The following post is from Heather Andrews Bias, a Nevada solarinstaller, solar installation instructor, and self-professed “PVaddict.”
In short, Heather loves solar as much as Solar Fred, perhapseven more. As a solar instructor and member in good standing with theInternational Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (local #357, LasVegas), she knows solar right from solar wrong, and she knows what tolook for in a quality solar installer. Heather recently told me about an experience with a friend, and so I asked her to repeat that story andgive her personal inside tips for checking out a qualified solarinstaller. Heather writes:
Recently, I met with Nick, a potential consumer looking to go greenby having a PV array installed on his roof. I wasn’t looking for a sale; rather, Nick’s a friend who asked that I help him decipher the bids hewas given so that he could make the right choice. I looked over each bid intently, questioned a few things, and did some extensive research.
Of seven bids, three of the contractors were not properlylicensed to connect his array to the utility grid, meaning thatNick would be required to hire an electrician at additional cost to do so in order to pass inspection. This was not disclosed to him.
Another contractor was not approved by the utility to apply for state rebates (also not disclosed), while yet another told Nickthat if the utility lost power, he would still have power to hishouse if the sun was up, even without a battery backup. In reality, grid-tied solar without a back-up will not protect youfrom a black out. The reason is to protect utility workers fixingthe electrical lines.
Of the final three bids, the prices differed wildly by over$15,000, and only one contractor performed a solar site surveyafter meeting with Nick. A proper site survey is needed todetermine shading, the condition of your home’s electrical system,and other important issues for designing a safe and efficient solar installation.
On behalf of Nick, I called these contractors and asked iftheir installers held the Nevada OSHA photovoltaic installer’slicense, a requirement for anyone performing an installation inNevada. Three of the seven contractors were under the impressionthat only the lead installer was required to have this license,though Nevada’s Revised Statutes clearly dictate otherwise.
Unfortunately, Nick’s experience is not unique. With solar quicklybecoming en vogue and many home contractors looking to cash in, I’mfinding that many small installers have little or no electricalbackground, zero hands-on training before their first professionalinstallation, and in some cases, less than 10 hours of instructionbefore they’re sent out to put together a rooftop power generatingsystem.
I strongly feel that solar should be installed by licensedelectricians. A solar array (whether residential or commercial) is amajor investment, and such things should be taken seriously. 600 voltscoming out of a typical solar array is no joke, and it takes bothknowledge and skill to work with it safely.
Solar installers and contractors have an obligation to be ethical intheir business practices, and that includes proper licensing, extensivetraining, and honest consumer education.