Californians rank first in solar energy in the US. As of February 2015, sunny CA has 245,611 active solar projects and 2,347 megawatts of solar installed. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, California is capable of powering 1,897,300 homes through solar alone.
Despite much success, many Californians still mistakenly believe that solar is not an option for them. This stems, in part, from a belief that they may not be able to afford it.
What many people don’t know is that in seven of California’s largest cities, solar is cheaper than traditional electric power from the grid, including: Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco, Long Beach, Fresno and Sacramento.
Another thing that most Californians don’t realize is that not all solar is created equal. Solar panels are a lot like cars. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for.
Three questions to ask your installer about your solar panel options
What is the manufacturer’s warranty?
Since a solar PV system represents a multi-decade investment, many solar manufacturers offer both a product and a power warranty.
A product warranty typically covers the reliability of the panel itself, and protects you against failures from manufacturing defects, environmental issues, and premature wear and tear. Most solar panel manufacturers offer a warranty against failure for at least the first 10-12 years, and one manufacturer offers a 25-year warranty. As with most warranties, a longer period is generally more advantageous to you, if you own your solar panels.
The amount of electricity a solar panel produces declines slightly every year. That’s true of all solar panels, but to varying degrees. It’s common practice for manufacturers to guarantee that their panels will produce electricity at 80%-90% of their power output rating at the end of 25 years. This is called the power warranty or performance warranty.
What is the most efficient solar panel I can buy?
Solar panel efficiency is important because the more efficient the panel, the fewer panels you will need to purchase or lease. If you have limited space, this can be a hugely important factor in choosing a solar panel.
Are there any aesthetic differences between solar panels?
Solar panels have come a long way in terms of looks. Since the panels will be visible to the whole world as they help power your home for the next 25-40 years, be sure to ask your installer to see the actual products that will be placed on your home prior to choosing a panel. You may be surprised at how different they can look from each other. You should ask to see previous installations completed on various homes in your area and pay attention to how the panels look on the houses, the way they are clamped to the roof (can you see the ugly clamps? Or are they hidden?), and the inverter box that will go on the side of your house.
Asking these questions near the beginning of the process will ensure you get the most bang for your buck and ensure you are happy with your solar investment for decades to come.