Installing home solar power systems in homes is trending across the country as a means of transitioning out of the fossil fuel power grid to a cleaner, greener source of energy. With authorities actively encouraging this, the benefits for homeowners are too many – lower carbon footprint, a lower electric bill, and higher home value.
Whether planning to set up residential solar panels in a new home or convert the electricity source of older homes, you need to consider various aspects and options, weigh the pros and cons of each and go through a multitude of steps.
This article will walk you through the choices available in home solar panels, the essential points to consider, and the steps to follow if you are planning to power your home with residential solar panels. The local solar panel contractor/installer and the utility company will be able to provide more details on the exact steps to carry out your plan.
Assess the energy efficiency of your home
Ascertaining the energy efficiency of your home and improving it wherever required is vital to derive the maximum benefit from a residential solar panel system. Efficiency upgrades need not be expensive or troublesome. There are easy-to-install and low-cost options available for you to consider.
Here are some ideas to improve the energy efficiency of your home.
Conducting an audit of your existing power system helps understand your power requirements, details about lost electricity if any, identify the problem areas, and ways to fix the issues. This is the important first step before planning home solar systems.
You can take the help of a professional or do a self-assessment to carry out the energy audit. Though a professional assessment will be more thorough as it is done with the help of the latest gadgets, it can also add to the expense.
Every unit of electricity lost is an unnecessary and avoidable expense for the homeowner – be it before or after installing the solar panels. This is more relevant when planning a solar panel system, as the solar panels’ cost is based on the power use.
Appliances with a higher power rating
Look out for the Energy Star label in home appliances and electronics equipment. Energy Star is a certification given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to promote energy efficiency. It offers information on the electricity use by appliances and devices.
You can consider replacing some of your old appliances and devices with new energy-efficient ones. The older the appliance, the lower the energy efficiency. Though replacing appliances might add to the expenses, it will be profitable in the long run due to the power saved.
This aims at providing the same amount of light for fewer units of power. CFL, LED, and halogen incandescent light bulbs are some of the options for you to consider. The emphasis on energy-saving lighting has led to the advent of newer technologies. Again, the Energy Star label is an indication of energy efficiency.
Weatherize your home
If you are using grid power to heat and cool your home, it will form the bulk of your power spend. By weatherizing your home, i.e., by improving the insulation of the structure, you can prevent the outside weather from influencing the temperature inside your home.
By weatherproofing your home, you can bring down the power needs for heating and cooling purposes. This will make a huge impact on the cost of home solar systems.
Understand your solar limitations and potential
Right at the beginning of the planning stage, you need to assess your solar potential and limitations. The power generation capacity of a solar installation depends on the amount of power from the sun available. And, this will make a big difference in its profitability.
To help homeowners assess the solar potential of their home, there are various tools and mapping services available. Some even offer help with the correct size of the system, estimated solar panels’ cost, potential savings, and contact details of local contractors.
As these tools do not account for the physical limitations, for a more accurate assessment, you may need to approach the solar installer. Some of the limitations include the presence of shade trees, the age of the roof, and the restrictions and approval requirements for your neighborhood.
Find out the choices available
A stand-alone solar system is not the only choice available for homeowners now. Even without buying solar systems, it is now possible to benefit from the advantages offered by solar energy.
Listed here are some of the common choices for solar power for homes.
Buying a Solar Panel System:
Outright purchase of a solar power system offers you the full benefits including tax credits and higher home value. The downside of this option is the high upfront costs and responsibility and expenses related to maintenance.
Shared or Community Solar:
If you are staying in rented accommodation or you do not have an adequate rooftop to host the solar panels, this is an excellent choice for you. This program is aimed at groups of such residents who pool their resources to get the benefit of solar panels. The system can be on-site or off-site and owned by their collective, utility company, a solar developer, or non-profit organizations.
In this arrangement, you get to use solar power generated but do not own the solar panels. The advantages include less capital investment and no responsibility for maintenance and repairs, the drawbacks include ineligibility to the tax credit.
Power Purchase Agreements (PPA):
This is a financial agreement with a solar developer that allows you to host the solar panels owned by the developer and purchase the power generated at a pre-fixed rate. The pros and cons are similar to the Solar Lease.
This is aimed at groups of homeowners who are willing to pool their resources to purchase and install the solar panels. Unlike Shared Solar arrangements, Solarize Program allows tax credits as the system is owned by the collective.
Calculate your electricity needs
You can take the help of a professional or self-assess to determine your energy consumption. This can be done by reviewing your past electric bill and providing for any planned changes. the amount of electricity consumed is the basis to determine the type and size of the home solar power system.
Pick out the installer and make the choice
Care should be taken while selecting an installer for the residential solar panels. You need to shortlist at least three solar panel installers and get bids from them before making the final decision. The solar installers should be qualified and insured, above all certified. The solar industry-standard certification is issued by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.
The solar installer or the subcontractor should possess an electrical contractor license and a general contractor license. You can get the information about the first from the state electricity board while the local building department can provide you details about the second license.
You can also go along with the recommendations from the family and friends circle for installing home solar panels but before committing, check the credentials of the solar installer. You can also take the help of online tools to compare installers.
The main points to clarify before shortlisting a solar installer are:
- Do they have experience working in your locality and familiar with the local restrictions and permissions?
- Can they provide references from past customers?
- Do the residential solar panels come with a warranty?
- What are the specifics of the warranty? Who is responsible for the maintenance and repairs of the solar panels? What about spare parts?
- What is their track record? Do they have any dissatisfied customers or cases pending against them?
If you are opting for the Solarize Program, you may not have the freedom to choose your solar panel installer. You may have to stick with the installer specified by the program to take advantage of the discounted price offered for many solar panels.
Get site assessment and procure bids from local contractors
You can demand site assessment and bids from the shortlisted home solar installers. You need to insist that the bids given are based on the same metrics for ease of comparison.
The bids should include the following information on the solar power system so that you can make an informed decision.
- The total cost of setting up the solar system (this should include the cost for the hardware, sales tax, warranty, installation costs, connecting to the grid, obtaining permissions, etc)
- Maximum generating capacity of the solar system in watts (W) or kilowatts (kW)
- Monthly/annual power generation in kilowatt-hour (kWh)
Once you are armed with the cost per Watt or kW and/or cost per kWh for all the solar power systems under consideration, it is easy to make comparisons and decide the installer.
Get a clear picture of the incentives and financing on offer
The federal tax credit is a lucrative incentive for small solar power system owners. In 2019, the tax credit stood at 30% but declined to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021. This is due to expire at the end of the year. You are eligible for tax credits only if you have outright ownership of the system or opting for Solarize Program.
In addition to the federal tax credit, extra incentives are offered by local or state authorities in the United States. Some utility service providers also offer incentives to their customers for installing solar panels. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) gives comprehensive information about the incentives offered for many solar panels in various states.
Another route to explore is financing the solar project. You may find the Clean Energy States Alliance guide helpful in this regard.
Get the paperwork done with the help of the installer and utility company
Before proceeding with the actual installation of the solar system, obtaining the necessary permits is important. The solar installer or the utility companies can help you to get this done with the least hassle.
Get the installation done correctly
Based on the site assessment, the solar installer would recommend the correct size for the solar panel installation. The system size of the solar panel installation is determined based on the following.
- Your present electricity usage as evident from your past utility bills
- Your future increase in demand if any planned
- Availability of sunlight at your location
- The orientation and tilt of the solar panels permissible at your location
- The efficiency of the solar panels based on energy conversion capability
- Access to other sources of electricity for your home such as grid, wind power, or diesel generator
It is the responsibility of the solar installer to figure out the best possible way to install solar panels. The hours of exposure to sunlight and the tilt of the solar panels are vital in deriving the best from it.
Ensure that the solar panels are installed correctly and most advantageously. Before you sit back and enjoy the fruits of labor, get a good grasp of how the system works, how to tackle minor issues, whom to contact for major ones, how the billing and net metering work. You can also find out whether there are any additional utility fees to pay.
Switching to solar power may seem like a daunting task after reading this article. There is no denying that this is a big step for most homeowners because of the substantial demand on the finances, getting the required permits, and paying attention to a wide range of details. But this is true in the case of any long-term investment. Do it right and you get to reap the benefits for years to come.
Installing a solar energy system would be the right decision even if the per-unit cost of solar energy may be slightly on the higher side in comparison with that of grid power. The reasoning is simple. While the cost remains almost constant for solar energy during its lifetime of 20-25 years, the utility rates would be increasing at a steady pace during the same period.
Even without the financial advantages offered by solar power systems, a renewable energy system still remains a good choice for all those who want to do their bit for the environment. It would be a significant step in your decision to ‘go green’ with clean energy.