Solar panels are a great way to generate clean, renewable energy from the sun, and they can save you money on your electricity bills over the long term. However, choosing the right solar panel system can be a daunting task, especially if you are not familiar with the industry jargon. In this blog post, we will guide you through the key differences when comparing solar quotes, so you can make an informed decision.
The first thing you should compare when looking at different solar quotes is the size of the solar panel system. The system size is measured in kilowatts (kW), and it represents how much energy the system can produce at its peak. A larger system size will produce more energy, but it will also cost more upfront. When comparing quotes, make sure you are comparing systems of similar size. Size is a product of the total number of panels, times the power output of each panel. So if you are looking for apples-to-apples, you’ll typically want to compare the KW rating of a system, not the number of panels, since panel wattages can vary greatly.
The second thing you should compare is the total cost of the system. This includes the cost of the solar panels & installation. The total cost will vary depending on the size of the system and the complexity of the installation. This can be hard to determine on some quotes, especially if they are pushing financing options. Be adamant to see the total upfront cost of the system, before incentives, so you can accurately compare quotes.
Cost After Incentives:
The third thing you should consider is the cost after incentives. Depending on where you live, you may be eligible for federal, state, or local incentives that can reduce the cost of the solar panel system. In Virginia, we have solar incentives such as Federal tax credits, SRECs, and some tax-exemptions, depending on your locality. Make sure you understand what incentives you are eligible for and factor them into your decision-making process. Most companies should offer the same incentives, although some companies will present the “after-incentive cost” as the total-system cost, which can be misleading. If the system is financed, or if you are waiting on a tax credit, your upfront cost or principal will typically be much higher.
Each solar quote should provide you with an estimate of how much energy the system will produce in kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. This estimate is based on a number of factors, including the system size, the location of your home, and the angle and direction of the solar panels. The best models should include 3D shading & inverter losses. look and see if the model includes trees or other obstructions. If it doesn’t, your estimated production is probably higher than what you will experience in reality. Each quote will use different models and factors to estimate your energy. The most important thing to remember is that there is no magic bullet that will allow one company’s system to produce more energy than another. It should all come down to orientation and system-size. Some companies will “over-tune” the model to make the production numbers look better. If you see a smaller system size producing more energy than a larger one, this is typically due to inaccurate modeling.
Annual Energy Escalation Rate:
Finally, solar companies use an annual energy escalation rate, which is an estimate of how much your energy costs are expected to increase over time. This is historically based on utility price increases, as well as the annual inflation rate. In the past, a standard escalator in Virginia was 3%, but we currently use 4% due to the rising price of energy over the last few years. This number should be disclosed on every quote, as it is a compounding rate. A proposal showing a 6-7% escalation rate will look MUCH better in the long run than one with a more conservative estimate. This is especially important to identify if you are financing the system, and trying to ensure your loan payment will be lower than your electric bills (see our article about 0% solar financing).
In conclusion, comparing different solar quotes can be overwhelming, but by focusing on the key differences outlined above, you can make an informed decision. Remember to compare systems of similar size, factor in the total cost and incentives, consider kWh estimates and annual energy escalation rates, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if something is unclear. By taking the time to compare solar quotes, you can ensure that you get the most value for your investment and enjoy the benefits of clean, renewable energy for years to come.