Advancing Consumer Protection within North Carolina’s Solar Industry 

The Importance of Protecting Residential Solar Consumers 

Over the past few years, North Carolina has witnessed a rapid expansion in the solar industry. While utility-scale solar comprises most of the state’s installed capacity, 95% of the total number of installed systems are residential. Given the development of this market segment, it is vital that consumers are informed about the solar installation process and factors to consider when selecting a solar installation company. While there are many trusted, reliable solar contractors operating in the state, there are a small handful (like any other private industry sector) seeking to take advantage of potential customers unaware of fair pricing, financing specifics, and maintenance obligations. The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) is committed to equipping consumers with the knowledge and power to make an educated decision when it comes to selecting a solar installation company while also advocating for strengthened consumer protections in this space. With this in mind, we are sharing some key recommendations and resources in this blog to provide potential solar customers with the information they need to have a successful experience. 

As part of NCSEA’s efforts to protect consumers, the organization worked with its members to create a Solar Business Code of Conduct (or “Code of Conduct”). The Code of Conduct aims to hold solar installation companies to a high degree of transparency and fairness by laying out a framework of professional standards for industry participants. Specifically, this framework includes standards on fundamental professional behavior, advertising, sales and marketing, and contracts. 

Solar Resources for Consumers 

While NCSEA’s Solar Business Code of Conduct is a helpful guide to navigating the residential solar market, there are a number of additional resources available to consumers considering solar. For more details about the solar installation process, NCSEA’s Consumer Guide to Solar Electricity for the North Carolina Homeowner provides a detailed breakdown of factors to consider before, during, and after installing solar. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory also has a Solar Consumer Protection educational webpage that outlines the existing consumer protection landscape in the U.S., implementation considerations, and additional publications and resources on this topic. Additionally, the Solar Energy Industries Association has a Consumer Guide to Home Solar that aims to prepare residents through providing useful tips for this process, including a list of key questions to ask before entering into an agreement with a solar installer. In terms of accessing rebates and other financial incentives when installing solar, Duke Energy has a helpful Renewables and Electric Vehicles webpage with more information on available incentives for customers. For more localized information, the North Carolina Electric Cooperatives Home Solar webpage displays advice on how to reach out to your local electric cooperative for assistance. 

NCSEA’s Solar Business Code of Conduct 

Diving into the specifics of NCSEA’s Solar Business Code of Conduct and the first aspect of fundamental professional behavior, the Code of Conduct stipulates that businesses must be honest in their advertising about the benefits of solar. This is particularly important to uphold the reputation of the clean energy industry while also ensuring that consumers are fully aware of the value proposition of installing solar on their homes. In this same vein, the Code of Conduct prohibits members from engaging in deceptive business practices and requires them to stay in compliance with local, state, and federal laws regarding advertising, consumer protection, and contract law. Further, solar installers must communicate openly and sincerely about professional qualifications and licensing and maintain high standards for employee safety and working conditions. In terms of interactions between companies, NCSEA requires that solar installers do not damage the reputations of other members to promote collective success throughout the clean energy industry. Similarly, the Code of Conduct encourages solar members to educate the public about the benefits of clean energy and protect the industry from misrepresentation. 

When it comes to advertising, there are many ways that consumers may encounter misleading messaging and end up making an investment they regret. To avoid this, NCSEA’s Code of Conduct includes language that mandates aboveboard advertising about products and services, including accurate usage of the term “free” when referring to renewable energy and energy efficiency products and services. Any quoted price estimates must also be complete, reflect fair market pricing, and be clearly communicated with the customer. Continuing with the theme of consumer education, the solar installation company should provide accurate guidance on renewable energy incentives and eligibility requirements. Given the significant federal funding dedicated to the expansion of the residential solar market, solar companies are a crucial part of spreading the word about this available financial support. On this note, solar installers must provide utility electricity price projects that are based on reliable, qualified data sources. Some examples include the Energy Information Administration, state public utility commissions or public service commissions, and other industry experts. 

On a related note, sales and marketing practices of solar installers have to respect consumer privacy above all else. In practice, this includes truthful representation of the installation company to the consumer, no high-pressure sales tactics, and no taking advantage of a lack of consumer knowledge. For example, if the product or system does not work as it was intended to be used by the consumer, then the installer needs to clear up any misunderstandings. The Code of Conduct further calls for signatories to be upfront with their marketing and to answer customer questions with honest, fact-based responses. 

In the last section of the Code, NCSEA emphasizes the importance of utilizing widely understandable language to articulate the contractual obligations and stipulations related to the system installation process. It is imperative that solar installers provide accurate service and product performance guarantees, discernible material terms, and applicable costs. Examples of material terms include cost, ownership terms, financing terms, warranties, termination and system removal options and cost, options in the event of a home or property sale, and consumer rights regarding damage to property from installation. Last but not least, customers must have the ability to rescind their contract within at least three business days of the final contract execution. Since it can take time to consider the complicated aspects involved with purchasing a solar system, this cancellation period empowers consumers to feel confident in their final decision. 

NCSEA Trusted Solar Installers 

When it comes to selecting a solar installation company, NCSEA’s members are a great place to start. Because all our rooftop solar members have signed onto the Solar Business Code of Conduct, North Carolina residents looking to power their homes with solar can utilize the list below to determine what company to work with knowing that they are trusted and reputable.  

  • 8MSolar 
  • BlueWave Solar
  • Cape Fear Solar Systems 
  • Carolina Mountain Solar 
  • DS Group Holdings 
  • Eagle Solar & Light 
  • Emerald Energy LLC 
  • Good Solar 
  • Green Power of North Carolina 
  • Green State Power 
  • Howard Construction Company of Lincolnton, Inc. 
  • iSolar, LLC 
  • NC Solar Now 
  • Palmetto 
  • PNGEA Tech 
  • Renewable Energy Design Group 
  • Renu Energy Solutions 
  • S2 Solar LLC 
  • Secure Futures 
  • SolAmerica Energy LLC 
  • Southern Current LLC 
  • Southern Energy Management 
  • Sugar Hollow Solar, Inc. 
  • Sunlight Financial 
  • Sunrun, Inc. 
  • Tayco Electric 
  • Yes Solar Solutions 

For many consumers considering going solar, it can be an exciting time. In order to ensure that the system meets your expectations, it is also vital to carry out the proper due diligence on the installation company and any quotes you receive. Within this process, it can be rewarding to better understand your home’s energy needs, the necessary actions to save money on energy bills, and how you will be reducing your overall carbon footprint. However, as in every industry, there are less reputable solar companies operating across the country. If you are taken advantage of by a solar company, there are multiple options available for recourse. Firstly, you can report an instance of fraud to the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the North Carolina Department of Justice to alert the government about the need to investigate certain companies and practices. In some cases, it can also be beneficial to seek out legal counsel to hold the company accountable. For those looking to be informed about potential solar scams, EnergySage and WilmingtonBiz also have detailed guidance on how to avoid these fraudulent offers and know what to look for when reviewing companies. 

Overall, the clean energy industry has many trustworthy, reliable solar installation companies who want to work with homeowners and match them with affordable clean energy solutions catered to their specific circumstances. Above all else, NCSEA is actively engaging with solar companies and industry stakeholders to advocate for a clean energy ecosystem that benefits North Carolina’s economy and protects consumers from harmful business practices. 

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