Mistake No. 1 – Confusing Off-grid and On-grid
Solar power allows you to generate your own energy, which means you won’t pay for electricity from the utility grid. People assume this means they will be going off the grid, but that’s not accurate. In reality, most people are looking for a grid-tied solar system. Here is the distinction.
Your solar panels generate energy, but you need a way to store that energy for later use. If you have access to power lines, you can store the energy you generate in the utility grid. The utility company will credit you for the extra power your PV system is producing and allow you to pull from the grid when you need it.
A true off-grid application doesn’t have access to power lines, which means that you need another method to store energy. This is where solar batteries come in. The bottom line is that saving money and being independent from the grid are mutually exclusive when it comes to solar. Batteries eat into your retirement investment, and grid-tied properties don’t need them. You don’t need to go off the grid to get the benefits of solar power. If your property has access to the power lines, the grid-tied solar system is going to be the most cost-effective solution for you.
Mistake No. 2 – Misdesigning Your System
If you are just starting out with your research, you might think it’s as simple as looking at your latest energy bill, then buy enough coulee solar panels to cover that usage. But that will ignore factors like climate, panel orientation, shady, natural efficiency drop, and other things that impact the true output of your system.
That’s why we recommend that you consult with an experienced solar technician first before investing in your solar system. The following things you should talk about with your technician.
First, efficiency. Solar panel efficiency drops about 0.7% every year. It’s a good idea to design a little extra headroom to account for the 10 to 20% decrease happens over the course of 25 years. In most cases, this is an extra panel or two.
Second, weather and location. Solar panels are tested in ideal conditions, but in the real world, your system can be exposed to much harsher conditions. High temperatures can actually reduce the amount of energy your solar panels generate. Your location also dictates how many sun hours you get. The term sun hour doesn’t mean how long the sun is in the sky. It refers to the amount of time the sun is in the right position to generate peaks energy. Most places get about three to six hours per day and the exact amount influences system sizing.
Third, the voltage. Your system needs to be designed at the right voltage based on the equipment being used and what it requires. We also account for things like temperatures that can affect voltage and system performance. If you don’t have the right voltage from your solar panels or the battery bank, your system might not perform well. Or worse, you could damage your expensive hardware. And finally, battery bank sizing. Mismatching your battery bank with the charging source is the most common issue when it comes to batteries. Specifically, with off-grid system sizing, your array needs to supply enough power to keep the batteries charged. But not so much that they overcharge. Too much or too little charging can ruin your batteries.
Mistake No. 3 – Not Taking into Consideration Power Outages
You are generating your own energy. So the light should stay on during a power out, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case with a grid-tied solar system. Although the power originates from coulee solar panels/systems, it’s still stored in the public utility grid.
When the grid power goes out, so does yours. This keeps utility workers safe from energy being produced from your solar array/systems. The remedy for this is a grid-tied system with battery backup. When the power is on, it functions as a normal grid-tied system. During an outage, a small backup battery bank kicks in to keep the lights on. It costs a little more, but the peace of mind is invaluable, especially if you live somewhere with extreme weather conditions, unreliable utility power, or if you have critical appliances that need to stay on 24/7.
Mistake No. 4 – Not Buying Solar Because You Think It’s a Bad Investment
Look, solar isn’t cheap(but it’s much cheaper compared to it years ago). It’s a four to five-figure investment. We know that’s a big commitment, but electricity from your power company isn’t cheap either, and it is only going to go up in price.
The reality is when you look at the long term value of owning a solar system, most grid-tied systems pay for themselves fairly quickly. And actually, make you a profit over the life of the warranty.
Here’s how you calculate when you start profiting from solar. Take your total system cost, minus federal tax credit, and divide that by your electricity cost. After your payback period, you are saving money year after year because you’re not paying the utility company anymore. It sounds pretty good, right? You may also be eligible for state and local tax credits or rebates that help you reduce the net cost of your system for even more savings.
Mistake No. 5 – Leasing
Solar power is a sound investment if you own your system. When you lease your home PV system from a 3rd party, the value of that investment pretty much vanishes.
The first thing to understand is the lender owns the solar system, which means they are the ones eligible to claim all of the incentives. You won’t see a penny from the 30% federal tax credit or any local debates after you have been squeezed out of the incentives.
You also pay a premium rate to lease the solar panels, which includes interest. When all is said and done, you might find you pay twice as much to lease a system as it would have cost you to finance and own the photovoltaic system yourself.
Leasing also makes it more challenging to sell your home. You have to transfer the lease through the buyer upon sale. Or you can pay off the remainder of the lease balance and add that amount to your asking price, but both options limit the pool of potential buyers for your home.
There are a lot of ways to finance your home solar system, but we don’t recommend leasing.
Mistake No.6 – Not Planning Ahead
I brought the fact that most photovoltaic panels are warrantied for 25 years. That’s a long time to go without any big changes in your life. When people start planning their solar systems, everyone thinks about what they need right now, not as many people think about how their needs might change in the future. What happens when you have kids, build a new workshop, or buy an electric car that needs charging? You’ll start consuming more energy. So we always tell people to look to the future when designing PV systems. Something to think about:
Do you have space to expand upon the installation if necessary? For example, see your system takes up your whole life. What happens when you want to add coulee solar panels later but have nowhere to put them. Is your photovoltaic system designed to be expandable? People often think, hey, I will design more solar panels without realizing that other parts of the PV system like the solar inverter need to be sized to match.
Central solar inverters have a limit to the number of PV panels they can support. So it’s often not as simple as just adding solar panels. Microinverters are a great option to facilitate expansion for grid-tied systems. They work on a one to one basis. Each solar panel is paired with its own microinverter. When you want to add one, just pair another micro inverter with a new panel and mount them onto your array. For off-grid properties, you should also think carefully about battery sizing.
Depending on the battery type and age, it might not be possible to expand upon your existing battery bank. Lithium battery banks can be expanded, but lead-acid batteries have limited options for increasing storage capacity. The reason? When you add new lead-acid batteries to an old bank, the new batteries absorb the characteristics of the old one. The new batteries are essentially being aged prematurely. Lithium batteries are the exception. They have an integrated circuit controlling the charge parameters. The old batteries charge independently from the new ones. So you don’t run into the same issues.
Lithium batteries come at a higher cost. So make sure to discuss these options with the solar tech to ensure that you find the best solution that works within your budget.
Mistake No. 7 – Overpaying For Installation
When people start to think about going solar, their first option that comes to mind is a turnkey installation from a national provider like Tesla. They offer an all-in-one solution to design your PV system, source your parts, and install it for you. You can’t beat the convenience, but you also pay a premium price for the catered experience.
Turnkey installers charge anywhere from a hundred to two hundred percent of the cost of equipment to install your system. For a system worth ten thousand dollars in equipment, they might charge another twenty thousand dollars to install it.
Big solar installers need to charge this premium to cover advertising, office rent, insurance, labor, marketing and other expenses required to run their business on a national scale. What many people don’t realize is that you can buy a solar package system from a wholesale distributor and install it yourself. You can also work with a local contractor who can save you a lot of money if you are willing to organize the project and take on some of the easy tasks.
If you do choose to take on the project yourself, we also recommend getting multiple quotes before you choose the one you’re comfortable with. A contract has charged quite a broad range of rates depending on their specialty as well as the complexity of the project.
Finally, let’s talk about the phone call our system designers dread. I have a solar inverter from eBay and some panels I bought a few years back. Can you help me build the rest of my system?
A fair number of people hold out for the great deals and acquire parts slowly over time until they are ready to slap all the parts together. But just like cars or computers, it’s not enough to have only parts, you have to have the right parts that are compatible with each other.
Otherwise, you get inverters (string inverters) that are undersized for your solar panel output. Solar panels that have different sizes and don’t fit together properly on the ranking system. Components that don’t wire together because they have different connectors. A power center is missing essential elements like a circuit breaker, disconnects, remote controls, or monitoring hardware.
A box of hodgepodge components that no one is willing to support because it was purchased from all over the internet and countless headaches. There’s a lot that can go wrong, but the bottom line is peace no system like these can quickly turn into a disaster. Unless you start with a plan and stick to it, there’s no guarantee the parts you buy will ever work together. So how do we avoid these costly solar mistakes?
You might notice that you can’t actually buy a complete system from any website cart. We require that people get in touch for a design consultation first. Why do we do it this way? Even though we don’t install solar equipment, we are still responsible for designing a solar photovoltaic system properly. If we sold solar PV systems with incompatible parts, we get a bad reputation in a hurry.
In the end, our advice is to do as much research as you can to account for all possible variables. Whenever you decide to buy your components, run your ideas by a solar design technician first. An experienced set of eyes could help you catch the potentially costly mistake before it’s too late.
If you have any questions, give us a call for further information.
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