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Solar equipment: should you care what’s in your quote?

If you’re like many homeowners, you’ve likely received a knock on your front door to be presented with a solar sales pitch. At the end of the pitch, you walk away with a document displaying cost numbers and information about how to proceed. However, these types of quotes often neglect to disclose details about solar equipment–panels and inverters–that will actually be installed on your home.

Solar equipment is arguably one of the most important decision factors when evaluating solar quotes. Panels and inverters are not all the same and if you’re putting a solar panel system on your property that will last more than 25 years, you want to know you’re getting the right system.

Here are four reasons why you should care about the equipment included in your solar quote:

#1. Solar equipment varies in quality

There are many solar products available today, each with unique characteristics. When properly installed, all solar panel systems will harness sunlight and convert it into usable electricity for your home. But selecting solar equipment for your system isn’t as easy as just ensuring it can generate electricity during the day. The type of equipment you choose will impact the amount of electricity production you get from your solar panel system, ultimately influencing how much you save on your utility bills.

Higher end solar panels produce more electricity over a smaller area (meaning you can produce more electricity with the same number of panels on your roof), perform at a high level even in substandard weather conditions, and are designed to continue producing electricity to their fullest extent for more than 25 years. High-end solar inverters are more efficient at converting the electricity produced by your solar panels into usable electricity for your home and are designed to ensure maximum performance of your entire system. The difference between high-end and lower quality solar equipment can mean a large difference in production over the lifetime of your system, and a large difference in electricity bill savings.

It’s important to make sure the solar equipment you install produces the right amount of electricity to cover your needs or produce the savings you’re looking to achieve. Here’s more information about the factors to consider when evaluating the quality of solar panels, plus this article about the pros and cons of different inverter technologies.

#2. Solar equipment varies in price

Two solar quotes with the same overall cost may be very different: they may be different sizes, offer different levels of production, and have different warranties. A key factor in determining how these quotes differ is in the quality of the solar equipment.

Say you’re comparing two solar quotes that both list an upfront cost of $10,000: you can’t determine which offer is superior until you know both the size of the system and the quality of the equipment that’s being proposed. $10,000 may be a fair price for a 6 kilowatt (kW) system with top-tier solar equipment, but you may not want to pay that much for a 6 kW system that uses lower efficiency equipment with shorter warranties.

Once you know the proposed equipment type and gross cost included in your solar quote, you can readily compare the cost of one installation versus another by calculating their respective cost per watt ($/W). This calculation, which allows you to more easily compare solar panel system costs of various system sizes, provides a quick metric for whether or not you’re not being overcharged for a given system. Here are some averages for $/watt in various states that you can compare with your own offers; as a general rule of thumb, you can expect higher quality equipment to have a higher $/Watt.

#3. Solar equipment varies in appearance

If you’ve driven through a neighborhood with multiple solar homes, you’ve probably recognized that some solar panel systems look better than others. While some of this can be attributed to system design and installation quality, it can also be due to differences in the equipment used.

Solar panels generally come with blue or black solar cells (depending on whether they’re monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels) and have different color frames as well. For instance, some solar panels are all-black and look like plasma TVs on rooftops, while others have a more grid-like appearance. Size may also differ from one panel to another: most residential solar panels are roughly 3’ by 5’, but there are both larger and smaller solar panels available on the market. The size of your panels affects their placement and layout on your roof.

Your chosen inverter, though less attention-grabbing, also impacts the appearance of your solar panel system. Some inverters, like string technologies, require a box to be placed on the outside of your home or inside your garage. Microinverters, on the other hand, are installed under each individual panel, concealed from sight.

You may not be concerned with the appearance of your solar panel system if you’re installing it out-of-sight to most passersby. However, for those installing on a roof that faces the street or on a plot of land in plain sight, aesthetics can be a big decision factor.

#4. Solar equipment manufacturers vary in quality

If you were shopping for a car, would you make a purchase without knowing who manufactured the car? Solar equipment should be no different.

Because solar is a relatively new product category, you’ll likely come across equipment manufacturers that you’ve never heard of before as you evaluate your options. A bit of quick research can give you an idea of how long each manufacturer has been in business, where they manufacture their equipment, and their overall reputation in the market.

It’s also important to evaluate each manufacturer’s warranty offerings: you want to make sure to install equipment from a manufacturer that has good warranty coverage and who will likely still be in business to honor their warranty should something occur with your solar panel system down the line.

Evaluate multiple equipment options on EnergySage

Comparing one solar equipment option to another isn’t always easy, but we try to make it as easy as possible. We’ve developed an independent rating system that classifies solar equipment based on performance, warranty, and durability to help you compare equipment apples-to-apples. Any quotes you receive on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace will include information about the solar panels and inverters proposed, including the product name, manufacturer, and quality rating.


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