How to Go Solar: The Quotes Are In. Now What?

October 27, 2015 | 10:27 am
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

I’m at a key stage in my journey to solar-hood: I’ve got quotes in hand from multiple solar companies, and just needed to sort through ‘em. Here are a few surprising things about the bids, and what they mean for next steps.

More power, Scotty?

Solar sales associate and his handy-dandy sun-measurer-on-a-stick. (Credit: J. Rogers)

Gauging my roof’s solar potential. As wise comedian Steve Martin might have said, “A roof without solar panels is like a day without sunshine, and a day without sunshine is like… night.” (Credit: J. Rogers)

The first thing that struck me about the quotes was that the solar PV systems they were proposing were larger/more powerful than I had thought possible given our roof—40 to 50 percent more. The systems they’ve quoted me would be enough to cover all of our household needs and to satisfy a portion of my wife’s electric car’s appetite.

Granted, we’ve done a lot to make our house more efficient, which means less solar to cover those energy needs. But the math also has a lot to do with the technological options that make PV systems more tolerant of shade. That means that we can stretch the boundaries of where PV panels can go.

A bargain at any price

The second big piece, the price tag, was less of a surprise, given the price drops we’ve seen (and talked plenty about) in recent years. The basic set-ups were in that low, attractive range.

Given my roof constraints, though, I’m leaning toward a much higher efficiency panel that the quotes offered as an option. That bumps up the price appreciably. But it means I’d be able to eke more out of a smaller space (and keep the panels on the main roof only, rather than putting some on the garage, too).

Solar PV modules -- what I'm aiming for

Someday soon…

The bottom line ups and downs

There were a couple of other surprises on the financial side. The leasing options that have made solar so much more accessible, it turns out, aren’t necessarily available to customers (like me) served by municipal utilities, or munis, either because the utilities aren’t welcoming (as discussed here) or because munis make the solar leasing companies nervous as being too unpredictable. So it’s cash or credit for me.

Another surprise was that my west-southwest-facing roof is too far from southerly for my muni’s tastes: I won’t qualify for their subsidies. West-facing systems can be worth a lot to a utility, but I guess they’re not there. Yet.

But in other respects, my muni is welcoming. The local subsidies aren’t bad, for those who qualify. And their time-of-use rate, which makes power more expensive in the afternoon but much cheaper at night (when we’re likely to be charging the EV), means any solar electrons will mostly be offsetting more expensive ones. That’s good for us, and good for the utility and its other customers, if we’re helping avoid expensive power and expensive peaks in power use.

Now what?

A few other things needed sorting out as I looked through the quotes, stuff like:

  • What’s included. Is it the same for each quote, so that I can do an apples-to-apples comparison?
  • What it’s going to take to get there. I’m likely to have to replace the part of the roof the panels are going to go on, so that they have nice new roof to spend the next few decades on. Solar companies also need to make sure that the roof is strong enough for the panels, with snow and wind and whatever else thrown in, so that may mean a visit from a structural engineer.
  • Most importantly: How soon I can get solarized. Getting the roof redone and other stuff could take time this late in the year (winter is coming, the calendar tells us, even if the weather isn’t on the same page right now).

Importantly, the company will take care of stuff like permitting and the process of working things out with my utility.

So, overall, I’ve got the answers I need, at least in terms of the solar quotes, and the ball’s in my court. Decision time. Stay tuned.

Posted in: Energy

Tags: solar, solar energy, solar power

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.