lanning always involves a lot of details, and this is especially true when it comes to big projects such as setting up a home solar panel system. We have compiled a comprehensive checklist for a residential solar system plan. With this guide, you can ensure that you have covered all of the necessary steps and are well-prepared to begin your PV installation.
Discover solar financing options.
If you want to harness the sun’s energy to power your home, do not think that purchasing photovoltaic panels outright is the only way to finance a solar installation. Currently, there are some other financing planning options you can take into consideration:
- Community solar: you can use a portion of the energy produced by a shared local solar farm.
- Solar leasing: you can lease solar equipment if you cannot afford to buy it.
- Solarize program: you can sign up for a Solarize campaign of your local government and get a 10%-15% discount on current consumer prices.
- Power purchase agreement: you can rent your roof to a third party who will pay for the installation of photovoltaic panels and then sell the generated energy back to you.
Find out how much energy your home consumes.
Figure out your average electricity consumption by analyzing your electricity bills. After that, decide how you can improve your home’s energy efficiency. Before planning solar, it would be a good idea to consider what low-cost or no-cost efficiency measures you can take right now. Let’s look at some examples.
Don’t overuse your home devices. Also, turn certain things off when they are not used because they consume energy even if they aren’t turned on – just being plugged in.
Switch to fluorescent light bulbs. They are slightly more expensive than older types of light bulbs, but you will end up saving money.
Choose energy-efficient appliances. It may be difficult to swap out all of your current household items, but if you are in the market for new ones, look for a high-efficiency logo.
Examine your home’s solar potential.
Not all homes are perfect for solar modules. When planning a photovoltaic system, the crucial factors that determine your solar potential will be the geographical location of your house and the characteristics of your roof. Many online tools can help you automatically identify your solar opportunities based on your address; you should only enter your ZIP code. In case you live in a sunny place, photovoltaics is usually a good idea, but the thing you should always check is your roof.
Don’t install solar panels on a roof that needs to be replaced shortly. If you plan to have a new roof in a couple of years, install the photovoltaic equipment once the roof is replaced.
Your roof must have enough space for solar panels. Each kW of your photovoltaic system typically requires at least 100 square feet of clear, unshaded roof space.
The roof's orientation may significantly impact how productive your rooftop panels will be. In the United States, the best orientation for photovoltaic modules is true south, which is not the south shown by the compass, but the direction towards the South Pole.
The slope of your roof also affects the efficiency of your panels. The installation will be quite difficult if you place photovoltaic equipment on a steep roof. On the other hand, if your roof is flat, you will need additional racking to lift the panels to the right angle. Generally, the ideal angle is 30-40 degrees.
Choose solar panels you would like to install.
When you plan to acquire a solar panel, it's easy to assume that all of them are alike. In fact, they can be divided into several types depending on the material they are made of.
Opt for monocrystalline panels if your priority is efficiency. Monocrystalline panels are the most productive because of their high silicon purity and, therefore, the most expensive. Also, note that monocrystalline modules produce the most waste during the manufacturing process.
Pick polycrystalline panels in case efficiency is not your main selection criteria. Polycrystalline modules are made of multiple crystals, making them slightly less efficient but more affordable. What is more, they are the most environmentally-friendly option, as they utilize all of the silicon material they are manufactured with.
Purchase thin-film panels if your budget is limited. Thin-film modules are the cheapest, but they degrade much quicker than their silicon counterparts and need much space. The good thing is that they are flexible and lightweight.
Calculate how many solar panels you need.
A typical American household needs about 20 to 24 solar panels to fully cover its electricity usage. However, the size of your solar energy system you plan actually depends on many factors. Here is an algorithm to calculate it:
- Make sure you know how much electric energy your house consumes on average. This is always indicated in your electricity bill as a total kWh usage.
- Determine the average peak sun hours in your area. You can easily find this information online.
- Divide your average monthly electricity consumption by your monthly peak sun hours. The result will be the size of the photovoltaic system you need.
- Divide the result above by the wattage of the panels you want to install. Thus, you will get the number of panels you need.
If you feel uncomfortable with math, this is not a problem since you can simply use one of the solar power calculators that will do the job for you.
The solar panel payback period depends on factors like installation cost, energy savings, incentives, and electricity rates. Typically, it ranges from 5 to 15 years, but can be shorter with favorable conditions.
Learn about the available solar initiatives.
And now, let’s squash the myth that the upfront cost of solar equipment is unbearably high – there are a lot of solar incentives available to those who want to go solar, which can significantly reduce the initial price of photovoltaics. Try to do your research on that as best as possible.
While planning to install solar modules, do not forget that you will be eligible to receive a 30% federal tax credit on your photovoltaic equipment. Of course, this option is only available when you are the owner of your solar panels, not a lessee or a party to a power purchase agreement.
Mind that the state or the city where you live can also offer a variety of solar incentives you could apply for. To give yourself a better idea of that, check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency1.
Decide whether you will try DIY solar panels.
If you're willing and have the time, try your hand at solar DIY. Do not expect it to be easy, but you can start with some simple projects. Let’s explore some smart DIY solar panel plans.
Best DIY solar panel plans
- Making a portable solar panel: use a flat piece of wood to attach your solar cells. Use clear plastic as a cover. Finally, join your battery holder to the panel.
- To make a foldable solar panel, use plywood on which you will lay out the panels which are then linked in a parallel manner. The energy you will get can charge a small MP3 player.
- Reusing broken pieces of solar modules: if you are looking for the cheapest plan, buy the pieces on the second-hand solar market; you will need to link them carefully.
- If you have a truck, here is another option: affix a solar panel to the truck’s roof using a very strong adhesive. After connecting this to your battery, you can easily charge your gadgets.
- If you have a 3D printer, try to create a sunflower model which will follow the sun like a sunflower. You will need servo motors, a hot glue gun, jumper wires, photoresistors, metal paper clips, an Arduino UNO, and resistors.
For a full-scale solar panel project, find a reputable installer.
If you own a large house and plan to install photovoltaic equipment to fully satisfy your electricity needs, it is not a good idea to do it yourself because such a project requires professional knowledge and skills. Instead, look for a certified solar installer.
Before hiring a solar company, search for information on the Internet and ask for references. A professional solar installer won’t have any problem providing you with testimonials from their previous clients.
Make sure that the solar company you plan to choose has no pending or active legal judgments. Ensuring that your potential solar provider is reliable will help to protect your solar investment.
Last but not least, ask for warranty information. Most solar equipment comes with a 20-year warranty for the panels and a 10-year warranty for the inverters. If you need to replace one or some parts of your solar kit before the end of your warranty period, the company should replace it for you.