Finding a solar-electric system installer is like choosing a long distance phone company it can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. You can let your fingers do the walking and choose the first one you find in your local yellow pages, or you can do additional research and find an installer that best meets your needs. Mail-order companies, large discount warehouses, small mom-and pop businesses, and large corporations all sell and install renewable energy(RE) systems. As the number of dealers, distributors, and installers grows, being an informed consumer is increasingly important. And just like buying a car or a computer, you'll want to be sure that the person designing and installing your new system has the expertise to provide you with an efficient, safe, and reliable system.
To locate an installer near you, you can always inquire with your local solar organization. The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) has chapters in 34 states, and your local chapter can provide you with a list of installers and dealers (see Access). ASES also cosponsors the Find Solar Web site at www.findsolar.com, where you can find detailed listings of PV pros across the United States and Canada. If you live in the Heartland, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association offers a great resource for finding an installer. You can also check out Home Powers Web site for a searchable database of RE dealers and installers, or look in the Installers Directory at the back of each issue. Most of us want the best product for the least cost. Shopping by price is important, especially if you are on a tight budget, but there are also other factors to consider. Following is a list of some of the issues to think about when selecting an installer.
Organizations are now certifying installers by a set of standards, and asking for an installer's credentials can give you an idea of these qualifications. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) offers PV certification on two levels an Entry Level Certificate of Knowledge, and a PV Installer Certification. According to NABCEP, Certification is not intended to prevent qualified individuals from installing PV systems it is meant to provide a set of national standards by which PV installers with skills and experience can distinguish themselves. That said, many seasoned pros who have been in the business for years don't see the need for additional certification. They may not choose to dedicate the extra time or expense to become NABCEP certified.
If you contract with an installer who doesn't have an electrical license, you or your installer will also need to hire a licensed electrician to obtain the permit, supervise the job, and do the final AC hookups. Regulations for residential electrical work vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your local building department prior to system installation. Your installer should have a good working relationship with the local electrical inspector. Also, if you expect to take advantage of financial incentives, be aware that most states won't provide rebates if the installer isn't licensed.
Bonded & Insured
It's always a good idea to check if your installer has liability insurance. This insurance coverage protects you against any installation mishaps if the installer's work damages your house during or after the installation. Some installers advertise that they are bonded as well. This guarantees that the contractor will meet his or her obligations in a satisfactory manner. Failure to do so results in the bonding company paying you compensation. However, being bonded is expensive, so if you want an installer who is both bonded and insured, you'll probably have to forego a mom and- pop operation for a large installation company.
How recently and where has your installer been educated and trained? Find out if the installer has kept up-to date with training courses on the specific products he or she sells. Many companies that manufacture and distribute RE products offer training, enabling installers to stay current on new product developments.