A solar panel system is a 20- to 30-year investment in your home, and having a strong warranty to support your solar installation is one of the best ways to be confident in your investment. SolarCity, the largest solar leasing company in the country, claims that their coverage “is the best in the industry, with repairs and a production guarantee at no additional cost.” So how does their warranty measure up? Read on for our complete review of SolarCity’s warranty offerings.
The SolarCity Warranty: A Complete Review
Whether you buy or lease your solar panel system, the vast majority of solar companies will offer you an installation warranty. In general, the warranty states that the company will repair or replace any damage or defect that is covered under the warranty conditions. SolarCity’s warranty also covers the cost of labor, which is the case with most (but not all) solar panel warranties.
SolarCity’s warranty is broken down into three subcategories, plus the “performance guarantee.”
Your SolarCity warranty applies whether you buy your panels or sign a lease agreement or power purchase agreement (PPA). It’s very simple: under normal conditions, your solar panel system is guaranteed to be defect-free, whether as a result of workmanship errors (e.g., installation and maintenance) or equipment defects.
Most installers will offer their customers a similar warranty on workmanship. Manufacturers of solar equipment almost always have warranties on their products as well, ranging from five to 25 years for solar panels and anywhere from ten to 25 years for inverters (depending on the type of inverter you buy). In the case of SolarCity, your system warranty will last as long as your agreement lasts with them. For example, if you sign a 20-year PPA then your system warranty should last 20 years.
To ensure that your system is operating correctly, SolarCity also includes a “PowerGuide™” system to monitor the performance of your solar panels. This has the benefit of allowing you to see how much electricity your panels are producing, but it also makes it easier for the company to identify problems that are covered under the warranty.
In most cases when your solar panels are installed, your solar company will need to make holes in your roof to secure the mounting system that holds them. SolarCity’s warranty guarantees that any roof penetrations will be watertight for at least the first ten years of your solar panel installation. This is usually included as part of solar companies’ installation warranties.
The damage warranty simply states that SolarCity will repair any damage that they cause to your property during installation or routine maintenance. For the most part, this lasts for the full term of your agreement with the company; the only exception is damage to the roof, which is separately covered under the roof warranty.
How Does SolarCity’s Performance Guarantee Work?
As part of your agreement with SolarCity, your warranty also includes a “performance guarantee.” The performance guarantee works a little bit differently depending on the type of agreement you’ve signed.
If you buy or lease your solar panels from SolarCity, your performance guarantee will include a “power production guarantee” that decreases incrementally as your solar installation ages.
The power production guarantee promises that your solar panel system will produce a minimum amount of electricity each month. In the event that your system doesn’t produce the total kilowatt-hours (kWh) guaranteed in a month, SolarCity will send you a refund check for the difference.
The flipside of the power production guarantee is that if your system produces more electricity than is guaranteed in a month, the “surplus” production is carried over and can be used to offset future deficits. In practice, this means that you will likely only receive a refund check from SolarCity if your system is routinely underperforming, as month-to-month production surpluses should account for any minor deficits.
This system of credits and deficits is important to understand because, if your system produces more electricity than you use in a month, not every utility will give you credit for it on your electricity bill. (Many utilities offer credits that expire at the end of the year, and some give credits for excess electricity at a lower rate – learn more about the policy in your state.) In any case, SolarCity will still count it as a “surplus” – meaning that you could end up with “offsets” that you never actually get full credit for on your electricity bill.
The best way to avoid this is to seek out get unbiased information about the specifics of your solar panel system – in particular the equipment used and how much electricity it can reasonably be expected to produce – and compare multiple options before you make your solar purchasing decision. You don’t want to pay extra to install a solar panel system that generates more electricity than you need and can use!
If you sign a power purchase agreement (PPA) with SolarCity, you won’t receive a specific power production guarantee as part of your warranty. This is because, instead of paying the company a flat payment each month to buy or lease your system, you pay them per kWh of electricity generated. With a PPA, SolarCity will make repairs if your system isn’t performing properly, but because you won’t be losing money in the meantime you won’t receive any rebate.
Even if you have a PPA, you should still compare multiple offers to ensure that your solar panel system is appropriately sized for your home. If your system is producing more electricity than you use in a month, you may end up paying for more electricity than you are credited for on your electricity bill.
What Can Void Your SolarCity Warranty?
SolarCity and other companies offer installation warranties, equipment warranties, and damage warranties that cover a wide variety of situations. However, there are a few things that can void your SolarCity warranty, including:
- Allowing anybody but SolarCity (or their approved service providers) to install, remove, or repair your solar panel system
- Modifying or altering the system yourself
- Failing to keep trees and other foliage trimmed in a way that causes additional shading to your solar panels
The power production guarantee also has its limits. As mentioned above, SolarCity will refund you in the event that your solar panels produce less electricity than guaranteed. This includes situations where your system is damaged as a result of installation or repair work done by the company. However, you won’t be refunded for lost electricity production if it is caused by damage that is beyond the company’s control, like a tree branch falling onto your system. The same applies if your system is stolen – the company will replace the stolen parts, but you won’t get refunded for the electricity you missed out on during that time period.
Compare Solar Installers to Find the Best Option
The smartest way to be certain you’re getting the best deal on your solar energy system is to compare all of your options before making your choice. Every homeowner considering solar power should get, at a minimum, three offers from different solar companies to get a sense of what’s available in their local market. Smaller, local solar installers often can offer better prices too – it’s wise to get quotes from them in addition to large solar leasing companies like SolarCity.
The EnergySage Solar Marketplace is the easiest way to make apples-to-apples comparisons between quotes from pre-vetted local solar installers. In fact, 33 percent of people who register their property on EnergySage already have a quote in hand – often from a large solar leasing company like SolarCity. If you have a quote from SolarCity, you can register your property on EnergySage at no cost and easily evaluate their offer alongside the other offers available near you.