Go Solar Without Breaking The Bank

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solar panel installation

This is the second article in a three-part series on ways to save money while going solar.

In “My Solar Discount Secrets,” I provided tips for homeowners who have decided to go solar but who want to do it at discounted prices. The focus was on purchasing a manufactured solar panel system from a solar dealer. This article is about buying your components wholesale and having a contractor install them, while a future article will focus on buying your system wholesale and installing it yourself.

As discussed previously, the simplest way to execute a solar panel project is to hire a solar panel dealer to handle the entire job. Of course, that’s also the most expensive way to do it. One of the ways you can save money is by purchasing the components online or from a local dealer, then hiring a local contractor or a solar dealer to install them for you.

If you decide to go this route, following are four steps you’ll need to take to source your wholesale solar components for the best price.

Overview Of Options

One challenge that you may run into as you’re looking for the best prices on solar panels is that some solar dealers who have been around for a while have good relationships with distributors and possibly even with manufacturers. Because they buy in bulk, they can get better prices than the public can.

Compounding this issue for people who want to buy their own panels and hire someone to install them is the fact that some solar panel manufacturers will sell products to solar dealers but not to distributors. On the plus side, the prices for solar panels have dropped dramatically over the past decade, so your price might be comparable to what a solar dealer would charge you, due to his mark-up.

Still, it doesn’t make sense to buy panels yourself for roughly the same price that you would pay your solar installer for them. The keys are to make sure a solar dealer tells you exactly how their charges break down between materials and installation and, if possible, to find a distributor who will sell solar panels to you directly at a better price than you can get from a solar dealer.

What To Look For

The good news is that there are always online distributors slashing their prices on their overstocked inventory. Because solar panels are becoming more and more efficient, distributors will frequently scramble to clear out their “old” panels to make room for new, highly anticipated lines of more efficient solar panels coming from the manufacturers.

Here’s a list of a few online dealers who can offer discounted solar panels:

  • Solar-sphere.com
  • Wholesalesolar.com
  • Solarelectricsupply.com
  • Affordable-solar.com
  • Mrsolar.com

Negotiation Tips With Solar Dealers

Before you inform your solar dealer that you are considering supplying the panels and inverters yourself, wait for him to give you a full bid. That way, he will be pretty much locked into the installation costs that he’s quoted you. If you tell him about your plans up front, he may load up the installation side of his charges and lower the materials cost so that he can make a better profit off of you.

Once you’ve told a solar dealer that you may be supplying panels and inverters yourself for him to install, he will probably tell you that he can obtain those items for less money. He may be correct; but if you’ve found a deal for panels that are less expensive than the ones he is offering, tell him that if he won’t install them for you, you’ll find someone else who will.

Another way that a dealer might try to persuade you to buy panels and inverters from him is through a guarantee scare. He’ll guarantee the wiring and installation of the panels, but he might tell you that his warranty won’t cover any problems with the panels themselves. If you’ve acquired reliable panels, that shouldn’t be a problem for you.

Find Components Online

If you are fortunate enough to have a solar retailer within driving distance, go there in person and talk to one of the floor sales reps. They should be knowledgeable about the pros and cons of the various panels they sell, and they should be able to point you in the right direction to find a solar dealer to install the system for you.

Otherwise, you will probably have to do some Internet searching if you’re choosing to buy the balance of system (BOS) components yourself. There are numerous online solar BOS retailers available, but check them out thoroughly through the Better Business Bureau and through customer reviews to find the most reputable ones. If you’re paying for new panels, make sure you’re not getting used ones.

Warranties and power tolerances are also very important. A common guarantee is 90 percent of the rated power for 10 years and 80 percent of the power for 25 years. A 200-watt solar panel with a power tolerance of plus or minus 10 percent means that the panel may produce 10 percent less than its nameplate rating of 200 watts.

An inverter is another component where you may be able to realize big savings. Larger inverters are more readily available now than previously, so most residential systems will require only one central string inverter. Most grid-tied inverters fail between years 10 and 15, so try to find the longest warranty possible. Don’t forget to keep shipping charges in mind.

If you’re confused about anything in a manufacturer’s offering, call. The manufacturer wants your business and should be willing to do whatever it takes to get it, including answering all of your questions.

A few top-selling solar PV panel manufacturers are:

  • Sharp Solar
  • Sanyo
  • Kyocera
  • SunPower
  • Canadian Solar
  • Suntech

A few top-selling solar PV inverter manufacturers are:

  • SMA America
  • Fronius International
  • PV Powered
  • Xantrex
  • Enphase Energy
  • Solectria

Assuming you’re willing to put in the time to find deals on solar panels and inverters, the “Buy Components Wholesale/Contractor Install” strategy might be the best way for you to save money on your solar project.

–Frank Bates

Frank Bates

is a contributing writer to Patriot Headquarters, a new website featuring 100s of articles on how to be more self-reliant. Frank is also the founder of Food4Patriots, a supplier of emergency food suitable for long-term storage, survival and emergency preparedness.