I have worked for a number of the larger residential solarenergy companies and wanted to share my experience on how they sell so that people can best take advantage of them, LOL! This is the last year of the 30% federal tax credit which, despite the falling cost of solar is a HUGE discount and unless you are willing to wait five years or so, the cost will not be cheaper for a long time.
It is less true now although still a major factor but the cost of selling systems is HUGE. They pay either staff or a company for leads. Most salespeople are commission only, or a small salary with the real money in commissions. Commission cost is easily 20 to 40 percent of the cost of a system, kinda shocking but here is why that is. I have sat down with people and shown them a savings of $60,000 over 20 years (California and PG&E with $.30 plus electricity) and had then say "I am just not sure". That's their right but you pitch a number of systems for each sale and the better salesman were making $100k plus and I have worked with people making almost twice that, not because solar is a scam but because people are kinda stupid.
SO, here is the rough outline of how most companies work this process. Do NOT tell them you know all this or they will blow you off.
A guy comes out and prices a system. His commission is often based on sales price, but even if it isn't, his sales volume is tied to his commission so his incentive is to charge you as much as possible. They WILL offer you massive discounts to buy that day, IGNORE THEM.
Because of the high volume of "not interested/not ready/etc" answers he will get most companies have an entire process to beat that lead into the ground. Often the salesman will call afterwards in a week or two with some pitch about "our sales manager is in the area" and wants to make you a special offer and they will have some story about how they are doing some work nearby or they want to use your place for advertising, etc. So someone new (usually) will come out and repitch you, DON'T sign.
So now, most companies have phone people that will call you a few weeks later and pitch you again with an even lower cost, THESE are the people you want to negotiate with. You have gotten the major players out to your house and gotten bids from all of them. You have sat through three or four pitches and yes, those pitches will take hours. So now you know the rock bottom second or third prices from all these companies, knock off about 15% off of that and see who bites.
One thing you really want to try and get is a longer warrantee on the inverter as it is the weakest part of the system, some companies offer 10 years but longer is better as they are both expensive and likely to fail in 10 years. The panels are pretty solid, if they run for a year they will run for 30.
Lastly, the BEST way to buy a system is to have a contractor buddy sell you one for a high price on paper, install it yourself, and then the tax writeoff of the high paper price pays for the system. But not everyone can install a system by themselves. Its not legal but since Wall Street gets away with it, why shouldn't we?
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