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Why multiple solar designs are important

As consumers shopping for a rooftop solar energy system for our home, my wife and I realized just how varied the responses were from solar salespeople. The variance was not just in terms of pricing or equipment offered. In fact, the most striking difference was in the variation of the solar system design itself.

Installers have different approaches to providing quotes

One solar company suggested that I use my entire roof, including a portion just above my attached garage.  This system was comprised of nearly 50 solar panels and seemed a bit excessive for my taste.  Another company used just the top ten feet or so of my roof to maximize the solar energy produced per square foot of space (since that’s the sunniest part).  Yet another used just one large section of my roof from the ridge vent down to the gutters and did not place panels anywhere else.  

In addition to the locational differences of the panel designs, the layout of the solar panels was also considerably different across providers.  Most were consistent in placing all panels in portrait orientation (panels are rectangular in shape, so portrait orientation means the long side is vertical), while some designs included a mix of orientations in order to fit as many panels as possible into the space.  Some clearly took into account various obstructions on the roof – like skylights and vents – while others seemed to panel right over them in their design sketch-ups.  Of course, panels cannot be placed over windows or vents (unless vents are re-routed), so these designs would not be viable and would mean that the system size would likely need to be reduced after a full inspection of the property was completed.

Solar shoppers value installer flexibility

The process of reviewing designs and discussing the pros and cons of various approaches helped us to determine what was important to us and to finally land on a design that met our needs.  While we were eager to reduce our utility bill as much as possible (meaning installing a system that produced the most energy relative to the electricity we use), we were also interested in maximizing our financial return (this is really about getting the most solar energy production for the cost) and achieving a design that looked nice (for us and for potential home buyers down the road).  

As we reviewed designs with solar companies and asked for changes to their designs based on what we learned from talking to other providers and doing our own research, some solar companies insisted that their designs were optimal already and seemed unwilling to rethink their designs. One sales rep, however, was more than willing to sketch up several designs and engage in a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of each approach. He listened to our feedback and was very responsive in providing a multitude of options with associated system sizes and energy production estimates. We liked this company the best because of their flexibility and customer-centric approach – and we ultimately selected them for our solar project!

Multiple viewpoints will lead to the best outcome 

The process of reviewing solar energy system designs from a handful of reputable companies is an educational experience that really helped us to find a design and a solar company that we were happy with in the end. This experience is essential for anyone interested in going solar. Having varying design viewpoints helps to ensure that consumers have all of the possible system designs on the table in the review process to make sure you don’t miss the option that best meets your needs.  

The EnergySage Marketplace provides an excellent platform for reviewing multiple solar system designs from a handful of great companies.  Other online platforms limit this sort of solar company engagement, or limit the design to one, and this may ultimately move consumers in the direction of a suboptimal system design. Get started on EnergySage today!

About EnergySage

EnergySage runs the largest vendor-neutral, online solar marketplace. Developed in 2012 with funding from the US Department of Energy, EnergySage is dedicated to information, transparency and choice. Our suite of online tools and resources help consumers research and shop for solar.

Our rooftop solar marketplace presents property owners with multiple solar quotes from pre-screened installers in a unique apples-to-apples format, and provides live support from expert Solar Advisors. The Community Solar Marketplace provides community solar FAQs and connects customers with projects in their area.

In addition to making these tools publicly available, EnergySage works with a range of organizations – from utilities like National Grid to state agencies like The Connecticut Green Bank – to aid their audience in getting started with solar.

Want to learn more about what makes EnergySage different?

Contact the author:

John Gingrich
SVP, Strategic Partnerships

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