Your neighbor just installed a row of gleaming solar panels. You hear radio ads for solar energy. Your favorite politicians speak of the promise of renewables. All indications are that solar energy is now affordable for most residential installations. Are you next? I recently took the plunge with my garage to remodel, so from my experience, I thought I’d share some suggestions on how to start down the solar path and select a solar installer. 3 Key Considerations to Getting Started!
Before you start searching for solar installers, you should ask yourself a few questions, not the least of which is “why do you want to have solar panels?” Most of us fall somewhere along the spectrum between “to reduce my carbon footprint ” and “to save money.” It’s possible to meet both goals, and you should go into your project keenly aware of the extent to which you’d like to do either.
Some homeowners have another goal: to get their homes “off the grid,” meaning all the power they need will be supplied by the sun, and they do not have to depend on (or do not have access to) electrical power lines provided by a utility. This will mean having batteries to store electricity for use when the sun is not shining. There are many more considerations; this article addresses “grid-tied” solar panel systems, which are more common.
Do you have a total cost in mind? And what is a reasonable payback period—that is, the number of years in which your electrical cost savings exceed the project's cost? How much money can you afford to pay for the project, and would you be open to financing the project? Many installers have financing plans.
Solar panels themselves are relatively inexpensive, but the installation of the panels, your inverter, emergency shut-offs, production, and bidirectional meters is labor-intensive and required for all projects, no matter the size. So, there are significant economies of scale with solar projects. As you add more panels, the cost per installed watt decreases.
There are also some considerations to make your home solar-ready, which you might want to chip away at over time to limit the size of the one-time investment. Remember that the more energy-efficient your home, the less you can expect to pay for a solar system to power it.
Think of where solar panels would fit on your home and how they would function. Do you have a flat or south-facing roof? Are there any extruding items on the roof (vents, chimneys, etc.) that would prevent installing panels? Are there objects on the south side of your home that provide shade for your panels? For instance, a neighbor’s roof or a tree may block the sun while the sun is low on the horizon in winter, while a utility pole partially shades the panels in summer. Significant shade on solar panels will dramatically affect their performance. If necessary, a firm may use an instrument to determine your site’s solar potential more precisely.