« FTC Limits "Solar-Powered" ClaimsInside SCE's Rate Increase - Part 2 »

Picking a Commercial Solar Contractor - NICELY Does It!

04/10/13

  09:40:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 908 words  
Categories: Solar News, SCE/CSI Rebates, SCE, NABCEP, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, SDG&E

Picking a Commercial Solar Contractor: NICELY Does It!

Before you can ever get a bid for your commercial solar project, you have to contact a solar installation contractor to come out to your location and perform a site evaluation.  Actually, you should contact at least three contractors so that you have a set of bids to compare (more on that process below) - but how do you find them in the first place?  Well, you could choose based on who has the most ads on TV or the Internet, or you could rely on Cousin Billy’s recommendation - but somehow that just doesn’t seem sufficiently scientific for a project like this.  There has to be a better way - and there is.

If you remember that you need to find someone who will work NICELY with you, success is all but assured.  And no, we don’t mean nicely, we mean NICELY - as in:

N - NABCEP Certification
I - Incentive provider (CSI or local utility) connected
C - City building department experienced
E - Electrician on staff
L - Local or national?
Y - Years in business.

Focus on those attributes and you will have found a contractor who will inspire confidence and guarantee a successful project.  Let’s expand on why these particular attributes are so important.

NABCEP Certification

NABCEP CertifiedThe North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners - NABCEP for short - provides the most rigorous certification process of solar installation professionals in the industry.  Not to be confused with their Entry Level Letter that merely demonstrates that the person has taken an introductory course in solar,  the NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer™ credential is the Gold Standard for installers and consumers alike.  Earning NABCEP Certification requires the successful candidate to have an educational background in electrical engineering or related technical areas (such as an IBEW union apprenticeship program), at least two solar installations as the lead installer, and the successful passing of a 4-hour written examination on all aspects of solar power system design and installation.

As NABCEP notes:

When you hire a contractor with NABCEP Certified Installers leading the crew, you can be confident that you are getting the job done by solar professionals who have the “know-how” that you need. They are part of a select group of people who have distinguished themselves by being awarded NABCEP Certified Installer credentials.

NABCEP’s website offers a database of all Certified Solar PV Installers - just enter your zip code to find the installers located near you.  It is with great pride that we point out that at Run on Sun, all three of our owners have earned the designation, NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer™ - and we know of no other solar power company in Southern California that can make that claim.

Incentive Provider - CSI or Local Utility

A second source of solar installers is the Incentive provider such as the California Solar Initiatives’ Go Solar California website.  Every installer who has done a solar power installation for a CSI utility (i.e., SCE, PG&E or SDG&E) will be included on this list.  Unfortunately, there are no other criteria associated with getting listed - and there is limited verification done to guarantee that the listed installer is reliable.  If your job is in California, your contractor must be on this list - but this is a double-check only - not an ideal starting point for your search.

Another source for information about solar installers is your local utility’s point person for solar rebates.  This person deals with installers on a daily basis, and while s/he won’t give you a specific recommendation, they may be able to warn you off of an installer whom they have learned is less than reliable.

City Building Department

Similarly, the folks in your local building department deal with installers regularly as part of the permitting/inspection process.  Once again, they won’t be in a position to provide referrals, but they may be able to give you a warning if there are red flags associated with a contractor that you are considering.

Local or National?

Solar installation companies come in all sizes - from national organizations that have crews installing systems all across the country, to local operations that only work in a limited geographic region.  To be sure, there are pluses and minuses on both ends — maybe lower prices for the national chain due to economy of scale in their purchasing versus greater attention to detail from a local company that lives or dies based on how well it satisfies its local customer base.  And, of course, money spent on a local company tends to stay in the local economy - another consideration in tough economic times.

Years in Business

The last of the NICELY elements is to look at the number of years the company has been in business.  Again, this is not a perfect indicator – some recent ventures really have their act together and some long-standing enterprises have long since ceased to really care about what they are doing – but at a minimum you want some assurance that the folks you are doing business with know how to run a business. Otherwise you run the risk of having a largely useless warranty and no one to call if things go wrong.

We would recommend a minimum of three-to-five years in the business of doing solar, with preferably a longer track record of running a business.  Expertise in areas beyond just installing solar is also useful such as engineering, management and law.


The preceding is an excerpt from Jim Jenal’s upcoming book, “Commercial Solar Step-by-Step,” due out in July.

 Permalink

No feedback yet


Form is loading...

Search

Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

Ready to Save?

Let’s Get Started!

Give Us a Call!

626.793.6025 or
310.584.7755

Click to Learn More About Commercial Solar Power!

We're Social!



Follow Run on Sun on Twitter Like Run on Sun on Facebook
Run on Sun helps fight Climate Change
Multiple blogs solution