Q: I am considering a solar array on the roof of my home. What steps should I take with efficiency and energy savings in mind?
A: When I tell people I work in energy efficiency, one of the first responses I hear is, “Oh, I’m thinking about getting solar installed on my house.” I hear it sitting around campfires, meeting other parents at the park and riding to the airport.
Most people don’t realize solar is not energy efficiency. Solar is generating energy. Energy efficiency is finding ways to use less energy. But I can see the association because both are thought of as beneficial to the environment and ways to save money.
My follow-up question is, “What are your motivations for installing solar?”
In my experience, people are motivated by saving money, concern for the environment or both. Focusing first on energy efficiency addresses both motivations.
Here are some considerations for those interested in adding solar to a home:
Solar systems are sized based on a home’s energy use. The larger the system, the higher the cost.
Before installing solar, make sure your home is as efficient as possible. That means your home will use less energy and allow you to install a smaller solar system—which will save money and reduce your home’s environmental impact.
Verify the efficiency of your lighting, HVAC systems and insulation. A fully insulated and air-sealed home uses less energy.
Consider your out-of-pocket expenses. If something happens with the other equipment in your home, will you be able to afford to fix or replace it?
For your heating and cooling system, the expected lifespan is 15 to 25 years. Check the age and condition of your HVAC equipment and consider the expenses of replacement.
Consider the age, orientation and shade of your roof. It is more difficult—and expensive—to reroof a home with solar panels. Will the roof need to be replaced before the solar panels need to be replaced?
The best orientation for solar panels is south facing to receive direct light throughout the day. A shaded roof helps keep your home cool in the summertime but reduces solar energy production.
A solar system doesn’t last forever. Life spans range from 25 to 30 years. As systems degrade over time, they produce less energy. Maintenance and repairs may be needed.
Electric Bills and Storage
Solar is not “off the grid.” Unless you plan to disconnect from your electric utility, you will still receive a monthly bill.
Solar panels only produce power when the sun is shining. If you want power to your home at other times, such as after dark, you need to be connected to your electric utility or invest in battery storage. That comes at an additional cost.
During outages, don’t assume solar panels will supply you with power. Typical solar interconnection to the grid requires the panels to shut down during a power outage. This protects lineworkers from injury while making repairs.
Contact Your Electric Utility
Solar contractors often work in several utility service territories and may not be familiar with your utility’s offerings, rate structures and interconnection agreements.
Before signing an agreement, check with your electric utility for local information.
Understanding these considerations before installing solar will ensure you meet your money-saving and environmental goals.