Standardizing Solar Quotes

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This year at the Intersolar conference, we had the pleasure of having lunch with Guy Snow, a seasoned installer from Las Vegas. As an installer, he works directly with homeowners and, therefore, has a good understanding of where the general public stands on solar education. We talked about what he sees as the major knowledge gaps for homeowners and what installers can do to provide accurate and transparent solar quotes

Homeowners need to know how to read their energy bill

People understand energy use when talking about miles per gallon (mpg) for vehicles, but they do not yet grasp cost per kilowatt-hour ($/kWh). Educating homeowners to be able to understand both the rate they are being charged and the amount of energy they are using, and how that energy is generated (fossil vs. renewable), is vitally important. With this knowledge, they can monitor their energy use and make informed decisions about how to reduce and offset this usage with renewable energy systems like solar or wind.

Standardizing the solar quote

For most people, reading and comparing solar quotes can be a daunting task. According to Guy and other installers with whom we have spoken, many solar installers are not providing comparable information on their quotes and, in some cases, are neglecting to include vital information. If we could arrive at an industry standard for solar quotes, it would make comparing quotes that much easier and go a long way to reducing homeowners’ confusion regarding installing solar. Without an industry standard, it will be difficult to instill wide-ranging consumer confidence, which is necessary in order to grow this budding market. Specifically, many believe it is important to report the cost of a solar project using cost per kilowatt-hour, rather than cost per watt figures. The main reason is that the $/kWh metric provides for a more accurate cost, because it is based on the solar project’s generation of electricity over a certain time period, rather than on the theoretical maximum output the solar power system might produce in optimum operating conditions.

Therefore, we propose that all solar quotes provide the following details, at a minimum:

  • System size in DC Stand Test Conditions (STC) kilowatts;
  • System size in AC California Energy Commission (CEC) kilowatts;
  • What percentage of the current electricity usage the solar power system will replace;
  • Total Cost both before and after all rebates and incentives;
  • Cost per kW in both STC-DC and CEC-AC;
  • The annual estimated production of the solar power system in kWh;
  • Cost per kWh;
  • Solar panels – number, make, model, and rating;
  • Inverter – type, size, and efficiency;
  • Where all components are manufactured;
  • Estimated monthly cost savings;
  • Financial metrics – payback period, and return on investment (ROI) and internal rate of return (IRR).

If the installer offers a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA), we would also expect to see the following:

  • Monthly lease or PPA payment;
  • Annual percentage increase in payments;
  • Downpayment options;
  • Term of lease or PPA;
  • 15-20 year breakdown detailing costs and savings;
  • All services included or excluded (i.e., monitoring and maintenance);
  • All terms and conditions for early termination of contract, home sale, and end of lease/PPA options.

If you are an installer, let us know what you think of this proposal. What would you add or remove?

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