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Going Solar at Home

Going Solar at Home

While going solar is a great way to reduce your use of fossil fuels and become energy independent, there’s a lot to consider before installing solar panels on your roof and maintaining a residential solar array. While the below list of topics may not include all of the solar-related concerns you might encounter, it’s a lengthy list designed to help you get started on the road to energy independence, reduced fossil fuel reliance and minimizing your carbon footprint.

Start with Energy Efficiency Assessments

Energy efficiency upgrades to your home. You can start saving energy and money today with just a few energy efficiency upgrades. According to the Department of Energy, energy-efficient homes can save anywhere from 5 to 30 percent on energy use.

The first thing everyone should do is to perform a self-energy audit of your home. This will help you create a list of energy saving opportunities around your house.

Some at-home items to evaluate or upgrade include:
  • Swap any incandescent or CFL light bulbs for LED lamps
  • Enhance or replace your attic insulation 
    • Maintain a minimum of R38 with a goal of R49
  • Check caulking and seals around windows, pipe entry and exit points on all exterior walls. Seal any visible gaps.
  • Check and replace any defective weatherstripping around doors and points of entry
  • When replacing appliances always buy ENERGY STAR

For more information please visit Pioneer’s page on residential energy saving tips.

Assess System Size and Rooftop Situation

A critical step in the solar installation process is to determine if your roof is able to support a photovoltaic system. 

Some things to know before you move forward with the project:

  • Can your roof support the additional weight of a solar system?
  • What is the orientation of your roof? 
    An east or north-facing photovoltaic system is less optimal. For maximum production benefit, your solar system and panels should be facing west or south. This orientation will maximize the ability to offset energy usage during afternoons.
  • Is your roof shaded?
    Beautiful big trees provide plenty of benefits and help keep a house cooler in the summer. The drawback of shade, however, is the impact on the amount of energy produced by your photovoltaic system.

    We would never encourage customers to cut down tall or mature trees. Those beautiful oak trees can take 30 to 40 years to reach full height and can live hundreds of years. The amount of energy saved due to the shading is a huge energy saver and is basically free to you.
  • Net Energy Metering (NEM) programs
    NEM programs are constantly being discussed and debated at the investor-owned utility offices and at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Make sure you understand the applicable NEM rate you would be assigned and the buy-back rate for any overproduction.
  • Permitting
    Make sure you understand the required permits and the associated costs.

    Make sure you understand if your homeowner’s association (HOA) has any rules related to solar. For instance, some HOA’s state that all solar must be in the back of the house and not on the street view.

Financing Residential Solar

There are many financing/payment options available for getting solar installed on your home. Make sure you understand the short-term and long-term impacts of each option. There is no one right option and the decision should be based on you, your family and your financial situation. Before signing any contracts please make sure to understand the ability to cancel the agreement and fully understand the monthly costs to you.

Scroll right within table to continue reading 

Purchase Lease Power Purchase Agreement
Requires capital to finance
Often requires down payment
Typically no down payment
Property owner responsible for operations/maintenance
System owner is responsible for operations/maintenance
System owner is responsible for operations/maintenance
Property owner claims rebates/incentives
System owner (3rd party) monetizes rebates/incentives
System owner (3rd party) monetizes rebates/incentives
Generally most advantageous to private (taxable) entities
Lease payment is fixed rate not tied to the power generated – typical 15-year term
Purchase the power generated at a fixed rate – typical 15-year term

Choose Solar Installers Wisely

It is very important to only use certified, licensed contractors. Nearly as important is obtaining competitive bids, typically three bids for the same job. Here is a list of important questions to ask your salesperson or contractor:
  1. Are you licensed, bonded and insured?
  2. Does the vendor’s company perform the installation or do they use a third-party installer?
  3. Is my roof right for home solar power?
  4. Does their bid include an expected production calculation?
    1. Don’t rely on the one provided by the vendor. Ask them to use the state’s GoSolar calculator
  1. What happens if my system doesn’t perform as promised?
    1. Do they provide a production guarantee?
  2. Who takes care of building permits and inspections?
    1. This includes scheduling, being available and paying for all inspections and permits.
  3. What is the warranty for the panels and inverters? Installation? Roof?
  4. Can they provide references?
  5. What additional costs might I expect during the life of my panels?

Battery Add-ons

Should you consider installing batteries at the same time you are having solar installed on your roof. Most solar vendors also sell and install batteries as an added feature.

Batteries allow a customer to charge during optimal solar times and then use that energy during the more expensive times of the day. This feature magnifies the potential financial savings for a customer, especially for those on Time-of-Use (TOU) rates.

For more information about residential solar energy, including energy production, Net Energy Metering and Time-of-Use rates, contact your Pioneer Community Energy team by email at info@pioneercommunityenergy.org and by phone at (916) 758-8969

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