Wednesday, November 5, 2014

5 Common Questions Solar Customers Ask

5 Common Questions Solar Customers Ask
 (and my answers)

By: Eugene Wilkie

I have often been puzzled by the misinformation that potential customers of solar repeat to me. Is it other solar companies? Is it the news or the internet? There are certain elements of solar that I assume everyone knows but you know what they say about when you ass u me.

When I first started in the solar industry over 26 years ago it was a time of group learning. Those of us in the trenches were consistently comparing notes and trying to improve and deflect cost. I was established in the Northwest and the majority of customers were farmers (legal and not so PUFF PUFF legal) It was very difficult building a business that was founded on secrecy so I headed for warmer weather and the higher electrical prices of Central America. Equipment was hard to come by and often unreliable so hybrid systems were the norm. Solar was strictly to supplement - basically to trickle charge a battery.

It was often a fly by the seat of your pants, engineering on the spot and hours of long distance hashing out solutions with your buddies. Calling to the US from Central America was quite expensive back then. Often times manufacturing your components on the job was the only solution.  It was hard but it was fun and living in the Caribbean was not so bad.

My point in all this is that today anyone can get  information about solar at their finger tips. It is readily available via internet. There are so many great solar and renewable news sites that daily write in-depth articles. It amazes me to see multiple articles daily hit my email. I greedily read each with pride, remembering when folks thought I was nuts in the early days for my career choice.

How do we begin to educate the masses on what solar really is, what are the true benefits and who really is presenting a true value add? So I thought I would list a couple of the common questions we hear and give a short answer. These are my opinions and  I always suggest to do your own research as there are mountains of articles now written by very qualified folks.

1. How long does a solar system last? = Mono and Poly silicon panels could last, if they stay sealed for 100 years (why the manufacturer is so important). It is the inverter, like any electronic, that has a limited life but they can last 25 years (why the manufacturer is so important)

2. Is it better to lease or to own? = For the customer it is always better to own but the solar company makes more money if you lease. Companies that lease are financial institutions that provide solar. Leasing models were born out of the inability to secure financing for customers in the early days through traditional financial institutions.

3. What are the incentives for installing solar? = This is the one that is always location sensitive and often takes the most amount of time to explain. One of the greatest sites to help but can still be a bit confusing for the customer is 

4. How does solar work? = I like to just show this picture

5. What is the Return on Investment (ROI)? = Here is where I start getting excited today. When I first started it was longer then the system was good for. The easiest way I have come up for explaining today is to use the scenario if you pay 100% cash. Here in Washington State it is usually between 3-7 years depending on the customer i.e. agriculture, commercial and residential. The amount of time for ROI is also effected if using financing. Fortunately because the State of Washington will pay you up to $0.54 a KWh up to $5,000 a year, the banking institution we utilize have very good rates and approve the majority of our customers.

There are usually more questions specific to the customer. What a exciting time in our industry when you can look a customer in the eye and with clear conscience advise them this is a really good investment and you are helping the planet. 

By: Eugene Wilkie

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