One of the hallmarks of Amicus Solar Cooperative and its member owners is the belief in quality over quantity; quality of products, quality of workmanship in the installation and quality as a company.
Quality of Products
When a homeowner begins the journey to go solar, they usually start with “what’s the best panel?” If you’re talking straight efficiency, the resounding answer is SunPower, which holds 45 out of the top 50 slots for efficiency of just over 20%. You can see the full list here: http://sroeco.com/solar/table/. The rest of the major brands typically fall in the Tier 1 list, which means, at a global level, they are making solar panels at a significant scale (e.g. 3-4GW per year).
But here’s the catch. Efficiency in panels is not the deciding factor on what makes a good system. In The Solar Panels Don’t Matter author Shawn Roe points out that it’s output and value that matter most. And what affects output more than solar panels are the inverters. The leaders in this category are clearly SMA and SolarEdge, whose inverters operate at 98% efficiency or above. Amicus Solar Cooperative members use one of these 2 manufacturers for almost all of their installed residential systems.
All that being said, it is not just the products used that ensure a quality solar installation; so much is dependent on the quality of the installer. There are several factors that comprise a quality solar installer, such as certifications, BBB ratings, customer reviews from 3rd party sites, business from direct referrals, and even the structure of the business itself.
The first factor, certifications, is key in determining if a solar installation company is quality. Getting a certification means that the installer or technical sales person spent, time, energy and money on being the most knowledgeable and prepared person for the job. “NABCEP is the most respected, well-established, and widely recognized certification organization for North American solar professionals.”
According to Geoff Greenfield, a member of the board of NABCEP, as well as a director for Amicus and owner of Third Sun Solar, our member based in Ohio, “NABCEP certification is the gold standard for quality, safety and professionalism in the solar industry, and I am proud to sit on the NABCEP Board of Directors.” This certification indicates that a solar professional has attained a high level of experience and passed a very challenging test, and only a small percentage of solar professionals have achieved this status. A NABCEP certificate holder has agreed to abide by a very strict professional code of standards, and must undergo continuing education and training to recertify. “The need for this standard and self-policing was recognized by solar veterans who wanted to prevent a repeat of the 1970s era when they saw a few bad actors harm consumer confidence in solar.”
So, certification through NABCEP provides a way for the public to judge the competency of the installer and to boost confidence in the work to be performed. Amicus Solar Cooperative members are largely invested in certification with NABCEP. 26 out of our 36 member owners have at least one NAPCEP certified installer; many of them having several and a few of the largest companies employing 6 or more certified installers, with a total of 142 across these members. Of the members with NABCEP certifications, there are also 46 certified technical sales employees, making a grand total of 188 certified individuals.
Better Business Bureau Ratings
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) obtains information about businesses from the businesses themselves and other public data sources, encompassing these 7 factors: the business’ complaint history with the BBB; type of business; time in business; transparent business practices; failure to honor commitments to the BBB; licensing and government actions known to the BBB; and advertising issues known to the BBB. The BBB then rates businesses based on how the BBB believes the business is likely to interact with its customers.
To rate the business, the BBB awards or deducts points on a 100-point scale. The largest categories where a business can earn or lose points are for unanswered or unresolved complaints. For a full breakdown of how the BBB awards points, visit http://www.bbb.org/council/overview-of-bbb-grade.
How do Amicus Solar Cooperative’s member owners measure up? Out of our 36 members, 32 businesses are registered with the BBB, and of those 32, 100% have an A+ rating. An A+ rating is 97 or more out of 100 points awarded by the BBB. In addition, 15 of those 32 have gone a step further and are accredited by the BBB.
To be accredited, a business must apply and prove they meet standards in these 8 categories: building trust; advertise honestly; tell the truth; be transparent; honor promises; be responsive; safeguard privacy; and embody integrity. For more detail on these categories, visit http://www.bbb.org/council/for-businesses/about-bbb-accreditation/bbb-accreditation-standards/.
3rd Party Reviews
Quality products, NABCEP certifications and BBB ratings all show a solar company’s intent to be a good business, but the proof is, as they say, in the pudding. Customer reviews on independent, non-partisan, sites such as Solar Reviews and Angie’s List tell what the end-users think.
According to Search Engine Land 85% of consumers research online before a purchase and 79% trust online recommendations as much as word of mouth. So having a good online review score means the company is considered quality.
Solar Reviews is a 3rd party site specifically for finding quality solar installation professionals. They use a 5-point system. 20 of Amicus Solar Cooperative’s 36 members have customer feedback on Solar Reviews, with a weighted average of 4.85 and the lowest score still as high as 4.46.
Angie’s List is another source consumers use when searching for quality professionals. Angie’s List promotes that it is better than a free review site because all reviews are certified so that companies cannot review themselves or give bad reviews to competitors. In fact, reviews cannot be anonymous. Another part of the service is the complaint resolution team, which will help if a project goes badly. Angie’s List uses an A-F scale, though you can also see the percentage of responses per grade. Again, 20 of Amicus Solar Cooperative’s member owners are listed with reviews on Angie’s List. All of them have an A rating.
Another indication of a quality solar installer is their percentage of referral business. How willing are previous customers to give a good recommendation to someone else? Ben Higgins, director of government affairs at REC Solar, in his post How Social Networks are Fueling the Social Boom, explains that the phenomenon of “social solar,” where influence of purchasing decisions is “stronger in conversations with neighbors and good friends,” is key to the solar industry.
Amicus Solar Cooperative member-owners have an average of 28% in referral business with a few members hitting 40% or higher. But what does this really mean? According to FriendBuy, you have a solid referral program if 10% of your referrals seal the deal and you’ve “nailed it” if you get as high as 15%. So, at 28%, Amicus Solar Cooperative members certainly have high marks where customer satisfaction and willingness to recommend are concerned.
Finally, though it is not impossible, it is hard to have quality outside the business without first having quality inside the business. Amicus Solar Cooperative member-owners are all committed to healthy work environments and giving back to the community.
14 members have gone a step further by becoming certified B Corporations. “B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” They are committed to running their businesses for the good of all stakeholders, not just shareholders. This means these members are committed to making business decisions that holistically weigh the impact on their communities, employees, suppliers, and environment.
Given these six considerations, it is easy to see that Amicus Solar Cooperative member owners achieve a high standard of quality as solar installers. They are long-term businesses with superior industry knowledge; high satisfaction ratings; and they use quality products. Being a member-owner of Amicus Solar Cooperative means pursuing quality in all aspects of a solar installation.