The most memorable moment in any home solar project when you get the green light to ‘flip the switch’; just like that, your roof is generating free, clean, renewable energy. Well, not quite just like that. As anyone who has gone solar can tell you, the process involves a number of critical steps, each of which plays a crucial role in making sure you get the perfect system to meet your energy needs. In this article, I’ll walk you through the entire solar power system installation process so you know exactly what it takes to convert your home from a consumer of dirty power to a producer of clean energy.
Solar Power Systems Installation Process
This simple six-step guide contains all you need to know about solar panel installation.
1. Site And Roof Assessment
The first phase of any residential solar installation is the site assessment. Once you execute your solar contract, a technician will visit your home to understand its characteristics and make sure the solar design is customized for your unique energy needs. The technician could be an in-house employee of your solar installer or an independent contractor working with your installer.
The roof of your house will be one of the major places the engineer will take measurements, evaluate structural integrity, and collect readings on shading and sunlight availability. South-facing roofs are usually the best for solar as they will get the most sunlight, but depending on your utility rate schedule east or west-facing rooftops can sometimes produce the most value for homeowners. The engineer will use a tool known as a “Solar Pathfinder” to calculate precisely how much sunlight your solar system will be able to capture. Certain credit or rebate programs will require this step as proof that that the solar system meets minimum efficiency requirements.
The engineer will also assess the roof’s structure to make sure it’s able to support the addition of the solar panels without compromising its structural integrity. The technician will also assess your home’s electrical panel to determine if the solar panels will be able to connect to your home’s electrical systems. If the electrical panel is older or you’ve recently completed a renovation or other home improvement project that increased the number of electrical connections in your home, an upgraded electric panel may be required to accommodate the inflow of solar energy.
2. Design Approval
After your site assessment,, your solar company will recommend an optimal solar system design for your home. They’ll walk you through things like panel wattage and manufacturer, roof facet selection, inverter type, sizing, and which roof facets to use in order to make sure you get the perfect system at the best price.
Your installer may recommend different solar panels technology and design as well as different inverters. They’ll describe what makes each of these solar system components the better choice for your specific circumstances and what the tradeoffs of each option would be. Ultimately you, the homeowner, have the final say over the design of your project so don’t be afraid to ask questions and work with the installer on any design or performance questions that you have.
Your installer will request your approval before finalizing the design, and applying for the necessary permits. Once you approve the design, your solar system installation will move on to the next phase.
3. Permits and Paperwork
You’ll need to apply for permits with your local planning and zoning commission before your solar installer can go ahead with the installation. Your installer will handle the entire permitting process for you, but it’s important to make sure you obtain copies of the permits once available and keep them for your records. You’ll need copies when selling your home to document that all necessary approvals were received, and copies of the permit can be a requirement for certain incentive and financing programs. Building permit regulations are specific to residential areas, so your installer will be an excellent source of information about the different requirements. For instance, some states allow homeowners to install solar panels across their entire roof, while some others require three feet of clear space surrounding the solar panels for safety access.
Your solar installer will also be able to help you manage the paperwork for any incentives associated with your system. Be sure to ask about any paperwork you’ll need including for local, state, and federal solar incentives like the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC), solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs), government rebates, clean energy financing initiatives such as PACE, and local solar programs.
4. Ordering Solar System Equipment
Once your paperwork and permits are approved (usually within one or two months after submitting your application), your installer will place an equipment order. The equipment order will be based on the approved design finalized after your site assessment. This equipment order includes two major components: inverters and solar panels.
Solar installers can be excellent sources of information on the different equipment options, so be sure to ask questions and understand the tradeoffs of each option. Homeowners should consider are price, aesthetics, durability and efficiency before choosing any brand.
It can also be helpful to do some independent research on the different equipment options. PowerScout has some great buying guides to help homeowners find the perfect panels and understand which inverter option is right for their home.
Once the equipment has been ordered,, your home will be added to your installer’s queue. Your precise installation day will depend on the installer’s availability, and they’ll usually need to block off two days to complete the work.
5. Installing The Solar System Components
Once your equipment arrives at the installer’s headquarters, the permits are in hand, and your home is at the top of the queue, it’s time for installation. The entire installation can take one to three days and depends on the complexity of the design and your unique roof.
The technicians often start by preparing your roof to ensure the tiles or shingles will be attached appropriately. After that, they’ll connect the electrical wiring that will connect to your general power system and electrical panel that was inspected during your property assessment. Once the electrical wiring is done, racking will be installed to support your panels. After that, the panels will be placed on to the racking. Lastly, the inverter system will be connected to the panels to convert the Direct Current (DC) energy coming out of the panels into Alternating Current (AC) energy that can be used by your home and the electric grid.
6. City Inspection, Approval, And Interconnection
Finally, a representative from your town’s planning and zoning commission, and electric company will visit your home to inspect your solar installation and give approval that everything was installed correctly and meet local regulations. Your solar company will send someone to meet the representatives and show them all of the technical details they’ll need to review, including all of the interconnection points and electrical systems. Once these representatives have reviewed the project and give the green light, your solar system is officially ready to be connected to the grid. Your technician will flip the switch and your solar panels will start generating clean renewable energy.