What you need to know before installing Solar on your Roof

It is essential to trust the company with which you are working.  A good installer will have a strong education and knowledge in the realm of solar. Establish good communication with your installer
throughout the whole process. Make sure that they can answer all of your questions. If they can’t answer your questions or exhibit questionable behavior, it may be time to move to a different installer.

Important questions to ask before choosing a PV System

  • What are current rebates? Do you have to pay taxes on those rebates?
  • Does your roof get enough sunlight? While climate may not be a concern, in order for a PV system to function properly it needs clear access to the sun’s rays for most of the day.
  • How long will the system last? Who provides the warranty on it? The system should last 25 years, at the least. PV performance degrades by less than 1% each year. It is important to make sure the system is installed correctly to ensure long term performance. Make sure you know all of the warranties and who you need to go to if something doesn’t function properly.
  • What maintenance do PV modules require? PV systems are fairly easy to maintain. The panels may collect dust and debris over time but simple washing them off with a hose can clean them. Make sure not to spray cold water onto hot panels though because that may crack them. Ask your installer if any other precautions or maintenance is required for your specific system.
  • What maintenance does my solar hot water system require? Different types of solar hot water systems have different maintenance requirements.  Please ask your installer for an explanation of maintenance required.

Choosing an Installer For Your System

  • Generate a list of potential installers using the Web, phonebook, word of mouth, etc.
  • Gather bids from installers comparing the assumptions regarding your electrical use, expected inflation, system output, and pricing.   
  • Select 3 or more installers to perform an on-site evaluation.  During the on-site visit, installers should determine a location for the photovoltaic modules, solar inverter, disconnect switch and production meter.  Various system sizes, associated costs and installation timing also should be discussed at this time.
  • Make sure the installer you choose is a licensed electrician and is in good standing. 

Going Ahead

Your installer should submit an electronic application to TEP for the PV system incentive.  A contract with your installer, a contract with TEP, and other associated paperwork should be signed at this time.

Make sure your installer has the required permit(s) and associated paperwork on-site at all times while they are working on your project.

Once your system is completed, your installer will schedule an inspection with the County or City.

With the completed inspection, TEP will be notified to install a Net meter and PV production meter.  Your system will then be energized and start producing decades of environmentally friendly and maintenance free electricity.

The Process of Purchasing Solar

Here are the general steps in the process of buying your very own solar system.

Step One: Gather your utility bills so that the solar company can review it with you and assess how much you can save.

Step Two: Contact the solar installation companies you would like to use.

Step Three: Home Inspection-the company will come out to your site and inspect your residence.

Step Four: Estimates – you should be given an estimate of the total cost prior to any actual installing. Be sure to get several estimates. You should also be made aware of incentives.

Step Five: Select your preferred company and finalize what system you are getting – you will then sign a contract and probably begin making the first deposit.

Step Six: Install install install! The installation on your house should take anywhere from 1-5 days.

Step Seven: Inspections from city or county and utility.

Step Eight: Complete payments.

Useful Terms and Definitions in Solar

PV – Photovoltaic; pertaining to the ability to convert electricity from light.

Module A configuration of PV cells laminated between a clear superstrate and encapsulating surface. The term is typically used interchangeably with “panels.”

Inverter – An electric device that converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC).

Kilowatt A unit of power, 1000 Watts.

Kilowatt hour Amount of work done or energy used when a kW of power works for an hour.

Incentive – Different utilities offer different incentives. Be sure the installer uses the correct incentive (visit utility links). Utility incentives also are classified as taxable income, so make sure the installer factors that into account when providing a cost breakdown.

Up Front Incentives (UFI) Provides a customer a one-time payment based on their PV system size. Customers sign a credit purchase agreement with the utility typically for 20 years. The incentive is considered taxable income.

Distributed Generation (DG) Renewable energy projects that generate power on the customer side of the meter. The generated energy is feed into the customer’s distribution system, and reduces the energy which registers on the utility revenue meter. Excess energy produced by the customer’s system is delivered through the customer meter to the utility (see net metering).

Net Metering Offers bi-directional metering and allows a customer to first consume energy generated within their home and collect credit for the energy they send back onto the grid at a retail rate. If a customer overproduces over the span of more than a year, the excess credits may be transferred to a payment at the wholesale cost. This “true-up” occurs in October in the TEP service area.

Lease or Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) – Financial arrangement whereby a third party absorbs all the tax credits and incentives, then sells the solar electricity back to the homeowner at a specified rate that could be equal to or less than the cost they would normally pay for electricity. Leases can last 20 years and the host (customer) must have an excellent credit rating.

Avoided cost – The price you currently pay the utility for electricity (per kWh). How much you currently pay for electricity is an important factor when calculating the savings of a solar PV system. All rate plans have some fixed costs that are on the bill even if you are 100 percent solar. Be sure the installer uses the correct rate. The common residential rate in TEP service territory has an avoided cost rate of around $.10 per kWh.

Energy inflation rate – The year-to-year percentage increase in one’s avoided cost rate. The rate at which the price of electricity from the utility will go up is very important when calculating the financial savings from solar energy. Historically, price increases from Southern Arizona utilities average 2 percent a year. Although rate increases and fuel costs may be more dramatic in the future, no one knows for sure. Therefore, ask to see the savings projections using historical inflation numbers. Just a 2 percent increase to the rate can make a big difference in projected savings.

Lease escalator -The year-to-year percentage increase in the price one pays for solar from a third party.  A common practice in third-party financing is to add a yearly escalator onto the lease payments. This increase can range from 1 percent to 4 percent. A homeowner must be careful when engaging in an arrangement with an escalator because the lease rate of increase could be higher than the rate increase from the utility company. For example, if the escalator rate is 3.5 percent and the energy inflation rate is only 2.5 percent then savings could turn negative.

Insurance – New solar equipment is typically covered by homeowners insurance in case of vandalism, fire, etc. A medium to large residential solar PV system may require increasing the coverage limit. This may bring about a small increase in insurance rates.

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