My solar panel installer went out of business, now what?

Staff writerApril 3, 20199911

Paying for the installation of solar panels in your home is a big investment, something that you often ponder for a while, research and get bids on trying to find the right solar powered system for your needs.

It’s also a matter of finding the right solar panel installer, often a locally owned company that gives you the best price and service.

“Jason”, a resident of Arizona did just that when he had a 5kW system installed in his home back in 2012. Five years later, as he explained on one of the forums, one of his fuses blew out in 2013 and it took a month for his solar power system installer to go and fix the system. 

That solved the problem, but in 2016, he called his installer again for service when he found that “one of my panels was not achieving full power.” This time, there was no answer and no service call. The company had gone out of business.

He had to pay another solar panel installer to come to his home and diagnose the cause of the low power, at a cost of $150 an hour.

“Any recommendations on what else I should be doing?”, asked Jason in the forum.

The boom of solar energy in recent years makes the industry very attractive to newcomers. But there’s no guarantee that the business that installed your home solar powered system will be around for the average 25-30 years that those solar panels they put on your roof will last.

If this is something that happens to you, you will probably have to get a new installer to check the issues on your system or conduct solar power maintenance. The solar power equipment may be covered by manufacturers’ warranties, so you might get a little bit of breathing room on that area. 

The solar company handles the solar panel warranty and the manufacturer of the inverter deals with that part. If the problem you’re experiencing is with one of the parts of the your residence solar power system, just give that particular company a call. 

What about leases?

Those who lease a solar panel system might have more protections. 

In those cases, the solar system customer makes a contract with a separate leasing company and that business is responsible for maintenance.

If the actual solar panel installer goes bankrupt, the lease contracts are considered assets and can be sold to other companies as part of the liquidation process. Whoever purchases them should notify you of this transaction and should help you with your solar power system.

Your rights

Solar Rights Alliance , an advocacy organization made up of the nearly 1 million homeowners, renters, businesses, nonprofits, schools and other Californians who have invested in solar energy, reminds solar panel owners of some basic rights they have in the state:

  1. By law, all California contractors have to guarantee 10 years of workmanship. This is useful if your solar installer is still in business, and less useful if they aren't. 
  2. Most manufacturers of solar modules, racking and inverters offer their own warranties. The typical warranty is for 25 years, but it is a good idea to double check with your installer to make sure the coverage is solid. Also make sure the warranty is backed by a reputable third party in the event the manufacturer goes out of business. 
  3. There is a hot debate about whether or not an extended warranty is a good idea or a waste of money. Get advice from your installer on this point. If you are still torn, it may make sense to buy an extended warranty for just your inverter, which is the most common piece of equipment to malfunction. 

Avoid the problems

To avoid these kind of problems, the Department of Energy offers recommendations when obtaining bids and side assessments from solar installers.

“The solar industry standard certification is from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. You can also ask friends and family members who have recently gone solar for references and check online resources for reviews. Before you make any commitments, ask for proof of licensure before working with an installer,” they suggest.

“Obtain at least three bids for the PV system installation and make sure the bids are based on the same characteristics and metrics to enable comparison shopping,” they add.
When interviewing installers, consider asking the following questions:

  • Is your company familiar with local permitting and interconnection processes? Often obtaining building permits and receiving permission to interconnect can be long and tedious processes.  Ensure that the installer is familiar with these local processes will ensure that your system is installed and connected in a prompt manner.
  • Can the company provide references from other customers in your area? Talk to other customers in the area to learn about any challenges they faced and how the company helped resolve them.
  • Is the company properly licensed or certified? PV systems should be installed by an appropriately licensed installer. This usually means that either the installer or a subcontractor has an electrical contractor's license. Your state electrical board can tell you whether a contractor has a valid electrician's license. Local building departments might also require that the installer have a general contractor's license. Call the city or county where you live for additional information on licensing. Additionally, solarize programs may require you to work with a specific installer to receive the discounted system price.
  • What is the warranty for this system like? Who ensures the operation and maintenance of the system?  Most solar equipment is backed by an industry standard warranty (often 20 years for solar panels and 10 years for inverters). Ensuring that system is backed by a strong warranty is often an indication that installer is using quality equipment.  Similarly, the homeowner should establish whose responsibility it is to properly maintain and repair the system.  Most lease and PPA arrangements will require the installer to provide system maintenance, and many installers offer competitive O&M plans for host owned systems.
  • Does the company have any pending or active judgments or liens against it? As with any project that requires a contractor, due diligence is recommended. Your state electrical board can tell you about any judgments or complaints against a state-licensed electrician. Consumers should call the city and county where they live for information on how to evaluate contractors. The Better Business Bureau is another source of information.

Bids should clearly state the maximum generating capacity of the system—measured in Watts (W) or kilowatts (kW). Also request an estimate of the amount of energy that the system will produce on an annual or monthly basis (measured in kilowatt-hours). This figure is most useful for comparison with your existing utility bills.

Bids also should include the total cost of getting the PV system up and running, including hardware, installation, connection to the grid, permitting, sales tax, and warranty. A cost/watt, and estimated cost/kWh are the most useful metrics for comparing prices across different installers, as installers may use different equipment or offer quotes for systems of different sizes.

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Comments (1)

  • kkk • April 9, 2020 0 0

Design Your Solar Home


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