how to shop solar panels

Learn more about what’s behind the details of your solar quote and how to ask the right questions to get the full picture of what’s included in your solar program!

I am a Solar Energy Consultant and a spend my days helping people go solar to protect themselves from utility rate increases and gain control of their bills. What I have noticed is that most solar companies train their salespeople to show the customer the numbers and say “sign here” but how do they come up with these numbers? How do you accurately compare bids apples to apples? Below are some key questions to ask your provider in a way that is specific to the industry.  


*If you pair this post with the article by Energy Sage What Questions Should You Ask Your Solar Company? which is more broad, you will be well informed to make a great decision on your provider. I would recommend working with a nationwide provider which ensures that they will be qualified for the job.


Solar System Design

Some companies can provide you an accurate remote design based around building code and your custom roof details or they will come to your house to collect this information. It is important to know if that system is sized by a salesperson or a designer. Designers are incentivized on accuracy and align with building code.


  • Don’t ask what is my percentage offset, ask what is my system size in the metric kW.
    • A kWh is the metric used on your utility bill in terms of the energy you pull from the grid. The percentage offset is a derivative of the systems annual production in in the real world (in kWh) by how many kWh you consumed from your utility last year. In order to figure the kWh production of a system a solar company must accurately represent your custom metrics in terms of the shade, azimuth and pitch of the roof. This will vary company to company so it is best to keep the system size constant when comparing bids apples to apples rather than comparing production or consumption offset.
      • The system size is measured in the metric kW. To figure your system size you multiply the amount of panels by the wattage per panel which also varies company to company. The same system size will produce the same amount of energy in the real world no matter what company or no matter what the company projected for usage or offset!
  • Don’t ask where the panels are made, ask if they are monocrystalline or polycrystalline.
    • There is no American made panel on the market. If a company tells you it is American made it means it is assembled here but the parts usually come from China. It is important to work with a larger manufacturer that has universal equipment to make sure your manufacturer warranties hold true and can adapt to other equipment down the road. Monocrystalline is more efficient since it is just one slab of the crystalline rather than multiple pieces like polycrystalline panels. Polycrystalline is still a good panel but since it is less wasteful it is a better bang for your buck.

Price of Solar

There are many different ways to go solar like purchasing it outright, making an upfront investment and watching your ROI in terms of the monthly savings you will see by not buying power from your utility or going with no money out of pocket and paying per month with a PPA or purchase loan. Ultimately, figuring out if solar makes financial sense for you, you want to see how much more affordable solar will be rather than paying your investor owned utility company. There are many ways to calculate savings but it is usually best to consider a set period of time- 20 years is usually best. You will also what to make a conservative assumption of how your current utility rates are changing- spoiler alert, they are going up!!

  • Don’t ask what is the price per panel, ask what the price per watt is- Avg price/ W in America.
    • This is more relevant to a cash purchase or finance option. Cash is king- the more you pay up front, the more you will save over time. There is a lot that goes into pricing like labor, other hardware, warranties etc so the price is not only considering panels and there is not an itemized breakdown.
  • Don’t ask is solar free, ask what $0 down options are available and how this will affect my current bill. Also ask what the credit requirement is to qualify for the $0 down options.
  • Don’t (only) ask how much will I save per month, also ask what utility inflation rate they are using in their metrics.
  • Don’t ask what the interest rate is, ask what is my projected cost is after interest. The lower interest rates are usually just bait that come with high administrative fees.

Solar Warranties / Incentive Programs

There are no moving parts with this equipment and most energy systems will require little to no maintenance but it is important to know who is responsible for replacing or repairing the equipment in the rare chance something malfunctions. Warranties are at no extra cost to the consumer and any reputable company will offer monitoring and maintenance with any financial product, including cash purchase. It is also important to have an understanding of the current incentive programs available in your area which are doing nothing but going away. Consumer Reports says there has never been a better time to go solar as price is plateauing and the incentives are drying up!

  • Don’t ask if your system will produce energy when the power goes out, ask if you have a single string inverter or micro inverter/ power optimizers.
    • For safety reasons the systems must shut down with grid failure or it could electrocute the people working on the grid. Make sure you have an efficient inverter that allows each panel to run independently of one another- I would recommend Solar Edge with power optimizers. This is best in times of shade or if a panel malfunctions, you want the rest of the array producing at its highest efficiency. Ask how many times the inverter will be swapped out throughout the agreement as they fail on average every ~13 years. For extra protection you can purchase a longer manufacturer warranty on the inverter.
  • Don’t (only) ask what the warranty is on the panels, ask if they also provide a labor warranty.
    • Labor is the most expensive part of an instal and some companies only lean on manufacturer warranties which does not include labor.
  • Don’t ask what happens if my roof leaks, ask what mounting hardware they use and what their roof penetration warranty is.
    • Make sure they invest in quality aluminum hardware with elevated water seals- those will come with lengthy warranties as it will be a quality product. Quick Mount PV is recommended.
      • Side note: What happens if you need to reroof during the agreement? Is it a flat rate in the agreement or fair market? Flat rates are usually best, Sungevity does $1000 fixed.
  • Don’t ask how much the utility will buy your kWh for, ask what your current Net Metering program is and how it works.
  • Don’t ask what happens if I move, ask how will this improve the resale value of my home and what the transfer process is.
  • Don’t ask what government incentive programs there are for $0 down options- companies leverage these incentives to help achieve a $0 down product for you. The incentives usually are financed by whoever owns the equipment.

The most important of them all!!!!

How to shop for a solar and undetstand your quote

  • Don’t ask to just have them send you the numbers!! This is a full on construction project and clearly there is a lot of context to put behind the numbers. Work together to find a solution that fits your goals and be clear about what those goals are! Good things aren’t cheap and cheap things aren’t good!!

Give me a call to get your remote solar design today! Shine on!

Sarah Howard

Sarah Howard // Solar Consultant

how to shop solar