Author Topic: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?  (Read 4482 times)

fallstoclimb

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How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« on: November 06, 2015, 04:36:05 PM »
Someone stopped by the house today to promote their solar company, and while I try to follow a "no business with solicitors" policy, I AM very interested in solar so we got sucked in.

He's with Vivint.Solar.  Basically their business model is they install the panels on your roof for free, take on all maintenance of the panels, but charge you for the energy the panels produce (and also sell any annual excess back to the utility company - we can rollover monthly excess up to a point).  The only charge beyond the kWh charge is a flat fee of $500 for them to remove and reinstall the panels if you get your roof redone. 

The price he guaranteed us for 20 years is 10.1 cents per kWh, which is actually a little higher than what it looks like we currently pay (looks like 9.4 cents).  I do expect over time non-solar energy will increase in price.

I'm not seeing this as a money-saver (especially since uh its an increase as of right now) but I do really want to switch to solar for ethical/environmental reasons.  Would doing it this way be a financial mistake, though? 

I am not sure how we will ever afford panels outright, we have lots of excess money directed into retirement & savings but we are fairly light on cash on hand.  I would have to pull back on retirement to have access to 20K cash for solar panels, and as the solicitor said, it's probably best to put that money into the market anyway and just pay for electricity --- right??
 
I'm in MD if it makes any difference.  We bought the house 3 years ago, roof is in OK shape but we don't know how old -- probably fairly old -- and I'm fairly confident we will stay in the house for another 5 years but after that its 50-50.  (No plans to "upgrade" of course, but early retirement could either make us "dig in" to this community, or take us elsewhere).

DeltaBond

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2015, 06:34:12 AM »
I looked into this with my husband as we are also VERY interested in not relying on the GRID as much, although we do not wish to be OFF the GRID... what we found is that the solar panels that industries use that are so amazing and efficient are not the same type as what is sold to individual residences - those take 10-15 years to pay themselves off, and don't always last that long.  I wish I could post ALL the links to the places where we found that info, as we don't just go off of blogs and news articles, but its been 2 years since we did the research and I'm not sure if we even saved those links.  We chose not to spend our money on that.  Just my two cents.

fallstoclimb

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2015, 07:00:08 AM »
Thanks for the response. If solar panels available for residences aren't very efficient, that makes me more likely to go this way, where we don't have to pay for them ourselves.

I feel like there must be a catch, though. This doesn't exactly seem to good to be true since we will still be paying for the electricity, but it seems like such a painless way to switch to clean energy -- so why aren't more people doing it?


RWD

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2015, 07:02:18 AM »
Is SolarCity available in your region for cross-shopping? Some quick searching leads me to believe your price is cheaper than the equivalent program from SolarCity. Especially if your cost isn't going to increase for inflation.

Can you compare to purchasing a system upfront?

I also found a page of reviews for Vivint:
http://www.solarreviews.com/installers/vivint-solar-reviews/

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2015, 08:05:35 AM »
SolarCity offered me 15 cents per kWh flat or 12 cents increasing by 2.9% a year, also for 20 years. To buy the system would be $15,000, which is not all that much.

We just don't use that much electricity. Our bills are $50/month and $12 of that is a flat fee. I wanted it to make sense, but right now with electricity prices falling substantially due to pretty-darn-clean natural gas prices falling, it's hard to make it make sense.

At 10 cents per kWh I would do it, though.

fallstoclimb

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2015, 08:49:58 AM »
In retrospect it is kind of crazy that there is no inflation adjustment -- he definitely said that 10.1 cents per kWh was locked in for 20 years, but I'll go ahead and ask specifically about inflation.

I'm doing some research on buying them outright, but I'm not sure how to estimate the upfront cost.

Mother Fussbudget

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2015, 03:19:12 PM »
I was researching this in Spring 2015, and found some great info on builditsolar.com.  http://builditsolar.com/Projects/PV/pv.htm#GridTieDIYKits

I was considering an enphase system / DIY kit (via bluepacificsolar's website) that sells a DIY system at whatever size you want, and allow you to add panels as you could afford them.  A great idea, and I was going to go with them.  Then I looked around more, and found another place that did a similar thing with better prices on shipping. 

BUT... at Camp Mustache II I talked with a WA state resident, and he told me about the "made in Washington" rules.  Basically, we get a better rate paid for generated kW hours when they come from equipment "made in Washington" - the difference being SO GREAT that it makes no sense to buy the cheap made-in-China panels, and install directly.  Unless I'm able to find a 'made-in-washington' company that sells panels & inverters as DIY kits.  I'll look at that some day once I have fewer projects on my plate.

Websites I bookmarked:
http://www.bluepacificsolar.com/solar/enphase-2340w-solar-kit.html
http://www.wholesalesolar.com/enphase-solar-power-systems#astronergy
https://www.shopakari.com/UniRac-SolarMount-Standard-Rail-Clear.htm

fallstoclimb

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #7 on: November 10, 2015, 06:24:03 AM »
Thanks for the links & info! 

I actually set up profile on energysage.com, and am supposed to be getting quotes for installs, although nothing has come through yet.  From my reading it seems that:

1) DIY is an OK way to go --- if you don't have limitations such as "made in state" like you mentioned, and if you are reasonably handy, which we are not!

2) These Power Purchase Agreements aren't a BAD thing to do, although sometimes the practices can be scammy -- for instance, I really do not believe there will be no inflation adjustment in the kWh price quoted, but none was mentioned.  Plus you miss out on all / nearly all of the financial benefits of going solar, and it may (??) complicate a house sale.  However if all you care about are the environmental benefits, this is a good way to go.  I think the vast majority of people who have no interest in ever switching to solar on their own should go this route.

3) Buying outright & paying for install is probably the best thing to do if you can afford it.  I'm not sure that we can - I see estimates of the cost ranging from 10K to 40K, which is a big difference!  I am hoping we will get quotes in soon to clarify this. 

One option is that we *could* take a loan out from my TSP at 2%.  That makes me pretty nervous, though, and I wouldn't be comfortable taking more than 10K.  I suspect the board would tell me that is a terrible idea, anyway! 

The other complicating factor is our roof.  We don't know how old it is - we bought the house in 2013.  I've been told it's in reasonably good shape, but we certainly didn't buy a brand new roof.  If we need to redo the roof in 5-7 years does it make sense to put panels on now?  We could wait, of course, but then we miss out on that 30% federal incentive.  Although who knows if we can really afford this anyway. 

Mother Fussbudget

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2015, 12:31:03 PM »
I'm really skeptical about these solar leasing companies.  From reading the fine print, many of the benefits of going solar go to the solar leasing corporation (including the tax rebate check in most cases).  And their installation quality has received many complaints (search for yourself to verify). 

I think it would be better to do a DIY, or get your favorite contractor/handy brother-in-law/mustachian handy guy who's willing to help to do a DIY install.  That way, if you move, you can REMOVE / de-install the system, and relocate to your new location.  I've done LOTS of roofing projects & installations starting in college, and so am very comfortable with roofing systems, waterproofing while allowing for attic ventilation, etc.  I've also built my own PC's.  In my mind, I see a solar install as a computing system that has a large 'mat' that installs on the roof, and interfaces with the electric system and the home ethernet network.  And yes, I would hire an electrical contractor to inspect my current panel, advise on the best way to connect, and then to perform the actual connection (or inspect my work if I'm feeling ambitious).

MoonShadow

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2015, 12:36:16 PM »
what we found is that the solar panels that industries use that are so amazing and efficient are not the same type as what is sold to individual residences -

This is no longer true, and hasn't been true for several years.

Frizhand

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2015, 12:43:57 PM »
I went solar 2 years ago and I'm very happy that I did.  I haven't paid for electricity and I currently have a credit with the electric company so I shouldn't have to pay anything this winter, or next.

I don't know much about the lease option you're talking about but I'd buy if you can find the cash up front.

First, there is no 'maintenance' (or at least only a tiny amount) and the panels have a warranty. Second, once you make the initial cash out lay for the system, the cost of electricity will never go up (for the life of the panels, which is 25+ years). In effect, I pre-paid for 25 years (or more) of electricity at today's prices.   From what I understand, there was a recent spike in electric prices (my neighbors were all complaining about it) but my bill was still $0!

of course, you need the cash up front to pay for the system.  After state and federal rebates mine cost about $15,000.  With the money I'm saving it should take about 6 years or less to pay for itself.  Then I'll have 19+ years of free electricity. The only thing that might need to be replaced is the inverter, which could add 1 year of pay back time but I still come out ahead.

Another thing .....I live in MA and the state has a Solar Renewable Energy Credit program to encourage/require utilities to use renewable energy. Not only do the utilities 'buy' the surplus electricity my panels generate (the credit I mentioned above), they also buy 'credits' that they use to meet their renewable energy requirements set by the  state...so they pay me twice. I'm expecting a $900 check next week.   I don't know where you live, but look and see if your state has a similar program...if you lease, the leasing company would get that money, you would not since you don't own the panels!

Regarding your roof, if the shingles are in decent shape and the roof rafters are up to code, you should be fine.  I was told that the panels will extend the life of my roof. Any solar company should be able to tell you if your roof is in good enough shape.  And you want your local building inspector to be involved, Make sure to have anything inspected to make sure your roof is solid.


regulator

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2015, 12:58:08 PM »
Even if everything else checked out OK with the leasing company, I would want to understand what I was on the hook for if I sold the house, it burned down, etc.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #12 on: November 10, 2015, 03:10:17 PM »
1. Is your roof orientation/insolation even optimal for solar? Nearly all of the houses here have east/west exposures instead of south/southwest.

2. Is there a clean energy surcharge you can do to your utility bill that would give you more ethical grid power?

3. Study the tax incentives in your state. The way I understand it, few residential systems make sense without massive tax rebates, though that calculation is probably changing with the fall in panel prices.

fallstoclimb

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #13 on: November 10, 2015, 03:23:22 PM »
Thanks for chiming in, TGC.

1.  Our house does face south, so I expect we are a good candidate.  We are letting the PPA solar company come out on Friday to officially tell us if we "qualify" - even though at this point I have pretty much ruled them out.

2. I just saw something about being able to choose wind power from our utility, so I'll certainly look into that.  I'm not yet an expert on renewable energy sources, and I'm sure this is a bit oversimplistic, but I think on the whole anything other than coal/natural gas has got to be preferable, right?  What I don't want is to splurge to buy an electric car and then charge it at home using dirty energy. 

3. I don't think I can count on anything from the state.  There are a few incentives at the county level but they have a very long waiting list.

tonysemail

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #14 on: November 10, 2015, 03:39:15 PM »
i've been shopping for solar the past 3 months and I would recommend getting estimates from several companies.
the quotes I've received varied by a huge amount and not all the systems are apples-to-apples.
for examples, some quoted systems use micro-inverters and others do not.

the other thing I've found is that the quota for net metering is filling up fast in California.
So the marketing and sales departments are very aggressive.
that gives you some room to negotiate or ask for price matching.

JZinCO

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #15 on: November 10, 2015, 03:49:25 PM »
Thanks for chiming in, TGC.

1.  Our house does face south, so I expect we are a good candidate.  We are letting the PPA solar company come out on Friday to officially tell us if we "qualify" - even though at this point I have pretty much ruled them out.

2. I just saw something about being able to choose wind power from our utility, so I'll certainly look into that.  I'm not yet an expert on renewable energy sources, and I'm sure this is a bit oversimplistic, but I think on the whole anything other than coal/natural gas has got to be preferable, right?  What I don't want is to splurge to buy an electric car and then charge it at home using dirty energy. 

3. I don't think I can count on anything from the state.  There are a few incentives at the county level but they have a very long waiting list.
A PPA isn't a bad deal and I would not dismiss it out of hand. You should also factor in how solar panels affect home values, using local information if available. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/realestate/solar-panels-and-home-values.html?_r=0

I might also wait to see what SolarCity does in the coming year. They claim to have new designs with 22% efficiency (a significant jump).
IIRC, the federal tax credit expires Dec 2016, so you have some time for new developments.

MoonShadow

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #16 on: November 10, 2015, 04:26:12 PM »

the other thing I've found is that the quota for net metering is filling up fast in California.


A homeowner can also use a hybrid grid-assist system without the consent of the power company, so there are other options to a straight grid-tied system.  No feedback credits this way though, so it's best to size the system a bit smaller than one might with a grid tied system, so that you don't over spend on panels that you can't fully use.  I'm in the process of building such a system, but one that is sized to power exactly one refrigerator directly from the solar panels, with only a minimal battery bank.

http://solar-trap.com/

http://www.wholesalesolar.com/grid-assist

Frs1661

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #17 on: November 10, 2015, 06:34:19 PM »
Redacted, info here was not correct!

My apologies, nothing to see here.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2015, 07:10:43 PM by Frs1661 »

Dicey

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Re: How do we feel about those "free" installation solar companies?
« Reply #18 on: November 10, 2015, 06:49:42 PM »
DH and I flipped a house over the summer that had leased solar on the roof. No polite way to put it: It was a fucking nightmare and is still unresolved. The salesman saw the previous owner coming. She installed it ONE month before she sold the house. This deal stinks to high heaven and mediation is still pending. We structured our deal so that we're not getting hurt by this, but what a nightmare cluster fuck. We have since conducted a fair amount of research and Solar City (no affiliation) seems to have the most straightforward approach. Their website is the best we've seen thus far, so it's a good place to learn, even if they're not in your area. Our primary home is shaded by redwood trees, so solar not an option for us.

In the words of Mr. E. Fudd, be vewy, vewy careful before you dance with the solar tiger.