A great place to start learning about commercial-scale solar energy is by talking to a professional solar installer. This guide is designed to help you find experienced, competent and trustworthy installers in your area, and to know just what you should expect from them when they assess your business’s energy needs and solar potential.
What to Expect From Your Commercial Solar Installer
For commercial projects, the value proposition revolves around the return on investment, less so on the technology. I think most people are comfortable with the technology. We want to get them really comfortable with the savings that are going to be generated.
As a business person, you know the importance of quality workmanship, both in the products and services you produce as well as the ones you purchase. Here’s a look at what you should expect a quality professional solar installer to help you to do:
Items in one’s home or business that use electricity are called “loads”. These loads need to be measured in a practical way in order to determine the size and cost of a potential solar PV system. If a business is currently connected to a utility grid, then it already has access to load data via its electricity bill. A competent installer should be able to take that data and supplement it with data from his or her own inspection to provide the customer with an accurate electrical load assessment.
There are numerous factors to consider when choosing the right solar panels for a particular project, including size, cost, electricity generation per panel, manufacturer and warranty. A quality installer can calculate the number of panels needed and choose from among several reputable panel manufacturers to determine the right ones for the job.
Variables considered in sizing up a commercial solar system include: current load requirements; roof design and overall space available for panel placement; power generation potential; and projected system efficiency. A business’s short- and long-term goals are also important factors. An installer will take into account all of these variables and more in determining a project’s overall size.
Solar PV systems require inverters, which are the devices that “invert” the direct current (DC) generated by the system’s solar panels into alternating current (AC) that can then be used to supply your business’s electrical needs. Other required equipment includes cables, batteries, charge controllers, meters and more.
With solar panels, efficiency is key, and proper location and placement are essential to solar panel efficiency. Variables here include direction, tilt, shade, temperature, damage and maintenance concerns (due to harsh weather, interference from people and wildlife, etc.) legal restrictions, and others. Even aesthetics can play a role in the location and placement of panels. An experienced installer will consider all of these factors in his or her assessment.
Another important factor in assessing a commercial site for solar PV is the business’s buildings themselves. An installer must carefully assess building structure, accessibility and more to determine whether any issues exist regarding increased load-bearing on roofs, etc. Any structural issues must also be analyzed in light of applicable state and local building regulations.
Many business owners start out with very little knowledge about how solar PV systems work and what can reasonably be expected from a system in terms of overall performance. Competent, professional installers will be able to provide prospective customers with an accurate estimate of their property’s solar power and return on investment potential.
You can’t just open up a car lot and start selling Mercedes. You’ve got to be vetted out by Mercedes first. The same principle applies to solar installers. The higher the quality of product offerings, the better the installation company because that means they have been vetted out by the vendor.
The Commercial Solar Site Assessment: Call for RFPs
After a business has done its initial research and hopefully received site assessments from a number of reputable installers, it’s time to decide if going solar is the right choice. If the answer is “yes”, then the next step is to put out a call for requests for proposals, or RFPs. Here’s what to expect from the RFP process:
What is an RFP?
A request for proposal (RFP) is the term for the form and process employed by a business, or other entity, to obtain goods or services needed in the course of business. In this case, the service sought is the purchase and installation of a solar PV system. In other words, the RFP is a solicitation, or call out, for solar installers to bid for the business’s solar PV project.
There are a number of basic steps making up the RFP process that every business should complete in order to feel confident that it has chosen the right installer for the project. Other steps may also apply depending on the nature of the contracting business and details of the specific project. Here are the basic steps:
Write and Issue the RFP
The RFP is a written document that should include all of the essential information that the bidder will need to provide a detailed and accurate bid. The elements of an effective RFP are discussed below. Once it is written, the contracting business issues, or sends out, the RFP to potential bidders. While some entities, such as government agencies, may be required to put out an RFP to any and all potential bidders, private businesses are free to put out their RFPs to bidders of their choosing.
Elements of RFP
The elements of the written RFP will vary depending on the specifics of the project. However, there are several elements that all RFPs will likely need to include, such as contact information for the contracting company and return of bids; all specifics of the project (size, site information, building(s) structure description; energy load data, expected outcomes, etc.); site visit information; proposed time schedule; essential contract terms and deadline for return of bids.
RFP language should make clear all of the requirements that must be met (and evidenced in writing in the bid) by the potential bidder in order to qualify for the project. Crucial requirements to include in an RFP:
Designate that the bidding installer is responsible for obtaining all required permits, interconnection agreements, and other regulatory approvals.
Copies of all applicable county or city ordinances or regulatory requirements, detailed information on local permitting practices, and permit application forms.
Require the bidder to include in its bid a statement of its experience and qualifications. (e.g. completed past projects, reference letters, training, licenses, and certifications, etc.)
Require that all equipment used in the project meet applicable product codes and/or standards.
Require the bidder include a timeline of major project milestones, against which progress can be measured.
Require the installed system meet both national and international building and electric codes (as they apply).
Require the bidder include all applicable warranty information.
Include in the bid any applicable labor and resourcing requirements as stated in the RFP.
If the contracting business will assume system operation responsibilities, include the requirement that the successful bidder either hold training sessions for the business’s maintenance staff and/or provide system O&M manuals.
If the system will be owned by a third party (i.e., not the contracting business) through a lease or PPA, then the RFP should include a provision that the bidder provide a performance monitoring program in its bid.
Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL): State & Local Governments – Solar Requests for Proposals
Arrange for potential bidders to conduct a site visit
A site visit by a potential bidder is crucial to provide an accurate bid. Details of the visit are normally laid out in the RFP. In some cases, a site visit may be unnecessary if the potential bidder has already visited the site and conducted a detailed site assessment.
During the site visit, an evaluation team from the proposed bidder will: Survey the project site.
Compare what it finds with the information provided in the RFP and/or other solicitation documents.
Ask questions to clarify any doubts or issues it may have.
The evaluation team will then incorporate its site visit findings into the bidder’s formal written bid.
Review written bids and select winning installer
Once all written bids are received, it is extremely important that the contracting business goes over each bid carefully to make sure it understands every detail of the bidding installer’s proposals. That’s because, unless clearly stated otherwise, by accepting an installer’s bid, the contracting business enters into a contract with the installer to do the job.
One of the most important questions for a customer to ask is, “Who is going to do the actual installation of the project?” Is the company that’s pitching the solution also providing the solution, or are they subcontracting the work out? That’s a big one. There’s a significant amount of risk for the consumer in cases like that because then who’s responsible for warranty on the work?
Know the Code: Check Your Commercial Solar Installer’s License (really!)
When it comes to finding a reputable solar PV installer, it’s a good idea to stick with the old adage, “buyer beware.” Fortunately, there are a few things businesses can look for to help them in their installer search, like seeking referrals from previous customers, checking with the Better Business Bureau, investigating the installer’s workers’ compensation history, and listening to plain old word-of-mouth. First and foremost, though, is to confirm the state license status of any installer under consideration, which requires contacting the appropriate state’s licensing agency. You can use the map directly below to link to the licensing agency in your state.
A couple of things to keep in mind. First, it is important to understand that every state’s licensing of solar installers is different. Be sure to find out exactly what license designation, if any, is required in your state for commercial-scale solar PV installation. Second: Never simply take a contractor’s word that his or her license is in good standing. Always confirm it yourself.
State License Information and Links
Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Solar Licensing Database
Accidents Happen: Verify Commercial Solar Installer’s Insurance
Never hire a solar PV contractor or installer without proof of current contractor’s insurance. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Without it, the contracting business, and possibly the business owners themselves, may be liable for money damages resulting from an accident during the installation process. Specific legal requirements regarding contractor’s insurance vary by state, but generally speaking, having both contractor’s general liability and workers’ compensation policies in effect during solar system installation is crucial.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Workers’ compensation insurance is the policy that pays for damages resulting from work-related injury or illness to the policy holder’s (contractor/installer) employees. In most states, workers’ comp insurance must by law be carried by employers.
General Liability Insurance
General liability insurance protects the policyholder (contractor/installer) against physical and property damage to third parties (i.e. non-employees) resulting from the policyholder’s negligence. While not required by law in all states, a business contracting for the installation of a commercial solar PV system should demand proof of general liability insurance from any installer under consideration.
Insurance vs. Bond
It is important to understand the difference between a contractor being insured and being bonded. A contractor’s bond protects the contracting business when the contractor fails to complete a job, fails to pay for required permits or meet other financial obligations relating to a job. As with insurance, a business looking for a dependable solar PV installer should be sure that the installer is both bonded and fully insured.
Commercial Solar Advances: Tech Trends Your Installer Should Understand
Customers want to know that they’re getting the newest technology when they buy a computer, phone or appliance. Patients want their doctors to know about the most recent innovations in practices and procedures when it comes to their medical treatment. It’s about knowing you’re getting the most powerful tool for your money. The same thing can be said for business owners looking for a solar PV system. And a willingness to keep up with the latest innovations in solar technology is another important factor when choosing a commercial solar installer.
Here’s a look at some of most recent cutting-edge solar energy innovations that both you and your installer should know about:
According to IBM, human beings now create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, which means that 90 percent of all data in the world was created within the last two years. Recent improvements in collecting, storing and interpreting these huge amounts of data have driven countless new technologies in the digital world, including more efficient and effective monitoring of solar PV systems. And more efficient monitoring means reduced operating costs.
As mentioned earlier, a key component to any solar PV system is the inverter, which converts the DC electricity generated by the system’s solar panels into consumable AC electricity. Inverter technology, especially for string inverters, is evolving , allowing for more efficiency and the resulting reduced energy costs. Combining components (such as the inverter, transformer, recombiner, and switchgear) into a single unit is also leading to cost reduction and higher reliability.
When it comes to battery technology, a lot of attention today is being placed on batteries for electric vehicles. Make no mistake, though, innovations in EV batteries will have a significant effect on battery storage for solar PV systems. Emerging technologies are being developed for a number of battery types, including: solid-state lithium-ion batteries, the most common battery storage technology today; and lithium-sulfur batteries, which were used in combination with solar panels to power the three-day flight of the Zephyr-6 unmanned plane.
Balance of system, or BOS, refers to the combination of all components of a solar PV system. According to the non-profit Rocky Mountain Institute, while solar module costs have come down significantly, BOS costs have remained a “barrier to large PV adoption.” Innovations to BOS are in the making, however, such as Beamreach Solar’s lighter, integrated module/racking systems that the company claims can be installed five times as fast as standard racking systems.
That’s right, drones. DroneDeploy, a commercial drone software platform provider, uses drone-based thermal imagery to increase efficiency in solar panel installation and inspection. DroneDeploy technology also supports the solar PV installation and design process and is used by the largest solar energy companies around the world to install roof panels and map solar farms.
The biggest misconception [by a new customer] is that the system is going to offset more than they think it is. The reality is that you are talking about a technology, that on most big commercial projects, takes a big system to offset 20 percent of their electric needs. After they realize that, then it’s time to talk about return on investment.
Commercial Solar Installers
Here’s a list of some commercial solar installers across the U.S. Also, be sure to check out the lists of solar contractors on our state pages.
Bakersfield, CA 93380 855-800-7652
A-C Solar is a full-service solar company serving California’s Central Valley. A-C Solar produces detailed financial models for clients that compare current utility rate structures with future solar energy production to calculate projected savings.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311 888-735-2641
Advanced Green Technologies (AGT) specializes in the design, procurement and construction of commercial, industrial, and utility-scale solar energy projects throughout North America and the Caribbean. AGT has installed 200 MW of solar energy systems.
San Diego, CA 92108 888-898-6273
Borrego Solar offers development, design, engineering, procurement, construction and operations and maintenance services. The company specializes in educational facilities, local and state governments, small and large corporations, water agencies and districts, commercial real estate developers and owners, independent power producers and investor-owned utilities.
Salt Lake City, UT 84119 801-977-7505
A joint venture between the Brahma Group, Inc. and Hunt Electric, Inc. Brahma Hunt offers engineering, procurement, construction and maintenance services for the purpose of creating more efficient clean energy solutions that yield better return on investment.
Visalia, CA 93277 559-667-9200
CalCom Solar specializes in designing, permitting, building and optimizing solar energy systems for agricultural businesses. CalCom has been responsible for some of the largest agricultural solar installations in the California’s Central Valley.
Carlsbad, CA 92010 760-603-1933
Cenergy Power is a solar developer and installer of agricultural, commercial, industrial and utility-scale systems. Its integrated capabilities provide businesses with an annual internal ROI on clean power investments of up to 25 percent.
Austin, Texas 78744 800-504-2337
Freedom Solar is a full-service contractor providing solar PV design and installation directly to the residential, commercial and institutional markets. Freedom Solar has installed more than 13 megawatts of solar power for hundreds of residential customers and corporate clients such as Whole Foods, Office Depot and the University of Texas.
Oakland Park, FL 33334 954-236-4599
Florida Solar One installs, services and repairs commercial solar PV and solar water systems throughout Florida and the Caribbean. All company employees are Certified Solar Installers with experience in hurricane prone regions.
Atlanta, GA 404-609-7005
Hannah Solar is a full-service, NABCEP-certified solar integrator providing engineering, products, installation and service throughout the Southeast. Hannah Solar maintains offices in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, Ashville, North Carolina and Greenville, South Carolina.
Atlanta, GA 30307 404-692-3617
Inman Solar is a full service, NABCEP-certified Installer of solar PV systems. Based in Atlanta, Inman develops, designs and installs commercial- and utility-scale solar systems for businesses throughout the United States.
South Burlington, VT 05403 802-658-3527
Peck Electric is a full-service electrical company providing solar PV services on the residential, commercial and industrial scales. Peck’s solar division is capable of designing and installing solar arrays, from concept to maintenance, from 1kW to 1MW.
Hawthorne, NJ 07506 973-653-9880
Pfister Energy designs, installs, and services a wide range of renewable energy and energy efficiency products and services including solar PV, solar heating and lighting, wind turbines and others. Headquartered in New Jersey, Pfister Energy also maintains offices in Maryland, Georgia and Florida.
Fresno, CA 93711 559-438-1074
Pickett Solar sells and installs agricultural, governmental and commercial solar systems in Fresno, Clovis and other communities throughout the greater Central California area. Pickett Solar customers can benefit from up to 72 percent in offsets.
Atlanta, GA 30318 404-885-9898
Radiance Solar has completed more than 200 solar projects, including multiple 1 MW installations and up to the 20 MW Camilla Solar Plant. Radiance Solar primarily serves the Southeastern U.S., but additionally offers design, engineering and procurement services for clients nationwide.
New York, NY 10018 212-935-2500
Safari Energy offers clients a fully integrated business model, including site identification, permitting, financing, design and installation through ongoing asset management. Headquartered in New York City, Safari Energy has completed projects throughout the U.S.
Largo, FL 33777 800-329-1301
Solar Source is a licensed solar contractor that specializes in residential, commercial and industrial solar projects. Solar Source has installed hundreds of commercial solar projects ranging in size from 6kW to the first 1 MW system in the Southeast at the Orange County Convention Center.
Hopkinton, MA 01748 888-538-7599
Solect Energy Development is a full-service solar photovoltaic (PV) project developer with more than 200 projects and over 32 MW of total solar energy installed. Solect is one of the largest commercial solar developers and installers in Massachusetts.
Rockville, MD 20850 301-944-1200
Based in Maryland, Standard Solar is a full-service development, construction, integration, financing and installation provider. Standard Solar has been named one of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S. for four consecutive years.
Roseville, CA 95678 866-600-6800
Sunworks designs and installs solar PV systems for residential, commercial, agricultural and municipal customers throughout the Greater Sacramento, Northern California, and Reno, Nevada regions. Commercial systems range from 2.5 kW to multi-megawatts in size.
Branchburg, NJ 08876 908-534-1302
Vanguard Energy Partners is a national solar construction firm that has designed and installed more than 55 MW of solar projects since 2003. Vanguard maintains offices in Branchburg, NJ; Brooklyn, NY; and Stuart, FL