When you’re ready to discuss how to go solar with photovoltaic (PV) solar system providers, you should also be ready to answer some key questions. Your potential partners in clean energy aren’t trying to be nosey—they’re simply attempting to collect basic information that will help determine the best solar power options to meet your organization’s unique requirements.
Knowing what they’ll ask in advance gives you the opportunity to prepare thoughtful and comprehensive answers. Your answers might prompt even more questions, but that’s okay. They’ll serve as a great starting point. Here’s what you can expect…
- Where will the system be located?
In the not-so-distant past, you may have been asked to supply site photos or drawings. Today, it’s usually sufficient to send your solar provider candidate an address or the GPS coordinates for the proposed project site. With detailed satellite images just a mouse-click away, a lot of valuable information can be obtained simply by entering a specific site address. This can reveal how much space is available, possible physical obstructions that may block optimum sunlight exposure and other geographical considerations.
- Do you own or lease the property?
At a fundamental level, this question helps identify the specific parties who will be involved in the planning and approval phases of your commercial solar installation. The answer to this question can also determine what incentives are available, as well as which financing option works best. Owning the property generally provides a wider range of opportunities, but commercial solar installations on leased property can also benefit both the landlord and tenant (by increasing property value and lowering electricity costs, respectively).
This question also helps identify the key stakeholders who will decide on whether or how to go solar. (By the way, if you haven’t yet decided whether to go solar, you should do so before contacting a potential provider.)
- Can you provide your last 12 monthly energy bills?
This data will show day-to-day and cyclical electricity needs for any existing facilities, including peak periods of energy use. It can also help determine if a commercial battery storage system might be able to save you more than just solar alone.
You can also share your energy bill information by sending copies (digital or old-school printouts), working with your utility company to grant a solar provider access to your account. Or, in some instances, you can use a new and potentially time-saving tool called UtilityAPI. However, if you’re still in the construction phase, you might need to get more creative. In this case, analyzing historical usage rates for similar types of facilities—along with load justification—can often give you a clearer idea of how much energy you’ll require.
- Why are you thinking about going solar?
The decision to go solar is very much a case-by-case situation. But clearly communicating the reason(s) you’re considering solar will help potential providers more fully understand the objectives behind your efforts. This can lead to better solutions tailored to your specific needs, or potentially uncover opportunities you never even knew existed.
For example, if your primary motivation is to save as much money as possible over the lifetime of your system, your solar equipment supplier may offer a specific solution to best meet that goal. If you’re looking for the fastest available path to commercial solar installations (to meet sustainability objectives or cash-flow restrictions), an entirely different set of actions may be necessary. Some organizations are even looking for solar as a way to generate profits—a situation that typically depends on the amount of available space you have as well as the regulatory and market conditions in your area.
By understanding why you're considering solar, potential providers will be better prepared to present a solution that comes as close as possible to meeting all of your requirements.
- How much time have you put into investigating solar energy options?
There’s no right or wrong answer here. Your response will help a potential provider discuss solar at the most appropriate level—whether it’s explaining the basics or having more detailed conversations about specific solar options. (And, if you previously considered a specific solar option, they will want to know what stopped you from proceeding in the past.)
If you’re still early in your commercial solar journey, you’re probably looking for a rough quote for future budgetary considerations. If this isn’t your first solar rodeo, you may be after a firm quote to make a purchase decision. While each discussion may take a different path, the destination is the same—finding the best solar solution to meet your particular needs.
- Do you have a budget? Do you know what financing method you plan to use?
Okay, those are actually two questions, but they’re closely related. Knowing your budget upfront can help the provider streamline the conversation and significantly narrow the list of best possible options on how to afford solar. Knowing whether you’re looking to buy, lease or enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) will help your potential solar provider design a solution that maximizes all available incentive programs you may or may not have calculated into your decision. It can also help ensure the financing choice you pursue is aligned with your overall project goals.
- Is there anything unique about your situation?
This is an open-ended question that can potentially lead to many interesting discussions. For example, do you have any specific time requirements for completing the solar installation? Perhaps you need to tap funds now because they may not be available in next year’s budget, or because a new solar system is planned to be part of a current or future construction project.
If new construction is already underway, your provider will probably want to know if there’s anything atypical in regard to the typical “BANT” considerations: budget, authority, need and timeline. What may seem unique to you might not be out of the ordinary for an experienced solar company. And that’s a good thing. Note that you don’t even necessarily need to have the upfront money, because many solar providers offer a variety of financing options—such as a lease or PPA.
If your organization is looking to save money with a do-it-yourself approach, you should tell your solar equipment provider beforehand. Many solar equipment manufacturers don’t sell directly unless the planned installation is quite large (e.g., a multi-site project for a national retail chain).
Instead, they sell their products and solutions through approved dealers—an approach that can have its advantages. These dealers can be more attentive to individual needs and be more knowledgeable when it comes to regional issues—like weather patterns and locally-available incentives.
Another approach to answering this question is to ask yourself: “What else do they need to know?” The more they understand your plans, the more helpful potential providers can be.
Questioning the questioner
As previously mentioned, answering these seven questions will likely lead to more questions—and that’s a good thing. It means communication is flowing and the process is working to find the best solar solution for your organization. It also provides an opportunity for you to ask your own questions—getting to know potential solar providers and what they are offering. With systems expected to last 30 years or more, it’s essential that your business relationship is founded on clear expectations and open communication.
If you’d like to talk with a solar provider to get the ball rolling, feel free to contact SunPower.