Tips for hiring a solar installer

Installing a solar energy system at your home or business can be a great investment. But, like any major investment, it’s important to know what you are getting and understand the expectations of everyone involved. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Prices can vary. Get bids from several different contractors and compare their costs and offerings to see what makes most sense for you.
  2. Do the research. Turn to sources such as the Better Business Bureau and the Department of Labor and Industry to check for customer complaints and verify contractor licenses.
  3. Get references—local ones are preferred.
  4. Get clear terms and conditions on payments, when they are due, and refund options.
    • Installers frequently charge a fee to apply to the utility for interconnection and rebates. Fees can range from $100 to $1,000 and are subtracted from the total installation cost.
    • Down payments are usually made after an interconnection application and rebate or other incentives are approved. Down payments range from 40 percent to 60 percent of the contract value.
    • Installers may ask for an additional payment when equipment arrives on site or when installation is completed but before the system is in service. These payments are usually 20 percent to 30 percent of the project’s value.
    • Final payments are usually due when the system has been inspected and commissioned by the electrical inspector and utility.
  5. Understand the incentives available to you. The government and utilities offer different incentives that may sweeten the solar deal. Check out Minnesota Power’s SolarSense program.
  6. Understand how solar works and how your system is designed. Be sure the installer explains how to operate the system, how to check on the system monitoring programs, and what to do if something goes wrong.
  7. Understand your warranties. Make sure you know who is responsible if something breaks or is damaged. Make sure you have documentation that explains how to make a claim. Understand how the warranty is affected if the installer or manufacturer goes out of business.

Questions to ask before entering into an agreement

  • What is the cost of the system?
  • How much do I pay upfront? What is the payment schedule? How do I get money back if the deal falls through
  • Who is making the interconnection application?
  • What are the warranties for products and installation?
  • How much energy will my system produce? Is there a guarantee on energy production?
  • How does the utility credit us for energy? What is net metering?
  • What happens if the utility power goes out?
  • What is the anticipated payback period? How did the installer arrive at that conclusion?
  • Is the company licensed and insured?
  • What type of maintenance will be needed for my system? Who will perform maintenance?

For more information

Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. Verify contractor licensing and eligibility to work in Minnesota.

Office of the Minnesota Attorney General. The attorney general may be able to help if you are having issues with a solar installer.

Minnesota Department of Commerce. General information about various energy technologies.

Minnesota Department of Commerce. Directory of solar service and supply companies in Minnesota.

U.S. Department of Energy. General information about solar energy.

Solar Energy Industries Association. SEIA advocates for the solar industry and also has some great tools for consumers to consider when they are considering an investment in solar.

Better Business Bureau. Find out about ratings and complaints.

Clean Energy Resource Teams. CERTs are affiliated with the University of Minnesota and have solar information specific to local areas within Minnesota.