Summary: My installer said my setup would have cost me $38k-40k and that I made right decision doing it my way, which had an after tax cost of $22k (before federal tax credit). I basically bought the parts from a wholesaler and they guided me through utility and city permit process, then I hired an installer separately to complete the install.
I’ve always been interested in solar due to the long term cost savings and environmental impact. For 10 years, I would do a search every now and then and I would always get disappointed when it comes to the cost.
Everywhere I look, from reddit to other forums, people would say don’t go at it alone, it’s not easy. Then I found some people who purchased a kit and install part of it themselves (I didn’t lift a nail by the way). The 2 sites I found that offered kits were:
I wanted to get a pretty big system, about 10kW, turns out this is the biggest system you can get in Southern California without hiring an engineer to assess structural integrity of the house.
I wanted to get Enphase Microinverters because it would be easiest to determine if a panel isn’t working correctly and also, it looks pretty cool on the app seeing how much each panel is producing. Also from talking to many solar installers, it seems the Enphase system is the most reliable (one installer said 1 out of maybe 40 homes had an issue with a panel), while the SMA Inverters were usually not recommended.
I contacted both freecleansolar.com and wholesalesolar.co and compared their prices and the experience. I found that wholesalesolar.com had much better prices and the sales tech, Jeff Blick was extremely helpful throughout this entire process. The website was more user friendly as well and I read quite a few people had good experiences with them. The initial contacts with both companies were met with non-enthusiastic sales people, perhaps because they get so much business or tire kickers. But once they know you’re serious, and you’re connected with a Senior Sales Tech, it goes fairly smooth from there.
Solar install steps
Step 1 – Pick the solar kit: Enphase is recommended, you can check their packages here: https://www.wholesalesolar.com/shop/grid-tie-packages
Step 2 – Contact whole sale company: In my case, contact the Sr. Sales Tech Jeff Blick jeff[at]wholesalesolar.com on the system you want (if you can, mention my name “KHOA” as the referrer). Don’t purchase the system yet, just get the Single Line Diagram for the utility application. Ask for a sales quote in PDF so you can show your installers the equipment you have. I recommend getting an Enphase Combiner box with your purchase to alleviate any headache, all solar installers asked for this, but my system didn’t have this, and I would have purchased it had I known.
Step 3 – Utility application: For Grid-Tie systems, you’ll need a utility company application, first you’ll need a single line diagram drawn (this is free from wholesalesolar.com, they’ll charge you $150 for it, but it’s applied to your entire system cost once you purchase). For Southern California Edison, here’s where you go to begin your application: https://scenemsuccessortariff.powerclerk.com/
In my case, Southern California Edison is a bit of a pain to work with, but just have Jeff work with you on filling out the technical details, if you’re stuck at any process, just give them a call, they’re quite courteous, emailing Edison is not recommended.
Step 4 – Solar plan: Jeff recommended that I contact a separate company to get my plans drawn. In my case, it was http://solarpermitservices.com/. I paid $225 for this step, and $85 for a modification request. This company isn’t very responsive, I wanted Jeff to work with them but they were not very communicative, that’s what led to the $85 modification cost. I’d recommend finding another company if possible. Here’s the plan I ended up with: http://socialarts.com/solarplan.pdf
Step 5 – Find installer on yelp: After you get your solar plan drawn, use this plan along with the sales quote from wholesalesolar and send it to installers asking for a quote on the complete install. Here’s where you can save a lot of money, but you’ll need to contact many solar installers — I contacted over 20 roof AND solar installers and the quotes range from $2,900 for roof only to $12,000 for electrical and roof install. Yelp makes this very easy, you can ask multiple installers with one click of a button, eventually, you’ll have to contact one at a time because their system stops giving you multiple quote requests. Tell installers you’ve already got the city permit, utility permit (at pre-PTO stage), you’ll have all the equipment ready on site, and you’ll be ready to install in a month. All they need to do is install panels on the roof and the electrical. New companies or companies with open slots in their schedule are willing to bid on prices, so let them know you’re looking around. I got a company that went from $8,500 to $6,400 because they wanted the job bad, they were bidding against the lowest offer. Make sure the company is providing all the electrical equipment to complete the install (wiring, conduit, etc). So the quote should cover installation to PTO without any additional cost to you. Have at least 2 installers on stand by.
Step 6 – City permit: Once you find an installer that’s willing to give you a good price, you can start on the permit process, it should take only about a week. Search for “[YOUR CITY] Solar Permit” and start the application process! I’ve provided sample permit documents in the appendix. If you can’t find a good deal on an installer, keep on searching, and call around! If you really can’t find a good deal after this, at least you didn’t have inventory sitting in the garage like I did!
Step 7 – Order solar equipment: Once the city approves the install, now you can order the solar equipment.
Step 8 – Install! It should take about two weeks for the equipment to arrive, and the installer should take about 1.5 days for a three man team to install a 30 panel system.
Final Cost Breakdown:
Appendix – Utility Application
Appendix – City Permit Application
City standard plan: http://socialarts.com/citystandardplan.pdf
WholeSaleSolar equipment invoice – http://socialarts.com/solarequipinvoice.pdf