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What Are Orphaned Solar Projects?

Updated: Jun 5

The solar energy industry has grown very quickly over the last several years, but some installers weren’t able to scale up the way they planned. Numerous solar energy installation companies have gone bankrupt or shut down their operations for various reasons. Some of these companies were quite large, operated in numerous states, and had many employees.

Unfortunately, this leaves homeowners with orphaned solar modules on their roofs and can give consumers less confidence in the solar power industry as a whole. Some of these solar systems have permitting, interconnection, or maintenance issues that can significantly impact the payback period of the array. In some cases, the homeowner took out a solar loan and must repay it, but the solar energy system isn’t generating renewable energy and offsetting power bills. In fact, many solar orphans are not even operating at all.

Although this is certainly a huge issue, it is also creating opportunities for qualified solar providers to remedy the situation. In some cases, the financier is obligated to get these solar arrays working properly and that is creating partnerships to complete the work.

What Is An Orphaned Solar Project?

There are numerous reasons why a solar panel system is orphaned. In some cases, the PV projects weren’t completely installed or entirely functional, so the homeowners never benefitted fully from the utility bill savings. In other cases, the solar system was completed, but the installer shut down while the solar system was still under a labor and service warranty. If a repair is needed, they will need to find a different installer and likely pay for the labor and possibly the equipment.

Solar system owners often get upset when they realize their system has been orphaned. They usually pay thousands of dollars for a solar array, but it isn’t operating as promised. If they financed the project, they will continue to need to make payments, but without the same benefits.

Other Reasons A Solar Project May Be Abandoned

Unfortunately, not all solar installation companies perform high-quality work. Some contractors abandon solar projects due to permitting issues or malfunctioning equipment. For example, the installer might not complete the interconnection application process properly.

Perhaps some of the equipment was malfunctioning, but the installer didn’t know how to troubleshoot the issue or they became overwhelmed and never resolved it. Unfortunately, in some cases, it isn’t apparent that equipment is defective until some time has passed and the installations are widespread.

Some installers get discouraged if an inspector with an AHJ reveals code violations and never adequately addresses them. However, there are many common reasons that solar systems fail an inspection, including improper installation of grounding, incorrect wiring, inadequate labeling of the solar system, and not following the approved plan. Although certain issues are relatively easy to resolve in an hour or two, others may require significant work and purchasing materials.

This scenario is especially likely when the installer encounters something unexpected or poor planning, like not understanding the setback requirements or soil composition making it difficult to properly anchor a ground-mounted system. In particular, the permitting requirements for pole-mounted systems can be challenging to meet to receive permission to operate (PTO). Other times, costly upgrades are needed to the transmission grid that the customer didn’t anticipate. In other cases, the solar equipment wasn’t installed properly, causing the equipment to fail prematurely also potentially voiding equipment warranties.

Some homeowners buy homes with existing solar systems, and in some rare cases, the warranties don’t transfer over to the new owners. Also, some solar companies have been acquired, but the new owner doesn’t honor the existing warranties. This is especially problematic if the solar system needs a repair that the warranty would have covered.

In other instances, the solar system is operating properly, but the homeowner wants to add battery storage or additional solar panels. Some solar companies decline such projects if they weren’t the original installer.

The Opportunity To Salvage Orphaned Solar Installations

Although orphaned solar systems can hurt consumer confidence in the solar industry, they can also create opportunities for new revenue streams for installers. Fixing orphaned solar systems and achieving PTO status can create hundreds or even thousands of new project opportunities, especially in areas where solar companies have closed.

Even if the solar installer has gone out of business, the solar financier may need to oversee solar system repairs to honor their contracts with the customers. Otherwise, these solar systems can be liabilities and the customers could even take legal action against the financiers.

The GreenLancer network of installers and solar professionals is uniquely positioned to help triage and remediate orphaned systems. Our trusted field service partners are the boots on the ground to service orphaned solar systems across many states. And in the process, the solar system owners get what they were originally promised, and this helps restore customer trust in the solar energy industry.

If you're interested in becoming a field service partner for GreenLancer, complete the form below.


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