Looking for a solar consultant

We're ready to take the solar plunge, replacing the gas stove with something electric, and doing what we can reduce gas consumption for heating the house and water.

There are so many solar installers to choose from. They all sound somewhat like used car salesmen - to put it bluntly.

I have several questions like:

How many kW should I plan for?

What about a PowerWall or other forms of battery?

Could I use an electric car as a battery?

Are there any ways to aggregate in a localized community?

Is solar water heating a good idea?

What's suitable for my neighborhood?

etc

I'm sure there are more that will occur to me or my friends.

So before deciding on someone to install (and maintain it?), I would like to find a consultant who can help me scope the work. Does anyone have a consultant who they can recommend?

Thanks, Philip

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

Good questions Philip.

I ended up designing and purchasing my own system, handling all the permit work and inspections, and having a solar company do the physical installation. Worked great and saved some bucks, but the permit paperwork is not for the faint of heart. My general recommendation is to collect a bunch of quotes using something like energysage.com.

1. How big? (kW) - really depends on your usage (or roof limits). Generally, you want to produce slightly less than you use. Most companies will ask for electric bills to perform this sizing calculation.

2. PowerWall/Battery - can be great for backup, almost impossible to justify otherwise. Generally won't reduce your bill. We have net metering, so the grid is your battery already.

3. Aggregation. Not exactly sure what you're asking, as there are different meanings to aggregation.

4. Solar Water Heating. Almost never a good idea. Very expensive. If you want solar water, it's generally cheaper (initial and running costs) to add more solar power (kW) and buy a heat-pump water heater. Solar Water only makes sense when roof space is highly limited.

5. Suitable for your neighborhood? I don't understand the question. Why would your neighborhood matter?

Best of luck!

We recently went with SunRun through Costco. I got 3 proposals and Sunrun was the best. An advisor will come to your house and teach you everything. They calculate how much energy your system will need to generate based on your utility bills over the last 6-12 months. Other places can create a system for you over the phone based on what you desire battery/no battery etc.

good luck!

Terrific, Philip! Going solar is definitely the way to go, IMHO. I had a grid-tied solar electric system installed on my home about 12 years ago, and added it to it with the addition of a plug-in electric vehicle 9 years ago. The industry is constantly evolving, particularly as local jurisdictions and utility providers adjust and shift priorities. When my system was originally installed, I was not allowed to install a system that provided more than 80% of my anticipated use. Now, PG&E will pay me for extra power generation.

I am a (retired) architect, so I knew a reasonable amount going into my projects. That said, I would not recommend hiring a consultant. Do your research to find qualified installers that serve your area - ask your neighbors, friends, colleagues, ask at the local building department which installers pull a lot of permits and they may share with you their opinion of which are professional and easy to work with. Read what you can from reliable sources on the internet. Then, choose three installers from which to solicit proposals. Go to them with a written outline of your project goals and let them know you are soliciting three proposals. They will send someone out to meet with you, see your property and take various measurements. They will provide you with a design and cost proposal. Evaluate the three - pretty much guaranteed they will be quite different.  Ask clarifying questions and get an additional proposal if you think you need it. Make your decision and enjoy watching your electric meter run backward!

Good luck with your project!

A consultant is likely way overkill for a residential system. I recommend getting quotes from a handful of installers (maybe 5) and then comparing them. Just ignore the sales pitch and tell them you’re paying cash. You will find that most installers size the systems similarly in terms of kw because they’re using the same formulas so you’ll have an apples to apples comparison. There’s basically no maintenance and little quality difference, so those are not really issues. 

If you’re looking to make the best financial choice, battery systems aren’t financially viable yet. You can do it, but you’ll never break even on the system. If it’s not about money, they’re worth considering for backups for short power outages for critical items in the house. To setup an “off grid” capable battery system for all power takes a lot of space and money and is really unlikely to make sense for most people.

As a general rule, doing solar electric with a high efficiency electric hot water heater is less complicated than solar hot water. I’ve struggled to find good plumbers for solar hot water and the ones who can do it correctly are not cheap. Those systems require an expansion tank, tempering valves (the water often gets too hot) and back up water heating  for cloudy days. To me, it’s not worth the extra headache and space and money they require particularly given that you still need a “regular” water heater as backup anyway. They are neat though. And once they’re common enough that any old plumber is confident setting them up, I’ll consider making the switch.

I just installed solar on my house using "Steve the Solar Guy".  http://www.stevethesolarguys.com/  He has installed over 3,000 solar systems in the Bay Area.  He's one guy, so nothing is contracted out and he takes full responsibility for getting the job done.  If you are willing to file the paperwork with the city for the permits and with PG&E you it will cost about a third less than going with one of the big or small solar sales companies.  Here's the think about the solar companies they all have commissioned sales people.  I received 15 quotes from different solar companies and I was quoted from $24,000 to $38,000 to offset 100% of my PG&E electricity bill.  My cost using Steve was $12,000 before the tax credit.  After tax credits and rebates my actual cost is just under $9,000.  And even spending $9,000 I'm finding I'm producing more electricity than we are using.  At the end of the year all of this over produced I will have to give away for free to PG&E at the end of the year.

We're ready to take the solar plunge, replacing the gas stove with something electric, and doing what we can reduce gas consumption for heating the house and water.

How many kW should I plan for?  This is where ALL of the solar sales "guys" will lie to you.  PG&E is the only power company which credits you at fair market rate as in dollars for over produced electricity.  This all depends on the rate plan you are on.  PG&E has 8 different rate plans for solar customers.  For the rate plan I am during the day PG&E "pays" or credits me $.52 for 1 kwhr of solar electricity.  Then later in the same day when PG&E is selling electricity for $0.12 kwhr I can use that $.52 credit to buy 4.3 kWhrs back.  The solar "used car" commissioned sales "guys" don't want you to know this.  The lie they tell is when you "give" 1 kWhrs, PG&E will "give" you one back.
To see what I mean you need to get this app. (Apple only)  This app uses your actual PG&E data so you can see exactly how much you would pay for each rate plan. 

PM me and I will help you understand.  Just by changing rate plans our PG&E bill dropped $800 per year.  The rate plan the solar "sales" guys were putting me on would only save me $200 per year AFTER buying there $30,000 on solar system. 

Less than 4 year my solar system will have paid for itself.  Compare that to the 8 years the solar sales guys are selling.   

Battery/powerwall defeats the cost savings of going solar.  Instead of "selling" you kWhr to PG&E for $0.52 and buying back at $0.12 you will be charging the battery effectively only getting $0.12 for the kWhr.  Worst financial decision you can make.
EV car battery cannot be used.
Community aggregation is already being done with MCE.
Solar water heating sounds good.  But you'll pay 10 - 20 times as much to heat the water.

If you really want reap the financial benefits of solar buy new/used EV or PHEV. 

Be very careful about going solar as many people are not getting what they were promised and have paid way too much.  Many of the solar companies are going bankrupt, so buyer beware! 

Again - PM my and I will share the lessons I learned.

You've received a lot of good information, but some may NOT be relevant or correct for your situation--depends on where you live, size of your system, what rate schedules are open to you.

Specifically, if you live in East Bay Clean Energy territory (Community Choice energy in many East Bay cities) and your system produces more energy than you use over a year, EBCE gives you retail rate for the excess  https://ebce.org/net-energy-metering-with-ebce/  unlike PG&E which gives you wholesale rate--approx 3-4 cents per kwh.  And since you say you may want to add electric appliances, maybe an electric vehicle, "oversizing" your system can make sense.

I agree with those who suggest you get multiple quotes.  If you are willing and able to look hard at the details, ask lots of questions, and push to talk to a knowledgable company representative, then I don't think you need a consultant...