Recently, we got to sit down with Robert Althuis, Founder & CEO of Wayfare Energy. We asked him some of the most frequently asked questions we see daily about Solar Energy for both commercial and residential.
When shopping around for a solar energy company, what are some of the things to look for?
There are many things to ask: Is it a local company? What areas do they service? What are the products and services that they offer? Do they have their own installation crews? Are they licensed and insured? Do they offer the basic warranties by law or extended ones?
Wayfare Energy different compared to all the other companies out there?
We’re a mission driven company so we’re not just customer oriented, but we strive to make social, as well as, environmental impact in everything that we do and touch. Which gives us a different viewpoint on a lot of different things.
- We donate 10 trees for every kilowatt of solar that we install.
- We’re very customer oriented.
- We have a variety of options.
- We have an electrical contracting division, as well as, a solar division, which allows us to do everything end to end, in house.
- None of the work is outsourced and all employees are Wayfare employees.
- We have our own vehicles.
- We have our own permitting department, so everything is basically done in house.
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Would you say a majority of solar energy companies outsource?
This basically gets to the point that there’s kind of a trend. There’s a lot of sales and marketing organizations that are entering the space. What they do is they buy leads or they generate leads. Sometimes they’re just really savvy IT folks and then they basically sell the project. Then they basically outsource everything else. So they outsource a lot of times the permitting, the engineering, and especially the installation. So in that situation the customer sells it with one person or they think they’re contracting with one company, but then really a different company shows up to do the installation.
It causes a variety of issues with the client.
It’s confusing but also that contractor is just there to install. After the sale, it reverts back to the sales and marketing organization but they don’t have any resources. They don’t have vans, they don’t have crews, they don’t have technicians. So when you’re looking for your workmanship warranty, which by law is one year and in most instances, we offer 10 years.
We always try to stress that we have all these resources and installation crews, everybody is an employee, everything is OSHA standards, we’re fully licensed and insured. Those are some of the things we want to hammer on just in terms of reinforcing confidence with customers.
And I’m not saying that nobody out there has it. There’s obviously other reputable companies, but not all of them for instance have an electrical license like Wayfare does. If they don’t have an electrical license, they have to hire a licensed electrician to do the final hookup; technically. I’m not saying they always do, I’m just saying they have to. But we can do that in house because we have our own electrical license.
If I was shopping for a solar system or solar power system, I wouldn’t want to go through a middle man, sales and marketing company. I would rather go right to the source.
Does Wayfare Energy sell a specific brand of solar equipment / technology?
We don’t sell a particular brand of solar panel. We can offer a variety of solar options, technology solutions, depending on the customer’s need and interest. Where for instance, you buy from Tesla, you’re buying Tesla solar panels and batteries. They don’t have anything else. Some of those components might not be the best.
Same with SunPower & other companies. So we offer a variety of brands and technologies to basically cater to all customer needs and price points.
What are the tax and financial benefits of owning a solar power system?
The first and largest one, which is the investment tax credit, which is 30 percent. In general every homeowner is eligible for a 30 percent investment tax credit, which is a direct credit against your taxes. Obviously you need to have a tax return. If you don’t report any of your income, it’s not going to work, but we don’t pretend to be tax accountants, so we just suggest that everybody has this tax benefit, in principle.
One of the large benefits of going solar, is you lock in your energy rate for the next 20 to 25 years. Where utility rates are subject to almost annual adjustments, and they’ve never gone down. So you’re basically locked in your energy rate for inflation for the next 20 – 25 years.
In terms of financial benefits, there’s zero down financing available. Obviously it’s credit dependent, but there are zero down financing options available, so you don’t necessarily have to come out of pocket.
There’s also financial benefit in that there’s wide spread research that your house becomes more valuable. Orlando home’s with solar, in this study done by Zillow, were 4.6% more valuable.
These are really interesting statistics, because if you think about – let’s take a rough number. Let’s say you have a $500,000 home – times 4 percent, it’s $20,000, right. So, if you have a $500,000 home, the first $20,000 of your system, you basically make it back in the value of your home, so it’s almost a one for one. That’s a very compelling financial benefit.
Finally, for many customers, the cost, even after financing, they’ll still save on their energy. Their energy savings will basically be greater than the cost of the system. So that’s where your direct power savings come in, right, because let’s say your system, your payment is $200 a month and you have $250 a month on your electricity bill. For many customers that equations works out too.
There’s people that buy cash too. Then you get into the discussions of what’s the value of money. If you put that money in a bank account, but what we usually simplify for people, when we do proposals, we show them their annual savings on the utility bill. Then we show them the cost of the system, and there’s a return on investment there. If it’s financing, if it’s 100 percent financing, it’s very simple. You just compare the projected savings versus your payment.
If it’s a cash deal you don’t really have that finance cost, then it’s just an implied capital cost, but most consumers don’t really think that way, right. We’re just showing them the savings on their solar.
Do you guys offer the option to lease solar equipment?
No. It’s actually only now, since last year, SunRun, when they entered the market, that’s how they’ve traditionally done their deals in California. There was a gray area there, whether that was permitted under the Florida regulations. They won an exception that it’s permitted, because basically they’re leasing equipment, but we’re not selling energy, which is kind of the different. To sale energy in the state of Florida you have to be a regulated utility.
If the lease payment is based on the kilowatts produced, it’s considered you’re selling energy, you’re not leasing equipment. In some states the leases are based on the energy produced. That you can’t do. There are one or two companies that are starting to offer these leases. We don’t do it because we don’t have a captive finance source like SunRun does. We just offer financing, so we really don’t offer leasing.
Are there drawbacks to leasing your solar equipment?
You’re leasing the equipment, you’re not really owning. When you sell the property or you come to the end of the lease, you get these end of lease options, which aren’t always great. You basically pay for the equipment, and you still need to pay your end of lease payment. Or when you sell your home, the buyer might not want to necessarily assume a lease. Where if it ends, if it’s financed you can just pay it off and it just comes part and parcel with the home. And hopefully you capture that higher home value because your utility rates are lower.
It’s similar to how cars are leased. It’s attractive for a lot of people because it gets them to a lower payment. In the long run they don’t own the car, they use it up. A lot of times they get a lot of hidden charges at the end of the car lease. Your disposition fee, your excess mileage fee, and then all the scratches and dings on the thing you get fees for. Leasing for a lot of people ends up being an very expensive way to basically drive a car they couldn’t afford in the first place. If you can afford the car you should probably finance it or buy it in cash.
Anyway … leasing is not a big thing yet in Florida. There’s just some companies starting it, but we don’t really offer it as an option.
What is Net Metering?
Net-metering is that you sell the excess of the energy produced from your solar panels back to the grid, so back to the utility company. The way that works is literally you have a bi-directional meter. When you’re consuming from the grid, the meter runs in one direction, and it’s basically adding the kilowatts that you consume. Literally when you’re over producing with your solar array, so you’re producing more than you can actually use in that very moment, the meter basically goes the other way. So it just basically goes back. That is why it is called net-metering, because the meter literally goes the other way. It just net-meters it.
Now there are a couple of caveats. If you have a battery, you can use the excess solar energy to charge your batteries. So that’s one way, but you would still have that bi-directional meter. By definition, if you have a solar array, you’re going to have a bi-directional meter. You could use the excess solar energy that you produce to basically charge a battery, which you could then use in after hours or during times when the sunlight isn’t bright enough to use rather than using the grid’s energy.
The other thing to note, is that when you are net-metering, you pay more for the energy you use from the grid, than the energy you give back than you receive for the energy you give back to the grid. So you pay retail for the energy you use, and you get wholesale for the energy you give back to the grid. So it’s not the same, it’s not one for one, in terms of cents per kilowatt. And it depends on the utility, what they do. But it’s not one for one.
Now I don’t know if you want to get into those kinds of details, but the concept of net-metering is that you have a bi-directional meter and if you over produce solar energy, you’re feeding it back into the grid and you get some compensation for that.
The compensation depends on the utility company.
If you live in Florida can you legally or physically go off the grid?
Legally, yes, but in practical sense, it’s not very practical. What you can do, with a combination of solar and batteries, you can almost virtually eliminate the need for any grid based energy. So you really have it there only as a security blanket in case that for some reason your panels or your batteries are exhausted, and you have to still manage and have energy for your home.
You can design, in combination with batteries, you can design your solar array and provided you have enough roof space and things like that ,that you basically do not need any energy off the grid. It’s really just a security blanket.
Unless you’re in a very rural location, where there is no grid accessibility, the notion of going off the grid, is more a concept than it is actually a reality. Almost everybody tends to still stay on the grid, at least connected, even though their bill might still be zero, or close to zero.
I think it’s more interesting to talk about. It is more realistic to actually happening; especially when you live in suburbia.
For more info on Wayfare Energy, visit welovesolar.com