BEWARE - Solar Power in Michigan; Snake Oil or Reality?

Solar is really starting to take off in Michigan.  Unfortunately, as with many industries that start to grow rapidly, everybody and their brother wants to start a solar company to get in on the action.  This includes well meaning business people, who provide a quality product and service at a fair price, as well as those that simply want to make a quick buck at any cost.  The 2nd group will do so with misleading advertising, false promises, high pressure sales tactics and sometimes even fraud. Be smart and don't get fooled!

Misleading Advertising.  Hint:  There are no free solar panels.

Remember the old saying "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."  If you have ever clicked on a popup ad for Free Solar Panels, you know what we are talking about.  You are immediately asked for your personal info so someone can contact you and tell you more.  Red Flag - Snake Oil Alert!  If you fill out that online form, you may start getting bombarded with phone calls and emails from every company in the world, wanting to sell you solar panels. This is part of the latest marketing trend: Internet Lead Generation Companies.  Many of these crafty organizations will say anything to draw you into their website "landing page" to capture your personal information, and then sell it to actual solar companies.  (Do they sell your info to other companies as well . . .?)  They can make false promises because they aren't actually selling you anything and this new data collection technique isn't regulated. To prevent an attack on your email and phone, don't click on advertisements with promises that are too good to be true.  If you have an interest in solar (or anything for that matter,) you're better off doing an internet search for companies in your area. Go to their web sites and evaluate the information they provide.  Read reviews about the company on a few different websites, like Google Reviews, Yelp and Solar Reviews.  Check with the Better Business Bureau, etc.  If you like them, fill out the Contact Us form on their web site.  As with anything, invest the time and do proper research.  (More tips on choosing a good solar company.)

High Pressure Tactics

There are two classes of sales professionals.  The first is from an organization that believes in doing what is right for the customer, at a fair price.  They ask questions to find out what your needs and goals are.  They take a holistic approach to meeting your needs and don't rely on a one-size-fits-all solution.  They understand that solar is a significant investment and acknowledge that the customer needs time to do research and evaluate a proposal.  They are happy to provide more information and follow up as necessary, returning to fill out paperwork when you are ready. The other type of salesperson is a high pressure one.  They require signatures on contracts immediately and have no problem making you feel uncomfortable in your own home.  Often, the pressure is built in so you won't take the time to compare costs, solution benefits and/or company reputation.  They may start with one price, and then drop their price several times to make you feel like you are getting a good deal.  In the end, you either agree to sign paperwork, or you may have to ask them to leave. Don't allow yourself to feel pressured into buying something on the spot.  The decision should feel right for you and your family.  It is your money and your comfort that matters, not the needs of the sales person.  Look out for YOU!  Note:  In Michigan, if you get pressured into signing an agreement, you have a three day right of rescission, meaning you can legally cancel the agreement within three days without repercussions.  Make sure you call to cancel AND put it in writing.

Double Check All Proposals with PVWatts

A smart consumer will get a couple of quotes for their solar array.  Often, these quotes differ in price, equipment and energy production.  When it comes to energy production (measured in daily/monthly/annual kwh) how do you know if the numbers you are presented are accurate?  Luckily, there is a tool available on the internet to help you.  The PVWatts Calculator is available from the Nation Renewable Energy Laboratory and is available at the following web site. On this web site, enter you address, hit the large orange arrow to the right, enter the information the solar provider gave you, hit the orange arrow again, and then compare what the sales proposal told you, against the PVWatts results.  (Top right corner of the report.  Example:  System output may range from 12,572 to 13,618 kWh per year near this location.)  If the numbers aren't close, ask the salesperson why they are different.  Someone made a mistake.  Rest assured - the PVWatts calculator is pretty darn accurate if you filled it out correctly.  Also, add up your annual electrical usage (kwh) from your electric bills and see how that compares to what the System Output range is, from the sales person and from PVWatts.  If the range falls short of the energy you used last year, you know that your array won't offset 100% of your needs. PVWatts is a great tool that can help you keep solar sales people from making false promises.

General Misinformation

Some salespeople will say almost anything to bring in a deal.  This past month Michigan Solar Solutions ran into two bits of misinformation that we would like to share with you: ". . .There are no batteries on the market that had been approved for residential use with a grid tied system. . . "  FALSE!  Grid-hybrid systems incorporate batteries that allow you to have emergency power when the grid goes down.  Recent advances in battery technology and price drops now make this a viable option. " . . . current electric code doesn't allow you to install solar panels on a building that is connected back to the house. . . "  FALSE!  As long as the wire is a large enough gauge, has enough conductors, is properly labeled and grounded, and has the required disconnects to isolate the solar array from the grid, it is acceptable.  It is also approved by the local electrical inspectors across the state, multiple times a month. In summary, as with most things in life, shortcuts often result in frustrating results.  Don't click on pop-up ads that make promises that are too good to be true.  Do your due diligence, get multiple quotes, verify proposals with PVWatts Calculator and question what you are told.  Make an informed decision, and don't get fooled or scammed when going solar.

Written by Troy Bracke, July 2018 Email: Troy is a solar professional with Michigan Solar Solutions.  He has been in the industry since 2015.

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