Solar is a new buzzword. Everywhere I look, I see ads offering to help people “Go Solar”. Looking it up online, there seems to be very little clear-cut information. It’s all ads, size estimating tools, and opinions from people who have had a good or bad experience. There is not much in the way of practical information on what to expect during the process of “Going Solar”.
For the most part, when you hear or read the phrase, “Going Solar”, what is being referred to is a grid-tied roof-top solar installation. That is what the majority of this surge of solar installations all over the US consists of; grid-tied residential roof-top solar installations.
Compass Solar Energy offers battery and/or generator options for back-up energy storage during an outage or to offset peak usage. We also provide ground-mount and off-grid installations. Whatever option you choose, it’s available to any qualified homeowner. However, the most common and most affordable option is the grid-tied roof-top installation. That’s the option that typically provides the fastest ROI (Return On Investment) thanks to net-metering. Net-metering, in a very small nut shell, refers to the process of overproducing energy with solar panels to then sell back to the electric company, which lowers or possibly eliminates your usage charges from your electric company.
The process of going solar is still a mystery for most homeowners. A person can spend hours online researching and still not know what to do or how it happens. For anyone that is wanting to have a professional licensed solar PV contractor, here are the 8 basic steps to “Going Solar”.
- Choosing an installer
- Choosing an installer
Choosing a solar installer seems like a daunting task. Mostly good reviews are a good sign, mostly bad reviews are a bad sign. That is a quick way to filter out the companies to avoid calling. Once you have your list of potential installers with mostly good reviews, do some deeper digging into the companies. The first place you should check is with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB can tell you how long a company has been around. It’s important that you go with an established and experienced contractor.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a new company or an out-of-town contractor, but it’s always safer to go with an established, local company. Since our company was founded in the Florida Panhandle, we are very accustomed to out-of-town contractors flooding the area every time we have a bad storm come through. Some do a great job and really help out; others do a bad job and leave people in a bind. The problem with new companies and out of town contractors, not just with solar or even construction, but just in general, is you don’t know who will be here and who will not be here a year or two from now. So, the safest bet on a long-term investment like solar, is to go with a local, reputable, and experienced company.
- Energy Bill Analysis
After narrowing down your choices for solar installers to the best 1 or 2, the next step is to get quotes. In order for a professional solar estimator to accurately create a proposal for work to be done, it must first be established how much solar is needed to meet your energy requirements. The best way to accomplish this is to perform an energy bill analysis. You will be required to submit your previous 12 months of usage, as provided by your most recent electric bills for review. As long as there are no major life or lifestyle changes set to occur, the assumption is that your future energy consumption will be similar to the previous energy consumption. If you have done something to drastically reduce or increase your consumption within the previous 12 months, that is important information to pass along to your solar professional. If you have future plans to reduce or increase your energy consumption, that is also something that you will want to address with your solar analyst so that they can give you an accurate assessment of how much solar is required to meet your needs or achieve your energy production goals.
- Sit Through a Consultation
Not every solar installer is created equal. In addition, this is a large and long-term investment. You can’t just spend a little time on the internet researching it and expect to understand all the information that goes into and is outlined within a solar energy project proposal. You need to do yourself the favor of sitting through a consultation. If the professional you are working with does not want to take the time to give you a detailed consultation, that is a huge red flag and probably not the company you want to deal with. Even after sitting through one consultation, not every company is the same. A lot of solar companies train their salespeople to sell one specific system and nothing else. You want to find a company that trains their salespeople to actually consult and educate homeowners so that the homeowner can make a truly informed decision. You should know exactly which panel and inverter is being proposed in the project. You should know exactly how your electric company pays for overproduction and how much they pay. You should know the terms of the product warranty, the production guarantee, and be able to read the fine print before signing anything. You should also fully understand how the solar tax credits work and if you even qualify to receive it; as not everyone qualifies. If your solar professional doesn’t give you all the information you need up front, go with someone else. This is way too important of a decision to leave things to chance. Take the time, sit through the consultations, ask the questions, get everything in writing up front.
- Authorization and Paperwork
Once you sign off on the project, usually you will also need to give authorization for interconnection to the grid, allow for a building permit, and if you are financing the project with a solar loan; go through that application process for approval. The entire process from authorization to permission to operate is usually 2 – 6 months, depending on the circumstances.
- Site Survey
Once you have selected an installer and authorized the project, your solar installer should be performing a site survey. Some companies train their sales professionals to perform this task, others have a dedicated site survey professional. Either way, this has to happen before installation. The site survey involves inspecting and photographing the roof, the attic, the meter, and breaker panel. This should also include a shade analysis to be certain that the production listed in the signed proposal is accurate prior to installation. You definitely want to ask your solar professional if they are going to be performing a professional site survey prior to installation. That is the only way to catch potential problems beforehand that would stop or slow the installation process.
- Engineering, Design & Order
The information collected during the site survey, along with the system specs from the proposal, is passed on to an engineer for planning and design. Once the engineer maps out the project’s technical specifications, the system can be designed for final approval and permitting. When the permit is approved by the county or city, that would typically be the time to order materials and schedule the date of installation.
- Installation & PTO (Permission to Operate)
After the system is installed, it will have to be inspected by the building department. Once the installation passes inspection, technically the installation is complete and the solar installer has met their primary obligation. However, the project for the homeowner is not done yet. Most solar companies will assist the homeowner with the interconnection to the grid. I know that is what we do at Compass Solar Energy. The interconnection process only begins after the installation passes inspection from the building department. The electric company, once they received the application and required documentation to interconnect, will perform their own inspection to ensure all safety protocols are met and the system is ready for use. The electric company will notify either the solar installer, or the homeowner, or both that the system is ok to turn on.
- Final Walkthrough
Now that the electric company has given permission to turn on the system, the final step in the process is to have your solar professional come out and walk you through powering on the system. At this time, if you have not already received it, you should be given all of your manuals and product warranty registration information. Along with instructions on how to power your system on and off, you should also receive instructions on what to do if you need service, how net metering works, how to check your monitoring app, how to claim the tax credit and who to call for loan billing questions. At this point, it would have been 2 – 6 months since you first decided to say, “Yes”, to solar and signed an agreement with a solar installer.
Solar makes sense for most homeowners. The only way to find out for sure is by reaching out and booking a consultation. It’s worth the time to find out if saying, “Yes”, to solar is right for you.