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Thread: SolarCity - question for the masses

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    165

    Question SolarCity - question for the masses

    I've been chatting with the folks at SolarCity for the past few weeks, and am considering installing a system. I see them everywhere, and the sales pitch is pretty convincing.

    My question for the group is: why are there so many really negative reviews? Consumer Affairs and Yelp are both filled with customers that can't say enough bad things about them.

    Does anyone here have solar in their home? Anyone with SolarCity? Opinions? Thoughts? Recommendations? I'm interested in the environmental aspect of this more than the financial, but I don't want to get saddled with something that either is way more expensive, doesn't work, or makes my house hard to sell (or leak).

    Thanks!

    Carl

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Posts
    103

    Default SolarCity: A good option with five caveats

    Dear Carl:

    I have spent quite a bit of time on residential energy upgrades. SolarCity and similar 'solar lease' programs are a good option, with five caveats:

    (1) Focus on efficiency first: Saving energy is always cheaper than producing your own. Have you, for example, insulated your attic to R48 and sealed all of the air leaks, e.g. around canned ceiling lights? If you have access to natural gas, have you installed a high-efficiency tankless water heater? Has your boiler / furnace been upgraded with a model that provides >90 AFUE? If you have a forced air heating / cooling system, does the air mover (blower) support variable speed control with an intelligent thermostat? Have you asked for an 'energy audit' and blower door test, to find the gremlins that silently steal energy from your home?

    (2) Is your home suitable for PV: Many of the homes in Wayland are shaded by trees or have roofs that do not face due south. (Ours included.) Salespeople for solar companies will sometimes overlook these problems, in the rush to book another order.

    (3) If your home is suitable for PV, can you purchase the system: The 'solar lease' model is attractive. You are guaranteed a 'low rate' with no money down -- which sounds like a no-brainer. If your home is truly suited for PV, however, it is much more cost effective to purchase a system vs lease, if you can afford the upfront cost. You do not have to purchase a bunch of batteries and figure out how to manage a complex PV system. Like the 'solar lease' systems, your PV panels can be 'grid tied'. They produce electricity and feed it to the grid when the sun shines. At night or when it is cloudy, your house pulls electricity from the grid. You sell the electricity you make for the retail price, and earn 'renewable energy' credits and federal / state tax benefits. (Move fast, however -- the current 30% federal tax credits are set to expire. See: http://energy.gov/savings/residentia...rgy-tax-credit )

    (4) The 20 year solar lease contract: Note that most solar leases include a 20 year contract. If you need to move for your job or decide to sell your home, what happens if the new buyer will not assume the contract? How much will you owe?

    (5) If something bad happens, who pays: If your solar panels are damaged by the next hurricane, who pays to fix this 'Act of God'? What about the baseball hit by the kid next door? Contract terms vary.

    In closing, 'solar leases' are popular nationwide because they allow people create renewable energy without an upfront investment -- and that's great. Just check the details, and start with insulation and efficiency upgrades.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Mark Hays

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Posts
    726

    Default I love my solar panels

    Quote Originally Posted by Carl Rosenblatt View Post
    I've been chatting with the folks at SolarCity for the past few weeks, and am considering installing a system. I see them everywhere, and the sales pitch is pretty convincing.

    My question for the group is: why are there so many really negative reviews? Consumer Affairs and Yelp are both filled with customers that can't say enough bad things about them.

    Does anyone here have solar in their home? Anyone with SolarCity? Opinions? Thoughts? Recommendations? I'm interested in the environmental aspect of this more than the financial, but I don't want to get saddled with something that either is way more expensive, doesn't work, or makes my house hard to sell (or leak).

    Thanks!

    Carl
    Carl,

    My husband and I installed solar panels on our home three years ago as part of the Solarize Wayland program. That program enabled us to lease the panels with a single upfront payment, but keep our SRECs and all the electricity we generate. Our payback on the system will be about six years. Since installation we have had virtually no electric bill. The panels have no impact on our tax assessment, but would clearly be a plus if we were to sell our home.

    As Mark suggests, conservation is an important step, too. We have insulated our house to the max, installed LED bulbs throughout our house, over time have replaced our heating and cooling systems with highly efficient ones, use programmable thermostats, etc. When they did an energy audit (required as part of the solar program), they had absolutely nothing to recommend. We have reduced our annual consumption by about 50% since where it was 10 years ago. But at the end of the day, we still use power - you can't conserve it all away. And solar is a great way (if your house works for it) to generate the rest.

    Regarding your question about roof leaks - the panels are actually a plus for your roof, as they protect it from the elements (though if you do need to make roof repairs, there would be a cost to moving the panels to enable the repair). And they keep the sun off your roof, helping to keep your house cooler in the summer.

    So do you think I love my solar panels? YES!

    Of course, I can only speak to my experience with Astrum Solar (now Direct Energy Solar). If you're interested in talking with another company to compare deals, I can send your name to the guy I worked with there. But as far as Solar City goes, I have a friend who is installing a system with them (with little or no upfront cost) - he did a ton of investigation, has reviewed their contract in excruciating detail (and compared it to other company's similar deals). He was very concerned about maintenance of the panels, guarantees on generation, etc. and he is very happy with their terms.

    Drop me a note if you want to chat offline about solar, or if you want me to point you to my friend who is going ahead with SolarCity.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    165

    Default

    Thanks for the reply Kim! I'm pretty sold on the idea of Solar Panels - lots of positives, not many negatives (other than the fact that they look terrible - but I guess you get used to it). Our house is as tight as a drum - we had Mass Save come in, and the only thing they could do for us was change out some light bulbs to LEDs. All the rest was as good as it gets.

    Our house was evaluated by Solar City, and they believe that they can put a system on the roof that will generate 8kWh. Seems like the concept is a good one, and it works with our home. I'm still concerned about the whole 20 year lease thing (who leases anything for 20 years?), and about Solar City's online reputation (which is nothing short of horrible). Perhaps Direct Energy Solar would be a better choice. If you don't mind sharing the contact info, I'd like to give them a call and see what they can offer.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Posts
    117

    Default

    We have Direct Energy Solar as well. We are very happy with them and the panels have been great. One word of warning....Avalanche. Snow accumulates on the panels and then comes off all at once.

    They have a vary generous referral program. I believe you should offer Kim as a referrer and she will get $750. Maybe she would be willing to share with you....

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Posts
    726

    Default

    Ben, I tell everyone about the avalanches. A friend who installed after talking with me about it put up a diverter that directs the snow so that it comes down in a more friendly place (in his case to avoid his front door).

    Carl, I PM'd you with contact information. I'm happy to share it with anyone who wants it, just wasn't sure he'd want it posted in a public forum.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    165

    Default

    Hi all,

    Sorry for the big delay, but let me update you on my thinking. I've read hundreds of customer reviews online, and better than 80% of them were negative. My next door neighbor had their system installed several months ago, and just 3 weeks ago, it was turned on. It immediately failed. Solar City came by and "fixed" it, and 2 weeks later, it failed again. Conclusion: the technology (or the quality?) is not yet ready for prime time. I'm going to let another year go by to allow the industry to mature, and then I'll check it out again. Thanks for the answers and support - I'll be back!

    Carl

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Posts
    103

    Default PV inverter options -- a potential alternative

    Dear Carl: Thanks for the update on your solar energy project. I'm surprised that a neighbor with a Solar City install had repeated problems -- if they installed microinverters on each panel, like the proposal they put together for our beach house. Microinverters attach to the PV panel and convert the DC output directly to AC. This eliminates a single point of failure and simplifies wiring. (One example is Enphase: https://enphase.com/en-us/products-a...microinverters) Microinverters also make local "power point" management easier (MPP), e.g. if one panel is shaded by a tree.

    The other option (which your neighbor probably had if his system completely failed) is a classic central inverter. The DC output from every PV panel is routed to the central inverter, often mounted near your main panel, where the DC is converted to AC for your house (and the grid). Central inverters cost less up front -- but if the inverter fails, no PV power. The whole PV system goes offline, and your house automatically reverts to the grid. There are a number of central inverter manufacturers, e.g. the SMA Sunny Boy: www.sma.de/en/products/solarinverters.html

    So... you may want to check with your neighbor to see what type of inverter he has, and check with SolarCity to see if they will offer microinverters on your home.

    Last but not least, microinverters give you a way to gradually purchase your own PV system -- which is much more cost effective than a "no cost" lease. You can break the upfront purchase cost into chunks. Install 4 panels now. Add 4 more later, etc. etc. With microinverters, you simply add more panels when your budget permits. You don't have to sink a bunch of $$ into a central inverter system, in one shot.

    I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have any questions: MarkAllenHays@Gmail.com

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