Have you ever found yourself telling a story - about something you know a TON about - only to see your "audience" looking back at you with that "1000-yard stare"?
You lost them.
But how did you lose them? Well...if you're like me, then about the time you started using technical terms and any kind of "industry-related" terms, they couldn't keep up.
And that's the real challenge with learning to effectively communicate: keeping your ideas within reach of the average person who isn't a "specialist" like you are.
Which is what brings me to today's discussion: 10 things to know before you go solar. The reason I'm writing this is because I find that (15 years later) I tend to take my industry knowledge for granted and just assume that our technology has seen enough adoption that my average customer just automatically knows (and is familiar with) the terms and semi-technical details that I gloss over without a second thought. Today's list is more about getting yourself ready to meet with us BEFORE you meet with us. What's the old saying?
Knowing is 1/2 the battle.
So - let's get into some of the basics - the things you should really try to understand before you jump into a solar installation:
1) Your Location and Climate - this is fairly important to think about. Your gut instinct is to think that the best locations for solar are the Southern parts of our country: California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, etc. In general - the reason most folks think this is the best location is the amount of sunlight these states get (and lack of rain). It's true - sunny days make more power. But in general - the best location in the US would have to be awarded to...Colorado. Why? Because the interesting thing about solar panels is this: the hotter they get, the lower their output is. Colorado has cold clear days - over 300 of them per year - hence the blue-ribbon for best in the US. Weather and location do play a role in your production - but the reality is this: A person in Oregon can install enough solar to generate all the power they need in a net metering year just the same as someone in Colorado can. What's the difference? Truly - it's the amount of solar panels you'll need to meet your goals in your area. Seattle residents would need more solar panels to generate the same amount of power as someone in Portland, Oregon would - simply because of the amount of cloudy days.
2) Your home's orientation and roof slope. Again - this is important, but if 15 years in this industry have taught me anything, it's that a shaded south facing roof will produce far LESS power than an unshaded east facing roof. Southern exposures ARE the best exposures for solar in the northern hemisphere, but ONLY if they aren't shaded. If I were to compare a West facing roof to a south facing roof and also to an east facing roof (and assume all of these roofs have ZERO shading), then the South roof would test out at (seeing) 99% of the available sunlight...yet...the west facing roof isn't too far behind, testing out at 85% sunlight visibility. The east facing roof is very close to the west roof, testing out at 84% sunlight visibility. So if you have a very shaded south roof, but very un-shaded east and west roofs, those would be the better choices to the south roof. What am I saying? I'm saying it's not good to assume that you should only buy solar panels if you have a south facing roof. Nothing could be further from the truth - and we have 100's of customers to back that up.
3) Your energy needs - both now and in the future. Knowing HOW you live in your home and how you use energy there is very important to both analyzing the past usage and trying to predict future usage. Things to consider for the future are: kiddo's - are they moving out in a few years? If so, your energy usage will drop. Retirement - are you or your partner gonna hang up your spurs and sip lemonade on the front porch all day long (in the near future)? If so, your energy usage will increase because you'll be home more (at that time) than you are currently (while you're working at your j.o.b.). Electric vehicles - this is a big one - and for most folks, it's only a matter of time before you buy one. Because of that, it's likely that your home's usage will increase (potentially substantially - 20% for one vehicle - 40% for two - based on 10,000kWh/year used). Think about these things and be ready to ask tough questions about this because it will determine how many solar panels you "need" to hit your personal goals.
4) Your budget. This one is (to me) an interesting thing to consider - and here's why: most of our customers already pay monthly for their electricity. When considering solar (and their budget), rarely does it occur to my customers that the money they're spending to purchase electricity will decrease, if not delete altogether. What this means is that the money you're already budgeting for electricity can now be used to pay off a loan for your solar equipment. Yes - this part is VERY true. Once you own the power plant, you also own the power it produces. No more rate increases. Just a loan with the same payment, month in, month out. No surprises with a high electric bill during a hot summer month where you cranked up the A/C. No more regrets for having the "Christmas Vacation" home with lights that can be seen from space. Nope. Your solar panels will generate the power you need. And you'll be paying OFF a loan to help you own them outright someday. Here's a fun fact to consider: a solar loan has an end date - when it's paid off and you own the equipment completely. An electric bill never stops coming. EVER. So, although your budget is very important, try to not forget that this investment has an end date and that the money you're spending on electricity today will be repurposed as a loan payment for your solar equipment (that should be generating the same amount of power for your home every year).
5) Your roof's condition. This one is one we cannot emphasize enough. Your roof should have a verifiable 10 YEARS of roof life left if you plan on installing solar panels on it. Why? Because the labor and materials needed to uninstall and reinstall your existing solar panels (when you go to re-roof your home) is going to SHOCK you. (not literally - but it's not a pleasant number). It will add literally THOUSANDS of dollars to your reroof costs. So - why 10 years? Well... one thing we've learned from this industry is that solar panels tend to extend the roof life of the roofs they are on. Why? Because the most damaging environmental thing to your home is: the sun. That's right! Sunlight will degrade the south roofs long before moss, mold, and lichen will degrade the north roof of your home. In general - it's your south roofs that wear out fastest. And because the sun is always slightly south of us (here in North America), we find that the southern exposures of your roofs do indeed wear out sooner than the east or west faces. When you place a barrier (ie: solar panels) between your roof and the sun, you end up inadvertently extending the life of those roofs with solar panels on them. If you need a new roof, consider doing it before you install solar panels - you'll thank us!
6) The cost of electricity in your area. This one is becoming less of a reason (to not install solar) than it used to be. What do I mean by this? Well, in years past, we've seen some of the local electrical companies offering electricity at such low rates that installing a solar array became less about savings and more about leaving a legacy of renewable energy for the future. These utility areas contained the "gotta want it" kind of customers. In these cases, the net cost per kilowatt-hour of self-generated electricity (from solar panels) was higher than the cost of electricity you could buy locally. These small co-op utilities aren't the norm though. They are the "outliers" insomuch as the price of their power is concerned, and with ever-rising costs, even these "low cost" utilities are showing prices that now make solar "make sense" for their customers. On the other side of this equation are the majority of home-owners, who's cost of electricity (per kilowatt hour) is actually higher (currently) than the averaged cost of electricity for a solar array. This is where we see most of our customers: seeing some savings today and a lot of savings "tomorrow" (ie: the future). Whatever side of this equation you find yourself on here, it's important to know why you want to install solar: Is it personal? Is it environmentally motivated? Is it to increase your home's value? Is it to save money over the long term? Whatever your reason, at least know how much you're currently paying for electricity.
7) Incentives/Rebates/Credits. This is usually why you'll call: you heard something somewhere about the HUGE incentives to have solar installed on your home, amiright? :) These things ARE important, not to mention so...so nice. In your case, the Federal government is going to award you a 30% tax credit to install solar on your home or business. This means that (so long as you pay your taxes throughout the year), you'll likely end up getting a refund equal to 30% of the cost of your project come tax season next year. But...are there any other local incentives? Sometimes yes...sometimes no. I can say with a VERY HIGH degree of knowledge that local and state incentives come and go all the time. And when they're gone, they're gone. So - should you wait for these incentives to come back? I guess you should also ask yourself if you think you should wait for the "brass ring" to come back (and for those who aren't old enough to know what I mean by the "brass ring" - here you go: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brass_ring). My point here is this: I've seen local and state incentives come and go more times than I can count. What I can say with a high degree of knowledge is that none of these incentives are larger than they were a few years ago. So waiting for these incentives to increase (in my opinion) would be fruitless. A few examples: when I started installing solar panels, Energy Trust of Oregon was giving home owners up to $20,000 of money to install solar panels (our price per watt as also hovering around $9/watt as opposed to less than $4/watt today). Today - Energy Trust of Oregon offers most customers $400 per home. A second example: From 2009-2017, the Oregon Department of Energy offered home owners (who installed solar on their homes) $6,000 of tax credit for their taxes. Between 2018 and 2022, they offered nothing. Today - and for only a short time, they are again offering up to $5,000 per home owner - with the average home owner receiving about $3,000. And those funds are limited and will soon exhaust themselves. Will they offer more in the future? My experience says that they might offer some form of incentive in the future, but as solar adoption increases, these incentives (provided by the state and federal government) tend to decrease or fully expire as they are no longer needed to encourage people to adopt this tech. Eventually - there won't be any more subsidies to install solar panels on your home - because the tech will stand on its own without need of government assistance (example: the government used to give tax credits to car buyers who bought hybrid cars, but as the price of gas increased, the value of owning a hybrid car became self evident and there was no longer a need to offer incentives for these cars - solar is heading down that path as well).
8) Ongoing maintenance costs. We touched on this somewhat above when we talked about making sure your roof still has 10 years of usable life left in it. In general, solar panels and their associated pieces of equipment are maintenance free. Do you need to wash your solar panels? You decide: https://www.dpisolar.com/post/solar-panel-maintenance-fact-or-fiction. Does your equipment need regular service? You decide: https://www.dpisolar.com/post/part-deux-solar-system-maintenance. In general, Mother Nature does a pretty fair job at keeping your solar panels clean so long as they have at least 10° of tilt and your area receives at least 12" of rainfall annually. As for the equipment, your racking systems will have a limited lifetime warranty. If we install it like we're supposed to, it will last as long as you want it to. The inverters will likely eventually fail - but if you have a great warranty (12 years minimum on most of our stuff), you won't end up paying for the replacement equipment. That leaves the solar panels - and these babies last for decades. Literally. So long as they are making up the power you need to live in your home, then there's likely no reason to ever replace them. Your ongoing maintenance costs for these products SHOULD be minimal. And depending on whether or not you decide to buy an annual service plan where we come out and inspect, test, and re-commission your system each year, it's unlikely you'll have any other significant ongoing expenses with these products. Generally speaking - this part of the discussion should be fairly minimal, but it's definitely something to consider if you find your property is in an area where regular cleaning is recommended (high pollen areas, gravel roads that throw up dust, etc.).
9) Warranties for your equipment. This one is not as straight forward as it sounds. As someone who's seen the warranties on these products evolve over the years, I can say clearly that some of these warranties actually mean something while others...don't. Which warranty doesn't really mean much? The 25 year production guarantee/warranty that EVERY solar panel sold in Oregon offers. This warranty says something similar to this: we guarantee that your solar panels will be producing at least 82% (or higher) power 25 years from the date of installation. So, why doesn't this mean much? Well, because the first solar panels sold commercially in this country (Bell Laboratories, 1958) saw their solar panels (with 1958 tech, 1958 manufacturing methods, 1958 materials) last 40 years and still produce 82% of their rated power - 40 years later. The only way a modern solar panel manufacturer can screw this one up is to apply significant negligence during the manufacturing process. Otherwise, you guessed it: nearly every reputable solar panel manufacturer will never need to worry about this warranty (it's THAT unlikely that they'll ever have a claim here). The more important warranty would be the manufacturing defect warranty for your solar panels. Nearly all of our offerings have a 25 year defect warranty - and all of our manufacturers have been in business that long (or longer). Most inverter manufacturers will offer a 10 or 12 year defect warranty, and trust me - that's likely enough. The reason here is that if your inverters fail in year 12, the replacement tech is likely to be very far advanced from where it was 12 years earlier - not to mention less expensive (typically). Your racking systems are typically coming with a limited lifetime warranty for their application. That leaves your installer warranty. As of 2023, DPI Solar is offering our customers a 10 year warranty on their installations. So if anything fails, not only will the manufacturer likely cover the cost of the replacement equipment, but DPI Solar will be there to replace it with no additional labor charges. Some of the "gotchas" you'll find in a lot of warranties? The most important one to look for is how much the manufacturer will pay to have a company replace their defective equipment. I've seen most of these warranties cap their maximum out of pocket expenses (paid to the techs who will perform the service) at $250. This is a very small amount of money and if your installer is out of business and won't be there to replace the defective equipment on their dime, that leaves you paying the balance due after the initial $250 is paid to the techs performing the service.
10) Your Installer - This one is where I think you really need to dig in. Things to look for: how long have they been in business in YOUR state/area. New installers come and go all to regularly. Just because they thrived in California or Utah does not mean they'll make it here in Oregon. We used to keep a list of new installers we would hear about from our customers. That list quickly grew very large - with a big X next to each one as time went by. Not only is it important to see that your preferred installer has been in business in YOUR state/area for a few years, but you should also check to make sure they are truly a licensed contractor (and not just a sales group who tries to sub-contract their installs to the lowest bidder). How can you tell? Search the Oregon CCB platform for your installer's company. You should see minimal (hopefully ZERO) complaints against them there, plus you'll be able to make sure they are licensed, bonded, and insured. Next - check the state agencies that want to give you money for your project (Energy Trust of Oregon, Oregon Department of Energy) and make sure your contractor is on their list of approved contractors (there's nothing that makes me more sad than to hear about a customer who was promised all sorts of incentives, only to realize too late that their contractor wasn't part of the programs they said they were). Finally - reviews - this one is a bit subjective for me, because we don't beg or pay for reviews. But someone with a lot of reviews in just a short amount of time - buyer beware. Think: Amazon. When you read reviews that say: I just got my product, but haven't tried it yet (Five Stars!) - that's not exactly noteworthy - and more than likely, that person was somehow compensated for their review. Look for honest, long-term reviews of your installer. If someone had something negative to say, you'll find it. If not, you'll likely not see anything alarming either - which is good! In the end, your installer is the one group of people you'll lean on to learn about your system, be there when things go sideways, and support you when you want to grow or add batteries to your system. In my experience, you want to choose local groups who have at least 5 years of installation experience behind them.
Well... I could probably go on for another 10 things, but this list is a great start for you!
Call us - we want to be your partner in this process