solar power…
things to ask before you sign

Solar panels
Solar power has been around for a long time, and over the years, the systems have gotten more efficient and more affordable. Once the system is installed, the energy delivered is completely free, and also completely emissions free. In the right areas, a properly designed and installed system can power an entire home, with energy to spare. If you are considering a photovoltaic system (AKA solar power), ask your contractor some questions before you sign on the dotted line.

1. How long has your company been around?

Lower costs have increased solar’s popularity, bringing a lot of newcomers to the game. Look for a company that has been around for a while and has the stability to be around for years to come.

2. How reputable is the solar panel manufacturer?

The lower bottom line on some systems may seem more attractive, but be sure to ask about long-term costs of maintenance and repair. You want a well-constructed and reliable system, not the absolute cheapest.

3. Do you offer a free consultation and estimate?

Get a free quote, with no obligation. Reputable companies will be more than happy to provide this service.

4. What about micro-inverters?

In some hot climates, micro-inverters may not be able to handle the heat. Most micro-inverters are rated to about 150-degrees Fahrenheit, and roofs in desert climates can get much hotter than that, so the inverter won’t perform as well and may well not last as long as usual (about 15 years).

5. Will the installer contact the power company to connect to the grid?

Make sure your installer will deal with the power company to let them know that your system is solar and is feeding back to the grid.

6. What is the power tolerance of the solar panels you plan to install?

Solar panels don’t produce 100 percent of their rated electricity all of the time. A 100-watt module with 50 percent efficiency will only generate 50 watts of power. Power tolerance is slightly different from overall efficiency. For example, a 100-watt module with a 5 percent positive tolerance will generate 100 to 105 watts of power; a negative 5 percent tolerance means the panel will only generate 95 to 100 watts. Have the contractor explain the numbers before you agree to a plan.

7. What kind of maintenance will this system require?

Solar should be fairly easy to maintain and most are rated to last 20 years. Your job should mostly be limited to occasional trips to the roof to clear off debris. Make sure the installer gives you complete instructions for any other regular maintenance and will be there if you need help.

8. How will the panels be mounted?

Will the contractor work within any requirements from your homeowner’s association? Different mounting systems determine not just how the solar panels perform, but also how they look; an important point to preserve resale value and good relations with your neighbors.

9. How can I see how much energy is being produced?

Your system should have a meter that shows what has been produced. Newer meters can hook up to your wireless network and you can view the results online. It’s important to keep track of your output to ensure you system is working properly.

10. When will this solar system pay for itself?

This is the big, bottom line question that you really should ask. Solar is much less expensive than it used to be, but it’s still a significant investment and will require several years to pay off. Most systems will pay for themselves within 10 years, about half of their expected lifespan. Ask your installer for more details.

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