Solar panel installations are a big project that requires careful planning and a lot of upfront money. It’s important to shop around and get quotes from several contractors before making a final decision.
Solar energy systems are most efficient on a south-facing roof without trees or buildings obstructing sunlight. More complex deployments involve motor-driven tracking systems that reorient the panels to follow the daily and seasonal movements of the sun.
1. Determine Your Energy Needs
Getting the right size system for your energy needs is essential. Taking a look at your electricity bills from the past year will help you determine how much power your home consumes. You will then need to figure out how many solar panels are needed to generate the same amount of electricity.
The output rating of a solar panel reflects how much electricity it can generate under ideal conditions. Higher ratings mean fewer panels are needed, but they also tend to be more expensive.
You should comparison shop for solar panels, inverters and installation services just as you would for any other big-ticket item. Check out contractors’ customer reviews, certifications and Better Business Bureau profiles to ensure they are reputable. Also, consider whether a warranty is included in the pricing.
2. Choose the Right Panels
The type of solar panel system you choose is a big part of your overall solar energy solution. Choosing panels that match your needs, including roof space and budget, is crucial. You’ll want to prioritize factors like positive tolerance, temperature co-efficient rating, PID and LID resistance, efficiency, embodied energy and warranty details.
A good installer, like those found on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, will take into account all of these variables to help you choose the right solar panel for your home. It’s also important to consider the brand of solar panels you purchase, as a warranty will only be valid if the manufacturer is still around in 20 years. That’s why it’s best to go with a name you recognize.
3. Select the Right Mounting System
A major portion of the installation process is spent assembling, aligning and attaching the solar panel mounting system. Selecting the right racking system is critical to ensure that your panels are properly secured for decades.
Most installers use rail-based systems such as IronRidge for roof mount installations. These systems utilize stanchions and module clamps to secure drilled-in roof attachments to the mounting rails.
There are also ground or pole mounted systems that swivel to follow the sun’s position throughout the day. These systems tend to be more expensive, but can provide a significant boost in energy production. If you are unsure which system is best for you, we recommend consulting with your installer to discuss your options. They can help you determine the appropriate racking system based on your energy needs and future expansion plans.
4. Install the Panels
The installation process varies depending on whether the system is roof or ground mounted. If a roof-mounted system, the first step is to set up the mounting framework on the rafters.
The racking rails then go in place and are secured to the flashings with a torque wrench according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once the racking is in place, it’s time to connect the wires to the solar panels and microinverters or power optimizers. This requires shutting off your home’s electricity supply during the wiring installation.
If your system is grid-tied, you’ll also need to connect the inverter to the utility meter. You’ll then be able to sell excess energy back to the electric company. If your system is an off-grid or hybrid system, you’ll need to install a battery bank.
5. Connect to the Grid
Many utility companies allow customers to feed excess electricity back into the grid during sunny days. This is a great way to help support the grid and receive credits on your next bill.
To make the most of solar panel installations, a backup battery system can also be installed to power essential appliances during blackouts. In addition, it’s a good idea to install a generation meter to monitor your energy production. This allows you to see how much you’re saving on your monthly bills. Lastly, it’s important to understand the process of getting approval from your local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and submitting an application for grid interconnection. This step can take time depending on the municipality, but most solar installers can handle this on your behalf.