I looked into solar panels as soon as we bought our house. The house had a new roof and half was south facing. It seemed perfect. After researching it, I knew buying the panels instead of leasing made more sense for us. We wanted to make sure we could sell our home without strings, if we needed to.
But every solar company I contacted gave me different information. None of them could tell me how much the panels would cost in a format which allowed me to comparison shop. So I abandoned the project a few times. However, with the federal tax credit expiring I became more committed to the solar project. “The 30% [solar] credit is good through 2019. After that, it drops down to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021 in its last year.”
I finally hit upon a plan. I would contact four companies and ask them to fill out a chart with the relevant information for me. As information came in, I just re-sent the chart to make sure that each company was giving me the best quote. I realized after going through this process that the companies are competing based on 1. The cost of their panels and 2. The amount they are willing to pay you for your SRECs. The SRECs allow power companies to offset their pollution — very crudely explained. More about SRECs is available here. A home owner can sell their SRECs individually but we opted to just sell them in total. One company we received a quote from when under just before we signed a contract with them. Solar City/Tesla’s quote was the next lowest, so we went with them. (The least amount of cash invested was our main metric.)
The process was almost seamless once we signed on the dotted line. We had to pay for half of the panels before they were installed and then the rest once the panels were installed. The panels are attached to our roof and the solar companies all provide a warranty for your roof in case it leaks. (This rarely happens, according to the companies and online reviews.) The power company had to change our meter, so when we produce energy that we don’t use goes back into the grid. One issue that came up was a DC specific three foot setback for the panels. More panels could have fit on our roof, but the current regulations for the DC Fire Code require that all roofs have this setback.
Based on the data from Solar City/Tesla we should recoup our investment within five years, if not sooner. And, in the interest of full disclosure, of course the solar companies give their current customers referral fees for any customers who sign-up. Feel free to let Rob know I sent you.