Do You Know Your Roof?

After qualifying for good sun exposure, the bottom line for a solar project is what condition your roof is in. The quality of attachment work and attachment components that are used on your roof can also make a big difference. Most of us don’t think about our roof until a leak occurs, but like a foundation is to a building, your roof is the foundation to a successful solar project. To determine this, I recommend you follow these four guidelines below.

1. Know what condition your roof covering is in. Since your project’s lifespan is 20 to 25 years, the roof needs to have the same or longer lifespan. This is your starting point to determine if your roof covering is ready for solar. Composite asphalt shingles range from 20 - 40 year lifespans. Concrete and clay tiles last much longer BUT the condition of the underlayment is critical to get examined. Whether you have your solar vendor or a professional roofer evaluate your roof is up to you, but do make sure that it’s done early on. Any expense needed to do so, well outweighs avoiding the troubles and expenses of leaky roof damages.

2. Know your roof support design.  A solar project generally adds 3 pounds per square foot of weight to your roof. The permit process requires that your roof support structure can accommodate that. Older homes may need some rafters added to meet that requirement. Most new homes (less than 20 years old) in California do comply. All new construction in California is required to build solar ready roof support. Your solar vendor should inform you if any support work is needed. At this point you’ll either feel confident to move forward, or you will be examining cost/benefit numbers to see if it makes sense to do any needed roof work.

3. Know your vendor’s roofing experience. If your roof and budget are now good to go, the next item is arguably the most important. If you have a sloped roof, there must be holes drilled through it to attach your solar project to your roof’s support system. For roofs with an interior that is a finished cathedral ceiling, the attachments may be secured to your roof planking. In either case there are holes that must be waterproofed for the life of the system. No new technology required here, but this heavily relies on experience and the right skills. This is an important question for your vendor regarding their staffing.

4. Know your vendor’s attachment component choice. The final step is what component manufacturer your vendor will use for attaching your solar panels to the roof (with or without rails). There are many choices for vendors and different skills needed depending on the roof covering. Asphalt roofs are the easiest to install on. Tile roofs require more skill and time. This component is the place you need the best component choice available. I believe, especially for tile roofs, that the manufacturer, Quick Mount PV, delivers quality as well as a 20-year warranty. They are California based and offer extensive training for vendors. 

Knowing the answers to these questions puts you in the position to partner with the best vendor for your solar project. Soladvisor is ready to help and assist you in getting there.

Can I Afford A Solar Panel System?

Not everyone who wants solar power can easily go forward with a $20K - $40K purchase. Fortunately, costs have definitely come down over the last decade thanks to shorter installation times, more streamlined permitting and less costly panel manufacturing. The solar industry, government, forward thinking utilities and the financial world are all contributing to making it easier and more affordable for more and more homeowners.

There are several ways to finance a solar power system. To feel confident you have chosen the right finance path, it is important to understand details of the different options. Also, not all options are available everywhere.

 PURCHASE

This route gets you the 30% Federal Tax Credit and gives the quickest return on investment on a well designed system. It is often chosen by people who are looking for a low risk, high return on investment. Many consumers take this approach using their home equity for a loan or find a low interest home improvement loan. Because of the growth of the solar industry, banks have become much more open to financing solar loans. In all cases, the interest rate and payment terms need to be evaluated for your financial suitability.

PACE FINANCING - (Property Assessed Clean Energy)

 The PACE loan gets you all the advantages of a cash purchase but with easier payment terms. This finance tool was specifically created to allow more people to make energy improvements on their homes. Solar projects are one of the many energy improvements a PACE loan is geared for. It is not universally available however. You should check with your municipality’s tax assessor’s office to confirm that. Your property taxes are the mechanism a PACE loan uses. It is still an interest loan but the payments are spread over the life expectancy of the energy improvement your PACE loan is authorized for, which for solar is 20 years. Therefore, the payment schedule of a solar PACE loan is divided over the X times a year you receive your property tax bill for 20 years. There are qualifying terms depending on the lender. Most require 20% of your house debt to have been paid off but there are no credit score requirements. A PACE loan is also not consider debt, has no effect on future borrowing and adds revenue to your municipality.

Still, you may not want to own the system or might not qualify for financing. There are still some options available to you.

LEASING

These have been very popular, especially in the early years when costs were higher and financing was harder to procure. Leasing unfortunately eliminates your 30% Federal Tax Credit which instead goes to the vendor who owns your system. The main point of a lease is to lower your electric bill immediately and for the duration of the lease (usually 20 years). You need to be sure the terms of your contract support that. Many leases are $0 down and also allow a down payment option to make your monthly payment smaller or a full payoff option in specific years. Confirm the vendor’s level of responsibility for any repairs or maintenance for the duration of the lease. The lease option gives you some control over what you pay for electricity. Your utility company will still bill you for whatever electricity they continue to supply and the various taxes and delivery charges. Since your utility costs cannot be fixed like the solar lease costs, I recommend ensuring the annual solar production warranties in your lease minimally cover half your expected annual electric usage.

POWER PURCHASE AGREEMENTS (PPA)

These are common in the commercial and non-profit business sectors. They are also available for residential consumers but not every residential solar vendor offers them. The main difference between a residential PPA and a residential lease are as follows. Instead of predetermined monthly payments for the duration of the PPA (usually 20 years), you pay for the amount of electricity generated by the solar system each month. Essentially, you are buying some of your electricity from a second utility provider, your PPA contractor and the “power plant” is you roof (or ground mounted system or carport system). Correct sizing of your system is very important in this scenario as you pay for what’s produced. Any solar production you didn't use that is dumped back on to the grid must still be paid for. Your utility may be giving you credit for that (net metering) but unlikely it’s at the same rate you’re paying your PPA provider. Similar to leasing, the PPA provider owns the system and covers care and maintenance.

You Have 3 Solar Proposals In Front Of You - Now What?

There should be quite a bit of information in a vendor’s proposal to you. The most important areas you need to feel confident in are explained below. These tips will help you evaluate and compare when purchasing a solar power system.

FINANCE

Do not automatically settle on the lowest price you’re offered. All vendors can quote you a “cost per watt” price. This is purely the price for all the equipment, labor and admin to install and complete your project. This is not in depth enough to make an informed comparison and to base your decision on. Why? This form of pricing has no relationship to performance. The solar vendor proposals you will be comparing should all have expected annual and lifetime production estimates. Look for a line item called “levelized cost of energy” or LCOE. This data point uses those production estimates and project costs to create your cost per solar kilowatt hour (kWh). At this point, consider the proposal with the lowest LCOE your best proposal.

EQUIPMENT

Some of this will be driven by your personal choices. Do you prefer black panels with black frames, micro inverters, or optimizers over central inverters, have a preference on panel manufacturer’s country of origin, or prefer the highest-powered panels to keep the system footprint as small as possible? All these effect price which may end up increasing your LCOE but could be of higher priority to you. In all choices, you want to have quality equipment with proven reliability and good warranties.

DESIGN

The design should put panels on your most productive roof(s). This will generate the quickest payback, reduce your LCOE and generate the highest return on investment. If you are shown a design that has panels on a north facing roof, you need to ask the vendor to illustrate how the economics of that benefit you. If your design has panels on several roofs there will be more than one conduit (electric piping) to combine them. You should agree on where these will go. If you have your vendor route these conduit runs through your attic for aesthetic reasons, it will add some cost.

CONTRACT & WARRANTIES

All solar contracts should have legal parameters that cover what constitutes your vendor’s obligations to your project execution, project change order process, payment schedule, warranty procedure and post project obligations. Some installations on tile roofs (esp. curved) cannot avoid breaking some existing tiles during installation. Be sure you have in writing how that will be addressed to your satisfaction.

So how do you know you’ve picked the best proposal?  It’s not a cut and dry choice. All these qualifiers need to be ones you have confidence in. They all affect your eventual LCOE value and must be weighed accordingly with your goals. As long as your LCOE is less than what your utility could be charging you during the life of the system, you’ll make a good financial decision. Those details are difficult for consumers to have confidence in and usually boil down to feelings of trust for the particular vendor and staff you interact with. That may be enough in some instances, but as we all know, information is power. The more you know, the smarter decisions you will make leading to better results. Soladvisor is here to help you with that.

Solar Your Way = Savings

Here’s a typical hiring ad for a solar sales person:

College Degree or some college preferred but not mandatory. Some experience and success in a commissioned sales role including: recruiting, time share, investments, stock trading, real estate, mortgage, mattress or furniture, pharmaceutical, medical device, leasing, loan agent, travel agent, software or advertising, personal lines insurance or commercial insurance, home improvement, solar, etc.

Ok, sales people do need some sales skills but you don’t see any mention of needing solar knowledge. Even having solar sales experience is listed last. Vendors will be training their sales people about solar but in a very general way and usually for 2 weeks or less.

California, with an incredible amount of sun and the most solar friendly government policies in the nation, has only a 4% adoption of solarpower. Though pricing is critical and does contribute to that single digit, prices have gone down by half or more of what they were five years ago. So why just 4%?

Soladvisor strongly believes that the consumer is generally reluctant about solar for themselves even when they recognize solar as a good idea in general.  A consumer has many questions about solar and rightly so. Where can consumers get the answers they need and deserve? Up to now, this requires quite a bit of effort and time on their part and the data can be a lot to digest. Solar technology may be clean and simple but all the decisions preceding a solar project are not. As an industry, we need to make it easier for consumers to gain knowledge and confidence in solar.

This is our mission. Soladvisor is consumer focused, not sales focused so our attention to detail and the information we prepare for our clients makes it clear what their path to solar should be or not.  Soladvisor’s knowledge, guidance, project design and finance options, will put you well on your way to getting the best vendors and pricing.

Should I Buy Or Lease A Home Solar System?

If you would like more control over your energy costs, want to add value to your home and get a solid return on your investment, then you owe it to yourself to look into a home solar power system. One of the many steps in moving towards a solar system for your home is deciding if you should purchase or lease the system. Here is what you need to consider when deciding to purchase or lease a solar power system.

Option 1: Purchasing the System

1. You need a good sunny spot on your roof(s) that stays shade free from 9AM – 3PMon most days but for sure May through October.

2. The amount of (square feet) roof sunny space needs to fit enough panels to reduce your utility consumption by at least 50%. This is something that needs to be calculated in a study on your home. Good vendors will predict conservative annual system generation and not over promise.

3. You are paying in cash, financing via the PACE program or a low-interest loan and the Federal 30% Tax Credit is still in place (reducing in steps to 2023).

4. If your roof covering is good to go for the next 20 years, then all these factors will bring the shortest payoff, the best return on your investment (ROI), and free solar electricity after 5-8 years if you live in competitive market areas. That equals 12-15 years of free solar electricity!

Similar results can be reached with a ground mounted or carport system that also checks off the above four factors.

(You will still be charged by the utility company for electric delivery fees, taxes, access to the grid, and any power you still draw from them.)

Option 2:  Leasing a Solar System

1. Being shade free from 9am-3pm and a viable roof will still be desired by your vendor with some wiggle room depending on the vendor.

2. You won’t own the system so no Federal Tax Credit. The vendor should present the percentage of bill reduction they are offering you via a maximum and a minimum design accompanied by a 20-year lease payment schedule for each. From there, you can decide which design best fits your budget.

3. The primary result of leasing is an immediate reduction in what you pay your utility company with zero cash outlay. Watch for payment escalators built into your lease schedule before you commit. A good lease ensures that you pay less for your solar lease and your utility charges combined than what you would be paying without the solar system, in every year of the lease. The vendor must also have stated production and workmanship guarantees and warranties. 

When a solar system is properly sized based on your energy profile, site conditions and financial goals, you will save money. How soon varies from project to project due to the factors outlined above.