• Tad who managed my project did well; his strength is his honesty and well-informed knowledge in many different areas of the field.
• Greg doesn’t talk much, very serious, but knows a lot due to his extensive experience and overall intellect.
• I haven’t met Kenn, the retired architecture, but that never stops me – he has 50 years of experience and coincidentally the first architect ever to hold a license in all 50 states.
• Johnny who installed my system is very knowledgeable but should be known for his drive to do things properly.
• As difficult as my city made this process, imposing several obstacles to our project, I am surprised that CSS, coming earlier and leaving later, persisted to complete the project, and did so within the ranged deadline.
• The logistical aspect of this company is thoughtful and proactive – there was not one hiccup on CSS’s end.
• No down payment to sign a contract that serves only to reserve the federal and state incentives. Some companies actually want a $2000 deposit. In other words, you truly pay as you go. Installers will tell you that they need a deposit in order to secure the incentive. Smart installers make this deposit unnecessary.
• We got a damn good price.
• After CSS surveyed my property and formulated the estimate, I wasn’t hassled to move into a decision. Unharassed, I extended my research a few more months beforehand, and if I needed expert advice, Tad allowed me to call him, instead of pestering me with “I’m just calling to check up…” calls. In addition, Tad keeps in contact after the purchase; he doesn''t go anywhere, and that is a big plus.
• I do not underestimate Tad’s prudence, so this isn’t a true con, but I wonder why I never met Kenn since I could imagine that my house has an inconvenient angle and could use his specialized knowledge. I’m guessing that his job can be done remotely, since they took time to find the perfect angle and tilt – at one point, it was difficult to assess how to work around the trees surrounding the house – how to gather the maximum yield. Update: Kenn does help with the unusual circumstances; my project was still considered routine and conventional.
• Greg should cheer up (especially because he looks like Santa Claus).
That is my quick review.
Those careful people who want the details, read the full review (recommended):
(No companies or articles will be identified, if I have predominantly negative comments to say. My intention here isn’t to cripple companies hampered already by immorality. May all solar businesses be given the chance to change in a judgmental, tedious society of high-maintenance Yelpers. Even some positive companies won’t be identified, since I only want to speak on behalf of the company that I’m reviewing, and that’s it. Trust me, if you have a college education, you will find these popular articles. Have confidence, and have faith.)
After researching the solar industry for eight months before my purchase, I suspected the whole industry CAN BE Apollo’s Greek gift. If you don’t first invest in decent research, meaning you read articles AND trace the source of the person or people who wrote it, you may find yourself deceived and remorseful. For example, an article from a prestigious source emerged, addressing the increasing pressure on solar industries to “cut corners,” leading to inferior protective coating that caused a quick degradation of material or, even worse, fire hazards. To sum it up, the article’s sole purpose, in my opinion, is to strike fear in the minds of the consumer and to channel that fear toward other lucrative possibilities.
It’s that “I am just concerned…” kind of article. However, no concrete help is ever provided.
As a matter of opinion, if you believe these green companies don’t have part of their soul in green money, believing these companies are different, managed by hippies greeting the sun under some Eastern religion and spending most of their time in the shades of trees, you will find “people are alike all over” (to borrow a statement from a Twilight Zone episode).
Out of my many calls, the best support on solar manufacturers cutting corners was a frank and detailed discussion with a representative of a third-party solar insurance company, in which I expressed my concern about this article. This knowledgeable representative, immediately aware of that article, dismissed it, giving names of the people involved in the article who would be of interest to research, those who would have interest in driving traffic toward protective coating merchants and solar panel advisers. In general, this third-party insurance company detailed their often first-hand examination of solar companies before investing into them. That is refreshing. I learned that you shouldn’t take articles too seriously. Reluctant to give me any guarantees, this rep pointed out that for the sake of their company’s survival, any solar manufacturer on their insured list had to be subject to intense examination. I am content to purchase from these solar manufacturers solely for the 3rd party insurance’s privileged, less-biased perspective composed of randomized inspections and evaluations of each manufacturer with which they get involved.
The larger concern underlying this conversation arises from that “cutting corners” article, but also from reading another article about “dead paper” solar companies. What happens to the warranty, should the solar company itself shut down? When investing in solar panels, my greatest concern became the warranty. However, as government incentives run thin, solar companies that rely on this assistance are expected to start dropping – by 2015, as incentives run thin, reducing the affordability of purchasing solar panels. With all the solar companies in the lineup currently, may the Russian Roulette game begin…
It’s truly hard for an average consumer to cut through the self-interest in articles. Nowadays, you don’t need to lie, you just need to focus on one area or fail to mention another area in one’s research to mislead a whole chunk of the readership. Anyway, a prospective contractor suggested that I consider a company with a 30-year warranty (five more years than the typical 25-year). Yes, you are supposed to think that this is a gesture of confidence, unless you have read that last article which introduces other possibilities. For a second, let’s think from the company’s perspective. If I perceived an end to my company and consequent warranties offered, I would promise a little more than everyone else. Of course, I wouldn’t promise a 40-year warranty – what if my company actually survived? Regardless, when I read in an article that this particular company was among the lists of expected companies to go under by 2015, I couldn’t credit the article too much; chances are, this is where self-interest crept in. I am sure that suspicion has been initiated about every solar company out there. I am more comfortable to conclude it prudent to begin inquiring about the Plan Bs of all prospective solar manufacturers – what protection, minor or major, do they offer beyond the mere warranty?
When I returned to this installer, he assured that a third-party solar insurance company provided support in case of collapse (this is where I first heard of insurance companies doing this). Later I called that solar panel manufacturer and they denied purchasing insurance and told me that, if the company goes under, no alternative coverage or reserve would kick in. The only hope would be if the next company takes over the business and honors the warranty.
By this time, I was suspicious. That previous installer was prescreened and reviewed well. Before ending my correspondence with them, I e-mailed them about why I won’t be working with them. The rep responded, “My understanding for how all warranty claims from the module manufacturers work is that a capital reserve is put aside by the company which is invested partly in warehousing old inventory and partly in 3rd party insurance. This was my understanding for how it worked when their rep. came into my office 10 months ago and it’s also my understanding as being the standard industry practice.” It is beyond me that an installer would select a few companies to showcase and not require reps to be fully prepared to give a comprehensive picture of those companies. This solar manufacturer was one of only three showcased as the contractor’s premier selection, and his knowledge on this company and the whole field relied on generalities. I think his response only emphasized how wrong one could be. Regardless, I don’t like working with stupid people, the immoral or the frivolous. I think out of all the people with whom I’ve spoken, the conversation with that third-party insurance company was the most appropriate. Assurance that he couldn’t give, he didn’t. Words to describe, he economized. After all, he wasn’t trying to sell anything.
So off to the next highly revered installer…
* * * * *
California Sun Systems enters. Tad is the project manager who knows a lot about multiple areas of the business. However, he couldn’t be certain of each solar manufacturer’s plan Bs. What I love about Tad is how comfortable he is with not knowing. As a teacher, I value this quality. I can’t stand teachers who feel that they need to answer every single question just because they specialize in that area. Tad may not know everything, but he will call or text with that information quickly. Beware of people who stand at the end of every path; wise people show you the point in the path that they are walking.
Tad’s honesty can also pivot in the direction of price negotiation. He will do the best that he can, and after my first push back, he reduced the price, but only once. Privately, that response is what I wanted. More worry results in too lengthy and rigorous of a negotiation process. Any kind of reduction implies other corners could be cut to reduce the price. My main concern was the mounting equipment. Usually solar installers popularly skimp in that direction, because most consumers think to check out the panels and the inverter, but not the mounting equipment. More than one reduction also tells me that the rep is hugging the profit margin so hard, you have to pry one finger at a time to get him to let go.
Nobody respects hoes; Tad is no hoe.
My advice is to call around. You never truly know how good the deal is until you call around. I presumed that other installers wouldn’t disclose an estimate over the phone. Actually, most did under it being a very rough estimate. At the worst, I called one solar installer and they quoted me a price at least $5000 more than what CSS quoted. He persisted to call to announce how that was a very rough estimate and he can do better. No, this is the clinching type that I mentioned. I moved on. The best I could do is find one installer who offered me the same price. However, my estimate with CSS included upgrading my box from a 100 amp to a 200 amp (at least a couple thousand dollar job, product and labor). Those who don’t know, do all the solar-related projects at this time, since the 30 percent federal incentive will cover that. I obtained six quotes, and none of them came near CSS’s estimate. And even if I could find someone a little cheaper, I still wouldn’t have left CSS because collecting these rough estimates were only to ground me further into a decision with CSS. I only needed to know CSS was a legit company. As the general picture cleared, it definitely appeared so.
Johnny is the one who actually installed my solar panels. He is extremely friendly. Another project which should have cost about 700 bucks was the installing of a 220v outlet in my garage and the EVSE charger itself for my two electric vehicles. Part of my preparation involved calling around to understand roughly how much these extras would have cost so I could understand just how much I would be paying for just the solar project. Well, Johnny and I discussed ways to install the charger, and his way was more laborious. He wanted to install it outside the garage and enclose it in a metal box, and all within the original estimate. He insisted it would be more convenient, compared to mounting it against the wall, a far easier process. He wouldn’t have to drill a hole through the garage or enclose the charger within a weather-resistant, security box. I have other samples of Johnny’s work ethic, his persistence to accomplish the job under the high standards of pride in workmanship. I will just end with the note that my city can be difficult with permitting, and the city wanted corrections that exceeded the conditions outlined in the permit, and Johnny never complained and would make multiple trips to meet those invisible standards that would manifest during the second inspection.
As a final note, I do want to disclose what company I invested my confidence. Canadian Solar is by far the best solar manufacturer. The specialist that I spoke to at Canadian Solar is very nice with the same disdain for sales strategies that I have. All the people who I eventually worked with have this same no-BS attitude in their responses – more research-driven than rhetoric-driven.
What I like about Canadian Solar:
• Leading manufacturer;
• They found a steady stream of revenue from working internationally with solar power plants;
• They have good control over the three main countries regarding the solar market: US, Japan, and China;
• Stock prices are high, although they experienced a dip;
• High PTC rating up to 91.04 (on my module);
• Offers third-party insurance to back up the warranty that can give detailed positive feedback about Canadian Solar.
• High debt;
• Most factories located in China with Chinese management at the top (this may not be a bad thing, considering that I believe most surviving solar manufacturers will be Chinese;
• To get around the tariffs, many Chinese companies are working from Taiwan to escape those tariffs, but soon we may be seeing a change. The worse-case scenario is that these Chinese companies will have to pay these tariffs retroactively.
The runner-ups worth looking into are Renesola and Trina. Please research these companies independently. Tad has been a great guide through all of this, and I strongly recommend California Sun Systems. And I hope that after reading this article, the only piece of wisdom that gets passed down is that you respect the solar field. It was once an unstable field, but now investors are starting to have a renewed confidence in these companies. No one should embrace cynicism based on generalities. People may be tempted with one main generality: “Don’t buy from Chinese manufacturers.” In my humble opinion, if you embrace this particular generality, you will automatically cripple yourself.
I will leave you with this last story. I purchased a $200 Montblanc pen at Costco. It should be at least $300 if you are a registered merchant with Montblanc. What is going on here is Costco refused to be a registered merchant and actually replaced Montblanc’s limited warranty with Costco’s own improved warranty. It’s simple. If you don’t like it, return it any time. Years later, if you want.
Of course, fear is persistent. It gnaws on the mind of ignorant people. A few claim to have purchased a counterfeit. This particular line of pens is the most counterfeited Montblanc pen in existence. It doesn’t take much brains to be sure that people purchased those counterfeits, switched Costco’s authentic with a counterfeit, and an innocent employee refed it back into Costco’s stock. This started a mass hysteria on this one forum, but I have learned from this whole experience that nothing replaces wisdom and hard work. It takes but a few hours to learn every little detail about that pen so one can rest assured that that pen is probably authentic. Sure, I can settle for a blanket solution. Buy the Montblanc pen straight from the manufacturer, but in my opinion, those who want to suck on authenticity so hard may end up resigning themselves to an already losing habit – the comforting habit that one needs to go to the source and spend a premium price all the time. Multiply it as habits often multiple single deeds, and you will find a very expensive pacifier.
Take this parable. Apply it to your search for a good solar manufacturer. And have a good guide to help you accomplish this. That guide will be your own studies, as well as an honest solar installer, who will know enough about everything to help open your eyes and head into directions your neophyte nature never could conceive. Tad still checks in to make sure my solar system is producing the right amount of kW/h.
I have mentioned as much as I can. I will be updating this response if I find something more to say on the way. Good luck!
Type: Residential Electric