Solar energy offers you the chance to save money on your electric bill and be less dependent on “the grid.” But solar power scammers take advantage of consumers with schemes to take their money for little or nothing in return. Let’s power up your knowledge to protect your wallet.
How home solar power works
You’ve probably seen the silicon semiconductors on solar panels that convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. This electricity passes through a converter that changes it to alternating current (AC), which most home appliances use.
On days with good sunshine, the panels generate enough electricity to power your home. Sometimes the panels even generate more power than you need. In that case, if the house connects to an electric utility, a special meter known as a net meter will transmit the excess power to the company. In return, the company will credit you. At night and on overcast days, you can draw upon those credits to power your home. You may also have batteries that charge by day and power the house at night and on cloudy days.
Smart shopping for solar power
If you’re interested in converting your home to solar energy, study up on the details of home solar power generation, equipment, installation, and operation. As with any home service contractor, it’s best to research solar power providers and get multiple estimates from vetted providers.
How to find those providers? There are both large national providers and local ones. National providers don’t necessarily offer the best prices, as local providers are eager to compete. But mingled within the local providers may be players who are not reputable. Energy Sage is a home energy website that screens providers in your area. And other consumer sites can also help. The Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, and Home Advisor can help locate reputable solar energy providers. Look at the consumer ratings, how long the provider has been in business, and any complaints filed against them.
Here’s what to be aware of in choosing a solar energy provider.
- Telemarketing and door-to-door sales are common solar energy marketing techniques. Although it’s not a given that companies using these practices are scammers, you should be cautious when you aren’t the one to initiate contact with a provider. It’s safer to contact the companies you choose.
- Don’t let yourself be pressured into a quick decision. Home solar energy systems are a big-ticket purchase, so don’t be rushed. Resist the enticement of purported big discounts some providers offer for acting on the spot.
- Requiring payment in advance or a big down payment is a red flag. Don’t be pressured to do either.
- A reputable provider works on the basis of a contract that sets out the obligations of both seller and buyer. If the salesperson provides an estimate but no contract, look elsewhere. Those promises are unenforceable without a written agreement.
Both state and federal tax credits are available for the installation of solar energy systems. The Investment Tax Credit provides a federal tax credit equal to 26 percent of your solar purchase cost, with no cap. State tax credits vary greatly, so research what your state offers.