There are a number of steps to follow when planning to power your home with solar energy. After choosing which option is best for you to use solar (see step 3), follow the steps afterward that apply to you. Your solar energy installer and local utility company can provide more information on the exact steps you will need to take to power your home with solar energy.
Before starting the process of powering your home with solar energy, homeowners should investigate their energy use and consider potential efficiency upgrades. Homeowners should be well aware of their total electricity usage, and consider low-cost and easy-to-implement efficiency measures before choosing solar.
Explore the following resources to reduce your electricity use:
Before deciding on the best way to use solar electricity at home, assess the potential solar energy that can be produced at your address. Because PV technologies use both direct and scattered sunlight to create electricity, the solar resource across the United States is ample for home solar electric systems.
However, the amount of power generated by a solar energy system at a particular site depends on how much of the sun's energy reaches it, and the size of the system itself.
Several mapping services and tools are available to help you determine your home’s solar energy potential. Some of the services also offer information on the estimated system size, potential costs and savings, and local contractors.
These tools are an excellent starting point and can help you determine whether your home is suitable for solar, and if not, the best path forward for still benefiting from solar. While these tools are helpful, they don't account for all of the variables that need to be considered for your particular system. For that, you will need to work directly with a solar installer who can provide an accurate assessment of your solar potential as well as detailed recommendations, estimates, and equipment expertise.
Consider the following:
Purchasing and installing a system that you fully own and maintain is no longer the only option if you want to go solar. Even if you rent your home or don't want to purchase a rooftop system, there are many programs will enable you to still benefit from solar electricity.
To help your contractor to provide recommendations for your system’s type and size, gather information about your home and electricity use.
When researching installers, be sure to find qualified and insured professionals with the proper certification. You can also ask friends and family members who have recently gone solar for references and check online resources for reviews. Before you make any commitments, ask for proof of licensure before working with an installer.
There are also online tools that can help you easily find and compare solar installers. Obtain at least three bids for the PV system installation and make sure the bids are based on the same characteristics and metrics to enable comparison shopping.
When interviewing installers, consider asking the following questions:
Bids should clearly state the maximum generating capacity of the system—measured in Watts (W) or kilowatts (kW). Also request an estimate of the amount of energy that the system will produce on an annual or monthly basis (measured in kilowatt-hours). This figure is most useful for comparison with your existing utility bills.
Bids also should include the total cost of getting the PV system up and running, including hardware, installation, connection to the grid, permitting, sales tax, and warranty. A cost/watt, and estimated cost/kWh are the most useful metrics for comparing prices across different installers, as installers may use different equipment or offer quotes for systems of different sizes.
Solar PV systems installed in 2020 and 2021 are eligible for a 26% tax credit. In August 2022, Congress passed an extension of the ITC, raising it to 30% for the installation of which was between 2022-2032. (Systems installed on or before December 31, 2019 were also eligible for a 30% tax credit.) It will decrease to 26% for systems installed in 2033 and to 22% for systems installed in 2034. The tax credit expires starting in 2035 unless Congress renews it. There is no maximum amount that can be claimed.
If you opt for a solar lease or power-purchase agreement, remember that you will not be eligible for this tax benefit, since you will not own the solar energy system.
You can search for additional state, local, or utility incentives on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE).
In addition to incentives, be sure to explore all of the available solar financing options. Every situation is different, and what is best for your property depends on a wide range of factors.
If you decide to install a solar energy system, your installer should be able to help you complete the necessary permitting and steps.
Your installer will determine the appropriate size for your system. The size will be based on your electricity needs (determined in step 4) as well as the following:
Your installer will also ensure that all equipment is installed correctly and oriented and tilted in such a way to maximize the daily and seasonal solar energy received and produced by your system.
Be sure you understand how billing and net metering will work, as well as any additional utility fees you will need to pay.
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