Top 12 questions to ask before going solar
Thinking of going solar but don’t know where to start?
It’s trite but true — success in any project depends on asking theright questions at the start. The more complex the undertaking, themore important it is to follow this rule.
And going solar is complicated.
Below is an actual photograph taken inside my head while I was trying to figure out how to begin.
Don’t listen to installers who tell you there’s nothing to it.
“Ya just throw some panels up on the roof and — shazam — yourmeter’s running backward and the power company’s paying you forelectricity!”
Thank the installer for his/her time and wave good-bye.
Knowing where to start is like the old riddle: If you onlyhave one match, and walk into a room with an oil burner, a kerosenelamp and a wood burning stove, which do you light first?
Answer: the match.
In our situation, the first question you need to ask is: What questions do I need to ask?
I turned to the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) for help. Founded in 1954, the ASES is a non-profit with some 12,000 members,from grassroots activists to academics to corporate honchos andhonchas. According to their website, the ASES is dedicated to“increasing the use of solar energy, energy efficiency, and othersustainable technologies in the U.S.”
Sounded like the right place to me.
I called ASES spokesman, Neal Lurie, and asked him to walk methrough the most important questions homeowners should ask when they’rejust getting started.
His response was: “Um…can I get back to you?”
See how complex this is?
Lurie, of course, wanted to supply the right questions. I’mthankful to him for not rattling off some random mashup ofconsiderations. Lurie talked with his colleagues, and then sent me thefollowing list. It’s not meant to be complete, but it does provide agood overall sense of the things you should find out before “throwingsome solar panels up on the roof.”
- Would I want to consider using solar energy to generate electricity(a solar photovoltaic system) or to heat water (a solar thermal system)or possibly both?
- Does a portion of my roof face towards the south (facing the sun)without significant obstruction from trees or other buildings? Notethat solar systems can also work well facing to the east or west, orwith partial shading, but the more hours of direct sunlight the solarpanels receive, the more energy they will generate.
- If the roof is significantly shaded, do I have a portion of my yardthat receives lots of sunlight where the solar system might be mounted?
- If I might consider a solar water heating system, do I have room inmy basement, storage closet, or elsewhere where a solar water storagetank might fit?
- Have I contacted a few solar installers to get a site evaluation and a few price estimates? [see helpful links from: www.ases.org/GoSolar to find a list of solar installers]
- How long has the solar installer been in business? How many solarinstallations have they completed? Are they NABCEP certified? Do theyhave references you can contact? Do they do all the work themselves ordo they have a subcontractor do the installation? If a subcontractorwill be used, what are their credentials?
- What is the warranty that comes with this system?
- In addition to the 30% federal investment tax credit, what othersolar incentives or rebates might be available from my state, county,municipality, or utility? [see helpful links from: www.ases.org/GoSolar on what solar rebates are available]
- While incentives and rebates can cover a significant portion of thesolar installation, how do I want to finance or pay for the remainingportion of this system? [note that many people pay for their solarinstallation through a home equity loan, refinanced mortgage, orthrough an increasing number of financing programs available - othersuse savings, sometimes with help from a holiday bonus or tax refund]
- How much of my utility bill can I expect to decrease as a result ofthis solar installation? For example, do I have enough unobstructedroof-space to generate all the electricity I need or just a portion ofit?
- Do I have neighbors who recently added a solar installation?
- Have I taken steps to make my home energy efficient to ensure I’mnot unnecessarily wasting energy? A home energy audit can help withthis.
Asking these questions, of yourself and of companies wanting to sellyou a solar array, is a good start on the path to going solar.
The Phoenix Sun covers solar power from Phoenix, Arizona – the sunniest major city in the nation. In addition to reportingon innovations in solar technology, green job growth and advice for homeowners who want to go solar, the Sun investigates stories you won’t findelsewhere. We cover the legal, political and regulatory framework that has keptthe US solar power industry far behind competitors in Europe and Asia. And wetrack the potential for a solar surge today and tomorrow. The sun isedited by investigative reporter Osha Gray Davidson who has covered theenvironment and politics for 25 years, writing for Mother Jones, RollingStone, the New York Times, and other national and international publications.Articles l Homepage
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