Whether you plan to buy or lease solar, there are a few things you should consider before you sit down with any solar companies.

  • Do you pay income taxes?  This may sound silly, but one of the major selling points of solar are the federal and state tax credits.  If you happen to be in a situation where you don’t pay income taxes, or pay very little in income taxes, then you may want to concentrate on leasing.  When leasing a system, the lease company claims the federal tax credit, and you can claim your first two years of solar electric bills on your taxes.
  • What is your current electric usage?  Every solar company will start the conversation by asking what your current electric costs are.  At some point during the process, they will also need your last 12 months of electric bills, or a year end summary.  This is a major factor in sizing your solar installation.  Be prepared to produce your electric bills, which may mean calling your current provider, or simply downloading them from your provider’s website.
  • How much solar can you get?  In a perfect world, you would be able to cover your entire roof in solar panels, generating the maximum amount of electricity possible.  However, in most cases, the power company has a say in the amount of solar energy you will be allowed to generate.  Generally, power companies will approve systems that will generate a little more than 100% of your current electric usage, provided your home can fit enough panels.  If you are concerned that your power consumption may increase in the future, you can always add panels later if you have room.  Another method I have heard of is to increase electric usage for a period of time, or putting off major energy efficiency improvements until after the solar installation has been sized.  These options may cost a little extra up front in electric bills, but will also give you some room for expansion in the future.
  • Have you considered saving energy?  Solar is not going to give you a free pass to unlimited power.  There is a limit to how much energy your solar array will be able to produce, and since the name of the game is saving money (and I guess the planet), you should look for ways to conserve energy where you can.  I mentioned some of these methods in the story of my solar journey.  Whether going solar or not, you should already be replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFL’s or LED’s.  You can use a Kill-a-Watt to identify energy hogs around the house and unplug or replace them.  Set electronics to go into standby mode after a period of inactivity.  Replace old or inefficient appliances.  Many power companies give rebates for replacing inefficient appliances, air conditioners and pool pumps.  Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you can use home automation to save money on energy.
  • Which direction does your roof face?  If you are unsure which direction all of the sections of your roof face, try looking up your house on Google Maps.  This is one of the first things any solar company will do to estimate your solar exposure.  Solar companies will use as much southern exposure as possible, so expect that those sections of roof will be used first.
  • Is your roof shaded by trees or buildings?  You will want the panels to receive the maximum amount of light possible.  If the prime sections of your roof are usually shaded by trees, you may want to consider having the trees trimmed before you start calling solar companies.  Clearly you won’t be able to trim any neighboring buildings…well, technically you could, but you really shouldn’t…so it would be best to let a solar installer tell you your options in that situation.