Tag: "yelp"

04/11/18

  01:51:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 936 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

My Electric Bill is So High! Will Solar Help?Part 2: How Do I Find Someone to Trust?

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in our three-part series:
My Electric Bill is So High! Will Solar Help? 
You can read part one, How High is High, here.

Unless you have been living completely offline and in a cave, you are aware that there are lots of solar companies out there looking for your business.  You’ve seen them on the Web, perhaps they have called you or even knocked on your door.  You probably realize that you should do your homework and get several quotes before going forward, but how do you even know where to look?  Fear not, we’ve got you covered!

Why Trust Matters

For most homeowners, purchasing a solar power system will be one of the most expensive purchases they ever make, after their home, their education, and a new car.  Moreover, a solar power system is supposed to co-exist with your home happily for the next twenty years or more.  For all of that to work out, you need to find someone you trust.  Your gut is a good gauge here – if someone makes you uncomfortable now, chances are you will be even less comfortable down the road.

Qualifications Count…

In the search for qualified contractors there are some basic qualifications, and there are more sophisticated ones.  Let’s start with the basics: is this contractor licensed?  In California it is easy to check that out, simply by going to the Contractors’ State License Board and search on their license number (it should be on the contractor’s website) or their name.  If they don’t have a valid license, run, don’t walk, away from them! 

Beyond just checking to see if they have a license, you can also check for the type of license (only A, B, C-10, and C-46 license holders are authorized to install solar), whether there are any public complaints against them, and the status of their bonding and workers compensation insurance.

NABCEP logo

That covers the basics, but how about something more substantive?  After all, you could hold any of the necessary licenses and never have worked on a solar power system in your life! Toward that end, there is no greater indication of qualifications than to be a Certified PV Installation Professional by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), a distinction I’ve been honored to hold since 2010.

How select are NABCEP Certified PV Installation Professionals?  According to CALSSA, there are some 86,000 solar workers in California, of which just 294 hold that NABCEP Certification, according to the NABCEP website. 

As NABCEP puts it:

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 professionals who have distinguished themselves by being awarded NABCEP Certified Installer credentials.

You can search for a Certified PV Installation Professional on the NABCEP website here.

So does Reputation

If checking qualifications matters when it comes to finding a contractor that you can trust, then so to does assessing their reputation, which these days is easier than ever to do.  Search sites, like Google, display reviews for local businesses (keep in mind the top few listings are paid ads), and major review sites will let you see lots of reviews of solar contractors “near” you.  (Near in scare quotes because often those companies are saying they will serve your area even if they are located far away.) 

More localized resources, like Nextdoor and Neighbor-2-Neighbor, provide a more cultivated collection of contractors from which you can choose.

Of course, nothing beats getting a recommendation from someone you trust who has gone solar, had a great experience, and their system has lived up to expectations.  If you don’t know anyone like that, you should ask your prospective contractors for a list of clients that you can contact.  Naturally, the contractor is going to list people who will tell you great things, but ask to come by and see the installation for yourself. 

Other factors to consider…

Years in Business

Companies that have been in business a long time may or may not do better work than a relative newcomer, but at least they have shown that they know how to remain in business.  (In the solar industry, that is not a small accomplishment.)   Older companies usually have more experience – although a newer company could compensate by hiring well-experienced people – and experience is important since every project presents its own, unique challenges.

Local vs National

National companies are sometimes perceived as having an advantage because they have the whole “economy of scale” thing going for them.  Yet often those “savings” aren’t going to the consumer, they are going to shareholders or venture capitalists who have funded the operation. 

Local companies, on the other hand, live or die on their reputation.  They can’t simply write-off a territory and expand somewhere else – if they fail locally, they are doomed.  So local companies often provide much better service to their clients.  On top of that, the money you spend on a local company helps support your own, local economy.  And hey, if you have a problem, you may well bump into your installer in the grocery store and you can tell her all about it!

Next Steps…

Ok - by now you know that your home is a good solar candidate, and you have found several trustworthy contractors.  Now all you need to do is look over their bids, choose the best one, and off you go!  But wait, how do choose the best bid?  Fear not, dear reader, that is coming in Part 3: Evaluating Competing Solar Proposals

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09/16/16

  02:01:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1049 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Solving the Solar Sustainability Problem

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a three-part series asking the question: Is Solar Unsustainable?  You can find Part One: Shoddy Work here, and Part Two: Shady Business Practices here.


It is easy enough to cast aspersions, but it is far more valuable to offer suggestions for improvement.  Having devoted 3,000 words to the former, it is time offer some thoughts on the latter.

Too Big to Fulfill

Time to restore trust in the solar industry

I attended a solar workshop sponsored by our favorite distributor, BayWa r.e., and I heard the head of a solar company offer what might have been the saddest assessment of success I had ever heard.  This man had built his company to become the largest player in his region, but most of the time, he said, “I wish I could go back to being just two guys and a truck."  Growth is hard, and with it comes the risk of shoddy work creeping into your projects.  (Indeed, one of the jobs that we highlighted in our first post was done by a company that once had a great reputation, but grew too fast and lost control of quality.)

When a company becomes too big to fulfill its obligation to provide top-quality work, it is too big.

A greater emphasis on training is one way to grow while still keeping the quality high.  NABCEP is a good step in that direction, but companies need to support their employees to get the training that they need. (Of course, this says nothing about companies that are looking to rip people off - they represent an entirely different type of problem.  More about dealing with them later.)

From Customers to Clients

Right now the solar industry treats consumers like customers, and that’s a problem.  Customers represent a transactional relationship - gas stations and fast food restaurants have customers.  The customer hands over their money and gets a commodity in return - end of story.  But purchasers of solar power systems are entering into a long-term relationship with the product that we are selling - quite likely the longest lived product they will ever own, short of the house itself.  A relationship can only last that long when it is founded in trust, and that is the nature of a client relationship. 

Recognizing that we are entering into a client relationship changes the focus from the short term transaction to the long-term process of building confidence.  That means starting with absolute candor and at every step in the process enhancing the client’s trust.  The solar professional owes the client three duties: a duty of candor, a duty of communication, and a fiduciary duty.  The consequence of those duties is that you have to keep your client in the loop, and you must safeguard your client’s financial well-being.

How do you fulfill those duties?  By communicating clearly at every step in the process, identifying and disclosing problems as they arise, and by providing comprehensive contracts and then living by that contract (i.e., keeping change orders to a minimum).

Time to Come Clean

Solar companies need to provide comprehensive disclosures to their clients.  At a minimum, such disclosures should include:

  • All of the major components (specific solar panels, inverters, racking) to be used on the project, and the per item cost of each;
  • If financing is being proposed, the total cost of that financing;
  • Savings calculations that are actually tied to the client’s utility rate structure (or a structure to which the client is entitled to transition);
  • All assumptions (such as utility rate increase percentage, system output degradation, etc.), built into any lifetime savings computation.

Such comprehensive disclosures would eliminate the scourge of “generic solar systems,” and would allow consumers to make more accurate comparisons of competing bids.

Guiding the Market’s ‘Invisible Hand’

I spoke about many of these issues on a panel this week as SPI.  There was a great deal of agreement among the panelists, despite our disparate backgrounds ranging from a (refreshingly progressive muni utility) to Sunrun to me.  But the one comment that bothered me the most came from industry veteran and CALSEIA board member, Ed Murray.  In response to my stated concern that the bad business practices documented in my first two posts in this series constituted a serious threat to the industry, Mr. Murray’s response was that “the market will take care of it, bad companies will fail and the good ones will survive, hopefully without too much of a black eye to the industry.”

If only it were that easy.

We rejected such laissez faire notions with the rise of the modern regulatory state decades ago, and to suggest that the solar industry can or should survive without additional regulatory involvement is misguided.  The solar industry is far less regulated here in California than it is in many states.  For example, to participate in the solar incentive program in New York solar installers must be NABCEP certified.  Such a requirement here in the largest solar market in the country would go a long way toward cleaning up our act.

CALSEIA has a consumer complaint process - consumers who feel they’ve been badly treated by a solar company in California can start the process by clicking here to fill out their complaint form - but the process itself is secret, and the rest of the consuming public never learns about those complaints.

Similarly, utilities often have experience with bad solar contractors who do shoddy work, but they don’t publicize what they have learned so the public remains uneducated about the bad actors out there.  That should change.

Unfortunately, that leaves us, for now, in a position where the burden remains on the potential client to do the homework needed to find a reliable contractor.  NABCEP’s member list is a good resource (although made less so since you can no longer sort results by zip code), as is CALSEIA’s.  State contractor’s boards - responsible for licensing contractors - are a good source to verify that the contractor is properly licensed, and to determine whether there are any outstanding complaints against them.  (For California, here is a link to the “Check a License” page at the state contractors board.)  Yelp, Angie’s List, and the BBB can all be helpful.  But consumers must demand to be treated like the clients that they are, and reject solar companies that fail to honor that demand. 

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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.

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