My wife and I just got solar installed on our home’s roof a couple months ago and here is our story of how we went solar. Hopefully it helps you go solar too.
Before adding solar to our roof, we did a couple important things: 1) waited to install solar until after we’d replaced our roof (make sure you have a long life left on your roof before installing solar); and 2) made modest energy efficiency upgrades to cut our electrical use so we didn’t need a huge solar system.
Step 1. Identified solar companies
There are a lot of companies out there who will install solar for you, but it was nonnegotiable for me in choosing a solar installer that they had to have good professional qualifications. The NABCEP certification has long been considered the gold standard of solar installer qualifications, with each NABCEP certified professional having passed an examination and doing continuing education credits to upkeep their certification. So I sought out only NABCEP certified installers, who can be found in South Carolina here. Secondly, I wanted to make sure that whichever solar company I contracted with was an active participant in the solar business community, so I checked out which installers were members of the SC solar business groups SC Solar Business Alliance and SC Solar Council. I ended up calling several companies to ask for quotes.
For those of you interested in going solar, you can also check out nice online resources to help identify solar companies like EnergySage.com, which gives lots of helpful information to potential solar buyers and gets instant ballpark bids from participating local solar installers, and review sites like SolarReviews.com. SolarizeSC is another good starting place. Check out their program to see if you have an active Solarize program in your area. If you get your installation through their program–and enough of your neighbors do as well–they will donate a solar system to a community location like a school, library, etc.
Step 2. Received multiple competitive proposals
I got quotes from multiple local companies and then compared the proposals side by side. My proposals were very similar, so I couldn’t have gone wrong one way or another, but some very important elements that a potential solar customer needs to weigh are:
- overall cost
- proposed system size
- cost per watt
- estimated electrical production, incorporating your roof orientation and any shading present
- warranties of the panels and inverters
- labor warranties
- equipment preferences
- financing options
- aesthetic considerations
The South Carolina Energy Office has a very handy checklist of considerations and questions to ask any potential solar installers at the end of their Consumer Guide to Solar for the South Carolina Homeowner, which I recommend checking out.
Step 3. Examined costs and benefits
One of the most important cost considerations for rooftop solar is the tax credits. There is a 30 percent federal tax credit and a 25 percent South Carolina state tax credit, but individual families’ circumstances may not allow the use of the full tax credits. For example if the family’s tax liability is too low or too high, they may not qualify for the full credit amount.
I also examined the estimated savings in the context of solar policy in South Carolina. SCE&G and Duke customers are guaranteed net metering until 2025, meaning each kilowatt-hour of electricity that you produce is valued equally to each kilowatt-hour of electricity that you pull from the grid. That 1:1 arrangement might go away after 2025, so I made sure I was comfortable with my savings that would be accrued until that time. For customers of electric co-ops and Santee Cooper, the situation is trickier because they do not have guarantees of how they will credit solar customers in the future.
Another important benefit consideration is the boost in home value that a solar system can add to one’s home. National studies indicate that rooftop solar systems increase property values enough to just about offset the net cost of the installation, after tax credits and incentives are factored in. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has conducted the most extensive study on rooftop solar and property values and concluded that “PV [short for photovoltaic solar] consistently adds value across a variety of states, housing and PV markets, and home types.” This fact takes away a lot of the risk of installing solar panels when the future of how solar power will be compensated is uncertain.
Knowing that our solar installation would likely boost our home’s value and we would have an acceptably short payback period before benefiting from another 10-20 years of free power, we were sold.
Step 4. Booked the installation
We signed our contract with our chosen solar company and they made sure we got all the paperwork from SCE&G we needed to fill out (it wasn’t too much–don’t worry), and arranged for the County permit. Next we just had to wait for our installation day. When the day of the installation came, I had no obligations except just to be home. The installation went smoothly and we got our system finished in just one day. Even though the installation was complete, we couldn’t begin producing power until after the County inspector came to take a look and gave sign off. The solar company scheduled the inspector’s visit and the inspector was here within 3 business days of the install. Next, SCE&G came a few days later and installed our new meters and then we were up and running with our new solar power system.
We’ve been generating our own power now for about a month and it has been a great joy to check on our production and know that we are producing our own 100 percent clean, renewable power from the sun.
I hope you found this account of how we went solar to be helpful and let me know in the comments section if you have any questions.
Additional resources if you’re interested in going solar: