Is a solar photovoltaic (PV) system right for you?
To help determine whether solar is right for you, have a trusted expert consider the following:
Overall energy efficiency of the home or building.
Age and pitch of the roof for rooftop systems.
- Ongoing maintenance of the system.
Orientation of the sun in relation to the home or building.
Tree coverage near the home or building.
Weather patterns for the region.
You also need to weigh many financial considerations before installing solar:
Is there a large, upfront payment required, or are fees spread out over time?
Will the homeowner own the panels, or will they be leased?
Are there any hidden costs? For example, does the roof need to be replaced before installing rooftop panels?
Are there ongoing maintenance fees?
Are the estimated energy savings worth the investment?
Is it more cost-effective to invest in other energy-saving measures?
Solar Energy FAQs
That depends on several factors.
1) The size of your system. You can determine how much electricity you want to produce; then size your system accordingly. Note that you can start out small and add on. A system that will generate 100 percent of your energy needs is expensive, so most systems are sized to generate only a portion of your home’s needs.
2) Your site. If you have a shade-free area from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., you’ll be able to collect more sun and produce more energy than if your site is shaded.
3) Your region. The more sunny days in your area, the more electricity you’ll be able to generate. You can find online calculators to help answer this question in more detail, and installers can provide details about your situation, too.
A system that will generate 100% of your energy needs can be quite expensive. You can always start out small and add on, but most systems are sized to generate only a portion of your home's needs.
Battery-backed or grid-independent systems use on-site energy storage to store excess energy produced during the day for use at night or when the sun is not producing enough power. Choosing this option will add significant cost and maintenance to your system. Most people opt for grid-connected systems for reduced cost, maintenance and high reliability. With this type of system, your cooperative continues to provide energy to you when you need it 24/7. Your solar energy system will produce energy, and even excess energy, on sunny days. Your system will not collect sunlight at night and on cloudy days. That means, you will continue to draw electricity from the cooperative during these times.
Most grid-connected solar energy systems shut down to prevent back-feeding electricity into de-energized power lines that may have fallen or that line crew members may be working on. It’s important to have this shut-down feature to prevent injuries—and even death—to those working on the line.
The payback period can range from fewer than 10 years to more than 20 years, depending on the system cost, available rebates and incentives, the amount of electricity produced, and the retail price of electricity you purchase from your cooperative.
Solar systems vary greatly in cost depending on the size of the system, type and quality of the components purchased and the complexity of the system selected. While the cost of solar has declined dramatically, it can still be quite an investment. Costs can vary not only from size and type of system but the home layout and construction or if structural or wiring upgrades are required. An average 4kW system may cost between $10,000 and $20,000 and the payback period can vary just as much.
Certified solar energy products and systems generally are reliable, with a life expectancy of about 30 years. Manufacturers test solar panels for hail impact, high wind and freeze-thaw cycles to represent real-life situations. Most manufacturers offer 20- to 25-year warranties for panels; extended warranties may be available at an extra cost. Little maintenance is required; occasionally it may be necessary to rinse modules off with water to remove dust and grime. Other components like inverters may have a shorter life. Solar panels may outlast the roof where they are attached. Make sure your roof is in good shape or budget for replacement during the life of the system.
As this technology grows in popularity, so does the potential for deceptive or fraudulent sales tactics. A solar photovoltaic (PV) installation is a big investment, and you want to make sure you select a reputable solar contractor with licensed installers.
Questions to Ask a Solar Contractor
Ask these questions to be sure the contractor knows the business thoroughly and has satisfied other customers. Also, be sure to request copies of insurance documents, certifications and licenses, so you know that the contractor and installers have gone through required training. Be sure to call former customers and check out other installations the contractor has completed. You should query local Better Business Bureaus and your state Attorney General’s office, and check online rating services for comments about the contractor and the equipment you plan to purchase.
- How long have you been in business?
- Are you licensed to do business in my state?
- How many solar energy systems have you installed? Can you provide a list of consumer references in my area? Can I talk with former customers and also see successful installations?
- Who will do the installation at my site? Are they employees or subcontractors? If you involve subcontractors, do they work with a number of other employers, too? Have these subs worked on many of your installations?
- What training have you and your installers had, and what, if any, certifications do you and your installers hold? Do you have an installer with a Master Electrician license, and is there an installer on your team licensed to install solar?
- Does your company carry these types of insurance: general liability for at least $1 million, professional liability, workers compensation, other types?
- Have you ever been involved in a legal dispute involving a solar installation?
Ask these questions to find specific details on what the contractor is proposing and why, as well as general information on what you can expect during and after installation.
- What size and type of system do you recommend for my site? Why?
- Are there any steps I must take before the installation—such as removing trees or replacing my roof?
- What brand(s) of systems do you install? What advantages do these brands offer over other options? Are the systems manufactured in the U.S. or elsewhere?
- What warranties do you and the manufacturer offer? Do you offer a warranty on installation? If the manufacturer is not located in the U.S., are there any difficulties with warranty work? How do I make a claim on defective or short-lived equipment?
- What tax credits, rebates and other incentives will this installation qualify for? Who files the paperwork for any/all of these incentives?
- How much of my energy usage will this system provide?
- What will the payback period be?
- Will I be able to monitor the output of my panels? What is the process for doing so?
- How and when will you involve staff from my electric cooperative in the installation? Do you have experience interconnecting with utility grids?
- Will permits be needed for this installation? Who obtains them and pays any fees?
- When will you begin the installation? How long will it take to complete?
- What is your daily schedule? (For example, is it M-F, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an hour for lunch?)
- Will you be on the job site daily? If not, how will we communicate if there are questions or problems that arise? And how do I reach you after hours?
- If my energy use changes, can I increase the number of solar panels later?
- Is it possible the installation may cause my roof to leak? If so, does your company take responsibility for repairs?
Why you should ask these questions? All of this information should be included in both your bid and on the contract you sign. Check these details carefully, then compare to other bids you obtain. (Get at least three bids, all in writing.) Be wary of any really low bids. If the contractor can’t supply the information, ask why not. After checking any contract to be sure this information is included, have a contract expert or lawyer review the contract before signing it.
- Is this bid an estimate or a fixed price? What is the process you will follow if you find unexpected problems with this installation and want to charge extra to fix the problems?
- Does the bid include the total cost of the project, including components, materials and labor?
- Does the bid include a breakdown of each of the components (make and model number, size/kWh per year, as well as price of each) so I can see what each portion will cost?
- Does the bid include details about permits?
- Does the bid include the time frame for beginning and ending the installation?
- Does the bid include warranty information, as well as how to place a claim?
- Does the bid include expected operation and maintenance costs; projected monthly, annual and lifetime costs and savings; and projected energy production?
- Does the bid include payment options, as well as financing details?
- Does the bid include details about who will file paperwork for tax credits, rebates and other incentives?
- What documentation will I receive when the project is done? (This may include lien releases and other contract-related paperwork, as well as warranties, operating manuals and more.)
Ask these questions so you know how you will be billed and the expected payment due dates.
- How much will the down payment be? When will it be due?
- What is the payment schedule?
- How long after work is completed will the final payment be due?
- Do you offer financing or have a relationship with a bank that offers financing?