The Real Process of Going Solar: What It Takes to Get a Home Solar System

Nov 14, 2018

The Real Process of Going Solar: What It Takes to Get a Home Solar System

One of the biggest hurdles to going solar is navigating the complicated and time-consuming process of doing the research, finding an installer, and figuring out all of the logistics, from permitting to solar credits and tax incentives.

That’s why we’ve put together a guide to help walk you through the typical process of going solar, from the system design and installation to maintenance and care.

1. Finding A Solar Installer

To help navigate the process of going solar, it’s important to find an experienced professional who can help answer any questions you have and determine what type of solar is right for you. You can start by asking any neighbors who have solar panels what their process was like and if they enjoyed working with their solar installer.

You may also want to see if your neighborhood or community is interested in combining forces and going solar together. This is a great way to share the burden of doing the research, and can also help bring down costs, as you can negotiate pricing as a larger group.

You may also want to see if your community has any other group solar programs available, such as Solarize -- or you can start one yourself! If you participate in this type of shared decision-making, the group can work together to find the right solar installer to partner with for the project.

If you decide to go solar on your own, you can use local resources like Google and Yelp or the Enphase Installer Network to find a reputable solar installer in your area.

2. Evaluating Your Home

Because every house is unique, every solar system has to be specially designed to meet your energy needs and accommodate the position, slope, and structural condition of your particular roof. For example, a family of six with a large home and two electric vehicles will likely need a much larger system than a someone with a small home who rides their bike to work.

Once you’ve decided to go solar and have found an installer to help you, the first thing your installer will typically do is send someone out to conduct a roof inspection. The inspector will evaluate your roof and may want to see your home’s blueprints in order to identify any potential complications. For instance, if your roof is old or structurally not able to support solar panels, they might recommend installing panels on open land in your backyard. (This is called “ground-mounted” solar, rather than a “roof-mounted” system.)

Your installer will also look at the area surrounding your home for potential impediments to solar energy generation. You might, for instance, be advised to trim or remove trees that cast shade over your roof. Ensuring your panels receive as much direct sunlight as possible will enable you to get the most energy out of your system. Your installer will also likely request copies of your most recent energy bills so they have a sense of how much energy you consume in an average month, to help you decide what size system you may need.

An electrician will also need to examine your home’s electrical panel to see if it’s compatible with solar, or if it needs any updates beforehand. Your installer may do this on their own, or refer you to an electrician that you will work with directly. If your home’s wiring is old, you may need a panel upgrade, which involves changing your existing electrical panel (also called the main service panel) with a new one in order to accommodate the solar energy that your home will be generating.

3. Deciding on System Size and Equipment

After gathering all the relevant information about your home, your installer will make a recommendation, or offer a few different recommendations, for various types of systems. For instance, your installer might suggest one option that would allow you to produce a minimal amount of solar energy, and another option that would allow you to produce an abundance of solar energy and store it using a solar battery.

If your installer recommends a ground-mounted solar system, you’ll have the additional option of mounting your panels on a tracking mechanism. While most solar panels are mounted on stationary racks, panels mounted on tracking mechanisms slowly turn throughout the day to ensure they always receive the maximum possible exposure to the sun. This setup is a little more expensive than traditional systems, but it also yields higher energy savings.

They will also recommend what type of products to install, including panels, racking, and inverters. There are two main types of inverters: microinverters and string inverters. Standard string inverters are installed on a line or “string” of several solar panels. Microinverters — what we make here at Enphase — on the other hand, are installed individually on the back of each solar panel, which increases overall efficiency. You can read more about the difference between microinverters and string inverters here.

When your installer provides you with their system and product recommendations, it’s ultimately up to you to decide what type of system you want based on your personal energy needs and goals. Your installer should also be able to help you answer any questions you have, such as whether the system includes energy monitoring software, what the length of the warranty is, etc.

Once you’ve made a decision on the system you want, your installer will move forward with the process of securing all the necessary paperwork and permits. The permits required to depend on your state and local laws and might include a building permit, electrical permit, or site inspection from a local official. Securing the proper paperwork and permits may take anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the speed and process of your local government, as well as the condition of your home and roof, and the type of system you’re installing.

4. Installation

The actual installation of the solar system is typically pretty quick, usually wrapping up in one to three days. Your installer will put the panels on your roof using equipment called “racking.” Then they will connect the panels to inverters, which are the brains of the system. Inverters convert the DC electricity produced by your solar panels into AC electricity, which powers your appliances. You can learn more about all of the different components that make up a solar system here.

Once the installation is complete, you’ll be on your way to producing clean, sustainable solar energy.  All that’s left for your installer to do is provide you with information about relevant financial incentives, including local net metering policies, solar renewable energy credit (SREC) programs, and federal solar investment tax credits. If you have questions about any of these programs or policies, be sure to ask your installer for clarification.

5. Maintenance

Solar panels installed with microinverters have no moving parts, so they require very little maintenance. Some people recommend cleaning your panels every few months to ensure they're free of grit and dust that could decrease their ability to collect sunlight. A leaf blower or a quick spray of the hose should be sufficient to clean them off. You may also need to clear leaves from them in autumn and remove snow from them in the winter using a squeegee or solar panel snow rake. In most cases, however, wind and rain will keep your panels naturally clean.

Many modern inverters also have software that allows you to monitor your system’s output and usage. Enphase’s MyEnlighten app, for instance, tracks your system’s health, energy production, and usage, including a breakdown of how much energy you sent back to the grid (if you’re under a net metering arrangement) and how much energy your household consumed. MyEnlighten even enables you to quickly and easily identify the energy consumption of particular electrical outlets. The app also archives system data, allowing you to identify potential changes in energy usage over time at the monthly, daily, or hourly scale.

Learn more about how to maintain your system here.

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