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Bring Me Data (As originally published in The Danville/Alamo/Lafayette Today Newspaper, March 2013)

Read Original Newspaper Article PDF here

Bring Me Data
Bring me data, and bring me documentation of that data – solar customers should take this approach with solar contractors who provide them with proposals. A solar photovoltaic (PV) system proposal is a detailed financial transaction that utilizes many criteria to arrive at the estimated savings gained through the use of a solar system. Guaranteed kilowatt production numbers, warranty information, annual kilowatt production information, and shading information are just a few bits of data provided to a consumer in a comprehensive solar PV proposal. However, most consumers don’t ask for the documentation as to how the contractor arrived at their data.

Every bit of data needs to be backed up by solid documentation. If your solar contractor balks, or is unable to provide the requested documentation to you in writing, then you’re not getting the customer service you deserve. If you cannot get the documentation you deserve, it’s logical to suggest that the proposal provided should not be considered an accurate proposal or an accurate summary of financial savings and product quality. Financial savings generated by a solar PV system are predicated on many criteria, none of which can be shortcut. Virtual proposals (online, no site visit before contract signing) can be convenient for the contractor, but they can prove to be inaccurate.

The average consumer needs to perform a significant amount of research to determine the validity of a contractor’s solar PV proposal. I believe there needs to be more oversight in the process in order to protect the consumer. Considering the behind-the-scenes complexity of a solar PV transaction, why is it that this portion of the solar industry is unregulated, and that the onus is “buyer beware,” especially in leased solar program contracts? Simply put, it’s in the contractor’s and financier’s interest to make their proposal look the most appealing to the consumer in order to make the sale. Solar PV energy systems can, and do, save homeowners and business owners hundreds of thousands of dollars. When I take out a car loan or buy a CD at a bank, regulators oversee the process. Why is it any different when a contractor generates solar financials and models financial savings for a consumer?

Finally, a third-party financed program I can believe in – Power Purchase Agreements (PPA’s) are nothing new, and in my opinion, they exceed the benefits of a solar lease program. In both cases, the solar system is owned by a finance company, is hosted by the home or business owner, and saves the home or business owner money on electric bills. In both programs, the financing company banks the majority of the savings. I believe a PPA is a superior product to a lease program because the home or business owner only pays for power that the solar system generates. Theoretically, a properly modeled and contracted PPA will never put a homeowner in an “upside down” cash flow situation because of low output of the solar system. In a PPA, the bank has a vested interest in ensuring the PPA system produces the most power it can; they make money on each kilowatt generated, and the customer saves money on each kilowatt consumed. In comparison, the bank owners of a leased solar system make money on the monthly equipment lease; should kilowatt production fall, the lease payment remains the same.

Be choosy – A home or business owner is not the owner of the solar system in a PPA or lease, but choosing a trusted installer will determine product quality, appropriate tradesman certification, and accuracy of the contract. After all, it’s your home.

Consumer Alert – Since the financiers make their money on each kilowatt produced in a PPA contract, it’s important that the PPA solar array is not oversized. Oversized systems can result in the consumer paying for kilowatts that are unused. Choose your contractor well. In all solar contracts, insist on documentation for all the data.

By Mark Becker, GoSimpleSolar

Mark Becker is the President of GoSimpleSolar , by Semper Fidelis Construction Inc, a Danville based Solar Installation Firm (License 948715). Mark can be reached at 925.915.9252. Visit GoSimpleSolar’s showroom at 114 West Prospect Avenue in Danville or www.GoSimpleSolar.com, or email Mark@GoSimpleSolar.com.