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Solar Buying Guide

Home Solar Buyer’s Guide | Choosing a Solar Installer

Factors to Consider before Setting Up a Solar Photovolataic System

Before buying any solar components and installing them, there are a number of factors you have to consider. Since solar system installation is a very large investment, you have to be accurate in your calculations and your choices.

Knowing these key facts will make it easy for you to select the right products for your solar setup.

Some of these factors are as follows:

1. How long will you live in your house?

Though you may notice an immediate drop in your electricity bills after installing a solar power system, it will take at least five to six years for your solar investment to pay off. If you intend to live in the same house for the long term, then your investment in solar power is worth every cent; otherwise, the cost of solar powering your house will be considerably high.

2. How much energy do you need to power your house?

Another important fact you have to consider is the amount of energy you need to run all the appliances in your home. Of course, different households have different electricity needs based on the type of devices they’re using and the number of people living in that house. If you have a lower consumption level, you can go for fewer solar panels. So it is important to know your average power consumption to estimate how many solar panels are sufficient for your energy needs. Generally, the size of your solar power system depends on insolation (sun exposure) and how much energy you need.

3. Cost of solar system

The cost of solar equipment varies from one manufacturer to another, making it difficult to know which equipment is appropriate and not overpriced. Though the prices of solar panels have gradually reduced, other equipment and installation expenses might be high. Altogether, it can take you five to six years to offset the initial cost of deploying a solar system in your home.

4. Roof type

Although you can install solar panels on almost every rooftop, some of them require more effort and have to incur extra costs to install the solar panels. For example, it is very difficult to install solar panels on regular wood shingle rooftops. If you have this type of rooftop, you should consider hiring an experienced professional for rooftop mounting.

5. Location

The amount of energy generated depends on where you live and the amount of direct sunlight exposure to your panels. If you live in areas where there are tall trees and buildings, it can affect sunlight exposure to your panels. If you live in the US and in a state like California, Texas, or Arizona, you may experience high energy output from your solar system since these areas receive full sunlight for long hours; however, if you live in areas with less direct sunlight, like Montana or Minnesota, you may still need to rely on the grid while utilizing solar energy as much as possible by equipping a more efficient PV system with extra solar panels.

6. Permits

Before you install solar panels in your home, you have to file for an electrical permit, a structural or building permit, and a dedicated solar photovoltaic permit. Consult a local professional to know all the legal issues and zoning laws within your country. You should also obtain relevant information in regard to building permits to avoid the risk of having to re-do the installation of the whole system or be fined. This is especially true regarding ground-mounting solar panels. Mostly, building permits are issued at the local level, so it is important to follow all the state rules and regulations that apply to your municipality.

Choosing a Solar Installer

Below is a collection of questions to ask vendors when choosing a solar installer from amongst contractors.

  • Does the contractor have the requisite credentials to prove that they can handle the project?
  • Does the contractor own or have access to the required tools?
  • Does the contractor have references to validate that previous project experience?
  • What is the payment schedule (upfront payment or payment after milestone)?
  • Is the PV system scalable? Can more solar arrays be added in the future to increase the energy output?
  • What are the details of the warranty being offered? How long will the design and installation take?
  • What are the possible impacts of the installation on the existing structure (will it cause roof leaks or constitute a heavy weight)?
  • What is the payback period of the investment?

Payback period is the amount of time it will take for the net savings as a result of the project will outweigh the initial outlay on the project. This will go a long way in determining whether the project makes financial sense.

Important Tips on PV System Installation and Operation

  • The PV modules are sometimes coated with glass to protect the solar cells from oxygen, humidity, dust and rain. Therefore, please handle with care to prevent breakage.
  • The right polarity should be maintained at all times in all connections.
    Conventionally, use a red wire for all positive connections and a black wire for negative connections.
  • Earth the solar arrays properly by placing metal or earth rods. If adequately and properly earthed, lightning strikes would not affect the solar arrays.
  • Clean the exposed portion of the modules regularly to wipe off dust.
  • Blocking diodes should be fixed in the solar arrays to ensure reverse current flows into the modules are prevented. Reverse current flows can cause energy losses and damage the solar modules.
  • Battery should undergo regular checks and electrolyte should be refilled.
  • The wire sizes required for DC power are larger than for AC power at same voltage.
  • The array wiring must be done in such a way that it can withstand elevated temperature.

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