With the increase in awareness about alternative energy sources and the latest advancements in technology, there has been a slow and steady shift towards solar energy.

Supplementing traditional power with solar energy, or even going completely off-grid, can be an advantage – especially if your area faces frequent power outages. The alternative source of power will get rid of the need for a lengthy wait for the electricity to come back on or install backup generators.

And the best part is that sunlight is free! Once you make the shift to solar power, you can sit back, relax and watch your savings grow.

Overall, the investment required for the installation is recoverable in the long run while the benefit to the environment is massive. With traditional energy generated by fossil fuels polluting our air which requires proper air filtering to remove containments, green energy is a smarter and more responsible choice.

The impact of traditional fossil fuels is devastating for our environment. The adoption of clean energy is vital to slow down climate change and global warming. Countries including China, the USA, and Japan have already taken the initiative to adopt renewable energy, but solar power is still less than 2% of the energy produced in the world today.

One of the main impediments to the mass adoption of solar energy up until recently was the prohibitive cost of the technology. But as solar energy equipment becomes more affordable and applicable on a smaller scale, the green energy source is rapidly gaining popularity in not only commercial but also domestic markets.

There has been a natural increase in the number of companies that produce affordable equipment as well as installation and maintenance services. Getting the best long-term value for your investment depends, in large part, on the selection of the best solar provider. But since the concept of alternative energy is still relatively new, the decision-making process for the consumer can be daunting.

There are solar operations and maintenance companies in the market that are competing for business by advertising the best equipment, the best rates or the longest warranties – how does one choose?

The answer: research. To pick the most suitable solar provider to guide you through this transition, make sure you know what questions to ask and which information you should be able to compare.

Here is a guide to help you ask the right questions on your journey to going green:

Are they legitimate solar providers?

When researching solar installers, make sure to confirm that they are a licensed outfit who are experts in their field.

There may be companies and independent contractors in the market that have added solar installation services to their portfolio as a way to stay competitive and tap a potential market. They may not have the right certifications and training to do the best job. And both of these are important for a competent job that is at par with industry standards.

Make sure to check that the company you are looking at has the latest solar provider certifications and a qualified team. You should also check the experience and certifications of the team members working with the solar provider you are considering.

Most companies will be proud to announce a specialized team that has the required certifications – they may even list them on their websites. Don’t hesitate to ask about the capabilities of the team members that will be working on the project.

It is almost always better to hire a company or contractor that specializes in solar energy installations. Even if it is a bigger company that offers other services, solar provision should be a dedicated business unit.

A solar provider that is specialized will have the right experience and know-how to prepare your house for the switch to solar energy as well as post-installation service and maintenance.

Make sure to check references

Solar installation is a business. It is a competitive market and all sellers, of course, claim that they are the best and make all kinds of promises. They all advertise the best rates, the most successful installations and the most satisfied customers – Verify their claims.

Go to online review sites, read customer testimonials and learn from others’ experiences. You will find out what’s true and what’s not from these discussions and customer reviews.

Did the installer show up when they said they would?

Did they complete the job within the stipulated timeline?

Did a solar provider tack on unexpected costs?

Were they quick to resolve maintenance and warranty issues?

When you contact solar providers for quotes, make sure to ask them about projects they have completed. Are they comparable to the kind of work you need to have done? For example, a larger company with commercial experience may not be suitable for a home installation.

A solar installer who has experience in jobs similar to your requirements and has good references and reviews would be the best bet.

Are they efficiently managed?

While saving the environment is a noble goal, finances play a major role in the decision-making process. Before your conversion to alternative energy begins rewarding you with savings, there is a considerable financial outlay.

There are some ‘fixed costs’ that are inevitable and unchangeable, like the cost of equipment. All solar providers will have these same expenses – the difference in the amounts quoted mainly comes from the ‘soft costs’ like labor.

A company that is managed well and uses automated platforms like Scoop.Solar, increases the efficiency of its staff, fewer hours per project and reduction in costs. Automated or cloud communication also allows a solar provider to cut down on time and move your project along faster – which is another win.

How long have they been in business?

One of the things that will give you an idea of whether a solar provider is reliable or not is its maturity.

It is a good indicator of a company’s stability if they have been in operation for more than five years. It means that they are experienced and have established procedures and systems that will ensure your project goes smoothly.

It will also be a sort of guarantee that they will be around to fulfill the promised warranties and maintenance contracts in the long term.

Are they based locally?

Whether a solar provider is a local company or contractor or has a local branch will affect the quality of service they will provide.

If a key member of the team is unavailable during any phase of the project, it could result in delays in the overall timeline. On the other hand, if the solar provider elects to have a less qualified or experienced worker handle your installation, it could lead to mistakes, inefficiency, and an overall less than perfect outcome.

A locally based provider will be able to have the relevant staff available during inspections and installation. They will also be quicker to respond to calls regarding service warranties and maintenance.

Take a look at their equipment

Your solar provider should explain the options and suggest the set of solar panels and inverters that would be most suited to your project.

There are lots of factors to be considered when choosing solar energy equipment – you should be prepared to judge the best one for your needs. There are many brands of solar energy systems available in the market, and each has different features.

The brand of equipment you select should suit your climate and location. A solar installer may tell you that a more expensive or international brand is the best way to go but a local brand may be more appropriate to the kind of weather conditions you face.

On the other hand, don’t be taken in by lower costs either. The technology that your solar provider suggests should not be outdated. For example, installing an older version of the solar energy inverter, like a string inverter instead of the newer micro-inverters, will compromise the efficiency of your system.

Similarly, you will have to judge the aesthetic impact of installing solar panels on your property. If the area you are planning to install the panels is visible, you may want to opt for equipment that has a better design which may cost more.

This information along with the available options should be explained to you by your solar provider. Be prepared to discuss all these points with your solar installer and judge the quality of their work according to the options they outline. This discussion will also allow you to judge their transparency as well as their work ethic.

Do they customize?

All solar installation projects are different. There are differences in the area available for installing solar panels, the amount of power that will be generated by the alternative source, the angle of sunlight, etc.

It means that a tailor-made approach to solar installation is the best in most scenarios.

Some providers have standard solar energy installation templates that they utilize. While this can work in certain scenarios and even save on costs, it may not be the best fit for you.

This is why one of the questions to ask is if the installer you are considering is capable of customizing the installations. The solar array you have installed should fit your requirements so that it provides maximum effectiveness, cost savings, and aesthetic appeal.

Get competitive bids

Always get quotes from multiple shortlisted installers to ensure you get the best overall package. Many solar providers will provide a free initial quote or consultation – take advantage of it to make the best choice.

Keep the strategies mentioned in this guide in your mind when evaluating bids. Compare the costs, duration of the project and service warranties to get the best possible deal for your project.

Another benefit of asking for quotes is the chance to judge the quickness of a company’s response. If they are quick to get back to you, provide a comprehensive quote that covers all relevant points, and personalize their approach to you, you know you’ve found the right one.

Do they visit?

When you have short-listed a solar provider and request a customized quote, make sure that they head over to discuss the project.

They need to ensure that your project is suited to the installation of solar power. They should make a personalized visit to inquire about your requirements, conduct a preliminary inspection and make suggestions accordingly.

Are they customer-oriented?

One of the most important things to consider is a provider’s customer service. It will affect your whole project from start to finish and even beyond. Imagine having to call and email multiple times to get a response. Or hearing an automated recording every time you have a warranty-related issue.

What you need is a solar provider that is not just about the bottom line – but one that cares about the work and its customers. You need to be able to trust them and depend on them for advice.

Observe a solar provider’s approach to customers from the time you start researching. Check the references or reviews for opinions on customer service and follow-up. Monitor the speed of response when you first make contact – if they take too long to reply, you can guess the interest they have in securing your business.

Are they transparent?

During your consultation with the solar provider representatives, check if they make sure you understand what they are telling you.

It should be a priority for a trustworthy provider that the customer knows and understands the options available to them. They should talk to you in a language you understand, using terms that are not too technical.

A good solar provider will also be honest about whether solar power is a viable choice for your project or not. They should let you know if the sunlight your location receives will be enough to generate the expected amount of power, or if the available space can accommodate enough solar panels to generate the targeted quantity of power.

Are there additional costs?

Installing a solar energy system can be a complicated project. There can be requirements during installation that may tack on costs.

Replacement of outdated or faulty wiring may be an unexpected cost. Similarly, the roof may need to be reinforced to bear the additional weight of the panels. Make sure to ask if there are additional costs that are not included in the solar provider’s quote.

These costs can then be added to your expected outlay and help to evaluate the financial impact of the transition to solar energy.

Do they subcontract?

A project can only be as good as the people who work on it. Before you finalize which solar provider you are going to contract, check their team.

A company or contractor that employs permanent, in-house structural engineers and electricians, for example, will be more efficient. They will have control of their own team’s scheduling as opposed to third-party contractors who may not be available when required.

You will also be able to ask for the individual experience and certifications of the staff working on your specific project.

Do they perform an on-site inspection before an installation?

A solar provider’s job isn’t just to come to the specified location, install the system and leave. A part of the service they offer should be a preliminary inspection of the site.

They will send a qualified staff member, preferably an engineer, to perform a thorough check of the area’s capability to bear the weight of the solar panels. They will also suggest the best placement and angle of the panels so that they catch the maximum sunlight.

A qualified electrician should inspect the wiring and electrical panels. The electrical system should be updated and have the capability to manage the energy generated by the new system.

The solar provider will ideally give you a checklist of tasks to get done before the solar energy system is installed. Make sure to faithfully complete the tasks on the list to ensure that the system is installed efficiently to prevent delays in the project. It will also ensure that you do not void the contracted warranty due to any negligence on your part.

Do they offer remote monitoring?

With the technology available today, an innovative solar provider can monitor the performance of your solar power system remotely. They will be able to keep an eye on the power levels generated and spot any interruptions or unexpected fluctuations.

It means that you can rely on the company or contractor to have a faster response time, more accurate troubleshooting and better quality of maintenance.

Do they guarantee their work?

A good solar provider should not just finish the job and exit the scene. The equipment, both the solar panels and inverter, should have manufacturer warranties. Solar panels can have average warranty coverage of up to twenty years while inverters can be under warranty for up to ten years – if you are getting anything less than that, ask why.

A solar provider should also promise a service warranty – it is usually for up to 1 year from the date of installation, with the option to extend.

Do they offer flexible payment and insurance?

Money is, of course, one of the main reasons to shift to solar energy in the first place. The main challenge faced by potential solar energy users is the lump sum investment required to buy and install the system.

A good solar provider will be able to offer financing options. They should be able to explain each option in detail and outline the markups, payment duration, and total costs. They should also suggest which option would be most suited for you.

Some providers may offer discounts on cash payments, payment plans or even leasing options. They should also be aware of any incentives being offered by local authorities for property owners who are taking the initiative to adopt green energy to help you apply for them.

Your solar provider should also be able to help you apply for a loan to finance the improvements on your property.

They should also be able to arrange for insurance coverage of the solar array. It will protect you in case of any damages or loss caused, for example, by extreme weather conditions.

Overall, the solar provider should offer you a full consultative partnership and help you evaluate the best way to finance your transition to alternative energy.

Take your time

Take your time to make sure you are comfortable with the solar provider you have chosen.

It is very important to be thorough and detailed – Do your research, check references and ask lots of questions. If you have doubts or second thoughts, that’s alright too.

The solar provider you hire should be able to gain your trust and allay any doubts. They should be okay with answering all the questions you have without pushing you to sign the dotted line.

Don’t let pressure tactics like limited time only discounts or flash sales steamroll you into making a decision you may not be happy with eventually. Be prepared to cancel the whole deal and find an entirely new company or contractor that feels more reliable. The most important thing is to be satisfied with your choice.

Make the transition

Don’t let the process of selecting the right solar provider overwhelm you. Once you have done the required research and vetted the competitive bids, trust your solar installer to know what they are doing. They should be a partner who guides you through the transition from traditional fossil-based energy to solar energy.

Make sure to perform the checks and repairs suggested to you by the solar provider. It will reduce delays and unexpected costs. It will also guarantee that you remain covered by the equipment and service warranties.

If you check these guidelines off your list, you can be sure that you are making the right decision. The reduction in billing will eventually recover your investment and increase savings. Your carbon footprint will also be much smaller – a positive step toward reducing fuel emissions and doing your part to preserve the environment.

ABOUT Alycia Gordan

Alycia Gordan is a freelance writer who loves to read and write articles on healthcare technology, fitness and lifestyle. She is a tech junkie and divides her time between travel and writing. You can find her on Twitter: @meetalycia