Going Solar

We make going solar simple. The following article explains the process, but we help you every step of the way.

1. Energy Audit

Going solar starts with an energy audit. This is an examination of your history of electric consumption, and an estimate of your future electric use.

Your energy consultant will analyze your past electric bills, preferably a full year or two, to get an accurate picture of your appetite for electricity. You can pull out your old bills, or log on to your account at the utility to access your history. Or simply provide your energy consultant with the following information, readily found on your recent electric bill:

  1. Your electric meter number
  2. Your utility account number
  3. Your zip code.

This will help us see your historic use of electricity, but may not present a full picture. For example, do you expect your electric consumption to change in the future? One thing that may cause your electric use to increase, for example, would be installation of air conditioning. San Diego residents have experienced a fairly dramatic increase in summer temperatures during recent years. This is causing some to install new central air conditioning systems.

Another increasingly popular thing that may change your electric consumption is the prospect of adding an electric car or plug-in hybrid automobile.

If such changes are potentially in your future, be sure your solar energy consultant is aware of your plans.

Based on this audit of your historic and anticipated electricity consumption, your energy consultant can then determine the recommended size for your new photovoltaic electric generation system. The next thing is to conduct a site survey, determine whether your roof is suitable for such an installation.

2. Site Survey

Suneye rooftop solar site surveyA site survey is a professional site evaluation, involving examination and measurement of your roof. Your roof type and condition, its orientation toward the sun, and any shading issues are considered. 

Solmetric Suneye solar site survey analysis

One of the tools used in solar site assessment, besides ladders and tape measures, is a sophisticated device known as a Solmetric SunEye. This device incorporates a calibrated fisheye camera, electronic compass, inclinometer, and GPS to give accurate measurements to assist in the design of your system. This tool assesses the available solar energy at your location. It calculates the annual sun path in relation to your roof, creating a month by month solar access chart. It also determines shading patterns and obstruction elevation angles, and your roof’s azimuth and tilt.

All of these factors are analyzed to produce a Solar Access and Shade Report

3. Design

Armed with the information gathered by your solar energy consultant and the site survey measurements, and in compliance with local building codes, the solar design engineers determine the optimal placement of solar panels on your available space.

There are a wide variety of solar panels available today, each with variations of size, dimension, efficiency, cost, etc. The design engineers take these factors into consideration, to accurately predict the amount of energy that can be produced by solar arrays installed on your premises. Then, together with your solar energy consultant, they finalize solar panel and mounting hardware selection, and complete the layout design of your solar system.

Architectural drawings are then prepared for your review.

4. Financing

Your energy consultant will work with you to determine the best way to pay for your system. That may seem a little scary, but in really it is not a that big an issue. Since your new photovoltaic system will actually pay for itself over a period of time, finding ways to afford going solar is relatively easy.

There are many options when it comes to financing, and a good energy consultant should be familiar with all of them. After considering your unique set of circumstances, your consultant will likely be able to offer you several methods of paying for your system.

Of course, if you are in the happy position of being able to write a big check, that would be one way. But the great thing is that today solar is not just for the wealthy anymore. If your electric consumption is high enough, and if you can afford to pay your monthly electric bill, then you can afford to go solar. And if you are having difficulty paying those ever increasing electric bills, then you need solar all the more.

Finance options include:

  • Cash Purchase. Solar energy systems can be purchased and owned by the homeowner, in which case there are certain financial incentives, including a 30% federal investment tax credit.
  • Solar Lease. A sometimes popular approach is to lease a solar energy system much as you might lease an automobile. This may or may not be suitable for your situation.
  • Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Similar to a lease in some respects, a power purchase agreement allows you to lock in your future electric costs by pre-paying for your anticipated needs over a 10 or 20 year period.  With a PPA you will own the power produced by the system, not the actual equipment that does the production. This approach is popular because it fixes your future power expenditures so you are no longer subject to the whims and rate increases of your local electric utility company. If cost escalators are involved, you’ll know in advance what your future costs will be. Another factor that makes PPAs so attractive is that the homeowner’s investment is simply to make monthly payments to the PPA provider — at a lower rate than what is currently charged by the local utility company.
  • PACE Purchase. PACE stands for Property Assessed Clean Energy. It is a simple and effective way to finance solar or renewable energy upgrades, water conservation improvements, heating and cooling systems, insulation, and other clean energy improvements. Here again, the homeowner makes no initial outlay of cash, and one’s FICO score is not involved or affected. In a sense it is the property that is making the investment, not the homeowner, as the improvement becomes a part of the property. The homeowner then pays for the improvements through a property tax assessment: hence the term “Property Assessed Clean Energy.” The homeowner gets to enjoy the property improvements while shifting the expenditure from paying ever increasing power bills to the utility, to making fixed payments over time through property taxes.There are a number of advantages to the PACE approach, including the fact that the homeowner gets to utilize that 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit (through 2016 at least.) An interest cost is involved, of course, but under current tax law this is generally tax deductible. Depending upon which of the several PACE programs are chosen, in some cases the full payment — not just the interest — becomes tax deductible. That can be a big deal, because homeowners are not typically able to deduct utility costs on their income tax returns. Under at least one PACE program the entire expenditure for one’s clean energy upgrades becomes fully tax deductible. (Consult your tax professional for details, of course.) Another advantage with PACE is that, since payment will made through your property taxes, depending on whether you impound the taxes with your mortgage payment or not, you may have up to a year or more before making a payment.

5. Permitting

Once you approve the site plan for your solar installation, and choose the finance plan that best suits your circumstances, and you are ready to proceed, the next step is to apply for a permit from the local municipality, City or County. Your solar contractor will handle these details, of course.

The final architectural drawings will be submitted to the municipality’s planning department for permit application and approval. This process can take some time, particularly if the City’s Planning Department finds any discrepancies or issues not previously known throughout the design process. Occasionally, the design may need to be modified to satisfy local authorities before permit approvals are secured. Other factors affecting the timing, of course, include the workload of all involved parties.

6. Installation

Once the construction plans are approved and necessary building permits are issued, your contractor’s installation crew and electrician will schedule delivery of your solar panels, mounting hardware, and related equipment to complete the installation of your system. The actual installation portion of the project generally takes two or three days, more or less depending upon the size of your system, any on site complications that may develop.

7. Final Inspections and Permission To Operate

Once the installation is complete, your solar contractor will test the system to insure that it is ready to work properly. This part of the process is exciting, because for the first time you’ll get to see your electric meter spin backwards as energy is pulled from your panels and sent back to the grid.

But this is all too brief, no more than a minute or two.

Before your new photovoltaic generation system can be used to power your home, however, some final inspections are required.

Depending upon how you financed the project, at some point you’ll have to authorize final payment to the contractor.

If PACE financing has been utilized, for example, it is likely that no monies will have been exchanged at this point. Your contractor will notify the PACE lender of the completion of installation, and submit a request for payment. If you have not already done so, you’ll need to sign closing documents, and sign off on the installation.

The City and the utility company also need to complete their final inspections.

First, the City inspection insures that the work completed conforms to the permits issued, and that your contractor complied with all local building codes. This introduces another delay of several days, possibly longer. Bear in mind that there are a lot of other solar installations ahead of yours, and the municipality has a limited number of building inspectors. If for any reason your contractor is not ready for the inspection, or if it does not pass, then additional delays will be involved. Assuming this City inspection goes well, and passes, you still have to wait.

Next the installation must be inspected by the electric utility. This is a very important element in the process, because you are becoming an energy provider to the utility and your community. During daylight hours your system will likely be generating far more electricity than you will use to power your household. That excess energy is poured into the electric grid and will actually be used by the utility and sold to service your neighbors. For rather obvious reasons, the utility must inspect your generation facility to insure the interconnection complies with their specifications and requirements.

This last step often takes the longest amount of time, sometimes longer than all the other steps combined. At the present time there is a major influx of new installations being completed every day. Scheduling the utility’s inspection is triggered by the successful City building inspection. From the time the City passes your installation, it can take anywhere from several days to several weeks, for the utility to complete its inspection.

When the utility’s final inspection passes, the utility will grant what is known as Permission to Operate, or PTO. Generally speaking, you’ll probably be notified by email or a phone call from your contractor or your solar energy consultant, that the PTO has been approved. At that point, you’ll literally flip the switch, and you can start celebrating your savings.

That’s going solar.

Then you can call your neighbors over to watch your meter spin backwards. That part is really fun.

Make it a neighborhood celebration. You certainly have something to celebrate. And you can afford to throw a party or a bar-b-cue, because the days of high electric bills are over!

That is, in a nutshell, what is involved in going solar. There is a lot to it, yes, but your energy consultant and solar contractor will handle all the “nitty-gritty” details for you.

All you need to do to start the process, is sit down with your solar energy consultant in the comfort of your kitchen or dining room, and perhaps serve some water, lemonade, ice tea, coffee or cocoa, depending on the season. When your construction crew is on site for the installation, you might offer similar hospitality.

So let’s get started! Fill out the information request form with your contact and utility account details, so we can take that pain away.