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Catch the Sun: A Guide to Going Solar

Solar power is, simply put, energy converted from the sun that can be used to power your home.


There has never been a more important time to go solar,” says Daniel Ramirez, COO of Gold Rush Energy Solutions in El Dorado Hills (goldrushenergy.com). “Things are changing fast [so much so that] PG&E, among others, are trying to make solar less attractive to future solar customers. If solar has been a bucket list project for you, now is the time to check it off your list,” he says.


Rob Kindt, owner of SIG Solar Placerville (sigplacerville.com), says you should be aware that some companies are experiencing delays in equipment because of the global manufacturing and logistics issues during the pandemic. “Successful solar companies are planning ahead and ordering six months to a year’s worth of equipment to make sure there is always equipment on hand for installations,” he says.


If you’ve been thinking about adding solar panels to your home and want to kickstart the process, read on to learn about the pros, cons, installation process, and questions to ask before you make the commitment.

PROS & CONS

Kindt says one downside is the cost. “It can be expensive. However, there are great financing options with zero upfront costs to get installed. There are also amazing tax credits available to help offset the cost.”


Additionally, some homes have shading that can make solar not a viable option while other roofs are difficult or impossible to install solar on. Ground mounts are an option if the customer has space to install one, according to Kindt.


On the list of pros for going solar, Ramirez says solar helps people save money on ever-rising energy costs and yields a great return on investment. “Solar gives most people huge tax savings; solar paired with storage gives homeowners power during outages and it can add equity to your home, all while helping reduce your carbon footprint. What's not to love?” he asks.


Kindt adds that solar gives homeowners a great alternative to traditional grid power. “It offers a green, renewable resource for electricity and more grid independence. This is especially true when battery storage is included in the system. Solar can also save homeowners hundreds of dollars a month on their electrical bills by typically reducing PG&E utility bills to zero,” he says.


COSTS + REBATES

Costs vary depending on the total electric consumption needs and complexity of the home, says Ramirez. “Many zero-down financing options allow homeowners to switch to solar with no upfront costs. The best way to determine your costs is to get a customized quote,” he says, while stressing the cost benefits. “When solar is sized to meet 100-110 percent of your electricity needs, the energy produced from the panels eliminates your normal electric bill. Right now, there is a federal tax credit of 26 percent of the total system cost.” Kindt adds that they treat each home on a case-by-case basis to figure out system costs. “In general, solar is about 50 percent cheaper than what a home spends per month with PG&E,” he says.


The average homeowner purchase is around $30,000 before federal tax credit and incentives, according to Meghan Stimmler, sales director at Solar Hut, LLC in Diamond Springs (solarhut.org). “When you consider the long-term economics of solar power, it is clear that they are a better option in the end. Solar panels are an investment,” she states.


INSTALLATION PROCESS

The entire solar process typically takes about 45 days to complete, according to Ramirez. “We take care of everything from financing, design, permitting, istallation, inspection, and utility interconnection. Actual installations can range from 1-5 days depending on the complexities of the project.”


Stimmler shares this detailed overview of the installation process and timeframes.


1. Site assessment and design (1-4 weeks) “This step begins with an initial site inspection, where your contractor will visit your home to get a better understanding of your needs. They will then design your solar panel system based on your home’s unique attributes. If necessary, most contractors can also work with you to address any issues that might hinder panel installation, like pruning nearby trees or making roofing repairs.”


2. Permitting (2-8 weeks) “Your solar panel designs must now be submitted to your local government for permitting. The process for approval varies from region to region; but your contractor should work closely with you during permitting and will likely be very knowledgeable about your area’s permitting process.”


3. Solar panel installation (1-7 days) “After receiving approval, your solar contractor can begin work. This includes ordering your solar panels as well as making sure your roof is structurally sound and free of obstructions. On the big day, an installation crew will install the proper wiring and mounting equipment, and place and connect the solar panels. Depending on the size of the solar panel system being installed, this process can sometimes be done within a day.”


4. Inspection and utility permission to operate (2-6 weeks) “A final inspection by your local government and/or municipal utility must occur before your new solar array can officially be turned on. An inspector will visit your home to ensure that your solar panel system is properly installed. They may also install a net meter which tracks production and allows your home to send excess power back to the electrical grid.”


5. Activation “Once you receive final approval, you can immediately flip the switch and begin harvesting solar energy for your home!”


QUESTIONS TO ASK

The three experts shared the following questions homeowners should ask before going solar, noting that they should always discuss their long-term solar goals. Kindt says a good installer can recommend the proper system and equipment to make sure those goals are met.


  • Will there be subcontractors involved? Or is any part of this project outsourced to a third party?

  • What equipment and warranties are we getting? What is the warranty on the panels, inverters, and batteries? Does the warranty cover the roof mounting brackets?

  • How can I be sure the system is sized properly?

  • What is the install/labor warranty?

  • How are the aesthetics going to look?What is my solar offset with this size system?

  • Is this owned, leased, or a PPA?

  • If financed, what are the loan terms?

  • Does the monthly payment ever change?

  • What is your contractor's license number?

  • What is your HIS number?

  • Is your company listed with the better business bureau?


by KOURTNEY JASON

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