If your business is starting to get serious about going solar, you need to start thinking about what questions you should ask a potential commercial solar provider. And if you’re new to solar energy, commercial solar systems, or solar panels in general, it can seem overwhelming and you might not know where to start.
What questions should businesses ask a commercial solar provider? More importantly, how will you know if the answers you get are accurate and unbiased? Having a full understanding of solar technology, and how it can play into cost savings for your business, will help you make a more informed decision about which provider to choose from. If you are in the initial discovery stage and just started kicking the tires on solar providers, we’ve come up with 8 simple questions any business needs to know the answers to before making a purchasing decision.
Question 1: Is my building even fit for a solar energy system?
Before even considering any system options from a commercial solar provider, you’ll need confirmation your business location is suitable and will require an evaluation. Typically, an explanation over the phone can give a provider enough information to determine whether or not your business site is capable of hosting a solar farm. But for a firm confirmation, you’ll want an expert to visit your location and make a determination in person after walking your site.
Things a commercial solar provider will look at when determining if a building is suitable for a solar energy system include:
Your parking lot or garage
Neighboring land to your building
The integrity of your building
The angle of the sun and shading around your building
Power grid interconnections
Before talking with a commercial solar provider, make sure you have building ownership information, historical structure reports, and any information on local ordinances handy. This information will also be important in determining whether your building can take on a solar energy system.
Question 2: How much capital will my business need to pay upfront to go solar?
When it comes to cost, asking “How much do solar panels cost?” is not the right question any business should ask. The truth is what your business could spend on upfront capital depends on many variables. The cost of solar panels varies just like the cost of a car. In the case of solar, the panels vary based on the amount of energy each can produce. Get your commercial solar provider to talk about capital for the entire project, and not just panels.
Ask about your options and explore each one with a financial expert to determine which course of action is best for your business. Do you want to buy the entire system outright? If so, the amount of capital your business will spend may depend on how much you will finance and the requirements of your lender. If you decide to lease your commercial solar energy system or enter into a solar power purchase agreement, your business may get away without any upfront capital commitment.
Question 3: What type of solar energy solution is best for my business?
In order to determine the best solar energy solution for your business, they’ll need to analyze your past and current energy needs, in addition to evaluating whether or not they can fit enough panels at your site. Many businesses consider higher-efficiency panels or an offsite solution if their building or site cannot accommodate enough solar panels. It’s important to remember there are many ways to take advantage of solar energy. It’s just a matter of finding the right solution through your commercial solar provider.
The most common locations for commercial solar solutions are rooftops, parking lot carport or parking garage roofs, ground arrays—or any combination of these. You can have the solar installation on your own site or offsite. When determining what type of solar energy solution best fits your business it’s important to think about the future of your company. Should you build just enough solar to meet your energy needs for today, or build more than you need anticipating a higher demand for energy? This could potentially provide your business with credits for any excess energy that your system produces.
Question 4: How much money can my business save using commercial solar power?
It’s important to remember that solar energy systems are meant to last for decades. When asking your commercial solar provider to give a cost savings estimate, be specific about long-term savings and now something you’d expect to see immediately. One of the main advantages for businesses going solar is the protection solar provides from volatile and rising utility costs and fossil fuel-based energy prices.
The truth is it can take a few years to break even after purchasing a solar energy system, and a trusted commercial solar provider will be upfront about that. Different quality solar panels will produce higher or lower quality cost savings based on how they perform. And higher quality panels will cost more. But if your organization decides to lease a solar energy system through a PPA, you should see savings in your energy bills right away since there are no upfront expenses required.
Question 5: What different types of solar products do you offer?
This is why it’s important to work directly with a third-party commercial solar provider over a manufacturer or a dealer. If you work directly with a solar panel manufacturer, they will tell you why their products are the best choice. This will leave you with no other options to compare against. If you start with a solar panel dealer, they will make recommendations only based on the brands they carry.
A third-party solar consultant can help you compare products that make up an entire solar energy system (like panels, inverters, mounting hardware, monitoring software, and other system components) in a completely unbiased way. While most solar companies will honestly try to find the right solution for your budget, values and energy needs, a trusted independent commercial solar provider will deliver the best solution that fits your needs without trying to get you to pay more for unnecessary system components.
Question 6: What tax incentives or other cost-saving strategies are available for going solar?
You may have heard of the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) when purchasing a solar energy system. However, it’s important to remember not everyone can receive this incentive. If you choose to install a solar, or any other renewable energy system, through a lease or PPA, then you are not eligible. The company you would be leasing the system through would qualify for the ITC and not your business.
It’s important to purchase sooner than later if you’re considering a solar energy system for your business. 2019 is the last year companies can qualify for the 30 percent ITC. After this year, the tax credit reduces by the following increments:
2020: Tax reduction of 26 percent of the cost of a new solar panel system
2021: Tax reduction of 22 percent of the cost of a new solar panel system
2022 and onward: Tax reduction of 10 percent of the cost of a new solar panel system.
Question 7: What maintenance and expenses do I need to plan for the lifetime of the system?
Solar is a long-term investment that is designed to last for 20 to 30 years. Typically, quality solar installations are generally very low-maintenance and trouble-free. However, commercial solar energy systems do require occasional cleaning, ongoing monitoring and possible repairs to continue performing at a high level. It’s important to know who will maintain the system, monitor its performance and keep it operating at maximum efficiency.
The maintenance of your system is contingent on the size and complexity of it. Your commercial solar provider should go over how to do this yourself, or often times the provider can arrange an agreement to do it for you. They can also offer performance monitoring, reporting, and as-needed parts replacement so you don’t have to worry about your system yourself.
Question 8: What other companies like mine have you done business with?
Similar to any large expense or partnership your organization enters into, you should ask for referrals from your commercial solar provider. Any good business will have a list of customers that are willing to provide a good recommendation and explanation of their experience through the entire solar energy system installation process.
We hope these questions will help you determine the right commercial solar provider for your project. There is a lot to understand about commercial solar power. But if you can enter the beginning stages of exploring solar for your organization armed with a strong understanding of what to ask and look for, you’ll have what you need to make a solid business decision for the future of your company.