Have you been considering installing a home solar system, and are unsure of where to start? Maybe, you’re past the consideration stage, and are well into the research stage! Regardless of what stage you’re in, you likely have some questions regarding the specific details.
Let this blog serve as your guide to preparing for your home solar system. Because solar systems are relatively new technology, there are some nuances you may want to consider compared to common ways of producing energy, like hydro or gas. Let’s discuss the aspects you’ll want to keep in mind before, during, and after meeting with the solar installation company of your choice.
Before Meeting the Installer: What should you know?
Monthly Electric Bill and Usage
Before meeting with an installer and discussing what type of system best fits your needs, review your monthly electric bills from the past year. It’s good to understand your electricity bill and usage, so you can have an idea of the size of the system you need. That way, when talking to an installer, there will be less information lost in solar jargon.
On your electricity bill, you should find the total kilowatt-hours you’ve used in a month. This is the total amount of energy you’ve used for that month. Because you don’t have a solar system yet, you can’t accurately calculate your solar offset. Solar offset is how much solar your system produces in a year, divided by the amount of energy your home uses. It is the estimated percentage of how much solar your home will need to run loads. To get this number, look up the average solar production in kWh for your area. When you find that, divide the solar number by your total electric usage, and you have your solar offset!
Solar offset is important because it gives you an idea of what your electricity bills will look like after you’ve installed your solar system. Most solar offsets can’t be 100%, as this can get very expensive, but anything 75% and below is perfect for your needs.
With or Without Storage
Before you meet or call an installer, decide whether you want your system to include battery storage. Batteries optimize your system and minimize your dependence on the grid. In a solar + storage system, the battery stores excess energy harnessed throughout the day. The stored energy can be used for emergencies, such as when the power goes out but is also used to offset time-of-use or peak charges during non-solar hours. Therefore, when the price of energy rises during the evening, you can use your batteries to help power loads in your home.
Additionally, certain cities have incentives that allow you to sell the excess energy after your battery is full, back to the grid. In return, you typically receive credits on your account to lighten your next electricity bill.
Research the Installation Company
Home solar systems are a huge investment, which means you should also invest some time into researching a reputable installation company. Your installation company of choice should be:
- Have at least 3 years of solar installation experience
- Be up to date on solar technology
You’ll also want to look out for certifications. Though certification is voluntary, it is important because it indicates your installer is dedicated to ongoing learning practices and is up to date on solar knowledge.
To research your installation company of choice, the Better Business Bureau has a comprehensive list of businesses in North America that provides you with an overview of the business including customer reviews and complaints.
Meeting the Installer: What should you ask?
Local Regulations and Incentives
Before installing your solar system, you’ll require some approvals from your local building or housing department and the utility. Your installer will take lead on the pre-installation process, but it is good to ask questions and stay informed during this time.
Additionally, you should inquire about your utility’s policy regarding compensation for excess energy. Many places use a process called net-metering. This billing system compensates solar + storage users with credits on your electricity bill when your excess energy is supplied back to the grid. However, not all places do this! Certain areas have a different form of compensation, and some do not offer it at all.
Local incentives vary from region to region as well. For example, the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) is an incentive program for residents of California that provides rebates to support the acquisition of affordable energy storage. Be sure to check your area’s available incentives and ask your installer any questions.
Ask your installer to provide examples of their previous installations, customer reviews, and testimonials. Similar to a reference check from an employer, reference checks for an installer show you how their knowledge and skills are applied on the job, and how other customers perceive them. Make sure you check with multiple installers, in order to get a rounded view of the industry and the best installation company for your needs.
The upfront costs of your solar installation depend on whether you want to own your solar panels or sign a lease or Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Most leases and PPA’s are $0-down, but depending on the installation company, you may have to pay some upfront costs. But what are a solar lease and a PPA?
With a solar lease, you agree to a monthly payment determined by your installation company. With a PPA, instead of a fixed amount, you are paying a set price per kilowatt hour (kWh) which guarantees you will get exactly what you pay for.
Alternatively, you can own your solar system. This would come with more upfront costs and can increase with the addition of battery storage. However, by owning your system, you are eligible for local incentives and see higher savings long-term. It is important to discuss with your installer about the upfront costs, the details of each agreement, and what is best for you.
Value of Your Home
Regardless of how you assume ownership of your system, you should discuss how the solar system can impact the value of your home. Homes with solar panels installed tend to sell for more and offer financial benefits to future owners. However, there are a few determinants that will impact how well the home will sell with panels, such as:
- Location of your home
- Size of your solar energy system
- Age of the system (panels, inverters, batteries)
- Efficiency of the system
- Market value of your home
Each home with a solar system is appraised uniquely because of these factors. However, if you signed a lease or PPA, moving to a new location or selling your home can be tricky. If you’re moving, you can talk to your installer about re-installation and removal. If you want to sell your home, the new buyers will have to agree to pay out the rest of the lease. To be sure of how leases and PPA’s can change the value of your home, ask your installer:
- About their policies on liens (a lien is taken out on a property if there are failed payments)
- What is the minimum performance guarantee, and will you be compensated if the system does not perform?
- What is the fee for breaking the contract early?
Warranties, Replacements, and Repairs
Ask your installer and familiarize yourself with the company’s policies on warranties, replacements, and repairs. This is important because if something goes wrong with your system, you need to know who to contact, and how much you’re covered under the warranty.
Key questions to ask your installer:
- Who should I contact if there is a problem with the system?
- What exactly do the warranties cover? Which parts of my system are covered by a warranty?
- What do I do if the system is not producing as much power as expected?
The Next Steps: What to Expect
Once the pre-installation process is complete, the installation company will come to your home and install the system. Because you are transitioning from typical ways of energy production, you may need a new utility meter that records your energy intake and the energy you send into the grid. You can check with your installer and utility company to see if this is necessary for you, when it will be set up and by who.
System Activation and Monitoring
After your home solar system is set up, you’ll need to wait for an inspection from the utility and any other local standards offices. Finally, you can set up a monitoring system that provides specs on your system in real-time. Insight is our energy management software that monitors your Schneider Electric system’s energy production and provides information on how much energy you use, where your energy is allocated, environmental benefits, and your earnings. This type of information is integral to the smooth running of your system, as you can monitor your energy production in real-time, and report any information back to your installer.
And there we have it! A simple guide on planning out your home solar system. Solar systems are a big investment, so it is integral to stay informed throughout all stages of the planning process. Hopefully, this provided you with valuable information that will clarify the details of a solar installation.