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Solar Panels for Homeowners - Entry 4

Installation and financial considerations when having solar panels put on your roof

By Richard SoullierePublished about a month ago 5 min read
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Photo by Vivint Solar on Unsplash

Since you've made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back since it seems your solar panel dreams are very likely to materialize. This article is about the last few steps to making it happen and I have divided it into two parts: Quotes & Installers and Financial Considerations.

Quotes & Installers

When you are looking at installers, you will see that many are fairly new and will outsource to local installers. That might affect the warranty in the very long term, but the panels fall back to the manufacturers anyway. As a result, the key thing is the services they provide.

What kind of track record (rating) do they and their installers have? Do they offer the inverter features you identified as being necessary? Does the actual installer (if outsourced) they have experience roofing? What after-sales service do they offer?

The roofing experience is interesting since they will have equipment like ladders with special features to eliminate potential damage to eaves troughs, not to mention they will already have the equipment to work on roofs, including safety gear. I mention that because, as of the date of publishing this article, homeowners are legally responsible for ensuring that contractors have and use safety gear while working on their homes in Ontario - and perhaps your jurisdiction, too.

In terms of after-sales service, you would think these systems are install-and-forget. They should be. On our system, we had two inverter issues and the manufacturer only deals with installers, not us directly. Does the manufacturer of the inverter you want deal directly with users or only installers? If the latter, will the installer take care of any issues or will you have to do that yourself? If yourself, will they provide you what you need to do simple diagnostics like setup connection to your wifi, download and install firmware updates every few months, etc.? Ask in advance to avoid downtime for this kind of sillyness.

Then there is winter snow. You won't miss out on a whole lot of electricity in January and February because your panels can't produce anything with more than an inch of snow on top of them. Good news, the snow will melt away faster. If your roof permits, you can get a roof rake if you can find a sturdy enough extension pole, but that's a lot of effort for a small pay off.

When it comes to warranty, sure read the fine print, but I did NOT get a warranty for our inverter beyond three years. At first I thought an extended warranty for the inverter would have been a good deal until I realized that technology changes rapidly. Had I got that I would either be stuck replacing it with an inverter with old tech OR I would get partial credit toward a new inverter with new tech. The math didn't work out for us, so we will get a new inverter with better tech in a decade or so, which is fine. That said, our inverter needed replacing on day 3 due to a faulty component! But that was within the regular warranty period for it, so the inverter was replaced without additional cost to us.

When it comes to quotes, I noticed most installers seem to use very similar software. It's pretty good. The know where the buildings and trees are - but they need info from your walks (both outside and inside) to ensure they make an accurate assessment. That combined with your annual electricity consumption and planned changes to your electrical use (e.g. going from a gas car to an E.V.), they can quickly determine where to optimally place your panels, how much electricity it can produce, and how much it will cost.

Depending on costs and how much roof space you have, you can reliably work with quote providers to figure out what kind of solar electricity production system can work for you.

Want to DIY? That's up to you, but be sure to ask your home insurance company about that and read the fine print on government incentive programs you are applying for since they typically aim to create jobs, not enable DIY-ers. That and I hope you know what you are doing....

Photo by Benjamin Wedemeyer on Unsplash

Financial Considerations

The panels on our house generate enough electricity and consumption credits throughout the year to see us pay them off in a little over ten years at current rates. The panels we got will last a good thirty years with a high enough output (their performance does decrease slightly over the first twenty years, but not a whole lot). That means we get pure cost savings for almost twenty years. I like that!

What I don't like is my electricity provider (not that I have a much of a choice where I live). We use net metering, meaning, we use electricity from the panels first, use additional electricity from the grid as required (like everybody else), and any unused electricity produced from our panels gets sold to the grid. At night, we buy from the grid. On sunny days, the panels have us covered. On very sunny days, the panels generate credits we can apply to the electricity we use from the grid at night or on rainy days.

In my case, we have to pay a little to sell our credits to the grid AND there is ~$40 per month on our electricity bill towards which credits cannot be applied.

Photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash

That's right, the credits can only be applied to consumption/usage, not "fixed costs". Still, going from paying for gas and electricity to just $40 a month for no gas and fixed electricity charges was ok for us. In short, that $40 is the lowest we can expect to pay on our electricity bill - which happens often!

Even better news, we managed to take part in the incentive programs offered by both our federal and municipal governments. That means we got $5,000 in tax-free cash from the feds AND interest-free financing for ten years that does not affect our credit rating! Yup, so we pay ~$40 plus ~$130 per month; and that $130 disappears after ten years.

BEWARE CAVEATS. The programs available to us were loaded with additional requirements buried in the fine print. Fortunately, those are easy to identify and the ones that applied to us coincided with things we were going to do anyway. Check the incentive programs available to you - and read the fine print.

Then there is re-shingling your roof. The roof on our house had been done a few years before we bought, so we won't have to worry about that. However, we cannot switch from fiberglass shingles to metal ones without incurring a few thousand dollars in costs because the racks that hold the panels to the roof are different depending on which type of shingles you have! That said, the uncovered part of your roof will need re-shingling as usual, the panels only protect what they cover.

The only thing we needed to budget for was a slight increase in our home insurance, trimming our big maple tree every few years, and expecting to replace the inverter every ten to fifteen years. Yeah, compared to panels that just sit there and bask in the sun, inverters do a whole lot so their lifespan isn't as long.

All of this made for easy calculations on our reduced monthly bills that made installing solar panels a financially savvy thing for us to do. I hope it works out for you, so let me know in the comments below.

If you are a gardener or if you know others who have a green thumb, check out Garden University on Etsy for eco-friendly items to express that planet-caring element. It keeps me creative.

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About the Creator

Richard Soulliere

Bursting with ideas, honing them to peek your interest.

Enjoyes blending non-fiction into whatever I am writing.

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