GOING SOLARTHE PROCESS FROM START TO FINISH
IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN OVER NIGHT
• Adding solar is an involved addition to your property, requiring careful consideration before installation can begin
• It requires permits to be approved by the local building authority
• Your electric provider has to approve the design and estimated solar production numbers
• AEC works with you to understand what system will work best for your needs, which can take a few weeks to optimize your homes solar system.
This is not a rushed process and it shouldn’t be. There are alot of moving parts and considerations when going solar. Any company that is trying to rush the process along is not working in the customers best interest.
Virginia has several power companies and cooperatives that provide grid electricity to specific geographical areas. Each company has their own individual rules and regulations for customers going solar while remaining “grid tied”.
There is a limit of 20kw for residential solar, that is a state rule and limits the amount of solar you can put on your residential property. In most cases 20 kw greatly exceeds the needs of an average residential household.
Power companies have to approve the number of kilo watt hours your solar system will produce. They do not want you to be outproducing your annual grid electricity consumption. AEC will try to match your annual household electricity consumption to your solar production. The electrical companies’ run their own computations for how much electricity you will produce based on the estimates AEC provides them. If their numbers come out over 100 percent of your previous years electric usage, AEC will have to reduce the size of the system. AEC is very good at estimating the production numbers and getting your system sized appropriately the first time.
After AEC installs your system and the building inspector has signed off, the power company will install a “net meter”, meaning that it can read power flow going into your house and also back onto the grid. This is at no cost to the homeowner, but it may take a week or more before they install a new meter. During that time, AEC cannot turn on the system until the power company gives us approval to do so.
City and Town Building Office
As solar becomes more popular among residential customers city and towns have been implementing building codes specific to solar. In most cases it is a simple building permit request that AEC fills out and submits on behalf of the customer. Some building departments require a more in-depth process that may require AEC to gather additional information.
This will add time to the process, at a minimum it will take two weeks for permit approval, in some cases longer. Once AEC has a signed contract, we file the permit as soon as possible.
THE FIRST STEP IN GOING SOLAR
- The AEC proposal is a building block, from this first design we work to make sure it is the best fit for your homes needs.
- In most cases we can provide an accurate proposal without physically going to your location.
- We use Helioscope solar design software for our system layouts and solar production estimates. Helioscope pulls images of your property from Google and Bing maps allowing us to see the orientation of your house to the sun’s movement. This also allows us to take a look at any potential shading issues.
- We need a recent power bill to size the system correctly based on your annual electricity consumption. We can also estimate the monthly and annual savings a solar system will provide using our production spreadsheet.
- The AEC proposal is based off similar sized projects and represents AEC’s best effort to provide an accurate estimate of the system cost. We usually fall within a few thousand dollars of the contract price
THE SITE ANALYSIS
- Once you have seen an AEC proposal, talked it over with our solar designers on the phone and are ready for a contract price, AEC will come to your property to do the solar site analysis.
- We do not use sales people. The person doing your site analysis will be a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified solar technician.
- That person will also be the one doing the installation and working with you as the project lead contact in most cases.
- This solar tech has installed dozens of home solar systems and knows exactly what to look for.
- During this visit we look at the installation location, electrical panel, shading issues and ease of access. Our goal is to make sure we do not have any unforeseen problems with installing your solar system.
- AEC asks for a refundable $150.00 fee to conduct a solar site analysis. AEC asks for $150.00 as a commitment from the customer that they are serious about moving forward with a solar project. When a contract is agreed upon, this $150.00 will be credited to the first payment.
- During this visit we look at the installation location, electrical panel, shading issues and ease of access. Our goal is to make sure we do not have any unforeseen problems with installing a solar system.
Sign on the dotted line
- AEC uses a standard contract that lays out the terms of service, payment schedule and what the customer can expect from AEC.
- In the event a change in materials, price or scope of work occurs we generate a change amendment that is signed by both AEC and the customer.
- It is important to AEC that we keep the customer informed as we work through project hurdles.
- We do this to ensure there is no misunderstanding about the project on either side of the process.
Post Contract Timeline
City, County & Town Permits
- AEC is required to file a permit for all solar projects in VA. We file the permit as soon as possible following the signing of a contract, in most cases this is within a few days. In some cases, AEC is required to get additional information for permitting.
- For example, Lynchburg which requires a stamped structural engineering drawing stating the roof is structurally capable of handling the weight of solar. We work with a local engineering firm to generate these drawings, but this can delay filing for a permit by a week or more.
- At a minimum, it takes two weeks for permit approval, but we have seen it take longer than a month when a building office is busy.
- While AEC does everything it can to expediate the permitting process, at the end of the day it is beyond our control.
- When AEC files for the permit, we also send over a Net Metering form to the power company for their approval. From this form the power company computes its own estimate of solar production from your new system to make sure it is not over your previous years usage.
- At this point when the: 1) Contract is signed by both AEC and the customer 2) City or town has approved the permit 3) Electrical company has approved the design, AEC will order materials.
- It is AEC’s policy to ensure the system is approved by all parties before purchasing materials. AEC does not keep an inventory of standard equipment.
- This allows us the flexibility to get the right materials for each project. Material lead time is generally 1- 2 weeks.
- Once AEC has all the required approvals and we have received the needed materials we schedule the install.
- For a roof installation we plan for 1-3 days depending on the size of the system and the roof pitch.
- A ground mounted system can take up to a week after accounting for digging, trenching, pouring concrete and setting panels.
- After AEC has completed the installation, the building inspector has signed off and we are ready to turn the system on. AEC lets the power company know they can switch out your meter for a net meter and do their checks.
- The power companies are generally pretty quick about making the meter swap, but AEC has seen it take longer than a week for this to happen.
- Once the system is live AEC makes sure your online monitoring is working correctly and that all parts of the system are operating as they should.
The next 25 years
- Maintenance – these systems require very little attention once they are installed. Any system AEC installs will come with online monitoring capabilities.
- Cleaning Panels every 5-7 years to ensure that no film has developed can result in as much as a 3% increase in panel performance. This can be done with a soft bristle brush and a environmentally friendly cleaning detergent.
- Inverters are generally warrantied for 15 years with the option to extend that warranty to 25 years for a few hundred dollars. At 15-20 years your system may require an inverter replacement.
- Overall this system requires very little care or attention to do what it was designed to do.