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View Diary: I've Begun the Solar Investigation (126 comments)

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  •  Couple things ... (22+ / 0-)

    Jumping from the (wholesale?) price of panels to the overall installation cost is inappropriate without a reasonable discussion of the overall costs.

    The costs for the firm selling you solar isn't limited to those two electricians. (And, in fact, most installers will have far more limited use of electricians who are over-qualified for much of the work ...)

    Think about the current MD (/DC-area) sales environment, for one think.  An installer / company might have to talk to 100 people and visit/house inspect 20 homes for making one sale.  (Generic figures.) Each house visit, alone, might be 2+ hours. If we give this person the 'cost' of $25 hour, then there is a built-in cost of easily $1000 for just those 20 home visits that they will want to 'recoup' from the actual sale.  Licensing, permits, etc ...

    And, of course, one problem is that installs aren't cookie-cutter: type of panels, height of roof, length of wiring required, desired type of inverter (for example, you write of single inverter while micro-inverters are a growing share of market and help tremendously with shading issues).

    A rough rule of thumb used to be 1/2 price was panels, with rest split between other equipment and business processes/people.  While panel prices plummeted, the other aspects of the entire system haven't fallen as fast -- although there are many businesses/otherwise that are working hard to change that equation (leasing, large scale installers, vertical integration, etc ...) and addressing the full system's set of costs is a big part of ARPA-Es Solar Shot program.

    In any event, I find this inappropriate:

    The first thing I noticed was that NO solar installation company posts their prices on their website. It's as frustrating as it is transparent, and probably accounts for the reason why panels cost $1 per watt but final installations go for $6 per watt. That just isn't right.  
    1.  The above deals with fact that panels are only a share of the total package.

    2.  We don't have enough standards to enable comparing apples-to-apples.  The installation company would have to lay out a tremendous amount of information (type of panels, type of mounting, inverters type and brand, warranty, notional roof, etc ...) to be able to be honest in their "prices on the their website" and that would change frequently as the component prices change.    

    I agree that going after solar is a nightmare for the average person. There are tremendous non-fiscal barriers. I probably spoke with 20 installation firms and had five climb the roof -- and I was a "sold" person who was going to buy PV, they didn't need to sell me on "solar".  And, by the way, the bid prices varied by nearly 85% and weren't anything close to standard in terms of proposed panels/otherwise.

    Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

    by A Siegel on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 02:28:58 AM PDT

    •  Great Comments (7+ / 0-)

      I ought to have included some of that in my mea culpa at the end of the diary, and some is stuff I hadn't considered.

      But this is getting down to the crux of the matter here... $20,000 + for the installation has got to make a person wonder where corners can be cut.  My estimate for the electricians was actually only a partial labor estimate... I would guess there would be about a week's worth of physical labor laying the panels down.

      But a good portion of it is the engineering part, and who's to say I can't read the blueprints and calculate the available space and arrange the panels that I've chosen based on price, efficiency, wattage, etc., and present that to the engineer to either approve, fix, or toss in the circular file and start from scratch (and give me a good reason why).

      Your experience of 85% variation just goes to prove my premise that there are solar companies who can get away with keystoning their markup because so many people give up so quickly.  Sure, it's impossible to give a cookie cutter estimate over the web, but I really do think they're withholding that kind of information.  They could give a slight indication as to what their prices are like, and they could certainly give a materials price list or a truly detailed case study including installed cost per watt but they don't.  They could audit the past year's sales and say "installation prices run from 50% to 120% of the average materials cost depending on the following factors...."

      There is one and only one way to procure cost information from a solar company and that is to develop a personal relationship with a sales agent.  I just think if a company were able to break away from that formula they would dominate the second bid market because everyone would want to use them as a comparison vehicle.

      Yeah, that's the ticket, I retired retroactively.

      by bondibox on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 03:57:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Re the 85% ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Odysseus, KenBee

        Lots of reasons for variation -- to quality of pay to employees to equipment to established firms vs fly-by-night.  Of that 85% variation, I think that I could easily explain more than half of it without being in any form of 'questionable' (over) profiteering.

        I ended near lower end because I was second install of a newly formed company by a group of recent university graduates who had been doing energy audits and were trying to expand into solar. Their 'lead' on solar is someone who was 'in my circle' (so to speak) and was well recommended.

        Re 'labor' -- there were about five people, for a 5 kw install, from 7 am to 7 pm with about 2 hours of an electrician that day and about 2 people plus the electrician back in for a second day.

        Oh, by the way, another "cost" is that these people gave me pretty good help in navigating some paperwork issues. Count that as another couple hours (at least) of customer assistance post install.

        In addition, engineering is relatively easy but many areas (such as mine) required certified engineering drawings to get permits.  Another 'not cheap' element.

        By the way, with looking at Google maps, almost all the installation firms were able to give me a recommended system and a ballpark estimate within about 48 hours.  And most were able to give a ballpark per watt price over the phone in an initial call.

        Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

        by A Siegel on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 06:30:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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