11 Solar Design Pros and Cons: US-Based vs Offshore Solar Design
Some solar companies trip over dollar bills to pick up pennies. While a cheap solar design made offshore sounds like a particularly good idea especially if you are selling 10+ residential projects a month. But this method does not always work and could cause you to lose more time and money than you ever expected.
That is why we are putting together this guideline to help you to make the right decisions for your solar business. Remember that you get what you pay. And paying a higher quality but more expensive service might save you more money in the long term than using a cheap solar design provider across the ocean.
US Solar Design Pros
Here are 11 reasons why hiring US-based solar design professionals is a good idea:
Whether you give us a call, shoot us an email, or use our secured client portal messaging system, we understand the sense of urgency and we provide real time responses regarding your designs or technical questions. This will reduce the permitting times by having an expert at the tip of your fingertips. Our project manager and design team are in the US and they will provide a personalized service for your project.
Our team of solar professionals are fluent in English and Spanish and you will not have any issues communicating instructions or requesting design review meetings.
Our average turnaround time is 24 business hours. We have a regular day shift from 8 am to 5pm M-F. If you submit your project by 8 am today, you will have your design most likely tomorrow by the end of day.
Easy-to-Use Client Portal
Most of the design firms have an intake form that could be a PDF questionnaire or an online form. Avila Solar Drafting Services has a secure client portal where you can order a service, start, save, upload documents and submit your project data at your convenience.
This is a powerful project management tool that helps us to keep track of 50+ residential projects a month and handle more than 50 clients. As opposed to just sending a layout with basic instructions to providers abroad via email.
We understand how important it is to maintain privacy, and your cloud folders are safe. We access your folders within the US and in case of any security breach, our insurance policy provides comprehensive cyber-attack insurance coverage that will give you more peace of mind.
$1,000,000 Insurance Coverage
We carry professional, errors and omissions, and business liability insurances. We have two different policies that provide up to $1,000,000 of coverage per claim in case we make we omit something in a design (which is very unlikely). Our external engineering consultants also carry their own insurance policies to double your protection. We can provide a certificate holder specifically to your business.
Definable Business Expense
We are a 100% US based registered business in Oregon’s Secretary of State. We provide receipts instantly and they are 24/7 available in your client portal for job costing purposes. These receipts can be filed as 1099 Misc for independent contractors. We can provide our W9 for your records so you can file your business expenses and reduce your tax liability.
We don’t simply provide drafting to any layout you provide. We review your sales design, and we optimize the design with best design industry practices as needed. If we see something abnormal or not code compliant with your design, we will bring it to your attention right away and suggest one or more viable solution(s).
Most of the solar design firms in the US will charge an additional fee for every design change. We understand project changes and we provide FREE changes up to 6 months. This makes us different from other US based companies.
Avila Solar Drafting Services has a physical presence in Oregon, and we provide site walks to our Energy Trust of Oregon Solar Trade Allies to their projects. Whether they are commissioning, construction or feasibility site walks. We also provide visits to your City or County while pulling solar permits that are required to be processed over the counter when needed.
Read More: Oregon Solar Permit Services
We provide personalized technical support for every project. Our project manager is available during business hours pacific time to go over your designs as needed. We are available to call your permit office to find out the solar permit requirements or call your utility company to figure out the interconnection process.
US-Based Solar Design Cons
Cost of living in the major con in hiring local solar design pros.
Higher Design Costs
The cost of a pitched roof solar design performed by a US based company can vary from $200-$350 depending on the firm. Avila Solar Drafting Services might not be the cheapest option in the US market, but we are not the most expensive provider either.
You could save an average of 50% cost compared to offshore design providers. But the premium cost of a design made by Avila Solar Drafting Services is justified by having all the benefits outlined on our US solar design pros section.
Offshore Solar Design Pros
Outsourcing to cheaper countries do have some benefits. Mainly costs.
Cheap Design Cost
The average cost of a design overseas may vary from $80-$150 per planset. In some cases, you could find a one-man shop individual abroad that may do it for even less.
These may vary from designer to designer, but the average is 24-48 hours.
Offshore Solar Design Cons
Despite the cost savings, you may run into more negatives than benefits. Here are a few:
If you are looking for real time assistance in design changes or technical questions during design, you will find difficulties communicating with a person located 10+ hours difference time zone like India or The Philippines. Even with global connectivity tools it will be a challenge to get a hold with your solar design provider abroad. Some clients have come to us to finish a project that an offshore designer they hired in the past is now unreachable.
If you ever need to talk with this person overseas, his person needs to be fluent in English. Some of these designers might have an OK writing level of English to communicate via email and drawing content. But this person may or may not be proficient in speaking English. If you are trying to make a long term working relationship, make sure you schedule a quick zoom call with your provider to make sure you can verbally communicate with this person in case you need to in the future.
I must make clear that there are reputable businesses in other countries, but there is always a risk of sharing or giving access to your company cloud folders to an individual or a company abroad. Make sure you trust the provider you hire, and have some NDA agreement in place or any legal means to protect your business and your clients.
Lack of Insurance
Most of these companies that are based abroad do not have professional and business liability insurance. Even if they have a policy, it is most likely a policy that has coverage only in their country. International Insurance claims might be denied by their insurance policy (if any). Always request a certificate of insurance issued to your company before you start working with any design firm locally or internationally.
Confusion to Claim Business Expenses
A one time project might not be a big deal for your books, but if you are planning to use an offshore solar provider on a regular basis then it may take more time and effort to sort these expenses.
While it is still legal to hire a foreign contractor that is not present in the US, these providers may or may not have a US social security or tax identification number. Most likely these companies do not have any tax ID or legal registration in the US. Please consult your tax advisor before hiring a foreign contractor.
The offshore solar providers do not offer this value-added service. They tend to communicate only via email. If you don’t have a defined layout or do not know how to interconnect complicated projects, they are not your best option.
Zero In-Person Support
For obvious reasons, a foreign solar designer will not be able to walk a project with you or to pull a permit on your behalf.
A Financial Perspective: Quality vs Time
As an example, the cost of a solar pitched roof project might be $30,000 depending on the size or other factors. The solar design for this project by a solar design firm in the US may charge you ~$225, which represents only 0.75% of the total project cost.
Let’s say you decide to purchase the design offshore at $125 and you saved $100, this is 0.41% of the total cost (not a whole difference). If there are no issues down the road you made $100 more to your profit and that’s great! But keep in mind that you get what you pay.
Can't Buy Time
On the other hand, If the project has some complexity you may end up spending more time providing instructions and correcting the planset. If there is no QA/QC in place there may be design deficiencies not detected during internal design review, these will be most likely detected by your permit office and/or utility company.
This will delay your permit and/or interconnection approval and lose hundreds of dollars correcting and managing these issues on your end. The cost-benefit of paying an average of $100 more for each solar design could save you hundreds in the long run.
Hire US-Based Solar Design Professionals
At Avila Solar Drafting Services you might be paying a premium, but you will receive a world-class service with a QA/QC process before the final product gets to you. This removes a lot off your plate so you can focus on sales and installation.