How to Deal With Aggressive Solar Salespeople

Mike Powers

Shopping for solar panels can feel overwhelming, and pressure from aggressive salespeople doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, the chatty, tablet-wielding solar sales rep at your door might be trying to scam you. 

As awareness of the need for alternative energy sources increases and the technology has become more affordable, interest in solar has skyrocketed. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, US solar has grown by an average rate of 24% annually for the past decade. Federal incentives provided by the Inflation Reduction Act have also driven demand. 

That boom in solar installations is a good thing — but it’s come with a slew of bad actors in the industry and an increase in consumer complaints about sketchy solar companies everywhere from Rhode Island to North Carolina to Utah. That’s why it’s more important than ever to understand how to spot red flags and deal with aggressive tactics when shopping for solar. 

Why the solar industry has so many aggressive salespeople

“The solar industry is exploding, and any time something gets really popular, there are a lot of bad actors who get attracted to the industry,” said Micah Gold-Markel, founder of Solar States, an installation company in Philadelphia. 

But because solar is a relatively new industry, it’s not subject to the kinds of regulations that protect consumers in other industries, like real estate. While there are plenty of reputable installers out there, some bad actors recruit salespeople with get-rich-quick schemes on social media, then use shady tactics to push solar on unsuspecting consumers, according to a TIME exposé. 

The response to that sales behavior has been a flood of consumer complaints about aggressive or misleading solar salespeople. Nevada is the first state to begin cracking down on shady solar operations, with a new bill going into effect this year. But most states still lack industry-specific regulations to protect homeowners. 

How to spot an aggressive solar sales pitch

So how do you tell a reputable installer from a scammy solar sales bro? Here are some red flags to watch out for, according to experts. 

How to Deal With Aggressive Solar Salespeople
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They don’t work for an installer: A lucrative strategy for the solar scammers is hiring independent contractors, training them in aggressive sales tactics and incentivizing them with hefty commissions. A good way to protect yourself and your investment is to ensure you’re signing an agreement with the company that’s actually doing your install. That way, you’ll know who to hold accountable and have some recourse if something goes wrong during or after installation. 

Their company lacks industry certifications: An easy way to screen shady solar installers is to avoid those who aren’t certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. “That certification means that the installer or the installation team has gotten some nationally recognized training to install solar so that you’ll get a high-quality installation,” Gold-Markel said.

They talk more than they listen: A good solar company should be interested in learning about your needs, priorities and questions around going solar rather than telling you what they think you want to hear. “We train our salespeople to educate people, which means listening,” said Gold-Markel. “Be very skeptical of a salesperson who tells you what you need right out of the gate.”

They pressure you to buy with warnings of limited-time deals or future price hikes: High-pressure sales tactics are another red flag. A disingenuous installer may pressure you to sign by claiming that a great deal is about to disappear or warning that low prices or incentives won’t last forever. “Don’t be rushed because of claims that a deal is ending or only available for a short time,” said Jani Hale, help desk manager with the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors. “As more people get solar, it becomes cheaper.

They tell you you can go solar for free: Bad actors may try to take advantage of confusion about federal tax credits and solar lease agreements, attempting to sell you on the idea that you can install solar at no cost. It’s just not true, cautions Gold-Markel. “There’s nothing free in this world, and that includes solar,” he said. “They could say that there’s no upfront cost, and that could be literally true. But there’s no such thing as free solar.”

You feel pressured to sign a contract during your first conversation: High-pressure solar companies may train their salespeople to try for what’s called a one-sit close, in which an unsuspecting homeowner signs an installation agreement on their first meeting with the company. “If they’re pressuring you to move forward, that’s not a great sales strategy,” said Gold-Markel. “In my opinion, it’s going to make for a disappointed customer.”

How to protect yourself from scammy sales tactics

So how do you go solar without falling for a scam or a high-pressure sale? Here are some pro tips.

Look into the company’s background: “I cannot stress enough how important it is to look at the history of the company,” said Gold-Markel. In addition to reading online reviews and asking about certifications, he recommends requesting referrals from satisfied customers. Hale notes that newer businesses in the marketplace may not have the staying power of more established ones, which can be a problem when it comes to servicing a warranty over the life of your solar system. “You want to make sure that you’re doing business with a company that has a long track record and can stand behind whatever warranty they’re providing to you,” she said. 

Do your homework and take your time: “Always do your research before signing a solar contract,” said Hale. “Get competing bids or proposals from a few installers, shop around and ask a lot of questions.” She recommends contacting her team at Solar United Neighbors’s Solar Help Desk for unbiased guidance and education as you consider your options. 

Be upfront about your needs: It’s easy to be swayed by a fast-talking salesperson, but one of the best ways to protect yourself is to go into those conversations with your needs, your budget and your timeline in mind, then stick to it. If you’re feeling pressured, “you should be very frank and upfront with that salesperson,” Gold-Markel said. “Tell them ‘This is a big purchase for me, I need time to analyze it. If that doesn’t work for you, then we’re probably not the right fit.'”

Don’t sign anything until you’ve had time to think: “Some salespeople may be equipped with an iPad for a presentation. Do not sign it,” said Hale. “Instead, ask if they have brochures or materials for you to read later.” A trustworthy installer will give you ample time to research, consider your options and confer with any other decision-makers in your home. “If you’re ready to go after the first discussion about solar, great,” said Gold-Markel. “But this is technical stuff, and for most people, your home is your biggest asset. You should take your time with this decision.” 

Report bad actors: If you encounter misleading online ads, aggressive sales tactics or false claims in marketing materials as you shop for a solar system, let regulators and advocates know. Report solar scams to the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission or your state’s attorney general. You can also file a complaint with SEIA or contact Solar United Neighbors, which tracks solar scams and misleading ads. 

What’s the best way to shop for solar panels?

Both experts agree that the best way to shop for solar panels is to do plenty of research before you have a single conversation with an installer. That way, you’ll be armed with the facts and less likely to be swayed by aggressive sales tactics. 

When you’re ready to go solar, create your own shortlist by going to trusted sources for recommendations. Start by asking friends and neighbors for referrals, check the NABCEP website for certified installers in your area and vet the candidates by checking online reviews and the Better Business Bureau. Then, rather than waiting for door-to-door solar salespeople to come to you, reach out to your top choices directly. “If you are courting them and they’re not courting you, that’s a green flag,” Hale says. 

Once you’ve met with a few installers, compare your options by looking at the cost per watt, not the cost per panel or overall cost of the project to get the best deal. Read installation agreements, warranties and any loan agreements carefully, and make sure you understand the facts before you sign. 

Above all, Gold-Markel said, wait to sign on the dotted line until you’re confident that you’re making the right choice. “Most people don’t just make a snap decision to buy a car. The same is true for solar,” he said. “Take your time with the decision. Understand the different companies in your area and the certifications they have. Nine times out of 10, you’ll come out very happy on the other side.”

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