Choosing a Massachusetts Solar Installer: Don’t overpay!
Fortunately for people choosing a Massachusetts solar installer, there is an incredibly rich source of data about all the installations happening in the Commonwealth, which companies are doing them, and how much those systems cost. This type of information is not readily available in any other industry! If you wanted to remodel your kitchen or have your roof re-shingled, there is no way you could get your hands on information like this about the contractors you might hire to do that work. Since we’re proud of the story it tells about our company and the way we work, we’ll provide the link to the raw data to save you from googling.
We’ll save you some of the legwork too, and provide our own comments on the analysis. First, from that raw data we’ll just look at installations from 2015 and 2016. Solar is a rapidly changing industry, so going farther back won’t be relevant. Next, we’ll filter out all installations over 25 kW. This brings us to the market we serve – small commercial systems and all residential work.
WHO ARE MASSACHUSETTS SOLAR INSTALLERS?
We see that in 2016 there were over 23,500 systems installed in the residential and small commercial segment, and the average system size was 7.4 kW. 334 solar installation companies did work in 2015 or 2016 in Massachusetts. By any measure (revenue $, number of installations, kilowatts installed), 95% of the work was done by the top 50 companies. These firms all have revenue of at least $1 million per year and should have the staff, equipment, and experience to handle that volume.
The other 284 companies are new companies just starting out, companies who have failed and no longer do solar installations, and electrical contractors who do solar occasionally. Although there may be some great work being done by some of these smaller companies, generally speaking they are not the leaders in this space. Within the top 50 there is lots of talent and experience, and we’d recommend working with a company that has a proven track record of experience navigating the complex design, installation, inspection, and maintenance requirements of solar. This is a big investment for you and no place to take chances.
So who is in the top 50? The top 20 is dominated by the national “Domino’s Pizza” installers like Solar City, Vivint, Sungevity, etc. Three quarters of these companies are not Massachusetts-based, though of course they have offices here. Domino’s is decent, especially since they changed their recipe a few years ago, but we’re Santarpio’s fans.
We like the group between 20 and 50, which is where Brightstar Solar and the companies we enjoy competing with are. We’re right in the middle of that pack at #36 overall, which we call the “Goldilocks” size – not too big, not too small. What that means is we have the training, experience, and staff to do world-class work, but the owners of our company answer the phone and email and are directly responsible for everything we do.
HOW MUCH DOES SOLAR COST IN MASSACHUSETTS?
As you, a person choosing a Massachusetts solar installer, look at this data there are two important things you can learn. We just looked at the first question, which is has the company you’re considering been around for a while and do they do enough work to know what they’re doing on your roof? (We started our company in 2009, which makes us one of the oldest Massachusetts-based solar panel installers, and we’ve been in the top 10-15% of installers every year since.)
Second, we can see what pricing looks like for all of these installers. It’s hard to compare the gross cost of installations because they vary in size. So of course you’d expect a 10 kW system (30-35 panels) to cost more than a 4 kW system (12-15 panels). What we do in solar to compare apples-to-apples is talk about “dollar per watt” ($/W). This means the total cost of an installation (before incentives) divided by its power. For example, the average system installed in the statewide data we’re looking at in 2016 cost $33,350 and had a rated power of 7.4 kW – this equates to an average $/W of $4.48.
Brightstar Solar’s average installed price in 2016 was $3.76/W. This means at our typical system size, our customers saved $6,900 compared to the state average! That’s real money staying in your pocket. Compared to SolarCity’s average price, our customers would have saved a whopping $14 grand at our typical system size, which was 32% more powerful than theirs in ‘16. One of our local competitors did twice as many installations as we did in 2016 but has a staff that is at least 5 times ours! No surprise, their average price is about $15k above ours.
WHERE IS ALL THAT EXTRA MONEY GOING?!
Inefficiency. We know most of these companies are not greedy and lining their pockets with profit; in fact, SolarCity is losing money year after year and had to be bailed out by Tesla. These companies are just wasting time and money on people, things, and activities that don’t help them do better solar installations. Our philosophy has always been to run the leanest organization possible. Lots of overhead (a fleet of new trucks, a fancy office staffed with expensive clerks, marketing directors, salespeople, etc.) does nothing for us or our customers. We hire the best installers and pay them well, but we will never waste our customers’ money on overhead. This is what allows us to do the highest quality work at a price lower than just about everyone else.
Most companies also pay a ridiculous amount for solar leads. Solarreviews posted the cost by state of those leads. Massachusetts is among the highest behind only California and New Jersey. Average solar leads in this state range from $44 to $192 based on its exclusivity. It’s been reported that SolarCity has paid $1/watt on customer acquisition. If we go back to the average system size of 7.4 kW, that would equate to $7,400.
If you’re in the process of choosing a Massachusetts solar installer for your project, we suggest you take a hard look at Brightstar Solar. We offer affordable prices without any sacrifice in quality or customer experience. We are a local company familiar with regional permitting procedures and electric codes. If you’re interested in a free solar evaluation of your Massachusetts home or business, please fill out an evaluation form or contact us at 617-564-0050.