How Do You Prepare For Solar Energy?

Solar energy involves harnessing energy from the sun and converting it into electricity. Solar panels, also known as photovoltaics, absorb photons from sunlight and convert them into an electric current using semiconducting materials. This electricity can then be used to power homes, buildings, and even grids. The solar energy that reaches Earth’s surface in one hour could meet the world’s energy needs for an entire year.

Solar energy adoption has grown exponentially in recent years. The costs of solar panels have declined by over 85% since 2009, making solar power competitive with fossil fuels in many markets. Solar is clean, renewable, and abundant, producing no carbon emissions or pollution. It allows consumers to generate their own electricity and reduce reliance on their utility provider. With solar energy, homeowners, businesses, and communities can take control of their power supply while also being environmentally responsible.

Going solar provides many benefits beyond environmental perks. Solar energy cuts electricity bills and can provide a positive return on investment over the system lifetime. It increases property values and makes homes more attractive to buyers. Solar also creates local jobs and grows the economy. With no fuel costs, solar panels can generate electricity for 25 years or more with minimal maintenance. As solar technology improves and costs continue to fall, solar power represents an increasingly affordable, sustainable solution for energy needs.

Assess Your Energy Usage

The first step in preparing for solar is to assess your home’s energy usage. This will help determine the appropriate system size and potential bill savings. Start by tracking your monthly electricity bills for the past year. Look for seasonal fluctuations and identify which months incur the highest costs.

You’ll also want to find which devices and appliances use the most electricity. Check their wattages and calculate their estimated hourly and monthly consumption. High-drain devices like electric water heaters, AC units, and electric vehicle chargers are especially important to identify. Consider using an energy monitor to track real-time and hourly usage.

Finally, evaluate any potential energy efficiency upgrades. Improving insulation, sealing air leaks, upgrading to LED lighting, and replacing outdated appliances can all help reduce your electricity usage. This will enable you to size your solar system based on your actual needs and maximize potential savings.

Determine Your Solar Potential

person installing solar panels on roof

Determining your home’s solar potential is a key step in preparing for solar installation. There are a few main factors to consider:

Use a solar calculator

Online solar calculators can give you an estimate of how much electricity solar panels could produce on your home. Enter details like your address, average electricity usage, and roof dimensions to get a solar production estimate.

Consider roof space and orientation

South-facing roofs with little shade from trees or other buildings generally have the highest solar potential. West-facing or flat roofs can also be suitable in many cases. The total square footage of unshaded roof space will determine how many solar panels can be installed.

Check local solar rights

Most local governments allow homeowners to install solar, but building codes and homeowners associations may have restrictions. Verify you have solar access rights for your property before moving forward.

Having a professional solar site assessment done will give you the most accurate understanding of your home’s solar potential.

Research Installers and Financing

The solar installation process starts with thoroughly researching potential installers. Get quotes from at least 3 local solar companies to compare pricing and financing options. When contacting installers, inquire about the full scope of services offered, such as consultation, system design, permitting, installation, interconnection paperwork, etc. Ask for references from past customers.

Compare the financing options available to determine the best model for your budget and goals. The main financing options are:

  • Cash purchase: Paying the full system cost upfront, which qualifies for the investment tax credit.
  • Loan: Taking out a solar loan for the system, then repaying over time with interest.
  • Solar lease: Making monthly payments to essentially rent the system.
  • Power purchase agreement (PPA): Paying a set rate for the power produced each month, with no upfront costs.

Each option has its own pros and cons. Loans allow ownership while spreading out costs over time. Leases and PPAs avoid upfront costs but mean you won’t own the system. Compare all quotes closely and understand the fine print before committing.

Select an Installer

Choosing the right solar installer is crucial to ensure your system is designed, installed and activated properly. Here are some tips for selecting an installer:

Check Credentials and Reviews

Make sure any installers you consider are licensed and insured. Ask for references and read online reviews. An established company with plenty of positive feedback is a good sign.

Get a Detailed Project Proposal

Have installers visit your home to evaluate conditions and provide a customized proposal. Compare proposals not just on price but on equipment quality, production estimates, monitoring capabilities, warranties, etc.

Understand Timeline

Ask installers how long the project will take from design to completion. Make sure the timeline works with your schedule. The installation itself typically takes 1-3 days once permits and inspections are complete.

Taking the time to carefully evaluate and select your installer will help ensure your solar energy project is a success.

Prepare Your Home

worker inspecting solar panels

Before solar panels can be installed, it’s important to make sure your home is properly prepared. This involves inspecting your roof, upgrading your electrical system, and trimming any trees that could cause shading issues.

Roof Repairs

Your roof needs to be in good condition to support solar panels which can weigh 3-5 pounds per square foot. Inspect your roof for any loose shingles, cracks, leaks or other damage. Repair any issues to ensure the roof can structurally support the additional weight of the panels.

The roof should also be free of debris, overhanging branches and other obstructions. Clear the area where panels will be installed. If your roof needs significant repairs, it may be worthwhile to install a new roof before adding solar panels.

Electrical Upgrades

Most homes require electrical upgrades to handle the amount of energy generated by solar panels. Consult with your solar installer to determine if upgrades are needed. Common upgrades include:

  • New breaker box – To integrate solar power and increase capacity
  • Fatter wiring – To handle increased loads from solar energy
  • New grounding rods – For proper grounding of solar equipment

Upgrading before solar installation saves money compared to doing it afterwards. Factor electrical upgrades into your solar budget.

Tree Trimming

Trees that shade your roof will block sunlight from reaching your solar panels, reducing energy production. Prune back any overhanging branches or tree limbs. If there are trees that can’t be trimmed without damaging the health of the tree, your solar array may need to be installed in a location with optimal sun exposure.

Properly preparing your home will ensure your solar system can operate efficiently for years to come.

Purchase and Install System

Once you have selected an installer and financing option, it’s time to move forward with purchasing and installing your solar energy system. This involves several key steps:

Sign Contract

You will need to review and sign a contract with your chosen solar installer. This should outline the project scope, timeline, pricing, warranties, and other terms and conditions. Make sure everything aligns with the proposal and your expectations before signing.

Obtain Permits

Your installer will pull the necessary permits for the solar installation. Depending on your jurisdiction, this may include building, electrical, and solar permits specifically. The process can take a few weeks in some areas.

Schedule Installation

Work with your installer to schedule installation dates that work for you. Most residential solar projects take 2-4 days to fully install. Make sure someone is available to provide access to your home and keep pets secured during the installation.

Inspect Finished System

Once the solar installation is complete, your jurisdiction will inspect the finished system. This ensures it was properly installed and meets all codes and regulations. Assuming it passes inspection, your system can then be activated and interconnected.

Interconnect and Activate System

solar panels connected to electrical grid

Once the solar panels are installed, you will need approval from your utility company before you can start generating electricity. This process is known as interconnection and it involves getting the utility’s permission to connect your solar energy system to the grid. The main steps involved are:

Applying for interconnection: Your solar installer will submit an interconnection application along with supporting documents like electrical diagrams to your utility. This application has details about your system like its size and components. The utility will review it to ensure your system meets their technical requirements for safely connecting to the grid.

Net metering setup: As part of the interconnection process, you will also need to set up net metering with your utility. This billing mechanism credits you for any excess solar energy that gets fed back into the grid. Your net meter moves backwards when you overproduce and spins forward when you consume grid power. You only pay the utility for your net consumption.

Receiving PTO: After the utility approves your application, they will issue Permission to Operate (PTO). This means your solar system has been given the green light to start generating electricity. You will also need to pass any required building inspections before getting PTO.

Once you receive PTO from your utility, your solar installer will complete the final inspections and commissioning. Then you can flip the switch and start generating clean solar power!

Maintain the System

Once your solar energy system is installed and running, some basic maintenance is required to keep it operating efficiently. Here are some maintenance tips:

Clean the Panels

Dirt and debris can build up on solar panels over time, reducing their ability to absorb sunlight. It’s recommended to clean panels 2-4 times per year. Use a soft brush and mild detergent and water solution. Avoid abrasive cleaners or brushes that could scratch the surface.

Check the Inverter

The inverter converts the DC electricity from the solar panels into usable AC electricity for your home. Check the inverter display regularly for any error codes or alerts. Replace air filters as needed. Keep it clean and dry.

Trim Nearby Trees and Shrubs

Vegetation growth can eventually shade your solar panels, reducing productivity. Trim back encroaching tree branches and shrubs to maintain optimal sunlight access to your panels.

Monitor System Production

Keep an eye on your system’s daily/monthly production using its monitoring software. Make sure it’s generating energy as expected. Rapid declines in output can indicate a maintenance issue needing correction.

Maximize Savings

Once your solar energy system is up and running, there are several ways to maximize the savings and get the most out of your investment:

Shift Usage

Adjust when you use electricity throughout the day to align with solar production. For example, run appliances like dishwashers and washing machines during peak sunlight hours. Avoid using major electricity hogs in the evening after the sun has set.

Optimize Self-Consumption

Consume as much of the solar power your system generates as possible. Turn off any unnecessary lights and electronics so more solar electricity can be used on-site before excess is sent back to the grid.

Consider Battery Storage

Adding a home battery allows you to store excess solar energy during the day for use at night. This further optimizes self-consumption and reduces reliance on the grid. Batteries bring additional upfront costs but can lead to greater long-term savings.

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