Solar technology has improved so much in the past decade that the average homeowner can now invest in them with confidence. The payback period for residential systems varies greatly depending on the size, cost, and effectiveness of the array.
1. Roof space / ground space with adequate southern exposure to the sun
Most customers have space for some solar. Whether it be on the roof or in the backyard or a field, there is usually some space. We evaluate most rooftops using satellite imagery. This allows us to measure the roof, see any obstructions, and identify any shading issues. If the roof is under construction or too new for satellite imagery, we can always use drawings and as a last resort, there is always the option of visiting the site.
The most frequently encountered limiting factor is budget. Solar is not cheap! Most customers see solar as an investment, and like any other investment, it must be carefully considered and weighed against other options. Financing is available and most banks are willing to lend at low rates for home improvement loans. There is a 30% federal income tax credit, but that doesn't help offset costs until you monetize it--- when you owe the IRS the following year(s). Solar for residential starts out at over $10,000 and can go up. Our average systems are around $30,000 but we often do smaller arrays for $12,000.
3. Your annual consumption of energy
Producing more energy than you can use in a year means you are producing power to give away in most cases. This third limiting factor is usually a moot point as either the available space or budget limitations are almost always the primary factors.
Frequently asked questions:
1. How much solar will fit on my roof?
Answer: The easy way to find out is to simply send us your address. We can assess the roof very quickly from our office or even in the field using various apps. Generally, we use satellite imagery (Google Earth, Google Maps (street view) and Bing Maps) to look at your roof. If your roof is too new or is under construction, we use the PDF or Autocad files you have of your plans. The dimensions of the solar panels (called modules) are usually about 39" x 65". On most residential homes, we install them in the "portrait" orientation. That means that the narrowest sides are on top and bottom. We use the measuring tool on Google Earth to get the dimensions of your roof and decide how many will fit. The ultimate answer is our professional opinion since there are many factors to consider. These factors include shading issues, obstructions (chimneys, vent pipes, attic fans, satellite dishes, etc…), as well as the required perimeters for safety and building code compliance. Depending on the type of inverter(s) to be used, we may also have to factor in the string sizes that work with the inverter. String size is the optimum number of modules that work with the inverter selected. Micro inverters can also be used that eliminates this limiting factor.
2. What about the trees?
Answer: The view of the southern sky should be as unobstructed as possible. Some homes are better off having the huge shade trees than they would be with solar. Shade trees reduce cooling costs, not to mention, they look nice. Some customers have plenty of trees and none are particularly good at providing shade in the summer. We can help you to decide which trees, if any, need to be pruned or culled based on the potential increase in annual output of the solar array. As a rule of thumb, we like to see 85% or better on our Suneye tool. Consider the life span of the solar array (25+ years) and consider having to repeatedly pay to have trees pruned. This is often a valid reason for removing entire trees instead of pruning them. Tree removal can be included in the cost of the solar project and can be part of the 30% federal income tax credit, no matter who you choose to do the tree work.
3. How much solar do I need?
Answer: Well, technically, you don't "need" any solar, so the answer depends entirely on what you "want" to accomplish. If we are talking about a system without battery backup, the goal would be to reduce the electric bill as much as possible within the comfort zone of your budget and space constraints. The size of the systems are referred to in "kilowatts" or kW. This is a rating based on the wattage of the modules (DC) and does not reflect how much the system would produce. To calculate annual production, you have to factor in the orientation (the direction your home faces), the pitch (slope of the roof), shading, and even soiling (dirt/pollen, bird droppings). The best way to do this is to simply send us your address and let us give you options. If you want to get a rough idea of what various systems will produce, you could try tinkering with the PVWatts online calculator: Make sure to enter the correct cost of electricity. It isn't entirely clear from your electric bill because of all of the transmission costs, but as a rule of thumb for residential homes, it is about 10 cents per kWh. http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/calculators/pvwatts/version1/
4. How much does it cost?
Answer: The price of our smallest system is about $12,000 (local project, easy access, etc…) and up to over $100,000. The average system cost of a roof mounted system is about $30,000, but we do a wide range of sizes. The cost per watt (the standard means of calculating and comparing prices) is going to vary with the type of inverter, modules, racking (which depends on the type of roof), and monitoring. That range is between $3.50 and $5.50 per watt. The larger the system, the lower the cost per watt will be. This is not our way of pushing you into a larger system, but rather the result of economy of scale. We can spend 4 days installing a 3kW system or 5-6 days installing 8kW. Our labor costs go down (per watt) as the overall size goes up. Of course, these prices are going to change over time and will likely be slightly lower as efficiency improves.
5. Why should I work with Shockoe Solar?
Answer: You could ask any of our customers and you would probably consistently hear the same things. Bernie Stanley, the president, will personally oversee and participate in the work. His constant involvement ensures that quality control is to the highest of standards. We offer professionalism, integrity, honesty, and competitive pricing. There are solar contractors out there who will do anything to get you to sign a contract with them. Some make promises about production that are exagerated, while others offer cheap products with poor reputations. We provide the details behind our production estimates and explain things in a way you can understand. If solar isn't right for you, that is fine. We don't even have "sales" staff. You will speak directly to Bernie, the president, who will be clear and honest about what to expect. Shockoe Solar is a very small business with minimum overhead that is capable of doing huge projects (like the biggest solar project in Richmond and 4th biggest in Virginia). We can provide better products, better quality work, and much higher customer satisfaction at a price that is rarely beaten.
6. Do you visit our home?
Answer: Not usually. In order to provide a quote, we usually do everything remotely using the methods described in the answer to FAQ #1. We have done this enough times to know how to price a system without seeing the roof in person. We can measure and see much more from the satellite imagery in most cases. If the estimate is accepted, we may opt to visit the home, but usually it is not needed. Most of the time, we show up with materials ready to work.
7. How long does the installation take?
Answer: The smallest residential systems take about 4-5 days. The largest roof mounted residential systems usually take 5-7 days.
8. What if I don't have enough space on my roof or it is too shaded?
Answer: Ground mounted arrays are very common. Many of our customers have plenty of land around their home, but not enough roof space. The cost of a ground mounted array is usually about 5-10% more. Here are two videos that show the process of installing a 10kW ground mounted array.
9. Can I install a solar system myself?
Answer: No. Well, probably not. Unless you have experience as a solar installer, you will most likely be unable to do the work on your own. Knowledge of roof and wall construction, building and electrical code, and of course, solar, is necessary. We have specialized tools and we get our materials for a lot less than a homeowner can due to our buying power. We learn something with every project and our accumulated knowledge is what makes it possible for us to do professional work. If you are uncomfortable working inside of a live circuit breaker or on a roof, you will need to hire someone. Most electricians don't know much about solar in Virginia, and most roofers and carpenters don't know the the technical aspects of mounting solar panels on a roof. You would have to be their guide and in the end it would cost more than a professionally installed system, not to mention you would be very frustrated. Just going through the permit process can be frustrating, even for the pros!
10. What kind of financial incentives are there?
Answer: There are about 3 possible incentives in Virginia for residential homes. One is the 30% federal income tax credit. Everyone can get this. This is 30% of the cost of your solar installation. If you spend $30,000, you will have an ITC of $9000. If you owed $9000 on next year's taxes, you would then find you owe $0.
Another incentive is the SREC program. SREC stands for Solar Renewable Energy Certificate. This is a commodity that is based on the number of megawatt hours your system produces. Without getting too complicated, you get paid to make solar energy. The rate varies from $.10 to over $.50 per kWh. This is in addition to the savings created. When you save $.10 per kWh, and you get paid $.25 per kWh, you actually "save" $.35 per kWh. We recommend SRECTrade.com as brokers, though there are many out there. As always, we arrange everything for you as part of our installation. SREC's are explained well here:
An alternative to the SREC program is available for Dominion customers. You can apply for the Solar Power Purchase Program and get paid $.15 per kWh for a fixed term. This is guaranteed if approved, but it can be less than the SREC rates, depending on the market.
11. What kinds of questions should I ask solar contractors?
Answer: Ask them when they started doing solar. Then ask them for references. Look at the references and find one that is from the time when they started. If they say they started in 2009, contact a reference from 2009 and make sure they are completely happy with the installation. You would be surprised at how many "solar contractors" have installed only 1 or 2 systems and they are often on their own property. Ask the person you are talking to if they will personally be on the job site. If not, ask to talk to the person who will actually be doing the work. It is much better to know the lead installer or project manager before making your decision. A well-spoken sales person who you may never see again will have little value when work begins. You need to be confident that the person doing the work is someone you trust with your investment!