Beginners make some common mistakes who have decided to go solar and have just started thinking about designing. Solar systems are quite complex than they appear to be. So if you start designing without proper research, you may end up making costly mistakes. This article aims at relieving you from the common mistakes people make and addresses the common misconceptions people have about solar.
1) Knowing off-grid and grid-tie solar
Solar power means you can generate your own energy. So you do not need to pay for the power from the utility grid. But people think that they will be ‘going off the grid’ which is not true. People mainly look for a grid-tied solar system.
Now, what is the difference?
Your panels will produce energy but you need to store the same for later use. You can do this by storing it in the utility grid if you have access to power lines. The utility company will give you credit for the extra power you contribute and will also give you the allowance to pull power from the grid if you need it.
But in case of off-grid properties, you have no access to the power lines and so need a battery bank to store the energy. The expensive batteries are the only alternative in off-grid systems.
Thus as you can see saving money and being independent of the grid are mutually exclusive. Batteries take up your ROI (return on investment), but these are not required for grid-tied properties. So you need not go ‘off the grid’ to get the benefits of solar power. The smartest option is to go grid-tied solar if there is an option.
2) Solar Prevents Power Outages
You may have the thought that since you are generating your own power, your lights will stay on during outages. But this is not the case with grid-tied solar systems. The power originates from your panels but is stored in the public utility grid.
As a result, when the grid power goes out, yours go out too as there is no infrastructure to feed power to your home. The remedy to this is a grid-tied system with battery backup. So when the power is on, the functioning will be just like a normal grid-tied system and during a power outage, the backup battery bank keeps the lights on. Though it is a bit expensive, you can’t ignore the peace of mind especially if you stay in areas of extreme weather conditions or unreliable power from the grid.
Solar power is a good investment only if you own the system. This is because when you lease your system from a third party through a Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA), the value of the investment diminishes.
Why leasing is considered to be a bad deal?
The entire system is owned by the lender; so they can claim all the incentives and you will not get anything from the 30% federal tax credit or any local rebates.
You also have to pay a premium rate to lease the panels and that includes the interest. If you calculate, you may find that you paid twice as much to lease the system than it would have cost had you financed and owned the system yourself.
Leasing becomes challenging when it comes to selling your home. Either you have to transfer the lease to the buyer after a sale or have to pay off the remainder of the lease balance and add the said amount to the asking price. This definitely will reduce the number of potential buyers for your house.
4) Are you Overpaying for Installation?
When you call in installers, they offer an all-in-one solution for designing your system, installation and sourcing your parts. And you have to pay for this convenience.
Big solar installers charge more to cover office rent, advertising, labor, insurance, and other expenses that are needed to run a business on a national scale.
But you may buy packaged solar systems from a wholesale distributor and then call a local contractor to help with the installation or build it DIY-style. A local contractor will save you lots of money if you organize the project and help out with some easy tasks.
If you have thought about doing the project yourself, ask for quotes from many installers and then go with the one you are most comfortable with.
5) Improper System Sizing
This is complex than you can think of. You probably are thinking about your latest energy bill and then calculating the number of panels needed to cover the usage. But then you would probably be ignoring factors like panel orientation, climate, natural efficiency drop, shading and such other things that do impact the output of your system. The variables –
Climate – Solar panels are usually tested at temperatures in the mid-70s in factories. But, in actual conditions, the systems are exposed to such harsh conditions and high temperatures reduce the efficiency of solar panels.
Also, the number of ‘sun hours’ you get depends on your locality. ‘Sun hours’ mean the amount of time the sun is in the correct position to produce peak energy. This amount is crucial for deciding the system size.
6) Efficiency – The efficiency rate of panels fall 0.5-1% every year. So it is natural that the efficiency of your panels will be 10-20% less after 20 years of installation. This has to be taken into account before the installation of the system.
7) Sizing of Battery Bank – The mismatching of your battery bank with your charging source is quite a common issue when it comes to batteries and this is especially true with off-grid situations. The array should supply enough power to keep the batteries charged, but not too much so that these get overcharged. Overcharging or undercharging – both will harm your batteries.
Some batteries have to be brought to full charge regularly and if you leave them at partial or empty charge for a long time the batteries will fail prematurely.
8) Voltage – Charge controllers and Inverters have maximum and minimum voltage input windows. Batteries and panels also have a voltage rating. You need to design your system at the right voltage depending on what it requires and the equipment being used. We should also keep in mind things such as temperature which can affect the system performance and voltage.
If the solar panels or battery banks do not give the correct voltage, it can lead to damage of expensive hardware.
9) Is solar a Bad investment? Is solar feasible without the tax credit?
Solar is not cheap. But the electricity you get from the power company is not cheap either and it is increasing day by day. The fact is if you look at the long-term value of owning a solar system, the grid-tied systems pay for themselves quite quickly and rather give you a profit over the life of the warranty.
The tax credit is going away in 2022 and that is the truth. Many think that solar only makes sense because of the tax subsidies. But calculations say otherwise. Even if you hire an installer and skip the tax credit, you will pay the cost midway through the life of the system.
Thus grid-tied solar always pays for itself long before the equipment wears out. The more expensive the power rates are the quicker is the ROI and payback period.
10) Timed Planning
When people think of going solar, they think as to what they need at that point of time. Not many think about the future. But most of the solar panels carry a warranty of 25 years.
With time, your energy needs will grow. So you should think ahead before planning the system.
What should you think?
Is there space for expansion of installation? If your system has already occupied the entire roof, where do you expand? It is not just about adding panels. There are other parts too like the inverter which needs to be matched.
Micro-inverters are a better option which helps in the expansion of grid-tied systems. They work on a one-to-one basis where each panel is paired with its own micro-inverter. So if you need to add new panels just pair them with new inverters.
In the case of off-grid properties, the size of the battery is significant. You may not be able to expand the existing battery bank depending on the type and age of the battery.
You can expand lithium battery banks but the options for increasing storage capacity of lead-acid batteries are limited. This is because when new lead-acid batteries are added to an old bank, these absorb the features of the old ones. The new batteries are essentially being aged prematurely.
But lithium batteries have an integrated circuit which controls the charge parameters. The old batteries charge independently from the new ones.
11) Buy Judiciously
You may look for various offers available in various sites and buy components from them. But this can be quite tricky! The components have to match and be compatible with one another. If it so happens that the inverters are undersized for your panel output or the components do not wire together as these have separate connectors and other similar issues, the objective of buying the components is lost.
Thus buying in a piecemeal system can be disastrous!
12) Make it soon
The price of solar panels is ever increasing. Also, the rebates and tax credits are to be phased out sooner or later. So if you want to reap the benefits, start your installation as soon as possible. Only then you get the benefits of the solar incentives.
13) Get enough Quotes
You must get numerous quotes before you purchase and move over to solar energy. Some unscrupulous services may charge too much for the installation and panels and you need to figure that out. And the only way of doing so is by getting quotes from various companies.
Get a break up of the costs so that you get to know what you are paying for and what you are getting. They will consider your roof potential, the orientation of your house, the installation costs and your present electricity bills.
With numerous quotes and their break-ups, you will be in a better position to judge the perfect installer.
14) Buying Cheaper Panels
In the beginning, you may be thinking of buying cheap solar panels, but these savings will cost you much more in the long run as you will have to replace broken or faulty system parts that fail quickly. That does not mean you have to buy the best solar batteries or the bigger solar cells. You can always take the help of an expert or do a bit of research yourself.
15) Ignoring Incentives and Rebates
Solar system installation is not cheap but definitely an investment. But there are rebates, tax credits, and other incentives and if these are available in your state, it can pull your cost down quite a bit. So get to know about the federal, state or local rebates or incentives available. At times, the local utility companies also offer discounts.