7 Things to Remember When Designing Solar Engineering Plans
Whether you are a DIYer or a solar installation company, planning a home solar energy system in some places around the United States may seem like an intimidating process, but we here at Avila Solar want you to know that it all boils down to 7 basic steps. Plus, we are here to help you each step of the way!
1. Assess Your Home’s Level of Energy Efficiency
First, you’ll need to take an honest look at how energy efficient your home currently is and how much energy your household uses, both per month and per year. This will help you determine how much solar energy you’ll need to produce and whether you can realistically expect to produce that much energy based on your budget, your amount of roof space, and so forth.
If you find that your energy consumption is higher than you could feasibly replace with solar energy, consider making efficiency upgrades to your home. This can be done in many different ways, such as replacing old light bulbs with efficient LED bulbs, investing in new windows and doors that reduce heating and cooling costs, or even just using your appliances more efficiently and being aware of your energy consumption rate.
You can either do this type of home energy audit yourself by analyzing your utility bills from recent years, or you can consult with a professional. A professional may be able to point out ways to save energy that are not immediately apparent.
2. Determine Your Home’s Solar Potential
The next step is to determine whether your property is suitable for solar energy. While modern solar panels can generate energy from both direct and scattered sunlight, they will obviously perform better the more sunlight is available.
You can use an online tool to estimate your home’s solar potential and provide information such as a suggested system size, how much you might pay for the system, how much you might save on your energy bills after installation, and so forth. However, online tools are never going to be completely accurate as they can’t take into account every possible site design detail about your home.
At Avila Solar, we offer 3D Solar Reports, which will determine if your property is appropriate for solar energy. Our team of experts will:
- thoroughly inspect and analyze your property and generate a report based on their findings, which can tell you the amount of potential solar energy production,
- whether there are any risks that need to be addressed,
- a cost assessment for the system, calculations of the long-term yield and return on your investment, and a summary of the overall feasibility.
Factors that can impact the feasibility of solar energy for your home can include things like:
- potential shading – trees that may grow to shade your roof,
- neighboring construction that may eventually block the sun
- and the age and strength of your roof.
If your roof will need replacement in the next decade or so, it may be more financially beneficial to replace it before installing solar panels, which can often be in place for anywhere between 20-30 years. If this is the case, you might want to consider integrated solar panels (e.g., Tesla Solar Shingles).
3. Consider Your Solar Options
While the most common option is to purchase a solar energy system and install it on your roof, that’s by no means the only way to benefit from solar energy. You can also opt to lease a solar energy system, although some incentives and benefits won’t apply to you in that case.
If you own your home but your roof is unsuitable for solar, you can also opt for ground-mounted panels. Or, if there’s nowhere on your property for panels, you are renting, or you otherwise can’t install your own system or don’t want to maintain it, you can still invest in a community or shared solar energy program if available in your area.
This way, you can pool your buying power with others in your community to purchase a system that provides energy to you all, without having to have the system on your property or spend time and energy maintaining it.
You can also opt to enter a Power Purchase Agreement or join a Solarize program if there’s one available in your area. A Solarize program is essentially where you and your neighbors all decide to install solar energy systems for your homes at the same time and from the same contractor for a bulk discount.
Read More: The Solarize Guidebook
4. Estimate Your Solar Needs
Referring to your household energy consumption levels from Step 1, look at each month individually to determine your peak and average usage levels throughout the year. This can help you determine what a good target solar energy system size will be. If you’ve had a solar feasibility study done, this will likely already be estimated for you.
Keep in mind any future site plans that may impact your energy consumption. For instance, an addition to the house, the construction of a pool, or the purchase of an electric vehicle can all increase your energy consumption dramatically. On the other hand, any planned efficiency upgrades can decrease your overall energy consumption.
5. Obtain Contractor Bids
Next, it’s time to get bids from a few different contractors. While of course, we hope that you choose to work with us here at Avila Solar, we know that it’s always wise to explore your options before making a commitment.
When considering contractors, be sure that they are licensed by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners and fully insured. Some questions to ask your potential contractor include:
- Is the contractor familiar with local building permit processes and solar regulations?
- Can the contractor provide local references for satisfied customers in your area?
- Can the contractor provide proof of insurance and licensure?
- What kind of warranty does the contractor offer?
When possible, ask for bids that are for roughly the same size solar energy systems, as this will make it easier to compare them. Make sure the bid includes information like the maximum generating capacity, an estimate of monthly production in kilowatts, the total cost estimate to install the system, and a cost per watt estimate. The cost per watt estimate will make it easier to compare bids of different sizes if necessary.
6. Explore Financing and Incentives
There are many different state, local, and federal incentives that can dramatically reduce the upfront cost of a solar energy system. Our team at Avila Solar Drafting Services will help you find all applicable incentives to keep your price as low as possible. We currently have information on the following incentives by state:
- Oregon Solar Incentives
- Washington State Solar Incentives
- DC Solar Incentives
- Maryland Solar Incentives
There are also many different financing options available for solar now that it has grown in popularity. Financing can make solar much more accessible and affordable.
7. Install the System
Now that you’ve got the details taken care of, it’s time to install the system and start generating energy! The contractor that you’ve selected will walk you through the system design, permitting processes, and then install the equipment. They will make a final system size recommendation based on all the information you’ve gathered in the previous steps as well as the equipment that you select.
They will also work with your utility company to complete the interconnection process. After all inspections are complete, you will be able to power up your system and enjoy a renewable energy source right at your home!
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