Being Smart About Solar
Before going solar…. consider these points
So…. you’re thinking of going solar. Congratulations! It’s a big step, and a worthy one.
By embracing solar power, you help reduce the load on our local energy grid, which cuts down on air polluting emissions and helps us avoid or delay the need to build another power plant. You also offset—perhaps even eliminate—your electricity bill. In short, going solar is good for the planet, good for the community and good for you.
Your local public electric and gas utility, CPS Energy, has approved an additional $30 million of the community’s dollars for solar rebates. Additionally, Federal government will be offering a 30% Investment Tax Credit until 2020. Being educated so you can choose the best solar option for you means that we can utilize the rebates so that more people can access solar and its myriad benefits. CPS Energy has just implemented some important measures to help protect the safety of customers in the market for solar. However, like any major investment, it’s a important to be well informed about what your options are and what you are purchasing.
In the spirit of good stewardship, Build San Antonio Green has assembled the following considerations to help you become well-informed about solar. If you want to learn more about how solar technology works, visit the “Solar 101” section of our website, buildsagreen.org.
What size system is right for me?
Deciding what size system depends on what you would like to accomplish. If you are really into solar and want to do your part to help reduce demand for the community, you may want to have the most solar you can get. If you are looking to reduce your utility bill to save some money, then that is likely not your best option.
For most people, an ideal solar array would produce just enough power to wipe out their electricity bill on an annual basis. Doing so can still benefit the community by not using valuable power from the grid (and delaying or avoiding the need to build more power plants), and by helping you personally to save money. Look at your electricity bill – how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) did you consume last year? That is the maximum amount of electricity your system should produce to be most efficient.
When you consume your own solar power to zero out your bill, your local utility pays you approximately $0.098/kWh.* But when you produce excess power and sell it back to the utility, the rate drops to $0.0169/kWh. The most efficient scenario is to buy a solar array that produces just enough power to eliminate your electricity bill.
In short, bigger is not necessarily better. Keep in mind that a bigger system always entails more upfront costs. So optimize the system size based on your goals, consumption, and budget.
If your goal is to save some money, then it’s also a good idea to investigate getting an energy audit for your home. You can find a local energy rater who will help you determine how energy efficient your home is. The more efficient your home before you add solar, the smaller system you will need to zero out your bill. It may be more cost effective to take some measures to make your home more efficient and then add a smaller system, decreasing your upfront costs. CPS Energy even offers various rebates for energy efficiency upgrades. Check out www.cpsenergy.com to see if you qualify.
How do I know if I have the ideal conditions for solar?
Most smart phones have an integrated compass. Use yours to find the orientation of your rooftop. You can compare what you find with your installer and even ask your installer what the difference in production would be if you had a south-facing roof. East-west facing systems produce 12-15% less energy than south facing ones. If your installer provides a production estimate and return on investment calculation, make sure the estimate for the system is modeled according to your roof orientation and not the ideal south facing ones.
Six hours of sun per day, every day is the industry standard for maximum Return on Investment (ROI.)
Is your roof so situated that it receives six hours of sun per day, every day, every season? The peak solar window is 10am to 4pm every day all year. Does your roof have six hours of uninterrupted sun?
If not, your production will be lower and the payback longer. Also, make sure to be aware of any shading issues your roofs might have, whether it is shading from any surrounding trees, or shading from a chimney. A quick look at satellite imagery of your home would be a good place to start. Installers have equipment that is capable of assessing shading patterns at any proposed roof site. Work with your installer so you do not place panels on any shaded areas. It would be a disservice to have a large system, but have half of it covered in shade. And it would mean that you will not meet your maximum production and ROI.
Are high efficient (HE) panels better?
It may seem logical to have the most highly efficient (HE) solar panels. But again, this depends on your goals. The HE panels cost more.Compare the cost increase to the production increase. Are the panels worth the extra cost? If your goal is to produce as much energy as possible and cost is not a factor, then the HE panels could be right for you. But if you are considering the upfront costs and long term ROI, then they may not offer the best long-term investment.
As a side note, keep in mind that if you are going after the CPS rebate, all equipment chosen must be new and listed on the California Energy Commission list of approved modules and inverters, which can be found on the CPS Energy website. When you buy a new car with a V8, you can pop the hood to see the engine. How do you pop the hood on a solar project? Ask for the bill of material and check the serial numbers. Make sure you receive the equipment you were promised.
How do I know if I’m getting the best price for my system?
The solar industry, like many others, has some less-than-reputable businesses. In order to make an informed decision about which installer is right for you, do some research. Rather than going with the first installer you call or find, get several quotes from a few installers. CPS Energy keeps a list of approved installers which you can find on their website. Make sure the installers you are considering are listed.
Get details on the warranties, including one for your roof.
Installing a solar system will require that holes be drilled in your roof. It’s a good idea to ask your installer if they will guarantee that your roof, built to last 20 – 30 years, won’t be harmed or leak as a result of the installation.
If you are planning on accessing the CPS Energy Rebate, CPS Energy has certain requirements for warranties. They require that all installed PV systems carry a five-year warranty from the installer. Solar modules must carry a 20-year warranty from the manufacturer, and inverters (the piece of necessary gear in any solar system that converts direct current from the sun to useable alternating current that can be absorbed into the grid and your home) must carry at least a five-year manufacturer’s warranty without battery back-up.
Know your guarantees and warranties before signing any contracts, and factor them into the ROI of your system.
The decision to go solar is exciting, and worthy, but it’s also a big financial decision. Being well-informed about your options and working with your installer to make the right choices for your situation and goals is the best way to get the most from your investment. We know you are super excited to get that solar system, but make sure you manage your expectations. Ask your installer about their process and an estimate of when your system should be online.
*All prices estimates as of March 1, 2016.
Contributors to this article include: Monika Maeckle, Jacob Eyer, and Kate Rodriguez
Interested in Learning about Solar Options and Getting 3 Free Quotes? Visit our program site: BringSolarHome.com