Top Questions to Ask if You’re Considering Solar Panels

Solar power can be an attractive prospect for homeowners and shoppers. Home solar technology offers resilience, electricity bill savings and more energy independence. For the environmentally conscious, it provides an eco-friendly alternative to existing electricity sources. What’s more, Zillow research indicates listings that highlight eco-friendly features sell up to 10 days faster, and homes with solar panels can sell for 1.4% more.

But shopping or even researching home solar installation services can often feel daunting. Aggressive, misleading advertising and predatory practices abound, some of which even bear official-sounding names and exploit government programs meant to incentivize green home improvements.

Thankfully, as the market matures, reputable installers are rising to the top. This primer will discuss tips on how to identify them, whether or not your situation may be suitable for solar, how to look into incentives, ways to store the extra electricity your system creates, and cost estimates. 

Is my home suitable for home solar?

While exceptions to this rule exist (more on that later), you’ll enjoy the most benefit from home solar if you’re a homeowner who lives in a single-family home and has access to roof space or land that’s not shaded from trees or other obstructions.

There are other considerations. South-facing roof surfaces or ground arrays will generate energy most efficiently, but you can utilize solar energy regardless of the direction your roof surfaces face. Your climate matters — the more sunny days your roof sees, the more electricity you can generate — but solar can be viable in even the most overcast skies of the United States.

How do I find a reputable installer?

Installers are the vanguards of a quality system installation and results. It pays to find one with a quality reputation.

A reputable installer should be able to answer all of your questions and concerns, whether they’re about incentives, storage and batteries, your potential return on investment, or financing. Do the due diligence: Read the fine print and get everything in writing. With solar energy system installation, the old saying holds: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Is net metering available in my area?

Net metering, the billing mechanism that essentially gives you credit for the excess electricity your home solar system generates, isn’t available everywhere. Check with your utility company before making any binding decisions.

The complicated dynamic tends to fuel a common misunderstanding — that your system can actually make you money. This is very rarely true, and companies that advertise or suggest it should be viewed with serious scrutiny.

If your area does offer net metering, it can provide you the benefit of power resilience. Since your system isn’t a constant source of electricity — it doesn’t generate at night, and it generates less during cloudy days, for example — you’ll end up using those credits when your system is off its peak hours, days, or months.

Do I need batteries or storage?

Batteries and local storage are another way to store energy produced by solar panels. For now, solar batteries are the most common on-site way to store the unused electricity your system creates. You may hear people refer to this as electrochemical storage.

There are several benefits to storing solar energy, the most obvious being that it’s there in the case of a power outage or when the sun isn’t shining. A few more technical factors — like whether or not one-to-one net metering is available to you, or if you’re subject to complex utility rates — are also worth considering.

Seasonal storage, a term for methods that store energy for longer periods of time, is a prospect with vast potential, but it’s not yet widely available to consumers. Ask your prospective installers about what’s right for your situation. Again, they should be well versed in the pros and cons; just remember that they may have an interest in selling you more system than you actually need.

Is home solar worth it?

Ultimately, every homeowner will need to answer this question for themselves. The number of variables makes every assessment unique. Calculators like Project Sunroof or EnergySage’s Solar Calculator can give you a starting point. Nuanced estimates from reputable installers will give you a clearer picture.

In 2020, homeowners typically spent between $10,000 and $20,000 to install a solar panel system, according to EnergySage. Savings over the course of the system’s life may compensate for those costs. 

If you decide to move forward, there are several ways to pay for the equipment. Buying your system upfront will generally give you a lower total cost than using a solar loan, lease, or power purchase agreement. If you do take a loan, monthly loan payments are often smaller than a typical energy bill.

Source: Zillow

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