7 Steps to Getting Your Solar System Turned On

ResidentialCalendarFebruary 8, 2018

Going solar is a wonderful opportunity to help the environment and utilize renewable energy in your home. If you read our post outlining the “Pros and Cons of Going Solar”, you may have noticed that one of the few downsides to going solar is that it can be a bit of a process. 

We wish we could tell you that every solar company can have your panels up and running in a day, but the reality is that it’s a process that takes lots of care, which means time. But all good things take time, right? Solar involves a few steps, but it’s definitely worth it. And the best part is...you don’t even have to do the majority of the work! Most solar companies will do the heavy lifting for you and some even provide tools to help you navigate the process as you go. 

Here is a quick overview of the process to help you know what to expect:

Initial Consultation

Once you’ve done a little research and decided which solar companies you are interested in, give them a call and set up a consultation. Although some solar companies can be found online, in malls or at large department stores, many solar companies do in-home consultations where a representative will come to your home to discuss solar options with you. Not only is this convenient for you, but it’s helpful with a nuanced product like solar. A solar professional will help you determine your home’s energy usage and the installation possibilities on your roof, both of which are essential to determining the benefits solar could add to your home specifically. After they identify the benefits solar would contribute to your home, they will talk through different financing options with you to help you know which option would be best for your budget.

Site Analysis and Computer Aided Design (CAD)

After your initial consultation, a technician visits the home to do a deeper inspection called a Site Analysis or a Site Survey. The technician will need to look at a few things inside and outside of your home. The technician will specifically be looking at your attic to determine where the wiring could run, your electrical panel location and, of course, your roof to see if it’s in good condition to support solar panels. This process generally takes around 60-90 minutes per visit and you, or someone over the age of 18, will need to be at home for this appointment. During this Site Analysis, the solar company will confirm whether or not your roof and home is compatible with solar. It’s important to note that while we want every home in the U.S. to go solar, unfortunately, not all homes are a good fit. You can get more details on what makes a roof compatible for solar here.

Once the solar company has determined that your home can support a solar energy system, the technician will send data and photos to a design team. Most large companies use software called Computer Assisted Design to design a solar array for you that will provide maximum efficiency. The software uses all sorts of data to determine the optimal design, some of which include average sun hours for the area, roof dimensions, the home’s energy usage, etc.

Once the company has designed the optimal layout for your solar energy system, the solar representative will talk you through the details and aesthetics of the design. You can make changes or requests on the design if you don’t like the layout, but remember that they usually give you the most optimal design possible. If you want to make changes for visual reasons, you may need to compromise some efficiency. 

Permits Submitted and Approved

This next step is permitting. In order to have an operating energy system on your property, you likely need to submit a permit to the local utility company as well as the local government. The great news is that you don’t have to do much -- the solar company will usually handle most of this process and will walk you through any aspect of the permitting you need to be involved with. This step can take some time and, unfortunately, the timing is outside the control of both the solar company and you. 

The permits can take about a month to get approved. Small city governments don’t have the staff to go through permits quickly, and large city governments are loaded down with other permits and projects. Plus, if either the government or the utility company finds a problem with the CAD design, the solar company will need to go back and make adjustments accordingly. 

While you’re waiting for permitting to be approved, your solar representative may introduce you to an account manager, or another customer service individual, who will work with you personally and help progress your account forward as quickly as possible. This individual can also help answer any questions you may have along the way. Some solar companies provide a customer service representative at this stage in the process while others assign them after your system is installed.

Installing the Panels on Your Roof

This is the exciting part! Once the paperwork is done, your home is ready for solar panels! After setting up an install appointment, a crew of solar technicians will arrive to install the solar panels. Typically, the installation takes anywhere from four hours to a full days work, depending on the size and complexity of your solar array.

Once the installation is complete, the technicians will show you how to turn your system on and off.  Although the panels are on your roof, there are a few more steps until you can permanently turn on the solar energy system.

Quality Checking Your Solar Panels

It might be frustrating to have solar panels on your roof without being able to use them, but it’s worth the wait. The solar energy system has to pass 1-2 city inspections to ensure it is up to code. The city and/or the utility company will send an inspector to complete an assessment. The wait time for this inspector is generally a couple weeks but could be longer depending on the inspector’s schedule. If the inspector sees any issues with the installed system, the solar company will need to make adjustments or corrections as needed and the inspector will have to come out again for another assessment. Although this part can take time, it’s to ensure you have a safe solar energy system on your home. 

Turning on Your System

You might think of PTO as paid time off, but PTO in solar terms refers to something that’s almost as exciting -- Permission to Operate! Once your system has passed the municipality’s inspection, your solar company will submit an application to the utility company. Each utility has their own review process and is another step that may add some time depending on the utility. The utility company will review the system and interconnect it to their electrical grid before notifying the solar company that the customer has permission to turn the system on. 

Your solar company will let you know when your system has received approval to be turned on and they will walk you through a few simple steps to activate your system. Once your panels are producing energy you can sit back, relax and enjoy the benefits of solar energy!

Maintaining Your Equipment

Like any other technology product, your solar panels may run into technical difficulties, but don’t worry. Solar companies all have different operations and maintenance policies. Most solar companies monitor the system’s production for you, but it’s always a good idea to check your system’s production on your own every once in a while to ensure it is working properly.

How do you know if your panels are working? You can do a few different things. The easiest way to check on your solar energy system’s production is to utilize the tracking system that your solar company will provide. Many companies will have you create an online account that will track your system’s production by day, week, month and year so you can see it over time. An app may also be made available to you by the company that installs the inverters on your system that will also show you how much energy your system is producing. If you aren’t able to utilize an online account or a third party app to monitor your system’s production, you can simply check the meter on the side of your house every couple weeks to watch for any drastic changes in the numbers. Keep in mind that weather will play a factor, but if you see a significant change from one week to the next then give your solar company a call and have them double check your system. If you have any issues with the performance of your system, you can contact your solar provider for assistance. 

As mentioned above, solar companies will have answers to any questions you have along the way, but hopefully, this information will help you feel less in the dark about what it takes to get your solar energy system up and running. Much of the process is dependent on third parties and the timing can vary from city to city, but know that a solar company will do everything they can to move things forward as quickly as possible. They make solar simple so you can soon enjoy the many benefits solar energy has to offer! 

To find out more about going solar, contact a solar provider today.

How to Go Solar

Vivint Solar makes renewable energy a simple and affordable alternative. We take care of everything from solar system design, to paperwork and permitting, to installation and maintenance.

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