Protecting Yourself from the ‘Other Guys’ Op-Ed Explainer

By Roger Horowitz, Patrice “Pete” Parsons and Rich Strömberg

Solar installers work long hours on rooftops preparing supporting hardware and other components of renewable energy systems.

Solar installers work long hours on rooftops preparing supporting hardware and other components of renewable energy systems. (Credit: Laksh Muchhal, U.S. Department of Energy, Flickr)

There are a lot of great solar installers in the industry who provide reliable products to build affordable arrays with quality and skill. However, from time to time, we hear reports of the ‘other guys’ – the companies that are in it to make a quick buck and move on to the next sale.

Warranty service or Operations & Maintenance? These may be lacking or nonexistent.

Solar arrays that miss the energy production estimates by a significant margin? These can leave well-intentioned array owners with a bad experience.

While this is not the norm, we want to caution would-be solar-array owners and provide pathways to prevent poor customer satisfaction.

Some recent anecdotes about poorly installed solar that we are personally aware of include the following:

1) A woman purchased a home with a preexisting leased solar array that was installed on an older roof. The original installer should have advised the prior homeowner to get a new roof before installing an array that would undoubtedly require removal and reinstallation before the end of the 25-year PV module warranty period.

That installer went out of business, but a new company bought the lease and now wanted to charge the woman a lot of money to remove the array for the roofers to do their work and then reinstall the system. They quoted her a price for the work equal to buying a brand-new solar array.

Since the lease company owned the array, they wouldn’t let another installer do the work at a lower cost. The homeowner was also offered a buyout of her remaining lease at a price much higher than the current value of her PV system.

2) A company installed solar panels on any available roof space instead of focusing on unshaded roof space that would have a good power-production factor.

3) A commercial solar array was mounted horizontally (instead of at an angle) on a flat roof in Florida where rainwater was allowed to pool on the modules and seep behind the front-side glass, causing rippling of the ethylene vinyl acetate encapsulant film and allowing algae to grow between the glass and the silicon cells.

Further, the inverters were mounted outside, which resulted in the ventilation fans pulling in corrosive, salty sea air into the sensitive internal electronics. This system stopped working and the customers did not have a good solar experience.

4) A commercial array in Colorado had a building owner who had a third-party power purchase agreement and was billed regularly for the supposed solar production despite the system not producing.

The installer had not worked to repair the offline inverters for more than a year, but was providing a fraudulent bill to the building owner, who was double-paying for electricity.

5) A large, extremely reputable national solar company worked with a company that was providing it sales leads in the Houston area. After the large company had installed a system based on one of these leads, the customer didn’t understand why her bill was not zero.

She had been promised by the salesperson that her solar array would cover her entire electric bill. She didn’t have a clear understanding of the contract and certainly didn’t understand the credit that would be paid to her.

When the solar company heard about all the promises that had been made on their behalf, they went back and repaid her the entire amount of the system, which was fortunate for her in this case, but there are plenty of examples of these poor practices happening across Texas.

While several of these anecdotes relate to leased arrays, this is not to say that all leased arrays should be avoided. In many larger commercial arrays, any system larger than what is allowed for net metering (typically larger than 25 kW) is frequently owned by a solar company that operates and maintains the system and sells the power produced to the building owner at a rate less than the utility retail rate.

Residential lease arrays might be an attractive option for homeowners who don’t want to buy or finance their own systems. The primary considerations for leased arrays are 1) to be cognizant that the lease is an encumbrance should the homeowner wish to sell their home before the end of the lease period and 2) to seek transparency about the energy produced and system health/performance.

What are the costs to buy out the lease early? Are there penalties to an installer if the system underperforms? What are the costs and logistics if the array needs to be removed for roof repairs? These factors might cause a prospective solar array owner to revisit a home equity loan or even forego a solar array until a later date.

Inspired by the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, lots of folks are interested in installing solar all over the country. Along with reputable solar companies, there are plenty of solar scams and misleading solar advertisements out there, particularly on social media. Here are several pathways a prospective solar-array owner can follow to protect their interests and ensure the best possible option based on their particular needs.

1) You should beware of ads and salespeople claiming free systems or a time-limited program that you need to sign up for immediately.

2) Some companies are counting on you not doing your research and selling expensive systems or systems without warranties. Do you really need an array this large? Is a battery/energy storage system actually needed if the local utility doesn’t have time-of-use rate structures?

Time-of-use rates are used when an electric utility charges a higher per-kWh rate at times each week when energy demand is high and lower rates when demand is low.

A battery energy storage system can help the array owner draw excess power from the battery rather than from the grid during high-usage-rate periods. The system can also push excess power back onto the grid during high-usage-rate periods and use nighttime power from the grid to recharge the battery when usage rates are low.

2) Solar United Neighbors (SUN) has a National Solar Help Desk (, which provides free support for people looking to go solar. SUN is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that can help you find local installers and can review solar proposals and contracts free of charge. We and SUN always recommend getting three solar proposals and making sure to check the warranties on the systems to make sure that the installer and manufacturers have a long-term plan to help you if your system isn’t working.

3) In general, we recommend using the monitoring app that comes with your solar systems to track performance. We also advise having a solar professional take a look at your system in person every five years.

4) When it comes to choosing an installer, make sure to read every online review that you can find and call or meet multiple local references from the solar installer. A lack of local references and lack of online reviews is generally a red flag when it comes to solar companies. Scrutinize these online reviews to confirm their legitimacy.

5) Talk with your neighbors who have solar arrays.

6) Lastly, join your local chapter of the American Solar Energy Society ( to network with system owners who can provide advice and share their knowledge.

Best of luck in finding the right solar array for your needs. We love our systems and want the same for you.

About the Authors

Roger Horowitz is the director of Go Solar Programs at Solar United Neighbors, where he combines his passion for community organizing with his love of solar energy. He loves supporting families as they go solar and is especially interested in equitable financing.

Patrice “Pete” Parsons is a seasoned strategist with more than two decades of experience. She is the executive director of the Texas Solar Energy Society, where she creates programs to educate and inspire every Texan to adopt solar energy as part of an equitable 100%-clean energy future. She is a member of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES).

Rich Strömberg is the vice chair of the ASES Photovoltaics Division. He is a doctoral student focusing on the reuse of solar photovoltaic systems for social and ecological benefit. He is a co-founder and the director of Equitable Solar Solutions.™

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