More important, the solar industry should make sure they know what questions to ask.

Homeowners choosing to either buy lease or buy power generated from a solar system on their roof are doing a valuable environmental service as well as ensuring themselves against long term electricity rate volatility.  You will be installing the means of electricity production on your roof and you should educate yourself before you do so.  Here are more than a few suggestions for questions you should ask before you take the leap into generating your own electricity.

Homework before you buy lease or sign a contract to buy power.

  1. Before you buy, lease or sign a contract to buy power: Do an audit of your annual electricity usage (your utility will have the records). 
  2. Before you buy, lease or sign a contract to buy power: Know what you are paying on average per kilowatt hour (your tier if applicable).
  3. Have your own energy audit and make changes. 
  4. After your audit wait six months and see the difference in your electricity usage.
  5. Have your roof inspected.
  6. Have your electrical inspected.
  7. Do your research on installers/companies in your area and read up on solar – Home Power Magazine is an excellent resource.
  8. Understand the basics of what to expect from solar as well as the terminology (see number 7 for a resource).
  9. Call a few real estate agents and ask if owning a solar system is an asset or a liability and if the same holds true for leasing or buying electricity from a system that is on your roof and that you do not own.

Questions potential residential solar system buyers/lessees as well as those buying the energy they use (Power Purchase) should ask:

  1. For the sales person/installer/company: how long have you been in solar and how many systems have you installed?
  2. May I see a sample of your customer reviews both positive and negative?
  3. What incentives are available for me?
  4. What financing is available for me?
  5. What is the local net metering policy and how will this affect me?
  6. How long on average will it take to install my system?
  7. What are the typical causes of delay?
  8. If there are delays caused by the utility or permitting delays who will resolve them and what is the typical time to do so?
  9. What technologies (modules and inverter) will you be using?
  10. May I know the warranty policies of these companies?
  11. May I know the financial health (ability to stand behind the warranty) of these companies?
  12. May I see ratings of these technologies (failures in the field)?
  13. What is the mean time to failure of the inverter?
  14. What are the odds that I will have to replace the inverter over the next 20 years and what is an estimate of the cost of doing so?
  15. How may I monitor my system?
  16. What will monitoring cost?
  17. Will I be trained to understand my inverter’s functioning as well as maintenance (cleaning) of my system?
  18. In case of a house fire (unrelated to my system) what are the local fire ordinances concerning buildings with PV systems?
  19. How many kilowatts should I put on my roof (not just how many panels)?
  20. How much energy production should I expect on average?
  21. If net metering, what is the utility’s policy and if I am reimbursed for the power generating what is the per kilowatt hour reimbursement?
  22. Is there an annual true up from the utility?  (This question relates directly to the expected energy production of your system – in general, if you over produce it will be handled one way and if you under produce it will be handled another way.)
  23. Will I have a production guarantee and will you reimburse me if my system under produces?
  24. What other charges should I expect monthly from my utility?

For Lessees and Power Buyers:

  1. For lessees: Is there an escalation charge, how often is it assessed, how is it calculated and is there a cap on how high my monthly lease payment can go? Will this be clearly spelled out in my contract?
  2. For lessees: Is it in my contract that you will take care of any problems and all maintenance for my system and if I have problems getting service what are my rights in this regard?
  3. For lessees: Is there an annual true up that I should expect from the utility and if my system does not produce what I need what is the kilowatt hour charge?
  4. For Power buyers: Do I pay for all the power I generate or just what I use?
  5. For Power buyers: Is there an annual true up from the utility – and from your company?
  6. For Power buyers: If I do not generate power equal to my usage will the utility bill me and at what rate? (another way of asking about the true up)
  7. For Power buyers: If my system generates more than I use will you bill me for the extra power generated and at what rate?  Also, will the utility reimburse me for the extra power and at what rate? (Another way of asking about the true up.)
  8. For Power buyers: Is there an escalation charge per kilowatt hour and how is it calculated?
  9. For Power buyers: How is my kilowatt hour rate calculated?
  10. Who specifically do I call if I need repairs?
  11. Who will be installing my system?
  12. What technologies (inverter and panels) will be on my roof?
  13. May I see the warranties from the panel/inverter company?
  14. Who holds the warranties for the panels/inverters on my roof – you or me?
  15. May I see ratings for the panels and inverters?
  16. Who do I call in case of an inverter failure or panel failure?
  17. What size in kilowatts is my system?
  18. How much electricity will my system provide?
  19. If the PV system needs to be removed who is responsible for doing so?
  20. Should I decide to sell my home is the solar system installed on it a liability or an asset?