How to Choose A Solar Installer

Laurie Guevara-Stone shares tips on how to choose a solar installer, including checking professional credentials, training, experience and quality of products.

| August/September 2003

Learn how to choose a solar installer using these helpful tips.

Before you invest in a solar electric system, put some energy into how to choose a solar installer. If you can't find an installer listed in your hometown Yellow Pages, let your fingers do the walking on the Web. Home Power magazine ( has a searchable database of renewable energy dealers and installers, organized by state. And with chapters in 33 states, your local chapter of the American Solar Energy Society [] also may be able to provide you with a list of renewable energy installers and dealers.

Professional credentials. Some organizations train installers by guidelines set by the North America Board of Certified Energy Professionals (see "Solar Energy Educational Opportunities," in this issue). Many seasoned professionals, however, choose to not put forth the extra time or expense to become a NABCEP-certified PV installer. Instead of judging their capabilities by a certificate, you'll have to evaluate other credentials, such as their customer references.

While electricians have experience with electrical systems, PV systems may be foreign to many licensed electricians. However, if you hire an installer who doesn't have an electrical license, you also may need to find a licensed electrician to pull the permit and do the final AC hookups.

Training. Some companies who manufacture and/or distribute renewable energy products offer formal training and classes. Find out if the installer has taken advantage of any training courses provided by manufacturers. Only a handful of formal degree or training programs in renewable energy have been established and most of these programs are fairly new, so don't be surprised if the expert you hired is self-taught or apprenticed. As in many fields, experience is as valuable as classroom education.

Experience. Each PV installation is different, and the more experience with various systems, the more situations the installer will know how to troubleshoot. Find out how many systems similar to yours the installer has designed and installed. New products enter the market and new regulations are established every year. A PV installer who has performed several recent installations should be familiar with the newest products and the latest code issues.

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