• Energy & Power

Finding a Dealer: Self-Generation: Make your own power

Your dealer can help you analyze your loads and size your system correctly. The dealer will install your equipment, making sure that it runs properly. Dealers will also have contacts at the local utility if you are connecting your system to the utility grid.

With any major purchase, you must have confidence in the dealer’s products and services. Becoming an informed consumer will help you feel more confident in your choices. With the growth of the energy industry, the number of regional dealers, mailorder and ecommerce businesses, and local distributors has rapidly expanded. Many telephone directories contain listings for dealers under the “solar” heading. After you identify dealers, you will want to do some research to learn more about them.

Professional credentials are one indication of a dealer’s knowledge and qualifications. Ask dealers about their training, certifications, and licenses. A second consideration is the dealer’s experience in the field. How long has the company been in business? Your local Better Business Bureau can advise you whether any customers have registered complaints about the dealer. You should also ask the dealer how many systems like yours he or she has designed and installed. Ask for references, and to speak with owners of systems similar to the one you want to purchase.

A third consideration in selecting a system installer is the variety and quality of products offered for each component of the system. Because PV systems are often designed for a specific site, one company’s products may not be appropriate for all applications. Competent dealers will stock components manufactured by several companies. A variety of product options will help ensure that the most appropriate components are available for your system. When a dealer recommends a product, ask what the recommendation is based on, whether there are consumer or independent testing facility reports you can read, and whether the products are listed with Underwriters Laboratories.

Also, consider the service agreements and performance guarantees the dealer provides and the warranties given by the product manufacturers. No system is maintenance-free, nor will all components function flawlessly forever. When problems emerge with your system, what services will the dealer provide? What warranties do the manufacturers provide? What costs should you expect to pay, and which costs will be assumed by the dealer and/or the manufacturer?

Finally, you should compare prices from different dealers. Because distribution channels and dealer networks have expanded dramatically, the opportunity to “shop around” is much greater today.

If possible, approach more than one dealer about a draft design and cost estimate for your system.