Common solar scams and how to avoid them

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Common solar scams

There are many outstanding solar panel installers (as proven by the excellent reviews you can find here on EnergySage!). However, like all industries, solar has some companies that unfortunately take advantage of consumers looking to save money and help the environment. That's why it's essential to approach buying solar, like any other major purchase, by researching your options, comparing quotes, and vetting the company you use.

We're sharing some common solar scams for you to be aware of and tips for avoiding them. (Pro tip: you can use EnergySage to take advantage of the research we've already done for you to know you have a trusted installer on your side!)

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Key takeaways

  • There are various red flags to look for to help spot potential solar companies you may want to avoid. We share some tips to help you be on the lookout for them, like messages that are misleading on social media and promises or guarantees that may not be accurate.

  • You can also review the companies and quotes with certain things in mind, like their reviews, pricing, and information they share on sizing and price.

  • To research companies you're working with further, check online to see if there are any lawsuits or settlements against them or their previous names, if applicable.

  • There are legitimate ways to save money and reduce upfront costs based on where you live, your tax situation, and what equipment you install.

  • If you think you've been the victim of a solar scam, there are consumer protection agencies you can reach out to for help.

  • Sign up for a free account on the EnergySage Marketplace to compare solar quotes from trusted installers in your area, read reviews, and get financing options from reputable lenders.

You can be an informed solar shopper and increase your chances of avoiding scammers by being on the lookout for a few key things. Here are some of our recommendations for avoiding solar scams:

Avoid "Get paid to go solar" offers

The saying "there's no such thing as a free lunch" applies when shopping for solar! If you see ads on social media or have a door-to-door salesperson stop by your home and share special programs that pay you to go solar, they're likely, not legitimate. Advertisements we've seen online that are usually an indication to avoid that company include messages such as:

  • No cost solar

  • Pay nothing for solar

  • Get free solar panels and batteries

  • Get a free Tesla Powerwall

While you can often qualify for $0 down solar financing, there is never a case where you won't see a cost for solar. With $0 down solar financing, you won't have a substantial up-front expense, which will help make purchasing your system much more accessible. Typically your monthly payments will be well below the electricity bills you were paying, and then once you do pay off your solar system, you're just getting free electricity from the sun!

Solar leases, also known as power purchase agreements (PPAs), may be another option you hear about, but you'll want to review the terms to ensure they fit your needs. While you don't own the panels, payments, and terms may still impact you, especially if you sell your home. In most cases, purchasing your solar system offers the best return on investment and the greatest savings.

One way to take advantage of solar energy without installing solar panels on your home is to subscribe to a community solar farm. You won't save as much money as installing a solar system, but there is no upfront cost or installation, so it could be a great option if your home isn't a good fit for solar.

Examples of a common solar scams

The bottom line is that some of the solar ads in your social media feeds are just a bit misleading, so we recommend sticking with companies who are transparent about the costs, actual savings, and any specifics around qualifying for programs, incentives, credits, loans, or rebates.

Beware of anyone guaranteeing savings in a sales pitch

If someone tries to sell you on guaranteed savings, it's likely too good to be true. Some solar installers may guarantee that the solar system they size and install will cover a certain percentage of your energy usage based on your past electricity bills. Still, there's no way anyone can guarantee an exact amount you'll save because electricity rates fluctuate, your energy usage may change over time, and solar panels will experience slight degradation as they age. You can also estimate the time it takes you to pay off your solar panel installation or break even on your investment by calculating your solar payback period.

Fox 5 Atlanta aired an undercover report calling out some solar salespeople promising guaranteed savings that didn't come to fruition, costing the homeowners tens of thousands of dollars.

Don't believe claims of a guaranteed tax payout or check

While the federal solar tax credit (the investment tax credit or ITC) is currently set at 30%, you must qualify for it. You'll need to speak with a qualified tax professional to learn more about this, as it depends on various personal financial factors. In general, you should avoid doing business with any company that claims the ITC is guaranteed, that you'll receive the payment in the form of a check, or that they can build it into your solar system price even if you don't have any tax liability.

The bottom line: Anyone promising and guaranteeing payouts to go solar is worth checking into a bit more. Below, we also share some ways to actually save money by going solar.

To help you avoid solar scammers, you'll want to carefully review information about your installer (the company itself) and the quote you receive from them. When researching solar, you'll want to make sure you're comparing quotes from a few different local solar installers. Comparison shopping for solar helps you learn about the installers, see reviews, and compare the equipment and size of the solar system they recommend.

You'll want to check a few details to confirm that your solar installer is legitimate and ensure you understand the terms of your solar contract, price, and, if applicable, solar loan. Here are three things to check into before signing any contracts:

Ensure your installer does quality work

Selecting a solar installer with a solid reputation is essential to know that you can trust their sizing, installation, and support. A few ways to confirm you use a reliable installer include checking reviews on EnergySage or Google and asking your neighbors or colleagues about their experiences. EnergySage also provides seals of approval for top installers based on their actual past customer reviews, reputation, and responsiveness. Company profiles on EnergySage showcase installers' certifications, years in business, workmanship warranties offered, languages spoken, success stories from past customers, and other helpful details.

Know the average costs in your area

While solar pricing varies depending on your home's size, energy usage, and specific equipment, you can review the average cost of solar in your state. You can look at both price per watt ($/W) and total cost. The per-watt cost is a great way to ensure your price is in line with what others are paying nearby, regardless of the size of your system and how many panels you want. For example, you'll pay approximately $2.33/W in Arizona; in Washington, D.C., you're looking at roughly $3.41/W.

Review the sizing of your system and product details in your quote

Pricing from installers can vary substantially depending on the recommended size of your solar system and the types of equipment they quote you. As you might expect, the more solar panels you need, the higher the cost of going solar. However, getting too few solar panels may not cover enough energy usage, especially if you plan to get an electric vehicle or use a heat pump for more efficient heating and cooling. So, you want to make sure you have a large enough system. Additionally, the quality of your solar panels and inverter can mean a longer-lasting, higher-performing solar system (and can provide peace of mind if there's a solid warranty).

These are some additional ways to be an informed solar shopper:

  • Check for news stories about the company: a quick online search can help you see if there are any stories in the news or settlements involving the solar company you're looking to work with for your installation.

  • Be aware of any name changes: If you're not seeing a lot of information about a company, that might be another red flag. If you see information that the company has recently rebranded or changed names, search for information on those past names or brands. Sometimes, rebranding is a normal part of business evolution. But, they may also be changing names to avoid being easily recognized as having past fraudulent or unethical practices or lawsuits.

  • Be wary of phishing emails or robocalls: If you get an email promising you cash for going solar, think twice before clicking the link. Legitimate companies will usually share the benefits of going solar (of which there are many!) without promising specific, guaranteed amounts. However, rebates and referral bonuses are common and legitimate ways solar installers and other companies may lower your system's cost.

  • Use a trusted, vetted resource: EnergySage does the research and legwork to ensure you work with legitimate installers. Our team works closely to vet installers, verify their insurance, and confirm qualifications. We turn down installers who don't meet our stringent criteria and are dedicated to connecting you with only trustworthy, established solar installers.

  • Decide what's best for you: Solar is a big purchase, and this may be the first time you're making it. So, recognize that you may need time to weigh your options and use articles and resources to help. If anyone is pressuring you, don't be afraid to wait. You will likely want to choose the right installer and go solar as soon as possible to save money, reduce your reliance on fossil fuels, and help the environment!

There are some real ways you can save money using solar energy, including:

Reducing or eliminating your monthly electric bills

Solar can indeed help you decrease what you spend on electricity each month. Depending on your specific situation, you may reduce your bills or, in some cases, end up paying nothing each month by going solar. Your savings from solar will depend on various factors, such as your energy consumption and the size of your solar system. You can also calculate the estimated solar savings for your home using our solar calculator.

The potential to get money back on your taxes

As mentioned above, the ITC is currently set at 30%. However, it's not guaranteed since it's a credit, so check with a tax professional to learn more. Your state may also have rebates or refunds available and net metering, which allows you to earn credits from solar energy you produce that you don't use. You can find programs available by state on the DSIRE website.

Manufacturer rebates

Solar equipment manufacturers may offer rebates on certain products. You can check our promotions page to see current offers.

Choosing a reputable, vetted, well-reviewed installer is one of the best ways to minimize your risk when going solar. Sign up on the EnergySage Marketplace to read reviews, compare multiple quotes, and request financing options from our network of pre-vetted, reputable installers (for free!).

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