Ask Renewable Rayna: What To Look For When Going Solar


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So you have a few solar quotes from various installers, each with specific estimates of costs, equipment and savings-what’s next? Comparing solar quotes can be daunting with all the details available but Renewable Rayna is here to make this process as seamless as possible.


1. Evaluating Your Current Energy Bill

Your current energy bill houses a tremendous amount of information that will help you and your solar contractor build your home or business-based solar power system. Your utility bill will tell you how much energy you use month after month as well as give you a detailed picture of your annual average use of electricity. Keep in mind future needs, such as building a pool at your home or adding machinery or upgrades to your business that might also increase or decrease your energy needs.

If you’re a business considering solar power, the chances are that you’ll need to look at more than just your annual energy usage, but also your bill’s components for demand, customer chargers and other items solar energy cannot offset. Be sure to collaborate with a developer with in-depth-rate analysis experience.



2. Do a Background Review on Solar Companies

The solar company you choose to install your solar power system is as critical as the particular brands of solar panels and inverter you select because it is up to this company to install the equipment correctly and they are your first call if something goes wrong.

Make sure you do some due diligence on the company for every quote you get, and ask yourself the following questions:


  1. Is the installation company a reliable and qualified one which given the quote?

  2. Does the company have the financial stability to support and maintain solar systems over the next 25 years?

  3. How long have they been deploying solar power systems in your area?

Find out if your state or city needs licensing to do solar installations. Not all states require licenses for solar developers, so you’ll need to look into this.

Other items to look into are if any of the companies installers are certified by NABCEP board. This is an optional certification for the industry but it is a certificate that will indicate stronger installers. Additionally, consult with the Better Business Bureau for more reviews

Keep in mind that if you want to speak or contact someone directly to learn more about their experience with a solar company, several businesses do give references. If you have trouble finding feedback for a company you’re considering, or they can’t give testimonials, you might want to look somewhere else.

3. Make Sure You Understand Your Quote & Save Money in the Right Place

When you collect solar quotes for your home or business, you’ll want the proposal to explain the final cost of the entire solar power system, as well as cost / kWh or cost / watt. Without these values, you would have a hard time trying to differentiate between different proposals and the energy bills based on the savings.

Since solar power is a long term investment, understanding your bill is not limited to comparing line items such as system components but also to the proposed system’s production (kilowatt hour (kwh)/year) and built in escalators provided in some solar quotes.

You’ll want to ensure that a solar company analyzes realistic and historical data unique to your home or businesses to build a system genuinely sustainable and designed correctly for your needs. Be wary of proposals that have high electrical costs escalators of 3 percent or more. Though the savings may look appealing, using data on historic electrical increases the average increase is roughly 0.07% percent per year rather than the 3-6 percent suggested in some quotes.

Understanding the costs associated with your cost / kWh is step one to ensure that you get a reasonable proposal, but step two is to ensure that you save money in the right way. If you’re a company or a homeowner looking to buy solar power, you’ll want to focus, instead of overproducing on offsetting current consumption based on your actual energy bills. Remember-solar is modular and additional panels can be installed at a later time. If you are a commercial company, you might have an opportunity for incremental savings by looking at the demand portion of your bill and collaborating with a developer to design a system that will optimize savings during your peak demand.


4. Incentives

It is important to know how the solar tax credit and other incentive programs operate and what the eligibility requirement is for each. In January of 2020, the Solar Investment Tax Credit or the Federal Solar “ITC” decreased to 26% from the previous 30% rebate.

A list of all solar incentives is available at dsireusa.org. You can check for the incentives that apply at your address and for clients with your particular utility.


5. Payment Terms

It is important for you to understand the various types of solar agreements that are available in your area, and what will work best for your needs. There are several creative ways to save by switching to solar power, the bottom line is saving energy.


-Outright Purchase

To cut a long story short, it’s best to buy your solar system directly if you can for maximum savings, but if you can’t buy your system right away, financing a system or a Solar Power Service Agreement (SPSA) will still save you money.

-Financing (Solar Lease)

If your solar quotes include financing options, compare the terms, monthly payments, and interest rates for each. Another important thing to remember is the financier: You will have a multi-year relationship with the lender, so try to deal with a reliable lender known for good customer service.

Also, don’t worry if your initial quote doesn’t include financing: always ask your installer about any financing options that they can help you with. And, if you don’t want to go ahead with the installation company’s solar lender, you can still get your own funding from your bank (i.e., a home equity loan, HELOC, etc.).

-Solar Power Service Agreements

For larger organizations (non-residential), especially non-profits like public entities and schools, a Solar Power Service Agreement or SPSA may be the best option to save and take advantage of current incentives. An SPSA is a financial agreement in which the photovoltaic (PV) system is owned, operated and maintained by a third party developer, and a host customer decides to position the system on its property and buy the electrical output of the system from the solar service provider for a fixed period.

For more information funding for solar power in Arkansas, see Renewable Rayna’s advice on Alternative Funding.


6. Net-metering

As of the first quarter of 2020, a 1-for-1 net metering credit currently exists in Arkansas that allows you to earn the retail price for solar power that meets your requirements during the day and is exported to the grid. This may be more complicated than you think, however, as the real rate they pay might be lower than the rate you buy most of your power at. With your utility, and your solar provider, you should go through this in detail.

More information on net-metering in Arkansas can be found on the Arkansas Public Service Commission’s website.


7. Working With Your Utility and Interconnection

Net metering will determine the type of electrical meter that the utility provider must install. Ordinary meters can’t control the two-way flow, so either the company can replace your meter with a smart meter that can control both your use and the energy you send back to the grid, or install a second meter that monitors only the power you send to the grid. What approach the utility would use depends for the most part on whether you are on net metering or net billing.

When installing the meter, a preliminary interconnection site inspection may be requested of you, in addition to any inspections or site visits that might be needed, including a visit by a structural engineer to insure that the roof can handle the additional weight of solar panels and racking, electrical inspection by the city of final inspection by the utility provider before authorizing you to install the system.

You’ll also be expected to complete a standard interconnection agreement once installed. You should work with your solar developer to fill out certain forms.


8. Maintenance and Monitoring

Solar panels need minimal upkeep. Check the contract to see how system faults are tracked and treated whether you are seeking a lease or SPSA. You don’t want to suffer system downtime for weeks or months so make sure it’s written out. See also if routine cleaning is part of your service, under a SPSA. Certain companies will offer maintenance plans for outright purchases as well, so be sure to go over this with solar developers.

Understanding how much solar power you are producing is a vital part of owning a solar system, so make sure you know what kind of monitoring device you are going to get. Sometimes it’s a web page or mobile app, but sometimes it’s as easy as an inverter readout. Smartphone monitoring may be an additional expense, depending on the inverter model, so make sure you understand and go over this with your developer.

The measures mentioned above are general considerations to be made if you decide to turn to solar power at home or business.