Breaking: Zenernet has shut its doors, here is the latest.
Our Rating: 3 / 5 (See: How Leaf Score is calculated)
The Bottom Line
Zenernet has a lot going for it – passionate founders, efficient and knowledgeable pre-sales consultants, competitive pricing – but appears to have overpromised, oversold, and underdelivered in the last couple of years. If you have few other options where you live, we’d cautiously recommend contacting Zenernet, given that the company is trying to make amends. But this is definitely a case of buyer-beware and a lot depends on your timeline and the local installers who’ll work on your project!
Customers who had solar energy systems installed in 2019 or early 2020 seem to be very happy with Zenernet in general. Things turned a bit sour in 2021, though, with some serious overpromising and massive delays and other issues. By deliberately slowing growth into new markets and doubling down on what they did best, Zenernet may be able to overcome those growing pains, but we’re not yet seeing signs of a turnaround, despite our best hopes Zenernet could be one of the top solar installers in the U.S.
- Excellent, knowledgeable, patient pre-sales consultants
- Fully virtual consultation (should, theoretically, speed up the process)
- Transparent pricing and a well-designed online estimate tool (once you give contact info)
- Company doesn’t push specific brands
- Installations carried out by local teams that should have expert local knowledge
- Modular pricing model, so you can easily customize your system
- Refer-a-friend incentives
- Easy online form to transfer ownership if you move (inspection needed, though)
- Company may have grown too fast to maintain previously excellent service
- Only available in a handful of states
- No leasing options
- Temporarily limited inventory for panels and other equipment
- No production/system monitoring portal currently (Zenernet is working on one)
Fast Company named Zenernet one of the 10 most innovative small and mighty companies of 2021. After its start in 2017, Zenernet was on a solid upward trajectory, but since 2020, Zenernet appears to have become a victim of its own success. Customer reviews strongly suggest that Zenernet bit off more than it could chew, signing up too many customers for its post-sales customer service team and installers to handle in 2021 and early 2022.
We’ll talk about these growing pains more below, but want to acknowledge at the top that Zenernet has been very transparent about its issues and is actively working to right the ship. We talked to the company about its struggles in the past year and we had hoped it would return to its former excellent service, but nearly a year into that restructuring it seems little has changed for the better.
Zenernet rejigged its operations department to improve communications and provide more attentive project management, but customers have contacted us to let us know the same troubles persist as before. Zenernet has, at least, reigned in its operations, pulling back in some markets and limiting sales. The intention here was to allow its overwhelmed team to give every project the attention it deserves and to ensure a qualified installation crew is available that the company knows and trusts. Again, this doesn’t seem to be the case currently, so it’s very much a game of wait and see, where we really hope Zenernet gets its act together.
Zenernet’s growing pains
While Zenernet has an excellent core pre-sales team in place, with very knowledgeable experts helping to educate potential customers, the post-sales process was clearly overtaxed in 2021 and remains so in 2022. The biggest issues appear to have been an increasing reliance on quickly (perhaps poorly) trained and inexperienced local installers, some of whom may be unlicensed. Customers also report having the assigned team of installers switched out at the last minute for a less experienced team, without an opportunity to research and approve the change in crew.
By far the biggest complaint, however, is that customers struggle to reach anyone at Zenernet to find out what’s going on with their project after they’ve paid the deposit. From the outside, it looks a lot like the company scrambled to onboard new staff to handle an influx of orders, only to have them burn out under the weight of too many projects and angry customers.
Many projects have reportedly stalled for several months, with Zenernet allegedly failing to keep customers apprised of what’s causing delays and when the project might be rescheduled. Some customers report errors in paperwork or missing paperwork as the cause of delays in permitting, which Zenernet is meant to handle.
Unsurprisingly, many customers who have had solar panels and other equipment installed by inexperienced crews have questions and concerns about their system (such as it not working as intended or at all). Unfortunately, Zenernet seemed slow to respond to these issues, with customers reporting being given the runaround for months on end. Their phoneline answering service is currently full, which is never a good sign.
To its credit, Zenernet has publicly acknowledged that it was having issues with its post-sales customer service. The company has restructured its operations department to better serve customers once they’ve signed a contract and we’re still somewhat hopeful that customer reviews will see a decided upswing in 2023.
For now, however, almost all of the reviews of the company in 2022 continue to be for the pre-sales team, which makes for a rather skewed overall rating for Zenernet. Some customers have noted that Zenernet is very eager (even pushy) for customers to leave a positive review after the pre-sales call, which seems a tad disingenuous.
We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Zenernet to see if it ups its game as far as actual installations and post-sales communications with customers. We’re hopeful this young, passionate, innovative company can get through these teething troubles as it has a lot to offer. The good news is that the solar tax credit was renewed, so if you like the idea of Zenernet, but want to wait before committing, there’s still time to get that credit (or go with another installer).
Fingers crossed it does that before the federal solar tax credit expires!
If you do decide to give Zenernet a chance, here’s what you can expect.
Where is Zenernet available?
According to Zenernet’s website, as of July 2022, the company has a preferred dealer network that can install solar in the following states:
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
The company asks customers who live in other states to provide contact info, so they can receive updates as the company expands. Frankly, though, given Zenernet’s current issues, I would avoid being a test case in a market new to the company and would instead look for a more established local installer or a national company (such as SunPower) with a longstanding relationship with local installers near you.
Zenernet solar equipment
As part of its radical honesty ethos, Zenernet has been transparent about its current supply chain issues. These issues have plagued many solar installers in the last year or two, and rather than sign up customers for systems based on equipment that may be hard to pin down, Zenernet has instead taken the route of reducing the options it offers to customers during pre-sales.
Using the online tool, with multiple scenarios, the only panels seemingly available currently are the Canadian Solar 395 W panels. There are, however, at least five inverters to choose between:
- Enphase micro-inverters
- Generac micro-inverters
- SolarEdge string inverters
- SMA string inverters.
It’s commendable that Zenernet wants to stave off situations where it promises customers certain components during the design process that are not available when it comes time to do the installation. As Zenernet points out, this would create delays, require customers to select new components, and affect the price of a project.
So, for now, Zenernet is temporarily limiting the selection of components it offers to customers, listing only those it can guarantee will be on hand within the company’s standard installation timeline. Zenernet is currently guaranteeing installation within 60 days, with some caveats. This guarantee seems extremely optimistic, however.
Typically, Zenernet offers components from a variety of solar equipment brands, allowing customers to build a system based on their budget, efficiency preferences, aesthetic concerns, and other factors. The brands Zenernet has offered in the past include:
- Solar World
- Canadian Solar.
Zenernet has also offered solar battery storage and EV charging systems, though it seems such options are currently constrained. As for mounting hardware, Zenernet favors racking with marine-grade aluminum, to prevent erosion between solar panels and the roof (SunPower uses copper backing for a similar reason, with copper being stronger but more expensive).
Again, all solar installers are facing these challenges with supply chains and inventory. So, while it may frustrate some customers to have limited access to different brands, it’s to Zenernet’s credit that the company isn’t overpromising and is being honest with customers about product availability.
How the Zenernet process works
Interested customers can reach out directly to Zenernet to book a remote, virtual consultation. You can also use the company’s online estimate tool to get the ball rolling. Once you’re in touch with a pre-sales consultant, you’ll use the online booking system to schedule a consultation (they have plenty of availability).
Your assigned consultant will ask you to prepare some information in advance, so you can make the most of the 45-60-minute chat. This includes taking photos of your roof from different angles, your electrical service panel, and any electricity meters on site. You may also be asked about any potential access issues or other features that could problematize a solar installation. In addition, the consultant will want to see a current utility bill and, ideally, a history of your electricity consumption and will ask about your current and future energy needs.
The Zenernet energy consultant will then use satellite imagery and software to figure out a suitable design for your home energy system. During the consultation, they’ll talk you through the available options based on your home’s roof and other factors and can amend the design to satisfy any aesthetic and efficiency concerns.
Zenernet has earned a solid reputation for friendly, patient, and informative customer service in pre-sales. The consultants are very knowledgeable and able to answer technical questions, so don’t be afraid to get nerdy. On the flip side, if you’re new to solar energy, don’t be afraid to ask even the simplest of questions. The consultant will take the time needed to explain how solar power works and what you can expect from a rooftop array.
At the end of your consultation, you should have a clearer idea of the likely cost of a home solar installation. You won’t be pushed to sign a contract right away, and your Zenernet consultant will stay in touch if you have follow-up questions. At this point, you can gather other quotes and do more research before signing any contracts.
It’s worth noting that Zenernet’s entirely virtual consultation is meant to save time and avoid the hassle of a site visit. In practice, the lack of site visit seems to increase the risk of an unsuitable design that ends up failing to get permits or doesn’t actually work once the installers arrive on site. If you can, get a site assessment.
If you do sign a contract, you’ll be asked for a deposit. This is usually around $1,000. Zenernet will then match you with a local installer. You may need an on-site assessment to ensure the design is a good fit, after which your estimate may change slightly (we highly recommend getting a site assessment to avoid future delays and mistakes). Once everyone is happy with the design, Zenernet or the local installer will begin the process of submitting plans and permit applications to your local planning office.
After you have permits in hand, the installers can work their magic and get those panels up on your roof. Once the installation is complete, your local permitting office will perform a site inspection, as might your utility. You’ll need ‘permission to operate’ from your utility before you can switch on your solar energy system. Zenernet will then follow up to ensure you’re happy with the installation and that everything is working as it should.
The company will also be available going forward if you have further concerns about performance, maintenance, want to upgrade your system or add panels, and if you need to transfer ownership should you move home. In practice, Zenernet doesn’t seem to live up to this promise, with a full voicemail and hard to reach project managers. This is one of the biggest complaints about the company, and something we’d dearly love to see rectified to get Zenernet back on track.
Zenernet plans to launch a Homeowner Portal where homeowners will be able to see the next steps in their project. Once the system is installed, homeowners will also be able to monitor energy production.
Zenernet costs and paying for Zenernet
Zenernet offers a custom solution for every rooftop, based on the size of your home, your choice of equipment, where you live, and your energy needs. This means it’s hard to pin down an exact price for a Zenernet solar installation.
However, we used the company’s online tool to get a few quotes based on different scenarios. This is a great tool developed by Zenernet. It’s very simple to use and totally free. You do have to provide your phone number, email, and address, however, after which a Zenernet energy consultant will reach out to see if you’d like to schedule a consultation. You can, of course, choose to ignore this email or phone call until you’re ready (if ever) to take the next step.
We looked at a few potential rooftop solar installations in Arizona and Illinois to get an idea of the cost of Zenernet solar services.
In Arizona, the online estimate tool quotes a cost of:
- $23056 for a 6 kW system with 15 Canadian Solar 395 W panels and an Enphase iQ8 Series inverter, plus a 25-year warranty
- $24,648 for a 6 kW system with 15 Canadian Solar 395 W panels and the Solar Edge E-HUB + EV cable, plus a 25-year warranty.
For a smaller system in Arizona, with the same specs but just 10 panels providing 3.93 kW, the estimated cost is $16,926. With the Solar Edge E-HUB + EV cable, the cost increases to just over $18,000.
In Illinois, we got estimates of:
- $25,256 for a 6 kW system with 15 Canadian Solar 395 W panels and an Enphase iQ8 Series inverter, plus a 25-year warranty
- $26,848 for a 6 kW system with 15 Canadian Solar 395 W panels and the Solar Edge E-HUB + EV cable, plus a 25-year warranty
For the smaller, 3.93 kW systems in Illinois, the respective costs were $18,497 and $19,634.
With just a 10-year warranty, the price drops by about $1500 for each scenario.
The online tools bases the estimated system size on your current average monthly electric bill, where you live, and other factors. During your free consultation with Zenernet, the energy expert will likely suggest alterations to the system design if there are any obstructions on your roof, shading issues, or other complications. These changes would also likely alter the quote.
Note, too, that the estimates are based on a cash price and don’t include any financing charges. If you’re going to be paying for the installation with a solar loan, consider how much interest will be payable on top of this base price.
Zenernet warranty and ownership transfers
Zenernet offers three warranty options in addition to the manufacturers’ warranties for individual components of the solar energy system. The Zenernet workmanship warranty covers homeowners against defects and damage to the roof or components caused by the installation. You can choose from a 10-, 20-, or 25-year warranty.
Most solar companies offer a straightforward 25-year warranty, so it’s interesting that Zenernet offers shorter warranty periods. For some homeowners, the shorter option may be a way of saving money upfront, especially if you intend to move in the next few years.
One big advantage of going with Zenernet is a super easy ownership transfer process should you move house. The company has a simple online form for homeowners to fill out to to transfer the warranty protections and monitoring portal access for your solar system to your home’s new owners.
All transfers of ownership require a system inspection, with three options to choose from:
- Complete inspection ($300) – an operational inspection, updated production graph and shade report, and an informational call to help educate the new owners on how the system works, how to track production, and what’s included in the system warranties
- Operational inspection only ($200) – technicians will check the system is fully functional, provide photos of the solar panels and other equipment, and provide access to system monitoring if applicable (new homeowners will have to learn online how to track production)
- Enphase system transfer (fee paid directly to Enphase) – for systems with an Enphase inverter, homeowners looking to transfer ownership will not require a site visit and will have to follow the Enphase transfer policy.
Final thoughts on Zenernet Solar
Zenernet’s founder and CEO, J.P. Gerken is a veteran of the solar industry who wanted to set up a company that shucked the high-pressure sales tactics and outdated processes of its competitors. Zenernet appears to have done some of that, offering innovative design services, education, and an impressive suite of solar products, allowing customers to get a more bespoke solution instead of a cookie-cutter solar array.
In the early days, customer reviews suggested that when problems did arise, Zenernet was highly engaged and committed to rectifying things quickly. Post-sales staff embodied the company ethos of ‘extreme ownership’ and ‘radical honesty’ to make things right without passing the buck.
It’s a lot, though, to go from just a handful of people working out of a living room to a company employing hundreds of people worldwide in just five years. This rapid growth is great in that Zenernet services are available in more states, but it also has its downsides. Namely, what works for a small group of colleagues with an in-depth knowledge of one market doesn’t always scale up.
We’re hopeful that, given Zenernet’s entire founding ethos and its revised strategy, the company will find its feet again in 2023. In the meantime, we’d recommend going with Freedom Solar, SunPower, or another, local installer.