The growing popularity of renewable energy – particularly rooftop solar – is good news for homeowners. Increased competition means more choice and lower prices. However, it also means some opportunistic businesses are popping up, eager to profit from this burgeoning market, but unprepared to deliver quality goods and services. It means homeowners need to do their homework.
When it comes to choosing a rooftop solar system for your home or business, where can you find straight answers and reliable advice? Consumer advocacy organization ConsumerAffairs now publishes an online resource offering just that. Their Solar Energy Guide lists companies that provide solar equipment, installation, and service, along with hundreds of reviews from consumers sharing their experiences with those suppliers, both good and bad.
Explaining the importance of the Guide, Zachary Shahan, contributing editor at ConsumerAffairs, explains, “The solar market has grown so fast and so much in the past 5 years, the challenge is that consumers don’t know a lot about it. They don’t know who to go to, how to evaluate the competitors, or even how to find the competitors in some cases. So the Guide does a really useful job of explaining most of the large players in the market for rooftop solar and their different competitive advantages or disadvantages.”
The Guide can save consumers valuable time, by revealing information it would otherwise be difficult and costly to find on their own. Zachary continues, “It goes beyond their About pages or their press releases and offers insight into these companies that you wouldn’t know unless you have followed them very closely for a long time. It helps guide people in a very succinct way to the companies they can benefit from, and then from there the consumer can take it further and actually evaluate the options.”
ConsumerAffairs covers a broad range of subjects. Their guides are built by teams of researchers and editors, with independent reviews submitted by consumers contributing to a star-rating system that allows readers to quickly gauge a supplier’s reputation. Consider a few examples of reviews shared by consumers in the Guide.
One farm-owner contracted with a supplier to install a 40-panel solar power system on the roof of her barn. Almost immediately she began experiencing repeated equipment failures and unanswered customer service calls. She ended up paying out more with the system than she had without it. Her conclusion: “Really wish I never went solar.”
Another reviewer had a wholly different experience. “This was such a great investment for our family, and their installation was very professional. We can’t believe how much we save each month in energy costs! We have never had any problems with our system. The experience has been better than we could have hoped for.”
Surprisingly, both reviews were for the same company, underscoring the need to do thorough research before investing in a solar energy provider. The Guide thus allows you to follow Zachary’s suggestion. “Get to know some people who have gone solar,” he says, “and ask them about their experience.”
It’s also critical to have realistic expectations about how much a rooftop solar system will cost you, and how much you can expect to save or earn. “It is often in the fine print,” Zachary cautions. “You have to look at how the cost is suppose to escalate. Do the math yourself, the interest rate, etc., and try to evaluate what works best for your needs.”
Renewable Energy, Politics, And Myths
With political candidates linking energy to national security, they’re putting the issue front and center in their platforms. Just don’t expect those politicians to give you clear answers to questions about renewable energy. Zachary explains, “In the United Sates, the majority of Republican voters support solar. Unfortunately, political leaders are not really controlled by the voters, they’re controlled by the special interests that fund their campaigns and keep them in office. And so we have a case in the United States where the Republican party, by and large, is fighting solar on behalf of coal and utilities, and it’s really a disservice to their constituency.”
This conflict of interests manifests itself in what Zachary calls “myths” about solar energy, that it’s expensive and unreliable. The reality is that, as Zachary notes, “the price keeps coming down and, in a lot of places, it’s already cheaper than other options. Also, markets that have a very high percentage of solar have found that it’s actually much more reliable than people thought 5 years ago and actually helps grid stability and grid security.”
Going solar simply makes sense. If you want to take advantage of the benefits solar has to offer for your own home or business, ConsumerAffairs’ Solar Energy Guide is an excellent place to start to do your homework.