As the residential solar industry has grown, over two million American homes have already installed solar panels. The number of solar homes is an exciting number that many anticipate doubling by 2023. Even as residential solar has expanded, most people in California and Hawai’i are looking at solar have no experience with the solar process.
Because of this, even if they know someone who has gotten solar, most people are still unclear about how the solar panel installation process goes. To ensure that all of the homeowners of Southern California, Oah'u, Big Island, and Maui are aware of how the process works, Alchemy Solar has created this guide for the six steps of the solar installation process.
How the solar panels installation process works: six main steps
Once a contract is signed, the solar installation process will usually follow these six steps:
Site survey and engineering
Permits and documentation
Solar panel system installation
System approval and utility interconnection
Monitoring and new bill
How are solar panels installed step by step: what is the solar panel installation process?
Like all home improvement projects, installing solar is a process. Unlike other home improvement projects, solar panel installations require utility and permitting approval. As a result, Alchemy Solar takes the process very seriously and wants to make sure that you understand how every step goes. Installation timelines vary from project to project and can be a little different in San Diego vs. Honolulu for example, but on average will take between one and six months from contract signature to solar panel system activation. Below is our step by step guide of how solar panels are installed:
1. Site Survey and engineering: step one to installs solar panels
After a solar contract is signed, a site surveyor will come out to your home. The site survey will take place shortly after the competition of the contract signature and document submittal process. The site surveyor's job is to collect the necessary data to ensure that a home is compatible with solar and ensure that the initial system design will accomplish the homeowner's goals.
During the site visit, the site surveyor will be onsite for a few hours and focus on the factors determining your systems production, the homes roof, and the electrical panel. While on the roof, the site surveyor will measure the exact dimensions of the roof planes, check on the state of the roof, and in some cases, collect data that can factor in shading. This is an essential step because satellite imagery can sometimes be dated and not show all obstructions or tree growth.
The site surveyor will also collect detailed information on the home's electrical panel. The electrical panel is how the solar system sends electricity into the home. As a result, it is crucial to make sure that the electrical breaker's capacity is sufficient or if it will need to be upgraded to accommodate the solar system.
Once this information is collected, it will be brought back to the office for an engineer to design the system sign off on it. If everything goes smoothly, the system design will be sent to the customer for approval.
In some situations, changes might need to be made to the system. In these cases, changes to the design or system production will be discussed between the sales representative and customer.
Once the customer is comfortable with the alterations, the final design will be completed and approved by the engineer for submission.
2. Permits and documentation: required document submittal for your solar panel installation
Like other home improvement projects, installing a solar energy system does require the completion and submission of paperwork. This part of the process can be overwhelming for people when they start the solar shopping process. At Alchemy Solar, we ensure that the paperwork and document submission are handled for the customer, but all customers must understand how the process works.
A large portion of the paperwork that will be submitted will be solar specific. Most utilities require that homeowners receive approval for installing solar if they want access to the utility solar program. In most utilities, this means completing and submitting Net Energy Metering Paperwork.
Some locations have solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) or additional rebates in California for energy storage like the self-generation-incentive-program (SGIP). Homeowners will also need some documentation to provide to their tax professional for the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) if they are purchasing the system.
In most situations, after the utility has provided PTO, they will also begin the process of switching the homes utility bill from a standard bill to a solar bill. During this time, the home will still collect the benefits of solar energy, but it may take a few bill cycles for the utility to switch the home over to a solar billing set up.
Other incentives may also be applicable. In California, the Self Generation Incentive Program provides an additional incentive for adding a home solar battery. Energy storage is also especially common in Hawai'i, and with our partners, Sunrun can help homeowners in Hawai'i gain access to the Kukui Hele Pō grid services program.
Because solar is a home improvement project, the rest of the paperwork that needs to be submitted is related to building permits and HOA applications (where applicable). Building permit requirements are different from location to location, but Alchemy Solar works to ensure that building permits are handled correctly.
HOA paperwork, in some situations, will require customer and neighbor signatures. In those cases, Alchemy Solar works with the customer to get all required documents signed and submitted.
Many of these documents can be completed and submitted at the point of contract signature, but some do need to be completed after the design competition. Occasionally Building Permit Departments or HOA's may ask for revisions or changes, so the sooner everything can be submitted and approved, the better for speeding up the solar installation timeline.
3. Equipment procurement: panels, inverters, racking, energy storage, and getting your solar panel installation scheduled
Once all the documents have been submitted, the solar project waits for all necessary approvals before scheduling the installation date. Once the approvals have been received, the equipment will be procured and assigned to your home.
In most cases, the equipment will be delivered on the day of the installation, but occasionally it will be delivered just before the installation date if it can be put in a secured area.
At this point, all the equipment for a project has been agreed upon and approved, but it is an excellent opportunity to go over some of the factors that go into deciding on what equipment should go on your home. At Alchemy Solar, our goal is to provide the right equipment for a customer's needs.
Many factors go into determining what is the right equipment, including brand reputation, efficiency, warranty, and aesthetics, to name a few. If you are educating yourself on solar energy systems, the main components are the solar panels, the inverters, racking, and in many cases, battery storage systems.
As you educate yourself on the solar panel and battery storage process, now is also an excellent opportunity to educate yourself on the difference between Micro-Inverters Vs. String-Inverters vs. Power-Optimizer, high efficiency vs. standard solar panels, and the best battery type for your specific needs.
4. Solar panel installation: getting the panels on the roof!
The waiting time between contract signature and installation can sometimes feel like a long time for homeowners. That is one reason why the installation day is so exciting for homeowners! The installers will begin preparing the roof and making sure that the roof doesn't have any underlying structural issues that could not be identified at the point of the site survey.
While the roof is being prepared, electrical wiring will be run, and the home's electrical panel will be prepared.
At this point, the racking system will be mounted on the roof, and panels will be placed on the racking. Depending on the type of inverter picked for the project, the inverter will either be mounted with the panels or will be mounted after the panel installation is complete.
The last step is tying in the system to the home's electrical panel to ensure that the direct current (DC) energy produced by the panels can be converted into alternating current (AC) energy used in the home and sent into the utility grid.
Most installations take one to two days but can take longer for larger systems or complex battery storage systems.
5. System approval and utility interconnection
Once the system is installed, we are right at the finish line to generate power from your solar energy system. Before the systems can be turned on, an inspector or representative from the local government will provide final approval on the solar installation.
While at your home, the inspector will make sure that the electrical has been wired correctly, the panels have been installed correctly, and the installation meets all local codes and requirements.
Once the inspector gives their approval, the utility will usually send someone out to confirm that the system matches what was submitted on the utility application. If everything is approved on the utility side, the system will receive Permission To Operate (PTO).
At this point, the solar system will be turned on and will be producing power to be used in your home!
6. Monitoring and new solar utility bill
Now that the system has been installed and is working, it is time to start enjoying the benefits of switching to solar! One of the many great things about solar is that it has few moving parts. As a result, once the system is up and running, it usually works smoothly. At the same time, homeowners need to be aware of how their solar system is working. This is why monitoring is an essential part of the solar process.
Some solar options come with built-in monitoring, but even for those, homeowners must understand how to utilize the monitoring platform so they can keep an eye on their system and enjoy seeing how much energy their solar energy system is producing!
In most situations after the utility has provided PTO, they will also begin the process of switching the homes utility bill from a standard bill to a solar bill. During this time, the home will still be collecting the benefits of solar energy, but it may take a few bill cycles for the utility to switch the home over to a solar billing set up.
Solar Utility bills look different, but your Alchemy Solar Representative will always help you understand how your post solar utility bill works.
The process of switching to solar energy can seem long, but when you think about the fact that solar energy systems have a lifespan expected to exceed twenty-five years, a few months isn't long at all.
Solar power will save you and your family money for decades to come, and at Alchemy Solar, we make it our objective to make sure you are informed every step of the way! If you are interested in learning about the steps required for installing solar panels at your home, please reach out today to schedule a free solar consultation with Alchemy Solar!