Selecting a Renewable Energy Systems Installer

By Duncan Cooper,

Renovus Energy

Installing a renewable energy system for your home or business is not a decision that should be taken lightly. For most people, renewable energy is unfamiliar territory — it is an issue that we hear about often in the news, but not one we frequently consider for ourselves. There are many financial, practical and ethical decisions to be made when installing a renewable energy system. If these decisions are well-considered, the process can be fun and instructive. If made in haste, or with incomplete information, a few poor decisions can cause a lot of distress and result in a system that does not meet your needs. For example, do you agree with your partner about where the system should be placed? Will the system be large enough to meet your energy needs five years from now? One of the biggest decisions to be made is who will design and install the system. While some people have the necessary skills to install a renewable energy system on their own, most will need to find an installer to help them with at least some part of the process. Selecting an installer can be a long journey in and of itself, but there are some things to look for that will help match you with a good installer.

Depending on your needs, an installer can perform different work related to the system. Some companies focus entirely on system design, and use contractors to do the actual installation work. Other companies do all of their own design and installation work. Others may do some of their own installation work, but use subcontractors as well. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll treat all of these people as the same entity here, the installer.

First (and by far most important), find an installer who will listen to you. Complicated decisions like how to best finance the system and the aesthetics of the installation are best handled in one-on-one discussions with your installer. Preferences and goals vary greatly from customer to customer, and a good installer should recognize this. Find an installer who will listen to you and respond to your needs. An arrogant installer, or one who is hard to communicate with for other reasons, will lead to undue complications and stress. Make sure to ask questions. A good installer should want you to understand both the benefits and the limitations of the system you are buying.

Second, find an installer who is truly an expert. A good installer should be able to explain every part of the system they plan to install. They should feel comfortable talking you through the whole system using clear language that you can understand and they should take the time to do so. Look for installers who can perform maintenance work on their own systems and others’. Ask your installer what will happen if something breaks. Who will come out to fix the problem? If the installer cannot or will not perform maintenance work, ask why. Always know who you can call in the event of a malfunction. If you plan to apply for incentives from the state of New York, you should make sure to find an installer who is certified by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). An installer must be certified by NYSERDA in order to apply for money from NYSERDA’s incentive program. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) also runs a certification program. NABCEP certification is a well-recognized program among renewable energy installers. Of course, while certification is no guarantee of quality, it can help narrow your search or serve as a starting place in your search for installers in your area. Both NYSERDA and NABCEP maintain lists of certified installers in New York state, which are available on their websites.

Finally, remember that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of anyone that promises to make you rich, give you something for nothing or perform other heroic tasks. High-quality renewable energy systems can be quite expensive. Some options may seem like a bargain at first, but they may have serious shortcomings in the long run. Remember that a renewable energy system is an investment that needs to work for many years to come. Finding an installer with strong ties to the community helps ensure that you are working with someone who will still be around if your system needs maintenance.

Living with a renewable energy system will change your life. If the systems are designed and installed properly, your experience will be a positive one. Renewable energy systems provide safe and reliable energy from environmentally responsible sources. They are sound financial investments that can also remind us of our connection to the earth and of the power of the natural world.

To help raise awareness and answer questions about renewable energy, Renovus Energy will be hosting a class at GreenStar on Wednesday, Jan. 13. Anyone interested in learning more about renewable energy and how it can fit into your life should feel welcome to attend. If you miss the class, you can get in touch with Renovus by calling 607.277.1777, stopping by our offices at 102 Cherry Street in Ithaca or visiting our website, .

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