CEN Solar Blog

4 Paths To Installing Solar For Your Business

Feb 8, 2021 10:15:00 AM / by Daniel Gonzales

The solar industry has been around for several decades, yet standardization across the industry is still a work in progress. Whether you own a business or a commercial property and are considering installing a solar system, or you are further along the process and are now ready to begin, here are a few tips that will help you to make an informed choice when deciding which of the four paths you will follow to install your system: Do it Yourself (DIY), Owner’s Engineer, EPC, or Solar Integrator.

4 Paths to Installing Solar For Your Business (3)

Not all solar companies are equal. When searching for a professional solar company to help you with your solar installation, 1. ask yourself, are you willing to manage the complex and time-consuming process entirely, or do you want to hire a solar company to manage the process for you? If you will be managing the process yourself, you need to research reputable professional companies that will handle the successful completion of the various segments of a solar system: equipment procurement, electrical/civil engineering, solar development, permitting and meeting with authorities, construction, electrical AC/DC wiring, environmental specialists, and much more. Please note, unless you are a certified engineer in your state you will most likely be unable to connect your solar system to the grid because you will not be able to satisfy the engineering work required by your electric utility. If you would prefer to use your time to focus on growing your business while a professional solar company manages the development and construction of your project for you, then you have a few options: hire an Owner’s Engineer (“OE”), hire an Engineering Procurement & Construction (“EPC”) Company, or hire a Solar Integrator (“SI”). 

An Owner’s Engineer is hired by the project owner (business owner/property owner) to guide them through the process of permitting, design/layout drawings, and suggesting companies that will be hired to complete the physical installation of the PV system. An EPC company frequently has all the engineering work done in-house, and they generally have relationships with equipment distributors and manufacturers, and an EPC will typically perform their own construction as the name implies. A Solar Integrator is a company that provides many services like OEs and EPCs, in that Solar Integrators are both investors and developers of solar projects and have experience building and financing solar systems. A Solar Integrator is involved in the project from concept to completion and sometimes, they remain involved in ongoing operations for the life of the system. A solar integrator has the development expertise, and the existing relationships to leverage to guarantee the best components (NOT the LOWEST price) and the best team of companies to build a high-quality solar system that will last for 25 years or more!

Regardless of whether you choose to develop your system yourself, or you hire one of the companies described above to manage the project on your behalf, you need to be able to get an unbiased basic assessment of the project. Several tools exist online for you to create a quick analysis of your project: PVWatts Calculator by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (“NREL”) (free software to determine your potential system production in kilowatt-hours), Helioscope and Energy Tool Base (paid subscription software, to design a system layout and analyze electric bills respectively). Once you know your general PV system size and estimated first-year production, you can create a 25-Year pro forma to assess your own investment strategy for the project. Ask yourself if your company is ready to invest thousands or even millions of dollars, depending on the system size, into a solar project that pays for itself in the form of electricity savings in roughly 5-10 years? Would you prefer to finance your system instead? Solar Integrators can also pay for your system completely (this is called 3rd party ownership) and all you pay for is the electricity produced by the solar system, at a rate that is lower than the utility rate.

An OE, EPC, or Solar Integrator will run their own analyses of your system and none of them should have a problem comparing it to your analysis and explaining any differences. Full transparency around the system size/production numbers, the equipment selection, the timeline to construction, the installation companies being utilized, the true cost of your solar system, and flexible financing options, are the minimum expectations from a professional solar company. Due to the lack of standardization across the industry, here is a helpful table which details what you can generally expect from each of the “solar paths” you have available to choose from on your journey.



Owner’s Engineer


Solar Integrator

Project Evaluation

0-30 Days, depends on solar experience, tools available for evaluation

1-7 Days, depends on their availability

2-14 Days, depends on # of active Projects

0-1 Day, each Project has at least 1-2 dedicated Project Expeditors + EPCM (“EPC Manager”)

Equipment Procurement

Limited, will vary but make sure you only use “Tier 1” Equipment

Limited, depends on volume orders and relationships, ask for “Tier 1” Equipment only

Yes, but typically not the best price, ask for “Tier 1” Equipment only

Yes, volume pricing, manufacturer relationships, only use “Tier 1” Equipment


Limited, some permits and certifications require 3rd party resources, time-consuming public meetings with local jurisdictions 

Limited, depends on the Engineering Certifications of the OE, or relationships with Engineering firms, may or may not be able to travel for public meetings

Yes, either in-house or 3rd party engineering vendor relationships, may have a local presence available nationwide

Yes, 3rd party engineering vendor relationships, has relationships & local presence available nationwide, Project Expeditor(s) + EPCM to manage the process & report weekly


Possible, but without experience, or a guide to help you it is VERY difficult and INCREDIBLY time-consuming

Avg. Time: 12 months – several Years (or never)

Yes, but generally restricted by geography/region, added travel costs, and # of active Projects, depending on the project size, and region, may be very time consuming

Avg. Time: 6-12 months

Yes, sometimes handled in-house, or via 3rd party solar developer or Solar Integrator, depending on the project size, and region may be very time consuming 

Avg. Time: 3-6 months

Yes, in-house and 3rd party network of solar developers, engineers, and EPCs, depending on the project size, and region may be very time consuming

Avg. Time: 3 months


Self-financed may be able to get a business loan or traditional bank loan

No, but may be able to recommend solar finance companies or banks

Sometimes, depending on the strength of the EPC, may be able to recommend solar finance companies or banks

Yes, either in-house financing, 3rd party network of finance partners or 100% financing (they buy your system, you buy the power)


Possible, if you have a background in construction or electrical installation, otherwise best to hire 3rd party

No, unless managing a 3rd party EPC on your behalf (as EPCM), but does not typically get involved in the construction

Yes, but EPC needs to be a solar EPC, not just a traditional construction EPC that also does solar. Also, make sure they have a track record of commercial installs, not just residential

Yes, in-house EPC Manager, and a network of EPC relationships nationwide. Typically, only focused on commercial, but if not, make sure they have a track record of commercial installs

Warranty (Labor)

No, unavailable if self-installed

No, typically not involved with installation work

Yes, warranty on workmanship can vary from 6 months to 2 years

Yes, typically seek the longest warranties from installers and EPCs, minimum of 1 year

Ongoing System Operations & Maintenance (“O&M”)

Possible, if you have the solar experience, but typically handled by a 3rd party O&M Company

Possible, but typically handled by a 3rd party O&M Company 

Possible, and generally included in the EPC quote for your system, ideal to have the same company that built your system as an O&M provider

Yes, either in-house, or generally included in the EPC quote for your system, ideal to have the same company that built your system as an  O&M provider



We hope these four paths to installing solar are helpful criteria to consider. 



Tags: Solar, Project Management

Daniel Gonzales

Written by Daniel Gonzales

Daniel has worked in the solar industry for almost 10 years, and is an expert at expediting projects and creating and managing data rooms for solar project documentation.