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Depending on where you live, you might have to deal with more red tape than you think if you want to install solar panels. Different states have different laws when it comes to installing solar power and some states even offer incentives for selling it back to the grid. In this article, we break down the different factors of what makes solar power so varied from state to state. Lobbyists and Electricity Costs First off, money is always an issue. And by that, we're talking about lobbyists. Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) account for nearly 81% of the energy used in the United States, so there are a lot of jobs on the line and a lot of money to be made. Often, these major corporations will have lobbyists representing them on Capitol Hill and try to pass legislation that gives them more power. When this happens, fledgling solar companies are typically pushed aside. This also happens at the state level, which is another reason why regulations vary from state to state. Some states are known to make solar access difficult in order to keep electricity costs down. This is the case in many southern states that are able to access cheap electricity through the use of coal. With that being said, coal and electricity companies find interference of solar power systems as cumbersome to the system in place. Ironically, it's some of these states, such as Florida, which experience hundreds of sunny days out of the year. Though these problems exist, the fear of solar companies encroaching upon the business of utilities is likely playing a bigger role. Renewable Portfolio Standards This doesn't mean that solar energy is getting completely pushed aside in its growth. Many states have renewable portfolio standards in place to help the renewable energy industry flourish. A renewable portfolio standard is a government mandate that requires states to increase their production of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and biomass. Some states offer better RPS than others, such as Minnesota, New Mexico, and Vermont. States such as Arkansas, Wyoming, and West Virginia score the worst when it comes to RPS. Not surprisingly, the latter three states are in the bottom five in the country for solar-friendliness. Homeowners Associations and Solar Access Laws A homeowners association is a group you're obligated to join if you lease/rent a condominium, apartment, or some other unit of joint housing. Being a member of a homeowners association can make acquiring solar panels nearly impossible. However, some states have solar access laws in place that give consumers the green light to acquire solar panels, even if it goes against a homeowners association. States that include solar access laws are the following: Arizona Hawaii Maine New Mexico Vermont California Illinois Maryland North Carolina Virginia Colorado Indiana Massachusetts Oregon Washington Delaware Iowa Nevada Texas West Virginia Florida Louisiana New Jersey Utah Wisconsin Community Solar Policies These are relatively new to the solar industry, having been introduced in 2006. A community solar policy would involve a group of individuals owning property collaborating to benefit from the same solar panels. This is more common for people that are renting or for homeowners whose roofs don't support solar panels. Some of the worst states in the country for solar do not support community solar policies. Third-Party Ownership This involves leasing or loaning solar panels to potential owners. According to Green Tech Media, approximately 72% of solar panels installed in 2014 were third-party owned. This is so popular because, frankly, solar power is expensive. It's safe to say that most consumers don't have tens of thousands of dollars of expendable income, so this makes leasing or loaning solar power more appealing. If it comes time to decide between leasing and taking out a loan for panels, it's good to know that leasing is trending down in the market. This is because leases are often bound by long contracts, you can't claim the 30% Federal income tax credit, and they don't increase the market value of your home. The Overall Best and Worst States Solar Power Rocks recently compiled a list of the best and worst states in terms of solar-friendliness with criteria considering factors such as RPS, net metering, property and sales tax exemption, interconnection, and others. The data revealed the following: Best states for solar: Massachusetts New Jersey New York Maryland Connecticut Worst states for solar: Arkansas Oklahoma Wyoming West Virginia Nebraska Interested in seeing exactly where your state ranks in relation to others when it comes to solar friendliness? Our friends at solarpowerrocks.com also put together this helpful chart to illustrate just how "green" friendly your state is: Because solar regulations are different in every state, some companies choose to operate in some states and stay out of others. Web sites such as BestCompany.com sort out solar companies that don't operate in certain states because the issue is so prevalent. To put this in perspective, approximately 190 solar companies operate in the state of Massachusetts (the most solar-friendly state) while only one operates in Arkansas (the least solar-friendly state).
When it comes to supplying electricity to power the many appliances, electronics and other devices you use in your home every day, there can be no better friend than the sun. Most of us accustomed to turning on a light switch, flipping on the television or starting a load of laundry knowing that we're getting that power from a utility grid for which we pay the local power company each month. However, the ever-emerging alternative of solar power is enticing many to switch from this traditional source. Of course, using solar power is a different process, but there are also some surprising similarities to traditional power. This process involves several steps and uses different resources-and it all starts with that familiar bright orb in the sky. Compare Solar Companies Solar panels You can't have solar power without solar panels. It is most effective to place the panels on your roof, ideally facing south. The number of panels you'll need depends on the size of your home, how much power you will use and where you are located. For instance, different parts of the country and world receive more sunlight than others. Places where sunlight is more prevalent-desert areas, for example-will require fewer panels. A professional solar power designer and installer can help make these determinations. When the sun's rays beat down on the panels, photons from the rays will absorb into individual cells within the panels. Through a process of electron rearrangement in the silicon-based cells, a direct current (DC) is created. Inverter The DC will then flow into an important device called an inverter. The inverter is a key cog in the solar power equation because it is responsible for converting DC into an alternating current (AC). Your home can only uses AC to power all devices that require electricity, so this AC to DC change enables the electricity generated by the panels to become readily usable. The inverter will distribute the electricity all lights and devices in your home. Utility meter Just as in using traditional power, the utility meter plays a part in solar power. The meter will show how much power your home is using and producing from the solar power system. If you have excess power, it will be sent back to the grid. A common question with solar power systems is what happens at night or during times when the sun is obscured such as in cloudy or otherwise poor weather. During sunny days, your system should produce enough extra electricity to store it in the grid. When the sun's rays are not hitting your solar panels, your system can recall previously unused power for needed use. Off-the-grid considerations If you have a home or cabin in a remote area away from access to public utility grids, you can still rely on solar power for your electricity needs. In these cases, you can purchase and use a backup battery. Solar panels will generate power and store it in the batteries, at which time the inverter will draw the power as needed.
If you've decided to embrace change and switch from traditional power to solar power, you'll be pleased with the many benefits this alternative form of energy provides. Of course, there is also a lot that goes into the process of equipping your home or business with this system. The planning phase can entail a great deal work-from design concept to the figuring out the financing method and terms. As far as the actual panel installation, the process and time frame is generally quite seamless and swift. Timing factors It's no secret that there is not a cookie-cutter way of installing panels on homes or buildings. There is no one-system-fits-all process that will work on any and every building imaginable. Rather, the size or your home, your energy consumption and needs, and the location of where you live will determine how large your solar panels will be and how many you will need to power your home to suit your requirements. Consequently, the time in which it will take for professional installers to set you up with panels can vary. The timing can also be dependent on the installer you use to perform the labor. Average time Generally, however, installation teams should be able to finish a typical job in two or three days. Obviously, weather can play a factor, as inclement conditions could delay any job, just as it would with any sort of installation or construction project. Larger homes and/or homes with more panels might tack on an additional day or two. If you are fortunate enough, some home sizes, panels type and installation company will make your process even faster-perhaps as few as one day. Possible delays Other considerations to be aware of are inspections or permits. Some areas might require these steps before the installation process can be completed and your panels and system operational. This will extend the process a few days. Overall, and in most cases, installing your solar panels is a simple, painless process that could be even quicker than putting new shingles on the roof.
Even a person who doesn't have solar panels on his or her roof will have enough reason and insight to realize that a solar power system works best during peak sunlight hours. The panels atop your roof will soak in direct sunlight and convert the sunlight into electricity. But what happens when it's night and sun is seen on the other side of the world? Rest assured, your solar power system will continue to power your appliances and devices, even when darkness fills the sky. Power storage Solar panels and solar power systems have been designed to allow you to have access to electricity during any part of the day and in any weather. This all happens thanks to net metering. Solar panels will not work at night; they will only do their job when solar rays are hitting the cells within the panels. Fortunately, homes are connected to a utility grid, which can be thought of as an enormous repository for excess energy. During the day, solar panels will produce more electricity than you will use. Through a handy process known as net metering, this excess electricity will be stored in a shared grid and can be recalled for use at night when your panels aren't converting the sun's rays into power. If you are fortunate enough to live in certain areas, you might be able to tap into the grid for excess power without having to pay extra. Some states will allow solar power customers to receive credit for the excess power they produce. Other options In some areas, an adequate, efficient utility grid might not be available to handle your nighttime power needs. In these cases, solar power customers can use backup batteries, which, like net metering, can then be summoned to free stored electricity back to the home for use. Sunlight variances Obviously, different areas in the country will produce more sunlight and will have more hours of peak direct sunlight on rooftop panels. If you happen to reside in the Southwestern portion of the country-Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada or Southern California-you nighttime storage will be greater than if you live in the northwest, for example. Regardless, it's a good idea to use your electricity with prudence. Conserving your power during the day will ensure you will be able to run your dishwasher, dryer and other appliances at night. Compare Solar Companies
So, you want to go solar. But before you make the decision to buy, loan, or lease, there are a few things you want to know about the company and the system it provides: what's the warranty like? How long does the contract last? Do they service the state you live in? There are several small decisions that go into your big solar decision. But when it comes to most important quality of a solar system, you might find that it has less to do with contracts and financing, and more to do with raw data. What You Want to Know about Solar Panel Systems We conducted a survey among over 1,000 respondents ages 35 and older, and asked them what they felt was the most important quality a solar energy provider could offer them as consumers. The general consensus was overwhelmingly in favor of one main feature: Solar panel efficiency. More than contract length, or warranty, or even the number of payment options a company could provide, consumers are mostly interested in just how efficiently their solar panel systems are actually performing, which is sunderstandable. In an age where consumers are looking for more fuel-efficient cars, making more efficient internet searching by visiting sites like this one, and overall are looking for ways to get more bang for their buck, it's only logical that they would have similar expectations from a costly solar panel system. Why Is Efficiency So Important? It's no secret that, despite the monumental steps taken to make solar panel systems more affordable, buying or leasing a solar panel for your own home can still be quite expensive. And for those individuals who are choosing to go the purchase/loan route (click on this link to get a better understanding of what solar financing options are available today) making sure they buy a system that can immediately start paying for itself is crucial to the success of their investment. This is where solar panel efficiency comes in: the more efficient your system is, the faster the system will begin paying for itself, not only saving you money in the short-term, but even possible making you money in the long-term through the sale of solar credits. How Is Solar Panel Efficiency Measured? Simply put, solar cell or solar panel efficiency, represented as a percentage, is the ratio of energy gathered from sunlight that a panel can transform into electricity. "η" represents the percentage, "Pm" represents the wattage an individual cell actually produces, "G" is the input light from the sun (measured in watts per square meter), and "Ac" represents the surface area of the solar cell itself (measured in square meters). In other words, when the value for Pm is larger in proportion to the value G x Ac, then the solar cell is more efficient, because it requires less input sunlight and less surface area to produce electricity. For example, in Standard Test Conditions (STC), which have been defined as a clear day with incident sunlight at 41.81º above the horizon hitting a 37º-tilted panel (it also assumes 25ºC and a G of 1,000 W/m2), a solar cell measuring 100 square centimeters and producing 2 Watts of energy would rate about 20% efficient. What Is Considered "Good" in Terms of Solar Panel Efficiency? Now, while you probably didn't need (or even want) to know the complex math behind the efficiency percentage, you probably do want to know whether that 20% in the example is any good. The answer to that question can be complicated, as it depends greatly on the type of solar cell being evaluated. Not all solar cells are created equal. Literally: the material used in some solar cells is much more expensive and much more effective at capturing incident sunlight and transforming it into electricity. Consequently, for some cells, 20% is not only fantastic, but it's also an impossible goal for the material those cells employ; for others, 20% is about industry average; and for the rest, 20% is not even the minimum expected efficiency. On an added note, while cells that can produce 44% efficiency are insanely good, they are definitely not the most economical choice; the materials used in these cells are incredibly expensive, and the cell as a whole can carry a price tag up to 100 times the cost of some of the lower-efficiency cells. Really, the trick is finding a company whose solar cells' efficiency is worth the cost that comes with it. In the table below, you'll notice we've run the number for a few different types of solar panels, which can be used across a number of applications (for example, the Mars rover devices use multi-junction solar cells, while solar farms tend to use GaAs or single-junction cells). Other solar cell types (such as CZ silicon, CIGS, Cadmium Telluride, and CZTS) have more commercial and residential uses, and they are often sold by solar companies. As you can see, some cell types, while less expensive in terms of cost per watt (cost per watt includes depreciation, manufacture and labor costs, as well as costs of material), they also tend to be less efficient (note: the projected cost per watt is for one individual panel measuring 1 square meter): Conclusion: if you're looking for a solar panel system for your home, something in the 10% to 20% efficiency range will keep you from breaking the bank too much. And if you find something north of 20%, you'll want to pay attention, because that efficiency could make the difference in how soon your solar system can pay for itself in the long-term. When We Searched for Panel Efficiency Ratings Oddly enough, when we conducted an in-depth search of the type and efficiency of the solar panels used by the solar companies reviewed on our site, we could hardly find anything. In fact, we could only find information on a few companies: Sungevity: 18.4% (using panels manufactured by LG) SunPower: 21.5% (manufactures their own panels) Solar City: 22% (manufactures their own panels) And in terms of cost per Watt for a full system, this is where each of these companies fall according to freecleansolar.com: Sungevity: $4.69/Watt SunPower: $5.16/Watt Solar City: $4.91/Watt Meanwhile, last year SunEdison drove down their cost to $0.50/Watt per panel. Other than these few price points and efficiency ratings, we could find nothing. For some reason, many companies aren't necessarily eager to share this information, which got us thinking: Does Efficiency Really Set a Company Apart? The question is, does this information really mean anything? In a recent press release, Solar City announced that it had built the most efficient residential solar panels of their kind, clocking in at a whopping 22%. But does that matter? What does System A at 22% get you that System B at 21.5% does not? For starters, the 22% system will generate 2% more electricity each year than its 21.5% counterpart. While 2% may look small now, over the course of 20 years, System A will have produced approximately 40% more electricity than System B, which could easily translate to more SREC income or less money spent on utilities! So you can see, for those who are truly invested in their systems, every percentage point counts. Why Companies Aren't Telling You When nearly half of our survey respondents identified solar panel efficiency as being the most important thing to know about a prospective solar energy provider, why aren't more solar companies releasing the numbers on their panels' efficiency to the public? In fact, we had to to go a third-party blog, energysage.com to get most of these numbers: We've identified a few possible reasons why this information is hard to find: 1. They Don't Know As you may have guessed, not all solar companies build their own solar panels. In many cases, they will outsource manufacturing of the panels to another company like LG, Hyundai, or Itek. It's possible that certain information - such as solar panel efficiency - may not ever leave the warehouse. 2. They Know, but Don't Want to Tell Of course, one obvious answer is that not all companies can necessarily boast a 22% efficiency rating, let alone a 21.5%. With top businesses releasing this information as a selling point, you could understand why a company with only 12% to 15% may not be so eager to do so. 3. They Know, but Don't Think It's Important A third possibility is that companies simply don't think publishing this information will necessarily affect the customer's view of the company. If You Want to Go Solar However, efficiency is important, and because it's important, potential solar energy consumers want to know at what efficiency their new solar system will be running. That much was made clear by our survey. If you have decided that you want to get in on the solar action, don't be afraid to ask what the solar panel efficiency is. While this metric should not be the be-all-end-all number around which you should make your decision (there are many other qualities of the system and the company that you should consider before making your decision), it's certainly an important one if you are planning on keeping your system a long time. Compare Solar Companies
It is one of the cleanest, most dependable sources of energy at our disposal. It is also renewable, multi-purpose and easy on the environment. And, of course, it has been lauded for being cost effective and a tremendous alternative for traditional power. With the sun's rays hitting strategically placed solar panels, your home can be equipped with electricity to generate power for your appliances and other useful devices. But exactly how do solar panels work, and what do they collect and store in order to produce power for homes and businesses? Perhaps you've never thought about the process, but understanding how it works can be helpful and informative. The Process In essence, solar panels are collecting solar radiation from the sun. The panels themselves consist of individual cells made with a thin sheet of silicon under a sheet of glass. The silicon converts sunlight into electricity rather than heat. With the silicon are other materials that are meshed in such a method that there are extra electrons in one part of the cell and lacking electrons in another part of the cell. At the point where sunlight strikes a cell, photons in the light displace the extra electrons, causing them to relocate to the part of the cell that is missing electrons. This flow creates an electrical current that gathers in wires found in the panels, and the current makes its way to the inverter, the part of the solar power system that converts the direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC), ready for your use. Panel Placement The conversion of sunlight to usable electrical energy is often referred to as the Photovoltaic Effect. Photovoltaic means "electricity for light" (photo = light; voltaic = electricity). Ideally, your panels will be situated on your roof, facing south for homes in the Northern Hemisphere. Expert installers say the panels should be placed at an angle that corresponds with the latitude at which they are installed. This means if you live at 30 degrees north, your panels should be installed at a 30-degree angle. Your cells will collect more solar radiation if the panels are placed in an area free of trees and where there would be shade during the peak sunlight hours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It's critical that the each individual cell is unobstructed, as the entire system's efficiency can be cut in half if even one cell is shaded. System Matters For maximum performance and efficiency, make sure you do your due diligence and research reputable, knowledgeable designers and installers as you go through the process of converting to a solar energy system for your home or business. Different systems have different capabilities and capacities, and a professional will help determine what is right for your needs. Compare Solar Companies
When it comes to the solar power movement, even a novice knows there are many benefits to equipping one's home with a solar energy system. There are, of course, unique features to make converting from traditional power more attractive for prospective users. One of these features is a concept and process known as net metering. Net metering allows you to take advantage of stored excess power and save on your regular utility bills. Let's explore this concept in further detail. The basics of net metering In essence, net metering is the process whereby residents using solar energy systems to generate electricity feed unused electricity back into the grid. This process has an advantage to the customer's billing procedure. When a person has installed solar panels on their roof, chances are there will be times when the panels will collect and produce more electricity during the daytime than the home requires. A net-metered home will send the excess electricity back through the grid and give the customer a credit against the electricity used during the night or at other times when the home's electricity use is more than the output of the system. Don't fear, most meters are capable running backward and forward. If your meter does not have this capability, your utility company can make the necessary adjustments. You may even have two meters-one that runs forward and one that runs backward. The advantage here is that the customer is only charged for the "net" electricity used. This is significant because only 20 percent to 40 percent of a solar power system's generated output goes into the grid. Plus, any extra power sent back to the grid can be used for neighboring homes. Net metering advantages As a customer, net metering gives you the opportunity to produce your own electricity in a clean and efficient manner. From a financial standpoint, net metering will help your pocketbook. As mentioned, solar power systems generally produce more power than is needed. Since the unused power is sent back to the grid for later use, your bill can be reduced. The Solar Energy Industries Association recently reported that public agencies and school in California using net metering will save as much as $2.5 billion in utility costs over the next three decades. Again in California, estimates show that the average resident will save between $700 and $1,000 annually on their utility bills. Those are big-time savings. Wherever you live, if you use the net metering feature, you will continue to be billed each month. Net metering also provides a lucrative opportunity for economic growth, employment expansion, and income and investment improvements. As net metering becomes more common and popular, more and more residents and business will desire to switch from traditional power to solar power, thus creating job opportunities for solar power system designers, installers, manufacturers and electricians. Currently, there are more than 170,00 people in the U.S. employed in the solar power industry. That number could grow steeply as people become more aware of net metering. In fact, net metering has been introduced as a way to incentivize people to install and use solar power systems in their homes and businesses. Prevalence of net metering Legislation has actually been enacted to make net metering legal and possible throughout the United States. Presently, there are 43 states that have official net metering policies. Only Idaho, Texas, South Dakota, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina do not have state policies. Most states have limits on individual system capacities as well as system types and technologies.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard a thing or two about the increasingly popularity of installing solar panels on residential roofs as an alternative method to generating power for homes. There are several reasons people consider this option, whether it be for financial reasons or whether they are committed to go-green, save-the-world initiatives. Certainly there are advantages to going solar in both of these cases. But whether you are serious about converting to the solar side or whether you simply want to know what the buzz is about, knowing what financing options are at your disposal is helpful and instructive. Essentially, when it comes to paying for solar power to come into your home, you have two choices: a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or a solar lease. Let's discuss what a solar lease is and what the pros and cons are of this method. Nuts and bolts of a solar lease Installing a solar power system for your home involves a lot of moving parts, people and organizations. For you, the customer, you're likely concerned with two things: cost and performance. In short, you want to know how it will benefit you (and be more beneficial than traditional electric power) and what it'll do to your pocketbook. As you start the process of installing a system for your home, most companies will offer you either a lease or a PPA. Some give you the option, but most do not. With a solar lease, you are actually paying a fixed monthly fee for use of the system. Whereas with a PPA, you are paying according to how many kilowatts of power is generated. The good news about this difference is that no matter how hard your solar system is working, you'll pay the same every month. Here are some other important components of a solar lease: Usually, the homeowner, or customer, is not required to pay anything up front for installation of the system. The lease is usually 15 years. The customer is locked into that timeframe, but the system is transferrable to a new home or in the event a new owner moves into the current home. In addition to paying a monthly fee, you must pay your traditional utility company for any additional regular electricity you may use. Your monthly fees typically rise 3 percent to 4 percent per year; however, this is lower than the average 5 percent increases electric companies hand out. Normally, the solar power provider will handle any needed repairs or maintenance of the system and equipment. Your ability to secure a lease is dependent upon your credit. With a solar lease, you may elect to buy the system later or at the end of your lease term at a residual price. Why you should consider a solar lease There are obvious advantages to selecting a solar lease when having a solar power system installed at your home. Here are a few: Affordability: You don't have to worry about down payments or up-front costs. Usually, putting any large-scale system in a home is going to cost a significant amount, but your solar power system won't require any out-of-pocket costs at the time of installation. Flexibility: On the other hand, if you prefer, you may opt to make a down payment, thus lowering your fixed monthly costs. No hassles: Because it is a lease, you don't own the equipment (think renting an apartment or home versus buying a place of your own), so any needed repairs or replacements won't cost you a dime, and you don't have to do the work. Fixed monthly costs: Though the rates will go up on an annual basis, throughout the year, your monthly payments will stay the same. There will be no surprise rises in your payment. Why a solar lease may not be for you If you have poor credit, you might not qualify. You are not eligible for tax credits. You are locked into a term, so if you are dissatisfied with the product, you still have responsibility to pay for it each month.
Making solar power accessible and feasible for residents and businesses across the United States and even the entire world is becoming an increasingly hot topic. While there are many complex large-scale issues, including government funding and potential legal ramifications, obtaining solar energy in your home or workplace may be easier than you think. To help customers more readily harness this renewable form of energy, manufacturers, installers and solar power providers work in partnership to provide Solar Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) for those interested in using the sun's rays to power their homes. The ABCs of PPAs Essentially, a PPA is a financial agreement where an outside party developer takes ownership of and controls and maintains a photovoltaic (PV) system. In turn, a customer-whether a resident or business owner-consents to have the solar power system installed on the property, ordinarily the roof of the building. In addition, the customer purchases the system's electric output from the solar provider for a certain amount of time. The PPA benefits both the customer and the provider, as it allows the customer to receive the solar power at low costs, and the provider reaps tax breaks and revenue from selling the system to the consumer. In a PPA, the customer does not buy the actual solar power system but instead purchases the system's services. From this method, the customer is fortunate to evade exorbitant initial costs, potential problems in system functions, and what can sometimes be confusing designs and permitting processes. How PPAs work Customers first allow installers to put solar panels on the roof of the home and agree to purchase the generated power. This is done through a long-term contract, the length of which can vary from six to 25 years. One attractive aspect of PPAs to customers is the fact that the price is often equal to or less than what one would pay for traditional electricity. Another enticing element of the PPA is that customers pay for what the solar power system generates rather than a set amount each month. Working with the customer is the solar system provider, which is in charge of coordinating the financial aspects of the projects, as well the design, building and permitting of the system. The provider, not the customer, will purchase the panels. Meanwhile, a third player in the PPA, the manufacturer, is tasked with coming up with the design for the system. The manufacturer will do this by carefully reviewing the property and its specific and unique features. The manufacturer will use his or her own team to construct the panels. To furnish appropriate financing, an investor will come into the scenario and provide the necessary capital to get the project underway. This is a viable situation for the investor because he or she can recoup the investment through tax benefits and through payments from the sale of the system. Lastly, the utility company the customer has used for traditional power continues to play a role. The company will give access to a connection from the PV to the grid. The company will still furnish electric service to the customer, as power will still be used when the PV is producing only a small amount of power (such as at night or other times when the sun is obscured. Why use a PPA There are several reasons why a customer should use a PPA to initiate solar power in one's home or business. Here are a few: Low up-front fees (usually $1,000 but sometimes less) Reduction in energy costs. Practically no liability. Because you are simply paying for what the system produces, you are not responsible for any operating or design issues. Property value increase. Compare Solar Companies
Everybody loves SolarCity. Well, almost everybody. If you've thought about getting a solar system installed in your home, you've probably heard of SolarCity, which currently sits at or near the top of the growing list of U.S. solar installers. In fact, few solar installers are as well-regarded as this one. SolarCity, which was started by celebrity tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, has enough honors packed into its 'Awards' page to make all of its competitors green with envy (pun intended). In the last year alone, the company has been placed ninth on MIT Technology Review's 50 Smartest Companies 2015 and was included on Fast Company's list of the World's Most Innovative Companies in Energy. Suffice it say, SolarCity gets more than its share of love. Having said that, the company-which makes solar affordable for homeowners by leasing out solar systems on 20-year agreements, instead of selling them-is not without its own issues. These problems leave customers feeling frustrated and disillusioned with what they thought was going to be an earth- and money-saving purchase. So before you commit to leasing a solar system from SolarCity, here are the top six problems people tend to have with SolarCity (and which you might want to avoid): 1. SolarCity's financials are less than sunny From an investor standpoint, SolarCity can make some people nervous. The problem is not its revenues, which have grown 41% compounded annually since 2012. The problem is that the amount SolarCity spends on sales and marketing and general and administrative costs have skyrocketed by 85% and 79% compounded annually. David Trainer at Forbes explains: "Essentially, the cost of attracting new customers and hiring more workers has far outpaced revenues." And that's not all. SolarCity is about to receive an even bigger blow to their balance sheet. One of the things that makes SolarCity click is the money it receives from the government. First, they've accepted more than $11 million in federal stimulus money. But even more impressive is the $411 million in tax breaks they've received as the proud owner of thousands of solar systems. But with the solar tax credit here in the U.S. set to expire in 2016, they're about to lose all that tax credit revenue. This will put SolarCity, which already has negative profits, in an even worse position-and that's bad not just for its investors and employees, but also for customers. Why? Because SolarCity customers lease their solar systems from the company. If the company ever went under or found itself in bad spot, they would have to sell that equipment and the lease to another company. Customers would find themselves stuck in a lease with an unknown company. These situations can get messy really fast, with the new company changing the terms of a lease or not honoring promises made by the previous company. 2. SolarCity is more expensive In their July 2015 review of SolarCity, solar industry observer Pick My Solar compared SolarCity's bids to those of its competitors in California. Shockingly, SolarCity's bids were 34% higher than the average for all California solar installers. That's an extra $10,000 for your run-of-the-mill solar system. This would be understandable if SolarCity used premium equipment, but they're equipment has been shown to be the same as its competitors'. The real reason why SolarCity is more pricey is, frankly, a little shameful. Pick My Solar's review pointed out that SolarCity prices its projects on a cost-per-watt basis, no matter the size of the project. That rate is always $5.10 per watt. Put on your accountant hat for a second and you start to see why this a bad thing, as explained by Pick My Solar: "Having no discrepancy in price is an obvious red flag. Overhead, permitting, engineering, and transportation are generally consistent costs, no matter what the project size - which means more dollars are going to profit margins on larger projects." Simply put, SolarCity uses their $5.10 cost-per-watt model as a way to squeeze more profits out of customers. It might even cause them to push customers into bigger projects than they need. 3. SolarCity drags its feet on installations Does it always? Probably not. But Pick My Solar's review revealed that, while most solar companies in California completed their customers' installations within two to four months after signing, SolarCity took embarrassingly longer to turn things on: "SolarCity is an outlier here, known to take six months or more to install a system due to backlog and inefficiencies. The MyPower contract confirms this exasperated timeline, stating that the installation will be done within 12 months!" Of course, to give them the benefit of the doubt, this problem might be unique to SolarCity's California operations. But when customers decide they want to invest in solar power, they probably aren't expecting to wait a half-year to make that decision a reality. 4. SolarCity has a quality assurance problem Even when the moment of installation finally arrives, things can and do go badly. Search for SolarCity complaints on ConsumerAffairs.com, and you'll hear stories of installers failing miserably in so many ways. One reviewer tells of a SolarCity technician coming to their house to survey and determine requirement, drilling holes in their garage ceiling, and simply leaving dust and chunks of drywall all over cars, the floor, and other items. And then there's the damage that can occur during installation itself. On the Better Business Bureau page for SolarCity, one customer complaint recounts: "My home has been damaged by their installation and product. They did not finish the install in one day and it took five weeks and numerous phone calls to get them to finish the job. Then my roof started leaking from their installation leaving my ceiling hanging in ruin." Finally, sometimes the equipment just isn't installed correctly. "Many of the consumers complain that they have spent months trying to remedy faulty installation, only to receive either continuous boilerplate responses from customer service or no response at all," says Tori Richards of Watchdog.org. But this problem is more than just a few poorly trained technicians. All three of these stories highlight how poorly SolarCity sometimes performs in customer service , leaving customer hanging for weeks on end with serious issues. When you're signing a lease with a company for 20 years, this is not the kind of customer service you want to be stuck with. 5. SolarCity's 20-year lease just might be a time-bomb SolarCity's 20-year solar-power-purchase agreement sounds like a no-brainer right now. Customers get solar power with no money down, and, if all goes according to plan, they pay less per month than they do for their current power bill. Unfortunately, when you're talking about the next 20 years, the likelihood of things going wrong is high. Pick My Solar points out that the utilities that currently buy excess power from SolarCity will inevitably lower their rates in response to so many customers turning to solar: "Some predict it will lead to tens-of-thousands of contractual [power purchase] agreements that leave homeowners paying more for their solar system than they would be paying for electricity from the grid." This is exactly what happened to one customer in Half Moon Bay, California. For $600 up front, SolarCity told Jeff Leeds he could expect to pay $182 per month for the next 20 years as part of their "performance guarantee." Fifteen months later, Leeds found himself in a very different situation: "The local utility company has raised its rates and instead of a lower bill, Leeds is pushing $500 a month with no way out for the next two decades. And he has the eyesore of solar panels that cover most of his roof." And then there's the problem of equipment. The rate at which solar technology is advancing all but guarantees that the equipment that customers sign a lease for today will be obsolete in a few years. Richardson explains: "No matter how rapidly solar technology evolves, the SolarCity lease ties each homeowner to technology that is cutting edge only at the signing of the 20-year contract." And what about in 20 years? The equipment customers are tied to might very well be unusable. 6. SolarCity doesn't prepare you for that true-up bill No list of SolarCity problems would be complete without the dreaded true-up bill. Countless online complaints against SolarCity speak of customers assured by the company that their system would cover all their energy needs. And even if it didn't, they could expect nothing but tiny, harmless monthly electric bills for the next 20 years. But then customers are surprised when one very large electric bill arrives at the end of the year. One victim of the true-up bill, Angelina of Riverside, California recounts: "After receiving our first true-up bill from Edison we were in shock to see that we owed them $1,150.00. Upon calling customer service we were told that our system was only designed to cover 60% and that 100% was not possible. We would never have agreed to 60%. Conveniently, the sales rep that we spoke with no longer worked for the company because she mislead people... But in no way, shape, or form was SolarCity going to honor what we were told and what we agreed to." To be fair, true-up bills aren't a problem just for SolarCity customers. It happens with every major solar installer out there, when salespeople gloss over the subject and focus only on those monthly savings. And sometimes, customers are actually to blame. Solar expert Craig Lawrence explains on Quora that there are two possibilities. One is that your solar system failed to produce the electricity it promised. If you see that your system is producing less than was promised in your lease, you have a production guarantee and can push SolarCity to fix the problem. The second possibility Lawrence points out is that the customer's consumption has actually gone up dramatically: "There is a psychological effect when some people get solar that says, 'Hey, I can use a bunch more electricity because I'm making all of this clean solar energy!' I've seen this happen many times, and it can wipe out your savings from your solar." In these cases, it seems that customers should be able to work with SolarCity customer service to pinpoint the causes and possible fixes to the problem. Regardless of the cause, however, SolarCity needs to do a better job of setting realistic expectations before customers get locked into leases. Is SolarCity right for you? As mentioned earlier, some of these problems aren't unique to SolarCity. True-up bills and long-term leases affect customers of most solar installers. And, I should mention that The Best Companys.com actually ranks SolarCity among the top three national solar installers, based on our own review and the reviews of actual customers. So, while SolarCity certainly has its problems with customer service and installations, if you're set on getting a solar system at your house, it's still one of your best options. Need help choosing a solar installer? See how SolarCity compares to other solar installers on our Solar Company Reviews page today!