In most utility markets across the United States, solar power has already surpassed grid parity, which means installing photovoltaic (PV) panels is cheaper than continued reliance on the traditional electricity grid.
This explains why you keep seeing new rooftop solar installations all over your neighborhood. Installing PV panels on your home consistently delivers financial (and environmental) dividends for the 25+ years of your solar modules’ warrantied lifetimes. However, maximizing these benefits requires some advanced prep on your part as a homeowner. Whichever installer you choose will ultimately do most of the heavy lifting. But, the more research you invest upfront, the higher the return on investment (ROI) of your multi-decade investment becomes.
Below are some of the most important pre-installation steps to consider:
1. Conduct a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Home Assessment
|The first step involves conducting an informal assessment of your home’s solar potential:
Note that none of these factors are deal-breakers. For example, you can trim or remove trees to help more sunshine reach your roof. And, ground-mounted PV systems are an option if your roof isn’t large or strong enough. As long as your home receives enough direct sunlight, it’s likely a good candidate for renewable solar power.
For a deeper dive, be sure to read Does Solar Make Sense for My Home?
2. Collect Utility Bills
|The next step involves collecting as many electricity statements as possible. If you’ve lived in your home for a while, it’s a good idea to collect as many utility bills as you can to assess your usage because your energy consumption likely fluctuates throughout the year. Moreover, your installer will need to see this information before drafting any solar proposals.
This step is also helpful for determining how much money you actually spend on your utility bills – and by extension – how much you might save by going solar.
3. Estimate Your Future Energy Needs
|Do you plan on having more kids, buying an EV, or expanding your home? Even if the answer is no, there’s a good chance your electricity needs will increase in the future. That’s because we’re all buying more gadgets, smart devices, and other energy-hungry appliances. Plus, many solar customers swap out gas furnaces and stoves with electric alternatives. Doing so allows you to power more of your heating and cooking with sunshine – instead of with fossil fuel.
Your installer will conduct a more formal assessment of your long-term energy consumption. But having a rough idea of what your needs will be in the future helps the process go more smoothly.
4. Implement Energy Efficiency Improvements
|This step is often overlooked. But the more energy-efficient your home becomes, the fewer solar panels you’ll need to cover your electricity requirements:
Even without going solar, most energy efficiency improvements pay for themselves very quickly since you’re consuming less power to achieve the same result. For tips on getting started, be sure to read 5 Ways to Make Your Home More Sustainable.
5. Research Solar Installers
|If you’ve determined that solar is a good fit for your home, the next step involves finding an installer who can handle the job. The most important criteria during this phase include whether the installer is:
Visit Schneider Electric’s list of preferred installers to find installers near your home.
6. Request a Solar Inspection and Quote
|The more installer candidates you find in the previous step, the better. That’s because most home inspections are free, which allows you to meet with several contractors before committing to any of them.
Pro tip: It’s a good idea to provide easy access to the most important areas in your home – whether this means removing holiday decorations from the roof or cleaning out your garage. During these on-site inspections, installers will analyze things like your home’s solar potential, your historic electricity consumption, and any energy efficiency improvements you may have overlooked during your DIY check.
In addition, these in-person inspections also give you an opportunity to discuss important details like:
Your installer should be able to tell you the number and make of PV panels they’ll use. You can also talk about different solar inverter options. And, if applicable, you can discuss EV charging and whether to install lead-acid or lithium solar batteries. These optional add-ons can provide you with partial or full emergency backup power – plus the ability to manage your entire home with smart load control. The storage also allows you to decrease your utility bills using stored energy during peak hours in time-of-use applications.
For a more thorough breakdown of what smart load control entails, be sure to read the Beginner’s Guide to Solar Battery Storage.
Financing and Incentives
Based on the technical specs above, your installer can also let you know how much your PV system will cost – and how much solar power it will produce daily, monthly, yearly, and over the 25+ years of your panels’ warrantied lifetimes. Although cash is the simplest way to pay for a new PV system, many installers offer different financing options including:
- Solar loans, which provide you with the upfront cash to purchase a new PV installation. You then use your monthly utility bill savings to pay down the loan balance until the system is 100% yours.
- Solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPA’s), which allow you to “rent” your system and will typically reduce your electric bill by approximately 20%.
In addition, your installer can also let you know what solar incentives you might qualify for, including:
- Net metering and feed-in tariffs – both of which provide you with the ability to sell unused solar power back to your utility provider in exchange for credits or cash.
- The Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which is a federal incentive that reduces the total cost of your installation by 30% – provided you own the system via cash or a solar loan.
- Solar rebates, which provide you with cash back if you install PV panels on your home. These vary across different states, cities, and utility markets. For a complete list of solar incentives and rebates in your ZIP Code if you live in the US, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE).
Based on these numbers, your installer can also give you a rough idea of how long it’ll take for your PV system to break even (i.e., payback period) and what kinds of returns you can expect from your clean energy investment.
If the numbers make sense, you’re ready for the next step.
7. Get Everything in Writing
|Even with falling PV prices, solar is still a big investment. And it’s never a good idea to trust verbal promises. Instead, ask every installer to provide a detailed solar proposal with all technical specifications, costs, savings, payback periods, and ROIs in writing. Each solar proposal should also clearly outline things like:
8. Start Comparing Solar Quotes
|If you follow the above steps, you should end up with several competing solar proposals. Because every format will likely be a little different, comparing apples to apples can be challenging. You want whichever PV system delivers the highest return on investment. So, pay close attention to the costs, savings, and payback period in each proposal.
Also, never overlook the importance of rapport. You should feel comfortable with whichever team will ultimately guide you through all the paperwork and logistics. Plus, they’ll also be in your home and on your roof for the several days it’ll take to complete the solar installation.
As you can see, there are lots of steps involved with going solar. It may be tempting to skip them completely, but this advanced research is worth it when you consider how much a well-installed PV system can save you over the several decades.
If you’re ready to begin claiming these benefits, click below to find a Schneider Electric Preferred Installer near you.