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Solar Is NOT A Commodity

By Mark Becker
| March 19, 2014

From: Alamo Today, Danville Today,Lafayette Today, Valley Sentinel – November 2013

As I paid for my items recently at Home Depot, I saw a Marine Corps logo on the check out clerk’s lapel. Instantly the bond of those that have served translated into smiles and the traditional “Marine greeting”. The standard questions were asked to determine if we’ve previously crossed paths while serving on this continent, or some other “clime or place.” Interestingly, we had. Also on duty in Home Depot at that time was a Korean War Veteran, and an Iraq/Afghan War Veteran. Between the four of us, we had all the major combat engagements covered from the last 65 years.

Contrary to the manner in which solar PV is marketed by Solar City and other installers, solar PV panels and other solar products are NOT commodities. Commodities are interchangeable products such as gasoline, copper or pork bellies. Treating solar panels like they are a commodity is the first step in which the sales process can simply become focused on lowest installation cost. The personnel who install the products are not of equivalent qualification either. “Commodifying” solar is simple, yet disingenuous and deceptive, but it “simplifies” the sales process for the seller. The longevity claims of solar manufacturers whose products have been in production less than 10 years are founded not in practice, but by internal, NOT independent testing. Some products have been on the market less than 4 years, and have been subject to recalls. Our licensed electrician recently performed a site visit to a solar project in Lafayette, the solar panels had electrically shorted out and failed; rendering over 50% of the system useless (and also potentially a fire hazard).

With proper product and installation team, a solar PV system will safely return hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills NOT paid to PG&E over its lifetime. The only right answer to “PROVE to me that these products will last” is manufacturer documentation of 25 plus years of performance history of that product line.

When considering a 25-year investment, ask the difficult questions and demand definitive answers. Data backs up the fact that solar panels are not created equally (remember, not a commodity). The purchase of a solar PV system can be an extremely simple or difficult process. How that transpires depends on the customer’s desire for knowledge, and their choice of installer. In person, with products and documentation at hand, a solar contractor should be able to allay any trepidations that a customer may have about roofing penetrations and electric integration (solved by our licensed roofer and licensed electrician), aesthetic concerns (solved by mutual design between installer and homeowner) and initial investment cost (solved by discussing differing payment, loan or Power Purchase Agreement options). All these details should be covered in a 30-minute presentation, all backed up by documentation of everything that is said by the contractor. In most cases, it’s more costly in PGE territory NOT to go solar.

It’s a bit perplexing how some consumers make a solar PV purchase decision solely over the Internet. Our solar Showroom is an educational facility set up to help you make the right solar choices. Drop by and we will answer any questions you might have, we’ll also provide comparisons of solar proposals free of charge. The knowledge gained in a fifteen-minute visit could save you tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. For instance, did you know that on January 1st, some Contra Costa County residents will be subject to new regulations that will reduce the amount of roof space they can use for solar PV?

While these new regulations may not affect everyone, more roof space oftentimes equals a higher return on investment from solar PV.

Much like Mayor Newell Arnerich and Danville Town Council, Home Depot is an employer who “walks the walk and talks the talk” when it comes to supporting our veterans or active/reserve service members. Perhaps next door to you there is a WWII veteran (thousands passing away daily) a Beirut veteran, a Grenada veteran, a Cold War veteran, a Somalia veteran, or a veteran from many of the other wars or actions into which our government has sent our troops into harms way. Veterans are of all race and gender, political persuasion, and economic demographic. On Veteran’s Day, thank a veteran.