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Is Solar Power Right for You?

Things to consider before purchasing rooftop solar panels

Solar energy is a hot trend, but there are factors you should consider before installing solar panels for your home.

In the minds of many folks, the use of solar panels to generate electricity is a relatively recent technological development. Talk of photovoltaic solar panels may conjure images of early NASA vehicles in outer space. However, the use of solar energy dates back to 1767, when Swiss scientist Horace Bénédict de Saussure built an insulated glass-faced box that could generate temperatures of up to 230 degrees from sunlight. His invention was dubbed the solar oven.

Fast forward to today, and nearly everyone is aware of solar technology. Today’s consumers want and expect options when it comes to the type of energy powering their homes. Many homeowners are looking for a less expensive form of energy that provides ongoing savings. Some are looking for a green energy source. These two motives are why many homeowners are exploring rooftop solar panels. The interest in alternative energy sources is also being fueled by decreasing costs for rooftop solar, the availability of financial incentives and the proliferation of companies offering solar panel installation.

However, as attractive an option as rooftop solar may appear, it is important for consumers to fully understand its true costs, operational reality and associated likely energy savings. To determine whether rooftop solar is right for their situation, homeowners must undertake their due diligence.

Is solar electricity right for you? Well, it depends. The first thing you should consider is why you want to go solar.

If it’s for backup power in an emergency, stop here. PV systems are tied to the grid for safety reasons. When the power goes out, the PV array shuts down. To provide power during an outage, a PV system would require batteries to store the electricity plus advanced controls that would safely allow your system to “island,” or supply power only to your home. The price of such systems usually equal the cost of the PV system itself.

If you want to go solar for environmental reasons, read on.

The nitty-gritty: Gather your electric bills from the past year and see how many kilowatt-hours your home has used. Big Country Electric Cooperative can assist with this task. How much of your home’s annual use can be covered by the solar panels you are considering?

Then comes the cost. The average 5 kW system has an average cost of $24,650 before any incentives. If the cost of the system is too steep, you might be able to sign a contract with a solar company that will install the system at no cost but also take all the available incentives and charge a monthly fee.

Beyond your energy usage and the cost of a PV system, there are a number of factors to consider that will help determine whether rooftop solar is right for you:

  • Overall energy efficiency of the home.
  • Age and pitch of the roof.
  • Orientation of the sun in relation to the home.
  • Tree coverage near the home.
  • Weather patterns for the region.
  • Are there any neighborhood or local regulations prohibiting solar panels?
  • Is there a large, upfront payment required or are fees spread out over time?
  • Will you own the panels, or will they be leased?
  • Are there any hidden costs (i.e., does the roof need to be replaced before installing the panels)?
  • Are there ongoing maintenance fees?
  • Are there rebates or other financial incentives available?
  • Are the estimated energy savings worth the investment?
  • Is it more cost-effective to invest in other energy-saving measures?

We’re Here To Help

As your trusted energy adviser, BCEC can offer a candid assessment of your specific situation. After all, we have a different “bottom line” that’s not directly tied to the sale of a product or service, and we strive to find new ways to help you use energy more efficiently. We take a more holistic, big-picture view of how to achieve energy savings.

Unlike a solar company that has one objective—to sell their products and services—we will look at your total energy picture and help you determine the best options for your home. While rooftop solar certainly works for many people, it’s not the answer for everyone.

When assessing solar options, it is an excellent time to examine other potential energy efficiency improvements for your home. For example, it may make sense to insulate the attic at the same time as installing solar.

BCEC recognizes that consumer interest in renewable energy sources is at an all-time high, and we stand ready to help our members weigh the options to determine their best fit.

If you want more information, contact Sarah McLen at (325) 776-3803 or [email protected]. If you decide to talk to a contractor, be sure to check references. Increased interest in solar has spawned many sellers who have little knowledge in PV installations.

BCEC Policies and Practices for Distributed Generation

When installing member-owned generation systems, such as solar panels, please contact BCEC upon your initial consideration of such a project so that we can coordinate necessary steps with you and your contractor.

Helpful information, including our member-owned generation packet that outlines our process, rates and insurance requirements for your project, is available at The packet also describes the required documentation that should be submitted to us as soon as possible so that we can arrange your interconnection. Once we have received your notification and documentation, we kindly request 60 days so that we can conduct necessary engineering studies and order any necessary equipment.