The Inside Scoop on the Solar Industry
What to Look Out for When Going Solar
We won't say bad things about our competition, but we hear a lot of crazy stuff out there regarding solar roof maintenance. There is a lot of mis-information about solar spread by salespeople that are just trying to 'close the deal'. They talk a good talk, but they know just enough to push the sale. They just don't know the solar industry very well. We aren't that kind of company. We all know the benefits of solar, such as: Freedom from the power company, huge savings every month, a massive national incentive putting $1,000s back in your pocket, it's good for the environment - what's not to like?!! But what most people forget, and what your average salesperson won't tell you is that your association with your solar company is a long term relationship If we answer all of your questions, show you all the ways we are different than any other solar installer, and bring you a very competitive price, we think you'll chose us. We will never pressure you and always keep your information totally private.
So we thought that it would be good to create a page that gives straight answers and clears some common misconceptions about solar, so that you can make the most informed decision possible. Planet Solar has been in this industry longer than almost anyone. Our founder installed his first solar in 1983 and lived off-grid using solar, wind, and batteries from 1998-2002, as well as inventing energy conservation products. In fact, everyone at Planet Solar is very knowledgeable, because we are career solar professionals, and love staying on top of the technology and sharing our knowledge with others. So let's get started.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FREE SOLAR
We see the ads all the time, especially on Facebook, saying "New govt. program for XXXX County installs free solar panels" or "California Homeowners are Getting Solar for No....", or something else along those lines. Sorry, but there is no such program for solar panels unless you are very low income. These companies are offering a PPA or lease, which will put panels on your house for no cost to you, but then charge you for the power the panels create and raise your price for that power every year. The panels may be on your roof, but you don't own them. You'll save between 10%-20% on your power which isn't bad, but you could save 40%-50% or even 100% by purchasing solar either with a loan or your own money. A solar loan with $0 down also results in no money out of pocket, but with far greater savings, PLUS an average of $6,000 in your pocket from the national solar incentive.
SOMEONE TELLS YOU "WE WORK TOGETHER WITH THE UTILITY COMPANY"
You might even get a person knocking at your door that is wearing what looks like a uniform from the utility company. Check his badge and the logos on his shirt carefully, because there is no such utility company partnership. The utility companies do NOT work with solar companies to install solar for your home or business - and why would they? Solar is taking away thousands of their customers each year and costing them millions of dollars. Instead, they are forced by the state to allow solar, and go to great efforts to stall solar installations when they can. But the utilities know a great technology when they see it. Your electric company actually has big solar farms, where they make free power and then charge you through the nose for it. Instead, get your own solar system, so that you can capture your own 'Free Power from the Sun'.
DO NOT USE A LEASE OR PPA TO GO SOLAR
It is almost NEVER a good idea to use a solar lease or PPA, and here's why:
A) Solar comes with a national incentive of 26%. Our average customer gets about $6,000 back from the government for going solar. With a lease or PPA, you sign over YOUR money to the PPA/Leasing company!
B) Your savings will be about 10%-20%, which is much less than you would save with a solar loan.
C) With most leases or PPAs, your payments go up each year. With a solar loan, your payments never go up. Don't trade one power rate hike for another - get a solar loan and enjoy fixed energy costs, and when the loan is paid, you'll have free power forever.
D) The contract never ends in a Lease or PPA. Every lease/PPA I've seen in the past 2 years is 20 years long, but at the end of the term, you have to either BUY the system (for an outrageous amount), have the system removed (leaving you without a solar system and paying high electric rates again), OR renew the lease. With a solar loan, once it is paid off, you'll own the solar panels, and enjoy Free Power from the Sun forever.
E) Pre-payment penalty is super expensive with a PPA. Lets say you win the lottery in 5 years and want to pay off your lease/PPA. It will cost you more to buy it out than if you would have just paid cash for the system at the beginning.
There is only one reason to use a lease/PPA: if you are not a US tax payer. We have many customers that don't pay taxes for many reasons. Especially in our Palm Desert office, about half of our customers are either retired or Canadian, and neither pay US taxes. We happen to have the best lease in the US, a 'lease to own' program that can't be beat. It's a hybrid between a loan and a lease, with ownership reverting to you automatically after 6 years.
The best way to pay for solar in order of lowest cost is:
Buy it with your own money, and enjoy better returns than any other legal investment - usually between 20% - 35% annual ROI.
Buy it with a loan, with ROI reduced exactly by the APR of the loan (i.e. 30% ROI - 2.99% APR = 27% ROI). Still better than stocks.
Buy it with a PACE loan, with no personal credit qualifying. You have the same ROI less the APR, usually about 6.5%
Use a lease/PPA - the absolute most expensive way to go solar.
ALL LOW-APR SOLAR LOANS HAVE LOAN FEES
Most solar installers are offering low interest rates for their solar loans, but if you see a solar loan under 6% APR, there for sure is a fee for that loan. They call it "buying down the interest." The bank charges the solar installer up front for the difference between their true interest rate (usually between 6% - 10%) and the interest rate that you are being offered. Of course they they turn around and pass on that cost on to you. These fees are normally huge, typically adding 12% - 22% to the cost of your system. They may not tell you anything about it, but instead will just bury this cost into their price. Half the time the sales person doesn't even know it exists! But it always, always does.
As a leader in the solar industry, we are approached by every solar lender in the industry to offer their loans, but we just can't in good conscience add such high loan fees to our customer's projects. That's why we work tirelessly to bring you the best solar financing that solar has to offer. We currently use a credit union that will offer loans in multiple states, and their loan fees are 0% for a 4.99% APR and 6% for a 2.99% APR, by far the lowest loan fees in solar and rates that no other solar installer can touch.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO PAY THE LOAN OFF EARLY then use one of our 0% loan fee loans to save the most money, even if it's at a higher interest rate. But if you are going to make monthly payments for the full term, then it is better to use one of our low-interest rate loans. We've done the math of calculating the total spent over the term of the loan, and it works out the best. And of course, you can always use our PACE loan, which puts the payments on your property tax bill so you won't pay monthly, instead paying for the solar twice a year when you pay your property tax. And of course all of our loans have $0.00 down - but if you do put money down it will lower your monthly payment. With Planet Solar, we offer you the most flexibility to best suit your needs.
SOLAR FROM A BIG BOX STORE IS A ALWAYS A GOOD DEAL
Sorry, but not necessarily. We have the most cherished big-box relationship there is in America (in our Puerto Rico office), so we know all the ins and outs of these program. Here in CA, the solar company that has that relationship actually doesn't want to sell you solar, they want to lease/PPA you solar (see above). This can be the most expensive way to go solar, especially in the long run - and since solar is designed to last at least 25 years, the long run is the only way to look at investing in solar. This company will take YOUR solar incentive (average is $6,000 of YOUR money), and charge you about the same each month as our solar loan would cost where you KEEP you solar incentive. Also, the big box stores charge the solar company a pretty high percentage for every sale, so typically we are $1,000 to $3,000 less than the cash price for solar from the big box stores.
SUNPOWER IS THE BEST PANEL. ALERT - SUNPOWER DOES NOT MAKE SOLAR PANELS ANY MORE!
We used to be a Sunpower dealer, and they made one of the best panels on the market. (Not the only great panel, but one of three which included LG and Panasonic - both of which we are authorized dealers for.) But starting in 2014 Sunpower started losing hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and lost a minimum of $200MM at least 5 years straight. They had to sell the only part of the company that was making money (their leasing division) just to avoid bankruptcy! THEN IN 2019, to avoid bankruptcy they sold 30% of the company to a Chinese corporation who now makes their panels. A solar panel warranty is only as good as the company that backs it, and we worry about Sunpower staying in business, so we terminated our relationship with them.
And thank God that we did. Their customer service is horrible. We know because we have former customers that we want to help, but Sunpower has told us now that we are no longer one of their dealers, we aren't allowed to touch any of the Sunpower equipment or it will void the warranty, even though we installed the system. We follow up with our customers a few months later and are told of customer service nightmares! It breaks our hearts, and it gives our industry a bad reputation. We knew back then that Sunpower would likely go out of business, and in fact now they have stopped doing the only thing that they really ever did, make solar panels. They re-invented themselves as a brand only, putting their name on installation companies and solar panels but not really making anything. The panels that are labeled Sunpower are now made by a company called Maxeon, which are made overseas including China. But don't take my word for it, Google 'is Sunpower going broke' or follow these links:
WITH A BATTERY, YOU CAN BUY A SMALLER SOLAR SYSTEM
Probably not, and it doesn't make sense either. It's simple - solar makes power, and a battery stores power. Its just like your car - you need gas to power your car, and the gas tank stores the gas. The gas tank doesn't make the gas, it just stores it. Your home needs a certain amount of power, and that power needs to be made by something, either solar, or wind, or hydro-electric, or coal, or a nuclear power plant. The battery can store power from any source, but it doesn't make power.
SO - there is a scenario where you can reduce the number of solar panels you need to purchase by 2 or 3 panels if you buy a battery. Its pretty complicated, but here goes: Your power company charges more for power during its 'Peak Rate' time, somewhere between 3pm and 9pm. If you store cheaper power and use your battery to power your home during that time, you will save money. It's called 'arbitraging' the peak rate. HOWEVER - you will need to really reduce your power usage during that time - the very time when you get home in the afternoon and want to use the most power while you're cooking dinner, washing clothes or dishes, and of course cooling your house with air conditioning. Most people use 40% of their power in the evening, so we think it is too great a change of lifestyle to try and save a few bucks on a couple of panels. Solar is meant to bring you Freedom from the power company, not be at it's mercy every evening for the rest of your life trying to arbitrage the peak rate. But that is your decision, and we can use your desire to arbitrage the peak rate into your proposal.
MICROINVERTERS (ENPHASE) ARE THE BEST / WALL MOUNTED INVERTERS ARE OLD TECHNOLOGY.
NOT TRUE! The main reason that companies use microinverters is that they don't require real solar expertise, knowledge or skill from either the sales staff or the installers. Microinverters aren't bad, and we install them often as some of our new home builders request them. In fact, as of 2021 we are installing about 75% of our systems with the great panels and microinverters from LG.
But Enphase microinverters aren't as efficient as other makes, and most of all they limit the amount of power a solar panel can make. The are capped at 290watts AC of continuous power. So why on Earth would someone install a 350watt panel using an inverter that can only produce 290watts?!! That is a lot of wasted solar production, and costs you a bundh of money! Our objective is to install the most efficient solar panel system possible, and you are paying for your system by the watt, so we don't like to waste any available power.
Other reasons that we don't prefer certain microinverters is; they operate very hot, heating up the panel and further lowering efficiency; each inverter is a complicated bit of circuitry with potential to fail, so why put a few dozen of those up on your roof; if one fails, you could have to remove much of the solar panels to repair it, which takes time and costs you money.
We prefer either the awesome microinverters used on the LG AC panels, or a hybrid inverter and optimizers made by SolarEdge, which has the best of both worlds. They are more efficient at 99%, have the shade mitigation and panel monitoring of a microinverter, with the efficiency and ease of service of a string inverter. The optimizers maximize the power of every solar panel in all conditions, output the optimum voltage for the inverter, and insure you have the most efficient system possible. This system is better, and actually costs a bit less as well.
"WE'VE BEEN DOING SOLAR FOR 20 YEARS!" (OR 25 OR 30 OR WHATEVER)
Sorry, but that's just not true. We hear radio ads saying companies have been installing solar for 20 or more years, and it is just not true. The solar industry in America really didn't exist before 2006, when then California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar signed the '1 Million Roofs Initiative' into law. Solar panels at the time were WAY too expensive for anyone to buy, but California gave a rebate to subsidize purchasing solar panels. NO ONE did much solar before 2006, except the odd company here and there that installed teeny off-grid systems for pot growers and hippies, or like our founder who lived off-grid on a boat from 1998-2002 using a couple of panels. There simply was no solar industry to speak of before 2006 - period. Planet Solar started installing solar in 2007, as we saw that the CA Solar Initiative rebate would start a solar revolution in the US, and it did. So if a company says they've been installing solar for anything more than 14 years, you might want to check what else they are telling you that might be a bit of a stretch.
I WANT THOSE SOLAR ROOF TILES
I'm afraid you'll be waiting a long time, and get prepared to spend at least double over a conventional solar panel installation. We've installed a few of them back in 2010, and indeed they look good. But they don't really work, and here's why: Solar panels are a semi-conductor, and as such want to be as cool as possible but in direct sunlight. At 140-150 degrees, they pretty much stop working, and it can easily get above 150F on a roof, especially during a California summer in Fresno or in the Coachella Valley. That's why we raise our solar panels about 3 inches above a roof, to allow cooling air underneath the panels. With solar roof tiles there is no cooling air, and they stop working for many hours a day in peak summer heat. Also, these roof tiles are about half as efficient as true solar panels, so you need a lot more space. Plus there are about 4 times as many electrical connections with roof tile solar. Finally, if you have a roof tile fail to make power, it must be removed, and now your roof has a big hole in it! There are even more drawbacks, but I think you get the point. But most of all - they aren't made any more. Dow Chemical and most notably Tesla were having them made. Tesla's were made by Panasonic. In Nov. 2019 we heard that Panasonic was going to end that partnership to make solar roof tiles, and it was announced in February 2020. See this article: https://www.inverse.com/innovation/tesla-panasonic-split-on-solar
YOU DON'T NEED A LOCAL SOLAR INSTALLER, BECAUSE SOLAR NEVER BREAKS
While it's true that a quality solar installation will provide you years of trouble-free service, even the best solar systems will eventually need service. The solar panels will almost never fail, as there are no moving parts or complicated electronics. However, the inverters are the 'brains' of a solar installation, and without doubt one day will need repair or replacing. Planet Solar has actually been in business long enough to have installed inverters that have used up their 10 year warranty, and 95% of them are still going strong. But with the 1,000s of projects we've installed over the past 14 years, we have to repair or replace about 50 inverters per year. If it is under warranty, of course it's free of charge. But we receive several calls each month from people who had another company install their solar that has since gone out of business (80% of solar companies fail within 2 years), or installed by an out of town company that won't send a service tech over to fix their system. Each day your system is not working properly, is a day that is costing you money. If there is only one recommendation I can make to you, it is to make sure you use a LOCAL, reputable solar installer. And ALWAYS check their reviews from Google, Yelp, EnergySage, and Solar Reviews.
CLEANING PANELS and MONTHLY MAINTENANCE FEES
You've probably heard that you need to keep solar panels clean, or the solar production will drop drastically. While it is true that you will lose as much as 30% of your productions from solar if the panels are really dirty, in most cases if you never clean them you will lose about 10-25%. So yes, keep your panels clean. In California it rains in winter, which both helps clean your panels and keep the air less dusty. We recommend cleaning your panels every two months in June, August, and October. Before and after those months, the panels are clean enough from the rains. Think of cleaning solar panels exactly like windows, but you don't care if you look through them.
However, you do NOT have to pay a monthly service fee, or lots of money every few months to have the panels cleaned. We recommend one of the devices you can buy at Lowes, Home Depot, or Bed Bath and Beyond for cleaning 2nd story windows. It is super easy on most first story homes, and easy enough from a ladder on a 2nd story roof. Connect the device to a water hose, turn on the water, and simply spray them down with the sheeting action that the cleanser in these devices has. Most systems take less than 15 minutes to clean, and will save you about $100 each cleaning. We do recommend that once every two years you have your panels cleaned with actual scrubbing, like from a mop or similar device, to get the baked-on grime off. So do it yourself or once every two years pay a professional if you don't like heights.
OUR PANELS ARE 50% MORE EFFICIENT (or whatever %)
50% more efficient than what? It's just not true. We see so many ads from several panel makers saying "50% more power" and we hate this misleading advertising. The average 2nd-tier solar panel these days is about 18% efficient, meaning that it coverts 18% of available energy from the sun into electricity. According to Einstein (who got his Nobel Prize for photovoltaics, not Relativity (E=MC2) - look it up), the theoretical max efficiency that polysilicon can convert solar energy to electricity is 27%, but the most efficient panels commercially available are at 20-23% (which is awesome!). But there is no panel that makes 50% or even 20% more power than any other panel being sold. We use LG or Q Cell panels which are some of the most efficient solar panels available today.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN TOLD THAT SEEMS HARD TO BELIEVE?
We'd love to hear your stories! If you've been told something that seems too good to be true, or if you just want straight answers about Going Solar, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 800-859-7652. Giving truthful answers to your solar questions is what we do here at Planet Solar, and all of our knowledgeable solar specialists will be able to answer all of your questions, or get you the answer promptly.