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Going Solar: A Guide to Solar Power for Your Home or Business

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Since 2008, hundreds and thousands of solar panels have popped up across the country due to declining prices, which continue to drop every year. More and more homeowners and businesses are exploring the feasibility and financial return of installing solar panels. The most obvious consideration when installing solar is the actual cost of the panels and the system itself, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. These are the steps to consider before you start the solar process.

Your roof is not your only option

When determining a location for solar at your home or business, we are looking for a spot with optimal sunlight available during most of the day. The first thought most of us have is our rooftop.

According to Ouachita Electric Cooperative Manager Mark Cayce, location is one of the speed bumps to get over when going solar. “You need to evaluate your structure (roof) and your ground,” he says.

Installing solar means installing a 25-year asset. You must consider the age of your roof and the fact that your roof may have to be penetrated. “I would look at other options before I place it on top of someone’s home. Before I drill holes in someone’s roof, I want to make sure it is in a really good location. For example, many of us are not used to seeing solar on the ground, but most of the time, it is the best option,” Cayce says.

How much solar do you really need?

So, you have sited a sunny spot for your solar installation. How many panels do you need to start seeing savings?

To determine your home’s average energy consumption, you will need to look at your energy bills for the past year. You can calculate the number of panels you need by multiplying your household hourly energy requirement by peak sunlight hours for your area and diving that by a panel’s wattage. If you work with a reliable solar provider, they will handle all these calculations for you. You can contact your energy provider to receive copies of your bills.

According to Tonya Sexton, Vice President of Marketing and Development at First Electric Cooperative encourages consumers to reach out to their energy providers to learn more about the solar systems and billing process. “One of the of the most important things you can do is contact your utility provider. At First Electric, we want our members to understand the net-metering process. Starting a discussion with your provider about the demand billing component and potential system impact can lead to a more informed decision. We’re your energy partner today – and in the future!,” she says.

By installing solar on your home or business, you are eligible for net metering, a solar incentive that allows you to store energy in the electric grid. When your solar panels produce excess power, that energy is sent to the grid, and in exchange, you can pull from the grid when your system is underproducing.

With some states never getting around to making net metering laws, some taking net metering away after years of being in policy and some currently in the process of studying changes, Matt Irving, Today’s Power, Inc. Vice President of Operations, recommends starting small with solar power. “Start by setting small goals and install what you can consume. Solar installations are modular, and more capacity can be added over time,” he says.

RELATED: Faces of Solar Energy: Today’s Power

Your utility can help you – if you let them 

We have heard the term “cord cutters” for years when it comes to telephones and television, but is energy the next commodity to go cordless? It doesn’t look like it.

That doesn’t mean people are not going solar by any means, but it has been shown that most people opt for a system that is tied to the grid because it usually makes the most financial sense. Stand-alone systems, called off-grid solar systems, are complex and can be expensive. Grid-tied solar power systems allow you to create a smaller initial investment, give you the opportunity to net meter, as well as provide the reliability of the grid when there are power outages and rainy days for systems that do not utilize battery storage.

Additionally, before installing your grid-tied solar system, it is wise to contact your utility to acquire the information and agreements needed to interconnect your system to the grid and take advantage of net metering. According to Kris Williams, Manager of Energy Services at Ozarks Electric Cooperative, “We really like hearing from our cooperative members prior to installing solar. In early 2017, we began requesting that the members contact Ozarks Electric to receive the Net Metering Agreement. This action has decreased the number of misunderstandings that commonly occur through a sales process. We value the relationship with our membership and hope they can contact us anytime for education or support.”

Decreased misunderstandings that commonly occur through the sales process are just one benefit of working with your utility before installing solar panels at your home or business. Some utilities even offer solar programming to their customers to help them make an informed decision or their investment and ensure they have access to reliable solar providers.

According to Mark Cayce,” Our Goal at Ouachita Electric is to provide the most efficient, low-cost energy available. Right now, solar is that source. We can provide solar energy and assist our members in getting solar energy at a lower price that we can sell it ourselves. This month, we will begin helping members invest in solar in their own homes. We will recover this investment on their energy bill, and they will start receiving savings benefits immediately.”

Solar can improve homes dramatically. You can typically find information on any solar programs your utility offers on their website or by calling their customer service department.

Good help is hard to find, especially when it comes to solar panel installation

With residential solar panels becoming increasingly popular, they are plenty of people out there who claim to know what they’re doing. Solar panels should only be installed by a trained professional. So, how do you find a reliable solar provider?

When Cayce recommends any of his cooperative’s energy services to his members, he says, “More than anything, we want quality work. When we tell members these systems will last 25 years, we want them to last 25 years.”

When choosing a solar provider, look at their company’s history, bankability and references. You need a reliable energy partner throughout the 25-year lifespan of your investment. Your utility can recommend a variety of reliable providers from whom you can receive quotes to compare to ensure you are receiving the best return on your investment.

With so many considerations, it’s important to find a partner you can rely on to help you make the right decision. Like buying a car, an experienced solar solutions vendor can answer all your questions and help you every step of the way.

Still not sure where to begin? Contact Jennah Denney at 501-400-5548 for more information.

RELATED: The Future is Bright for Solar Power in Arkansas

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