showing a smaller panel level issue. They don’t want you to call them for a small issue – as such you will only know of a catastrophic failure.
- Lease Monitoring: When leasing a system from our competitors you should receive a basic system monitoring in order to see if they reach their production goals, but you will not get per panel monitoring because they don’t want you to call about a low production panel that is only affecting your performance by 5%. The dirty secret is that most leases only guarantee 90% of a systems theoretical output.
- Palomar Solar monitoring: Each Palomar Solar system comes with Enphase per panel monitoring.
- Financing your solar system can be a daunting decision. There are many options, with a few that stand out as best. The following list is our ranking starting with the best ways to invest in solar power for your home.
- Cash: Yes it’s a lot of cash, but if you want the best possible ROI (Return on Investment) on your solar system then cash is king.
- HELOC: A Home equity loan, though it’s not easy it’s the best possible way to “finance” your solar project. If you have access to tap your home equity line, then you will pay the lowest possible rate of interest available to you. We will patiently wait while this process is completed by you and your bank.
- Personal Loan: These loans are available from your installer through a third party lender, usually a credit union. Credit Unions offer secured loans so you are able to write off the interest, with zero money out of pocket options.
- PACE financing: This is often referred to as a Hero loan. There are now many of these lenders available in the market. This is a decent solution as it allows you to place the loan on your property tax bill and as such the interest on the loan is deductible. Our consultants will let you know if this financing is available for your project.
- PPA/Lease: This is where you pay a set price per kilowatt for your power from the leasing company. While it is modestly less than you pay the Utility, it is still substantially more than it would cost you to own the system, and most of these deals also include an annual escalator. This is again a great deal for the lease company and a poor deal for you the consumer.
- Lease: A true lease where you pay a set fee each month, usually with annual payment escalators is the worst possible way to go solar. Sure the equipment and ownership headache is the leasing companies but you are more than paying them for the trouble. They are very happy to take your money at the rates they are charging.