We recycled this post from August 2018, the information still applies today.
Asking, and being asked the right question about solar power for your needs can help illustrate that not all solar is the same and your needs are being met with a quality system that will last decades. Below is a list of questions that will help.
Do I want to reduce my bill or remove it, what size system will I need to do either? This depends also on your budget and many other factors, have the companies you interview go through the different scenarios.
How long will it take to pay off my system? This depends on:
The size of system you install
The direction and angle the panels face
The amount you paid for the system
A reputable company will be able to go through these numbers with you, explain how the calculations work.
Can you show me what affect the system will have on my bill? As above, this depends on many factors so ask the question when getting quotes, compare these results across the different companies and if there’s discrepancies, ask why.
Is shading going to affect my production? If so, by how much? Best determined with a site visit. Shading on one small area of the system does affect production so consider positioning on the roof and whether or not pruning trees is worth it.
Is roof pitch an issue? The pitch is definitely a factor and you’ll lose min. 2% production with every 5 degree deviation. Equipment choices and combinations will determine the best output for your needs.
Can you produce a roof plan to show me where my panels will be placed? This can be a good idea as you’ll be looking at the system for many years to come; you definitely want it installed in a way that looks good. Make sure you agree on the location. Plenty of times we have seen a “online, virtual” drawing done but the installation looks nothing like the plan.
What direction will the panels face and what affect will this have on power production? Due South gets the most sun during the day. However, just about any angle or orientation can accommodate your power needs. This is where equipment choices and combinations become critical.
Can the inverter(s) take more panels if I’d like to increase the system size in the future? How many extra panels could I fit? Original system design and planning should accommodate your future needs if you anticipate them. You cannot always just add more panels and another inverter in the future if you want to expand at a later date. If you don’t plan on adding panels in the near future, you likely will not be able to get the same panels which could mean that you’ve wasted money paying for system that is not easily or is very expensive to expand. Again, equipment choices and combinations of equipment matter here.
What brand of panels and inverter will I receive? Make sure that you receive documentation outlining what, equipment, panels and inverters you’ll receive.
What maintenance is involved with the system? This generally involves cleaning the panels with mild detergent/water once a year or every second year depending on rainfall and your location. A garden hose will do the job nicely (over cast day is best) or call us for an estimate on cleaning them for you. Be aware of those who make you sign up for a yearly maintenance program. Check the fine print, you may have to pay upfront for this or else you may “void” your warranty. (no manufacture will void warranty due to a installer imposed warranty such as this)
Does the system have communication software? Communication software which links wireless to your computer allows you to keep an eye on production and spot any problems quickly and easily. If you have the option for this, we would definitely recommend it. Not all hardware or software is equal.
Will I be able to add an off-grid storage battery to this system in the future? If so, can you manage this for me and what is involved [time and cost]? The short answer is ‘yes’. A new battery/power source will need to be interfaced with your current system. The company that installs the system will be able to simply check the specs and both the system and on the new power source before providing you with a time and price quote for interfacing them. This should not take longer than a few hours. Original equipment choices and combinations will have a dramatic effect on what can be tied into your system.
Choosing the right Solar Company:
How long has your company been around? The solar industry is volatile and few companies will be older than a few years, ask the question and do your homework on the company’s history through references and past business dealings.
How many systems have you installed? Companies who can demonstrate that they’ve installed a good number of systems in your area without customer dissatisfaction are more likely to deliver on their statements.
Can you provide me with references in my area? Any good company should be able to point to systems they’ve installed in your area and provide references.
Do you handle all the paperwork for me? The company should take care of all the design, regulatory and permitting paperwork. Its is not exactly fun work for the customer. It can be very time consuming and detailed work. There are many RULES and REGULATIONS that need to be addressed with SaskPower before a system is considered eligible to interact with the utilities grid for safety reasons. There should be no outrageous deposits or cash up front payments required until the utility has cleared the system for construction.
What documentation will I receive both before and after the install? Make sure you receive a written quote outlining all of the major components that go into the system.
Am I responsible for organizing connection to the grid? The company you choose should organize this but definitely ask the question. This can be very, very time consuming and frustrating for customers if not.
In considering the above, you will be more aware of how solar works and the effort it takes to provide a system that will last and perform for decades.