1. MAKE YOUR HOME MORE ENERGY EFFICIENT BEFORE BUYING A SOLAR SYSTEM.
Adding insulation, sealing air leaks, and completing other basic fix-it projects make sense for several reasons. You can cut your energy costs immediately, and you’ll also be able to reduce the size of the PV system you purchase. PVREA offers many rebates and offers energy assessments to help get you started.
2. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH, BEFORE INVESTING IN A SOLAR SYSTEM.
Your electric cooperative is a source of information you can trust. Experts at PVREA can answer basic questions, provide resource materials, direct you to reputable websites, and provide you with energy advice. Be sure to also check local city, county, and HOA requirements before getting too invested in the solar installation process.
3. UNDERSTAND HOW A SOLAR SYSTEM MESHES WITH YOUR COOPERATIVE’S SYSTEM.
Most solar systems are designed to provide you with a portion of the electricity needed but won’t provide 100 percent of your needs. At night and on cloudy days, and possibly at other high-energy-use times, you’ll need more power than your PV system can produce. That means you’ll still be connected to PVREA’s power lines. Because these systems are grid-connected, energy can flow both ways. Each utility—including PVREA—sets appropriate policies and rates for connecting PV systems to their lines (the grid) and for possibly purchasing any excess energy your system might provide. As you begin to explore solar systems, be sure you ask PVREA about rate structures, interconnection, essential safety precautions, and any other connection-related details.
4. REVIEW YOUR CURRENT ENERGY USE SO YOU CAN DETERMINE WHAT SIZE PV SYSTEM TO INSTALL.
PVREA can help you review your past energy use and help you determine how the projects you’ve undertaken to improve energy efficiency may help lower your future energy use. One pertinent bit of information that will be useful is looking at how your energy use fluctuates throughout the day. Having that information will help you determine—with expert assistance—the size and type of system best suited to your situation.
5. TALLY UPFRONT COSTS.
If you purchase a solar system, you will be the owner, and you’ll be responsible for the purchase price, as well as ongoing maintenance and repair costs. If leasing is the option you prefer, you will pay less initially, but you’ll likely have higher ongoing costs. In either case, it pays to spend time figuring out all of the expenses you’ll be responsible for during the life of the system. These may include installation (in addition to the price of the system), interconnection costs, insurance, taxes, and possibly others, too. If you are leasing, ask contractors about the length of the term, if the contract is transferrable to a new homeowner should you sell your home, the potential for price increases, as well as the same questions you’d ask if you were to purchase a PV system. In the “credit” column of your price comparisons, look at any incentives, rebates, and tax credits offered for either a purchase or a lease.
6. SEARCH FOR INCENTIVES, REBATES, AND TAX CREDITS.
Any financial incentives available will help reduce your investment costs. Opportunities vary by state and locale, and many have expiration dates. One database offering details is DSIRE. This site includes a clickable, interactive map showing federal and state incentives, credits, exemptions, grants, loans, and rebates for residential and commercial/industrial projects. Local contractors should have up-to-date details about incentives available where you live.
7. ACCEPT SHORT- AND LONG-TERM RESPONSIBILITIES.
If you purchase a PV system, you’ll go through PVREA’s interconnection process. That includes paying any costs of connecting to the grid. Local and/or state officials are responsible for conducting safety inspections and it is the homeowner’s responsibility to notify them in advance about your installation. After the interconnection requirements are met, and the safety and integrity of your system are approved, PVREA will take care of the connection to the grid. As the owner of the system, you will be responsible for maintenance and system repairs. If you lease a system, your responsibilities will depend on the agreement you sign. Be sure you know and understand what your responsibilities are so there are no surprises for you along the way.
8. FOLLOW ALL SAFETY PRECAUTIONS.
Most solar systems are grid-connected. Because of the two-way flow of electricity, excess energy your PV system collects during the daytime flows into PVREA’s lines, which is why a disconnect switch on your system will be installed. Improper connection and maintenance of your system may endanger people and the reliability of the grid.
9. CHOOSE A REPUTABLE CONTRACTOR/INSTALLER.
Start with a list of options garnered from website research, your electric cooperative, local or state Better Business Bureaus, renewable energy associations, your state energy office, your state Attorney General’s office, extension service staff, and any other local experts you can call on for assistance and advice. Contact at least a few of those contractors appearing on your list, especially if recommended by multiple state and local experts. Narrow your list after asking many questions checking out other installations the contractor has completed, comparing bids (get at least three), checking references, and thoroughly examining contracts. If possible, ask a contract specialist or lawyer to review the contract before signing.
10. MAINTAIN GOOD RECORDS.
Keep files on your pre-purchase research and pre-installation data, as well as bids, contracts, inspection reports, maintenance records, and all other details you may need to refer to in the future. In addition, you’ll want to know about system performance, so set up a system to track and compare your actual system performance with predictions provided by the contractor/installer.