Q: I’m interested in adding solar to my house. What steps do I need to take?
A: Getting a photovoltaic system installed and operational on your house or property involves working with several parties to ensure a safe and functional system. You need to work with your electric utility, local building department and a solar contractor.
Where to Start
If you are considering a solar PV installation, I recommend starting with research.
The cost of a residential PV system varies based on your location, the type of components used and the size of the system. With average costs ranging from $16,000 to $36,000, installing a PV system is a significant investment.
In my experience, people install solar panels for financial benefit, environmental impact or a combination of the two.
The financial benefit of generating your own electricity depends on your energy use, the cost of the system, electric rates, and the specific rules and regulations for your state and electric utility.
Utility employees can help you understand electric rate structures. Many states offer net metering, a billing mechanism that gives credit for any extra electricity the system produces and supplies to the power grid.
The environmental benefit of installing a PV system is based on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This benefit is dependent on the type of generation that powers your home. You can check with your utility to learn about its energy sources. This information provides a better understanding of the type of power your PV system will offset.
To find potential costs and estimated energy production, you need a proposal from a solar contractor. I recommend getting two or three proposals from different contractors to compare system designs and costs. You can also request a reference from a previous customer in your area.
Solar contractors work in multiple utility service territories and may not be familiar with the requirements in your state or at your electric utility. I always recommend contacting your electric utility before signing a solar installation contract. You want to understand your monthly electric bill costs, as well as the monthly system costs, after installing solar.
If you commit to a home PV installation, you sign an interconnection agreement with your electric provider. This contract between you and your electric utility stipulates the terms of connecting a distributed generation system, such as a PV system.
Permits and Inspections
You or your contractor will work with the local building department for the necessary permitting before installation. Once the system is installed, you will likely need final inspections from the building department and the electric utility.
Your utility will grant permission to operate before energizing your system. Don’t assume your local building department will communicate with your electric utility. In my experience, this doesn’t always happen.
Because the solar installation process involves multiple parties, preapproval and post-inspections, it is important to check with your local utility and building department before committing to a solar PV installation.