Solar Panel Installation and Solar Installer Terms
Bankability – The measurement of how likely a solar company will be in business in the future. A solar manufacturer’s bankability is dependent on a number of factors, including market share, the number of years in business, financial strength, etc. A homeowner wants to be sure the equipment used on their install is manufactured by a bankable company with a high degree of likelihood that they will be in business and able to honor their warranty in the event of defective equipment.
Building Inspection – After a solar PV system is installed, the installation company must schedule a building inspection with the city or AHJ (authority having jurisdiction). On the day of the inspection, a rep from the city meets at the homeowner’s residence with a rep from the solar installation company to ensure that the project was installed with a level of quality and that the system is safe and in compliance with all relevant city codes. After passing inspection, the solar installation company applies for permission to operate with the local utility.
Certified Dealer – A solar installation company who is obligated by the parent company to sell one particular brand of solar panel.
Change Order – A change order is a document that details changes to a solar system design or scope. This is required when the engineering plans must be changed after they have already been signed.
Customer Acquisition – The cost an installation company incurs to acquire a new customer. Typically these costs could also be thought of as marketing expenses. In the solar industry, customer acquisition costs are notoriously high. Often times, large companies use door-to-door canvassing techniques or employ telemarketing call center workers to solicit new customers. Pick My Solar reduces the customer acquisition costs for installers by providing them with a large base of customers who are interesting in finding the best deal on the market.
Design Engineer – The individual who creates a customized solar system design for a homeowner. They use irradiance data to determine where to put the panels and electrical engineering principles to design the wiring and inverter.
Homeowner Association (HOA) – This is an organization that sets rules for a residential community. Rules are typically set to preserve a certain aesthetic appeal and prevent a neighbor from infringing on another neighbor’s experience. Homeowners who want to go solar will need to get approval from their HOA. However, the California Solar Rights Act has streamlined this process and the HOA may not request changes that significantly reduce the system performance or increase the system cost.
Interconnection Paperwork – Standard utility paperwork that a solar installation company will have the homeowner sign. The solar installation company is then required to submit this paperwork, as well as other required documents, to the utility to apply for permission to operate (PTO).
Irradiance Map – A map which takes into account local obstructions and shows the average amount of sunlight a rooftop area receives. These maps are used to determine which locations are ideal for solar panels.
LIDAR – Light Detection and Ranging, LIDAR, is a technique used to measure distances. It works in the same way as RADAR, but uses light waves instead of sound waves.
Local Solar Installer – A local installation company who conducts business in a local geographic region.
Maintenance – Solar panels have no moving parts. The two primary components of a solar PV system are panels and inverters. Due to the fact that these are very simple systems, the maintenance requirements are equally simple. Cleaning off panels with a hose is the only regular maintenance requirement and inverters may need to be replaced once every 15 years.
National Solar Installer – This is a solar installation company that does business all across the United States.
Online Monitoring – Most solar PV systems will come with a monitoring system. A monitoring system tracks the energy production of the solar panel over time and displays that data in an online portal. This enables the homeowner to easily see how well their panels are performing.
Operations and Maintenance (O&M) – Typically, costs for construction projects are broken down into capital costs and operations and maintenance costs. These are recurring costs that the customer must pay to keep the system performing at an optimal level. In the solar industry, the capital costs are relatively high, but the O&M costs are very low due to the low incidence of equipment failure.
Permission to Operate (PTO) – Once a solar PV installation is complete and has passed city inspection, the final step is for the installation company to apply for permission to operate. Once the utility grants PTO (waiting times can range from 2 days to 30 days), a homeowner is able to switch on the power of their system.
Permit – A written authorization given by a city, county, or another AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) giving the solar installation company permission to install a solar PV system on a customer’s property.
Price Projections – The average turn-key installed price of a solar PV system in a particular geographic region.
Remote Design – This is a method of designing a solar PV system which does not require the installation company to come out to the homeowner’s residence. A potential PV system can be analyzed using satellite imagery and irradiance data to determine the optimal location for solar panels. These tools can take nearly every facet of a project into account, including trees!
Required License – Most states require solar companies be licensed by the state’s licensing board to ensure that when a homeowner hires a solar company, the company has the proper training and is ethical.
Sales Commission – The money sales reps earn by selling solar PV systems. Typically, this amount could be anywhere between 3% – 8% of gross system price.
Shade Analysis – To accurately calculate and analyze how much energy a solar system will produce over the course of a year given a certain amount of shade from trees and other obstructions. Shade analyses can be performed with data obtained from software such as Aurora or from rooftop-derived data obtained from handheld devices, like the Suneye by Solemetric.
Site Assessment (or Site Evaluation) – A site assessment is when a technician representing an installation company comes to the homeowner’s residence to analyze their house for solar capability. This can take an hour or two. With the advanced software tools available to the solar industry, some site assessments can be conducted remotely.
Solar Consultant – A solar consultant is an expert in the solar industry and can guide a homeowner through the solar process. They collect information about the homeowner, obtain bids from several installers, assist during installation, and maintain contact with the homeowner continuously after the project is completed to ensure a quality experience is provided.
Solar Consultation – A solar consultation is the first step in the solar process. A solar consultant will talk with the homeowner about their energy usage, solar preferences, and financing options to begin putting together a proposal.
Solar Dealer – A solar company whose primary focus is the distribution of solar PV equipment. These type of companies typically focus in one or two brands of panels, as opposed to Pick My Solar who deals in a wide variety of brands.
Solar Panel Cleaning – Solar panels typically do not require cleaning as rain does a good job in washing away debris that may otherwise negatively affect your system’s production. However, in areas that receive little rain, there is no harm in cleaning the modules every 3 to 6 months to maintain the maximum power production. Over time, dirt and dust build up on the panels reducing the panel efficiency. If you decide to hose off the panels, we would recommend doing so in early in the morning (before the sun is hitting them) or late at night (after the modules have cooled down from the direct sunlight exposure during the day).
Solar Pathfinder – A solar pathfinder is a device that tracks the sun across the sky and captures the shading information for a specific location. This information, combined with global solar data, estimates a proposed system’s annual solar irradiance for that location and is used for computing system production.
Solar Provider or Solar Installer – The company (licensed contractor) who installs the solar PV system (panels, inverter, balance of system) on a homeowner’s property.
Solar Quote, Proposal, or Bids – A solar quote is an estimated cost for the system, usually expressed verbally. A proposal is more formal than a quote and usually presented in written form. A solar bid on the Pick My Solar platform is an offer to install a particular system for a particular price. Customers typically pay 20% less than expected market price.
Trenching – Process of digging a new trench for the electrical cables serving a household. This process is occasionally required for a rooftop solar PV installation and always required for a ground mounted system.