Solar Panels on Roof
The novelty of conventional solar energy poses a challenge. If you want to buy a car, for example, there are many people who have done it and can tell you how the process works. Placing solar panels on the roof costs as much as a car, but the cohort of seasoned buyers is much, much smaller. The number of customers who have owned a solar system for its entire life cycle is even more limited.
On top of that, the stakes are high, this is going to your roof after all. “This is a big one. This is one where you can’t say, ‘well, if I make a mistake, I’ll know better next time,'” says Jane Weissman, president and CEO of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, an organization The nonprofit that just released a consumer checklist and other resources for rooftop solar.
The cost of solar energy continues to fall and the number of installations continues to rise, so CityLab decided to chat with some solar experts to guide readers through the most important questions to consider before making the leap to energy. solar.
1. Do you have a roof that can support solar panels?
This is pretty key. If your roof is covered in shade most of the day throughout the year, you may not have a favorable enough “solar window” to justify the costs of the panels. That is something you will want to evaluate before moving on. If your roof won’t cut it, or you can’t make the call because you’re renting your apartment or living in a multi-unit building, you don’t have to give up solar power entirely. Instead of installing your own panels, look for shared or community solar power. This approach allows many different customers to buy a share in a solar installation and receive credits on their electricity bills.
If you have a properly sunlit rooftop to work with, Weissman says, make sure it’s structurally sound. Solar installations these days can come with warranties of 20 or 25 years. If your roof will need a renovation in a few years, it will be easier to take care of that before the matrix is installed. That way, you won’t have to pay extra time and money to disconnect the panels during the roof renovation and replace them later. As you do so, be sure not to conflict with homeowners association covenants that prohibit solar power on roofs for aesthetic reasons.
Lastly, envision the future of your garden. If the roof is not clogged now, but you just planted a battalion of lush oak trees around your property, you may be in trouble in a few years. Be prepared to prune your foliage to keep the panels clear.
2. Have you done everything you can to improve efficiency?
How much solar power you need to produce depends on how much you use, so it makes sense to cut back on your use as much as possible before paying for all those panels. Start with an energy audit and look for efficiency improvements before drawing up plans.
3. Which kind of solar makes sense?
The two dominant solar technologies to choose from are photovoltaic, which uses arrays of cells to convert sunlight into electricity, and thermal, which uses sunlight to heat water or air for use indoors. If your home uses a lot of energy for heating, or you live somewhere where heating oil is expensive relative to electricity, a solar thermal inversion could break even sooner, says engineer Timothy Wilhelm, who coordinates the electrical and technology program. teaches solar installation at Kankakee Community College in Illinois. But, he adds, solar thermal is rarer in homes, so it might be more difficult to find a qualified installer.
4. How do you connect to the grid?
The details vary depending on where you live, but the principle is that every time you connect with a utility company, there is a great deal of logistics to figure out. Do you have to pay a fee? How long does the utility take to connect it? Once connected, how and when will the electricity you generate be credited?
The latter refers to net metering, the practice whereby utilities reimburse rooftop solar at the same price they charge users for electricity. This is politically tense territory – some states, like Nevada, have adopted policies where utilities pay less for surplus solar power, making it harder to recoup the cost of installation. For a practical guide on the position of each state in this regard, check out this solar dashboard.
5. Is your installer trustworthy?
This applies every time you hire someone to come into your home, but solar power combines the logistics of a home improvement project with the hazards of electrical work. Credentials and references are especially important. “You wouldn’t hire an electrician who’s never done electrical work to come into your house and turn things around,” says Kelly Larson, an electrical contractor in California with 20 years of experience in solar installations. In particular, seek accreditation from the North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals (NABCEP). And this is a big expense, so don’t be afraid to get a few different quotes before signing a contract.
This is harder to predict, but ideally you want a company that will stick around for the life of your facility. Since solar cells have no moving parts, they tend to need very little maintenance, Larson says. Still, in the event that something stops working during the warranty period, you don’t want to realize that your installer is not available to fix it.
6. Lease or buy?
Each household will need to conduct its own cost-benefit analysis on this basic trade-off. Buying your own system costs more upfront but pays higher dividends; Leasing allows you to access cheaper electricity with little or no down payment, but the benefits are more limited. If you rent, the company you hire owns the system and you pay them a certain fee for electricity; When the lease ends, they can take away the system. When you are the owner of the system, it can keep running long after you pay the purchase cost. Be sure to compare the total lifecycle cost of the lease and compare the savings to the benefits you would get from the property.
In your financial analysis, keep in mind that the panels can run for decades, Wilhelm says, but other electronic equipment in the system, like the power inverter, has a shorter lifespan. Don’t forget to factor in replacements for those other system components when budgeting for the project cost.
7. What should you see in your contract?
The contract you sign should detail all the details of financing, ownership, and performance expectations. Also, because these systems can include web-enabled devices, you should check to see if anyone is collecting data on your home’s energy production and use and who has access to it.
There are many details to take into account. IREC compiled some additional resources that go into more detail. When in doubt, don’t go it alone, Weissman says: “If you don’t get the answers you need, then it’s probably best to seek legal advice.”