When It Comes to Solar, Pick Your Partner Carefully

There used to be a term called “fly by nights” that referred to companies out to make a quick profit. If you hired one, they disappeared right after you paid them, never to be seen again.

In the solar industry, we have a similar term: “drive bys.” These are companies that give you a quote and if they win the business, install your solar system and then “poof,” they disappear, never to be seen again.

When investing in a solar system, the technology and equipment should last 30 to 40 years if properly monitored and maintained. The last thing you want is a drive-by installer. No solar installation – or even a Maytag washer for that matter – is guaranteed to be without an occasional issue. So you need to make sure you choose a solar company you can count on when you need them – five, 10, even twenty years after your install. This is true whether you’re adopting clean, renewable solar power at your school, waste water treatment plant, farm, hospital, or business.

Solar arrays aren’t something you purchase everyday, thus it pays to do due diligence before selecting a solar partner. To help you through the process, I’ve curated six questions to ask when researching solar companies.

One, ask about their history. How long have they been in business? Where are they located and how long have they been there? Who founded the company? Does their website have a leadership or team page?

You’re not being nosy asking these questions. This is basic detective work done online or in person when meeting with a potential solar partner. If you want to avoid drive-by solar companies, asking how long they’ve been in business is a natural question as is determining if they have a physical address or a PO box. Be sure and check out their leadership team and see what their experience is. Have they worked in the industry long? What are their credentials? Do they have the proper experience, skill sets and education to design, install and maintain solar systems?

The best solar companies have been in business for more than five years and likely longer, have a physical office or commercial space, and a team with deep experience in the design, construction, monitoring, and maintenance of solar systems. Have doubts? Ask for reference accounts.

Two, ask if they do commercial solar or commercial and residential. There is a huge difference between residential and commercial solar companies. If you need a solar solution for a school, wastewater plant, municipal building, business, healthcare facility, or farm, you want a commercial solar company. You don’t want a residential solar company that dabbles in commercial.

The best commercial solar companies focus on one thing: commercial customers. The very best companies understand segments and nuances within commercial solar for specific uses such as wastewater plants or office buildings. They have deep knowledge of financing, permitting, system design and engineering, site preparation (roof, ground and canopy mounts), procurement, installation, grid integration, monitoring and maintenance, and even public affairs. This experience matters when embarking on a complex commercial solar project where expectations are high.

Three, ask if they can help you with financing. Cash sales are easy, but how many organizations have the means to pay cash for a commercial solar project? And the reality is, you shouldn’t. First, there are many different ways to finance a solar system depending on the type of business or organization. For example, there are grants available to schools, nonprofits and farmers. There are investment tax credits that can lower the installation cost. You can also choose the solar investor route where another entity owns the solar system and you either lease it back or purchase the energy it generates.

The very best solar companies like Solential devote a considerable amount of upfront time not just estimating a project, but also identifying your financing options so the upfront costs don’t become a barrier to solar adoption. If a company can’t help with financing, continue your search for the ideal partner.

Four, ask about scope of services. Drive-by solar companies do one thing and that’s sell. They often have pre-set solar packages. It’s a one-size-fits-most approach designed to make their job easy because there’s very little if any customization.

Solar packages can be attractive on the surface. They tend to be less expensive and quicker to complete. However, the reason they are is every customer gets the same deal. The supplier doesn’t have to spend time getting to know the customer and their current and future energy demands. They don’t invest time researching the requirements of the customer’s site or community. They simply sell off-the- shelf solutions that take a minimum of thought and effort. In other words, your school gets the same solar system as the big box store down the block even though your energy needs are very different.

The best solar companies focus on solar solutions that meet individual customer requirements and understand short and long-term energy goals, financing and ongoing costs of energy, local zoning and other considerations, design-build, and ongoing monitoring and maintenance. Solar companies that offer the complete spectrum of services, even if you choose not to utilize all of them, are the better choice over the long term.

The ability to address the entire life cycle of a solar system is what you’re ultimately looking for along with what will deliver the best ROI to your energy constituents and communities you serve.

Five, ask how you will know if your solar system is operating properly. When we purchase anything, be it a fast-food burger, a TV or a set of tires, we trust the supplier or brand will meet our expectations. They are the experts and we inherently believe their brand promise.

Solar systems are different. When you need electricity to run your business or urgent care center, clean your water, power your schools and farms, trust isn’t enough. Your solar arrays have to work.

So this question is legit. After the installation and your solar company has demonstrated your solar system is operational, how do you know it’s working the next day, the next month, the next year? Who is responsible for monitoring your system’s performance?

While I can’t speak for other solar companies, Solential offers real-time remote monitoring of every solar system we install. Thanks to some highly sophisticated software we developed in-house, we know how every array in your system is performing 24/7. And if your system is not performing as expected or as specified, we get an automated alert telling us we need to troubleshoot and/or service your system to determine the issue and fix it.

Live monitoring ensures your system is performing at optimal levels. And because we always have a finger on the pulse of your solar system, we can even prevent problems from occurring. It’s peace of mind only the best of the best of solar companies can deliver.

Six, ask about their maintenance program. Drive bys and fly-by-nights don’t have maintenance programs. Once your solar system is installed and powered up, they’re down the road to the next one. Good luck getting them back on site to address a problem. Won’t happen. Not now. Not ever.

Fortunately, many solar companies have maintenance programs you can purchase for a set period of time. The best include maintenance for free for a set period of time such as 12, 24 or 36 months; whatever is negotiated. Additional ongoing maintenance is available for a fee.

Solential provides our customers with free maintenance for a period after installation and offers ongoing bi-annual maintenance during which we test, adjust and repair, if necessary, each panel, inverter, array, and the entire system to ensure optimal power output. We also respond immediately to any alerts from our real-time monitoring system.

Remember, your solar system is designed to last up to 40 years. Regular routine and preventive maintenance is important. Don’t choose a solar company that scrimps on service after the sale, because it’s service after the sale that ensures your system stays powered up and meeting your energy requirements.

Corey Miller, Solential

I hope this is helpful. If you have more questions, please reach out and let’s chat about your solar project and any ideas you have. Text or call 317-627-4530 or email cmiller@solential.com. I’m Corey and happy to discuss your Solential solar solution.