Life in General · Uncategorized

Solar Panels 101

Solar is the buzz word these days. It’s good for the environment (mostly), there are tax credits (for most people), and you gain freedom from high energy bills (maybe).

As you can already see, solar will make sense for some people but not others. For us, it made financial sense! Our decision to go solar a few months ago hinged on our plan to stay in this house for several more years.

Behold, our solar system!

But what about you? Are you curious about all the hype? Do you have no clue where to begin? If you answered yes then read on to discover 10 crucial keys to navigating solar.

If you’re contemplating solar . . . 

1) Do your research! Look into the basics of solar electricity, how it works, what your state’s laws are, etc. Many lies and much erroneous information was given to us by “solar specialists” who really just wanted to make a sale. Thankfully, we’d done our research and could see through these half-truths (or fact check the things which sounded fishy). Don’t be afraid to ask for time to look into what they’ve told you.

2) Get multiple quotes! We received quotes from several different solar companies. I was surprised to see how widely their products, services, warranties, and pricing varied. Also, keep in mind that some companies used their own installers instead of hiring out third party companies which means their installers, who do this all day everyday, are skilled at what they do and with the products they’re working with. This can mean the difference in having a finished product on time and having to dig up cables or drill new holes in your roof because someone less knowledgeable made a mistake.

3) Know your desired offset (that’s the percentage of solar production in relation to your last year’s average electricity consumption). And check out your state’s limitations for offset — some don’t allow more than 100% offset for residential. Despite our request for 100% offset, some companies refused to quote us that much. They said, “Ah, you won’t need that much solar after we do our complimentary ‘energy efficiency’ upgrades to your place. And, besides, you’ll be more conscious of your energy consumption once you purchase solar from us.” First of all, a smart thermostat (like the ones they give out for free) will not save us any money on our electricity — we already closely monitor our thermostat settings and we won’t suddenly be changing the temp in our house just because we’ve got a new techy device. Secondly, I live with kids. You think a few panels in the yard will make them flip the light switch? Tell me how else you’re delusional.

Tip: Ask your electric company if they do free energy efficiency evaluations! Ours did and we qualified for an energy efficiency program through them — they sealed our house and put in new attic insulation for a fraction of the cost of doing it ourselves. Overall, we spent thousands less going this route than we would’ve using a solar company who’d give us “free” energy efficiency upgrades if we bought their overpriced solar panels.

4) Don’t let the solar guys pressure you! We had a pair of fellas that visited us a couple times. It was the old, high-pressured “let’s sit around your dining table, make promises we can’t possibly keep, scare you into making a huge decision right now, and have you sign on the dotted line before we leave.” The friendly pressure was intense — and they stayed for over 2 hours each time! They also promised us they’d price match any competitor’s quote — but they reneged that promise and nitpicked the competitor’s quote (not to mention, bashed the competitor) when we actually showed them a quote that was better than theirs. At long last, after having the quote reviewed by their supervisor, they said they wouldn’t honor the quote because it wasn’t apples for apples. In that, they were right — the competitor’s product was superior and their price lower. And these fellas also promised us we could make huge sums of cash for every referral we’d make to them — but how could we be sure they’d keep their word when they bucked at the competitor’s quote and they spoke in circular arguments and changed their phrasing when we’d point out something erroneous they said? Needless to say, we didn’t sign anything for those fellas.

5) Know what you want before you ask for it! We had done a little research when we first reached out to solar companies but we quickly figured out that they can give you a better quote if you know what you’re looking for (not to mention that you’re more likely to buy a product you like if you know the ins and outs of said product). Would you prefer roof vs ground vs carport mounted? String vs individual inverters? Sunny Boy vs Enphase? And what about warranty lengths and limitations? Financing options? And, yes, researching each specific company is crucial. Are they a pop-up business that’s likely to disappear 5 minutes after they install your solar? Or does their reputation in the solar industry prove they’ll stand by their warranty? Never forget — polling friends on their solar providers is an invaluable resource!

6) Check into your HOA’s solar statutes! The last thing you want to do is waste your time researching, getting quotes, hearing sales pitches, only to discover your HOA doesn’t allow solar panels. And you don’t want to sign a contract for roof-mounted only to discover they require ground-mounted (or vice versa). Oh, and while you’re at it, pull up a copy of your electric company’s solar hook-up requirements and make sure you know how their process works. Do they require an independent inspector to examine the work or will they have their own inspector do the job? What’s their timeframe from application submittal to activating your system? And it’s not a bad idea to forward a copy over to your solar installer just so you know everyone’s on the same page.

7) Know how you’ll finance your panels! No kidding, panels are expensive. Ours will pay for themselves in about 11-14 years. That being said, if you’re not planning to stick around that long in your house then panels might not be right for you. We refinanced our house to pay for ours, but there are multiple ways to finance. HELOC. Financing directly through your solar company. Getting a 3rd party loan. Putting it on credit card. Borrowing from a friend. And so on. The means doesn’t matter as long as you know how you’re gonna do it — and it makes financial sense for your situation.

8) Research your state’s net metering laws! In Arkansas where we live, our state has 100% (or 1 for 1) net metering. In case you didn’t know, that’s the best it gets! Net metering means for every kWh you’re sending to your electric company (and you WILL be sending some to your electric co unless you opt to buy very expensive batteries and go off-grid) they’ll send you a percentage of that kWh back when you need it. So the electric co is basically operating as a battery for you. Some states like ours give you 100% of your solar production back, some are only at 70%, and so on. Know what your state is at — and know when that will expire. Yes, it expires! And Arkansas’ is only good until the end of the year. But if your panels are installed and activated before the end of the year, then you’ll be grandfathered into the current net metering rate for the next (approx) 18 years. You CANNOT get a better deal than that. And don’t be discouraged if their net metering isn’t 100%. Few are! One day when batteries are less expensive, you could upgrade your system and go off-grid, keeping all those kWh for yourselves.

9) Understand the IRS solar tax credit! It’s currently sitting at 26% (of your solar expenses) and can be rolled over for one additional tax year, however the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 sitting in the House right now may change that to 30% for the next 10 years (until 2032). They anticipate a vote later this week. But understand — this is NOT a check you’ll receive after filing your taxes. It is a tax CREDIT meaning if you don’t owe that much in taxes (over the course of the years the credit is available) then you’ll lose the excess. If you don’t understand how tax credits affect you, research it. And remember that not everyone will qualify for the tax credit.

PS: The tax credit only applies if you buy solar not lease solar. If you’re contemplating leasing, be sure you research and understand how it differs from purchasing.

10) Don’t think everything will go smoothly! In our state, finding a solar inspector was basically like trying to guess the winning lottery numbers. One evening, luck was on our side! This fella showed up, and, ten minutes later, our inspection was cleared. But things still weren’t smooth sailing. We’ve had a panel that hasn’t produced any solar since it was turned on. Our solar co doesn’t know why it’s not producing, but they’re trying to get it replaced but, wouldn’t you know, those panels are now on back order and it may take months to get us up to full productivity. Frustrating but, hey, our electric bill was still only $21 last month.

As you can see, the old adage “Knowledge is power!” holds true when it comes to purchasing your own solar system. The more you know, the more likely you’ll be making your own decisions (vs being led around by a sales person’s desire to drive up his commission). 

And if the research process starts to feel overwhelming, take a break, go for a walk, enjoy the fresh air. Just remember: you’ve gone this long without solar panels — and the technology just keep improving year after year, so, if you take a little extra time doing your research, you won’t be any worse off for it (unless your net metering or tax credits expire!).

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