Avoid Solar Panel Scams and Ripoffs

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How to Avoid Solar Panel Scams

We’ve all heard the common adage from our parents — if it seems too good to be true, then it is too good to be true. The solar world is no different. With the meteoric rise of solar power, more and more companies are trying to hop on the bandwagon. While more companies offering solar means more availability and better prices, it also means more unethical and dishonest practices. 

We, at Go Solar Group, want solar homeowners to have as much knowledge as possible when it comes to getting solar. An informed homeowner is one who will make the best choices for their house. To help people become more informed about the ways that unsavory solar companies might try to take advantage of you, we’ll be covering the most common solar scams, how to spot them, and how to avoid them. 

What Are the Most Common Solar Scams?

While there are endless ways that dishonest people will try to take advantage of others, there are some major techniques that are commonly used. You may have encountered them yourself. Many of them seem innocuous on the surface, but once you drill down into the specifics, you’ll find that they’ll cost you time and money. 

These tactics can range from “free” solar panels, to deceitful solar calculators, to the classic bait and switch that we’ve all seen dodgy salespeople use. Let’s take a dive into each of these to see what the scam is, what they hope to get out of you, and how you can avoid them.

Why “Free” Solar Panels Aren’t Free

This is fast becoming one of the most popular solar scams. You answer a knock at your door to find a smiling representative, who informs you that your home can qualify for free solar panels. You’ll get all the benefits of solar energy without having to pay! The representative wants an answer now, however, or else this great opportunity might pass you by.

Unfortunately, if you agree and sign their contract for “free” solar panels, you may find yourself getting much more than you signed up for.

What Is the Scam With “Free” Solar Panels?

As we all know, nothing in the world is truly free. Sunlight may be an exception, but harnessing the power of said sunlight definitely is not. However, many solar companies will tell you that their panels are an exception and you can actually get them for free. 

The problem, however, is that the panels are “free” because they’re still owned and operated by the solar company. When signing up for your panels, you aren’t receiving the panels themselves. Instead, you’re giving the company permission to install their solar panels on your roof. 

The company will then receive the electricity produced by the panels. You can then receive the electricity produced by the panels — for a fee. Sometimes this fee is less than your current power bill, but oftentimes it can be more than what you currently pay. And, if you don’t like it, you may be stuck with it unless you pay an exorbitant fee to end the contract early. They count on you not knowing enough about solar terms to understand what they’re telling you.

What Do “Free” Solar Panel Scammers Hope To Get From You?

There’s a couple of reasons why these scammers want you to put their solar panels on your house. They get free real estate to produce electricity, benefit from incentives, and, potentially, even get a paying customer.

Taking Advantage of Free Roof Space

The first reason why solar companies will want to use your roof is because, by signing the contract, they get the space for free. Real estate can be expensive, but if they can decentralize electricity production by spreading the panels around, they can avoid having to pay rent or purchase land. This can prevent a problem down the road as homes with leased solar panel installations are difficult to sell, since the new homeowner has to take on the lease.

Taking Advantage of Solar Incentives

Another benefit the solar companies receive is getting the incentives that come with installing solar panels. Because the solar company still owns the panels after installation, they will get all of the tax credits, rebates, and other incentives. Your home, which will have to deal with having a large solar installation on the roof, potentially in an unsightly spot, will get none of the benefits.

Getting a Paying Customer

Finally, these companies will get a paying customer to boot. Not only will they get benefits from installing the solar on free land, but they will also get you to pay them to do it. Your home might be powered by clean, renewable energy instead of dirty fossil fuel electricity, but you’ll often be paying a premium for this dubious honor. 

How Can You Avoid “Free” Solar Panel Scams?

The first thing any homeowner can do to avoid these kinds of scams is to take your time with a sales pitch. If a solar salesperson comes knocking on your door and wants you to sign up for free solar panels ASAP, be wary. They may tell you that you’ll lose out on this stellar deal if you don’t sign right now. They may gloss over elements of the contract, or not give you enough time to read everything on their tablet.

If you see any of these things, stop. Don’t sign anything on your front porch. Request paper copies of all potential contacts, and don’t sign anything before you’ve read them thoroughly. While this advice holds true for any solar scam, it is especially important for door-to-door salespeople to offer you free solar panels.

Why Some Solar Calculators Can Be Deceitful

Solar calculators can be a helpful part of any evaluation process. A solar company’s own solar calculator can be quite helpful, as it will be tailored to the company’s products and their service rates. However, there are some kinds of solar calculators which are not helpful for the average homeowner. Some are even outright misleading. 

The main type of misleading solar calculators are known as square footage calculators. This type will claim to be able to offer you an accurate quote for your home using only your location and the size of your home. These calculators are very misleading for a number of reasons.

What Is the Scam With Some Solar Calculators?

The scam with these solar calculators is that they cannot accurately measure the size of your solar installation should be purely by the size of your roof. While the roof size will limit how many solar panels can be installed on the said roof, the size does not necessarily correlate with the size of the installation. But why is that?

The reason is that a solar installation should be sized to the energy usage of the home. Additionally, the physical size of a solar installation does not always correlate with the output of the panels. The wattage of each panel, the total amount of electricity it produces in a single hour, is far more important than the physical size. 

Some panels, such as polycrystalline solar panels, are larger while producing less electricity. Premium monocrystalline panels, however, can produce much more electricity in less space. An installation of premium, monocrystalline panels can be smaller than a polycrystalline installation while producing the same amount of electricity. It is difficult to tell how much electricity a solar panel system is producing just by looking at it.

Why Some Homes Use More Power Than Others

This brings us back to your home’s energy use. Just as a solar installation’s wattage can’t be figured out purely by size, neither can your house. A home might be huge, but if it has no climate control system then it’s likely to use less energy than a smaller house. Similarly, a small house with a server bank in the basement is going to be using much more energy than many larger homes. 

An audit of your home’s energy use is going to be much more helpful for determining the size of a solar installation than merely surveying the roof size

What Do Bad Solar Calculators Hope To Get Out Of You?

This is an easy one — they want to sell you a bigger solar PV panel system than you actually need. Once you input your home’s location into the calculator, it will likely use an online map, such as Google Maps, to survey the location. Once it does that, it will provide a quote. This quote is likely for a much larger system than you actually need, which means more money for the solar company.

Bad Calculators Can Rip You Off

This is the main downside to bad solar calculators. Those who rely on them may end up paying much more for a solar installation than they need to. Because solar PV modules are a high-ticket purchase, this can potentially cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Bad Calculators Can Scare Off Potential Solar Homeowners

The other downside of these calculators is that, when the homeowner sees the price quoted, they may decide that it is too expensive and stop looking into solar. Not only may the actual gross price of the solar installation be lower, but sometimes these calculators also neglect to include potential incentives which lower the price further. Many potential solar homeowners have been lost to the inflated quotes that they receive.

How Can You Avoid Bad Solar Calculators?

Let us reiterate here: not all solar calculators are bad. Many of them, particularly those run by individual companies which take their products, services, and potential local incentives into account, can be quite helpful as a baseline. Getting a solar quote is generally a good idea.

However, while getting a quote from a calculator is a good idea, it is a bad idea to rely solely on that quote. Getting quotes from multiple calculators, especially ones built by local companies, can help you avoid the most egregious ones. Additionally, getting a free in-person solar quote from a qualified representative is an excellent way to get a rough estimate of what you will actually pay. 

Finally, knowing your home’s power consumption ahead of time can really help. The best solar calculators will take your energy use into account when giving you a quote, which makes them much more accurate than mere square footage calculators. 

Bait and Switch Solar Panel Sales

Bait and switch tactics are some of the oldest commercial tricks in the book. People are most likely familiar with them because of their experiences with used car dealerships, but they’re present across all industries. This is especially true for businesses that sell high-ticket items, as a sale on said items is going to be disproportionately larger compared to smaller items.

But what is a bait and switch, anyways? 

What Is the Scam With Bait and Switch Tactics?

A bait and switch is usually defined as advertising something such as a car, apartment, or even a job offer. However, when the customer comes in to buy the item, sign the lease, or accept the job, they are informed that whatever they were originally there for is no longer available, but there are (worse) things still available, usually at higher prices.

For example, you may see a commercial for a luxury car for sale at your local dealership for a much lower price. You rush in to purchase the car, but when you arrive the dealership informs you that they had sold the car — if they ever had the car, to begin with. Afterward, they begin pressuring you into buying a different vehicle, one that is likely not as valuable as the advertised one, and probably sold at a higher price. 

Similar tactics will involve a garage quoting you a price for a car repair. Then, once the repair is done, they inform you that there were other things they needed to do, for which they charge you more money. 

What Do Bait and Switch Sales People Hope To Get Out Of You?

This is an easy one, as bait and switch are one of the more well-known scams. A bait and switch sale is there to trick potential customers into paying more money for an inferior product. The company will be able to move products that they may have been having trouble with. Additionally, they may draw in customers who wouldn’t have shopped at their location, to begin with. 

On top of selling items that may have been having trouble, they may be able to get more money for them than they should. In a bait and switch sale, the regular prices of the “switch” item can be inflated. Because customers are there for a different item, they aren’t necessarily going to be up to date on the prices of the item they’re being pressured into buying.

Bait and Switch With Solar Panels

Solar bait and switches aren’t fundamentally different from other types of bait and switch. Typically, a solar salesperson will advertise certain panels to you. These panels are usually high-quality but advertised at a lower rate than you would expect for the specs. 

However, once you get in the door and begin going through the installation process, the panels are suddenly no longer available. Instead, lower-quality panels are installed — panels which you likely wouldn’t have been interested in, to begin with. The panels installed are likely sold at higher prices than they normally would be, with the installation company relying on you being too far into the process to want to back out.

How Can You Avoid Bait and Switch Scams?

Avoiding bait and switch scams is simple. Unfortunately, it takes work. The easiest way to avoid bait and switch scams is to do your own research. Whenever you see an advertisement for solar panels that strikes you as a fantastic price, or you meet with a salesperson who offers a deal that seems too good to be true, take a step back.

Make sure to read the fine print in all advertisements. When you start seeing terms like “limited stocks” or “offer not valid at all locations,” you should be wary. These are often legal tricks used to back up the sale. Very small quantities of the item in the advertisement are offered, which usually sell out quickly. However, the company keeps running the advertisement to get people in the door, after which they are pressured to purchase different things. 

Another tactic is having the item available, but having the sales associates try to upsell you into something else when you go to purchase the advertised item. This is also not illegal, but it can be like pulling teeth to get them to sell you the thing you went there for.

Finally, some companies will run outright illegal scams, where the advertised item was never available. It can be difficult to tell the difference between an illegal bait and switch scam and a legal (if unethical) one, which is why it’s recommended to go in with your guard up if you suspect any problems. 

Avoid All Sorts of Solar Scams Through Research

Now that you’ve seen the main solar scams, it has hopefully become clear on what you need to do to avoid them. At the core of avoiding all of these scams is research. Learning more about solar, having multiple sources of information, and getting in-person quotes are all ways to avoid potential problems down the road.

Most solar scams rely on the public’s lack of knowledge about solar. By knowing the basics of solar, you can see through scams like “free” solar panels. By getting information from multiple sources, you can avoid relying solely on bad solar calculators. Finally, by doing your due diligence when it comes to solar advertisements, you can avoid getting pressed by pushy sales associates.


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