Know before you buy: What happens after you go solar

Updated

Installer carries solar panel on roof
Your solar panels will be under warranty for 25 years. Image source: NYTimes

So you’ve installed solar panels on your home and have begun producing clean energy. Great! … but what happens next? 

We’ll answer this question in the article. We’ll walk you through what to expect after installing a solar system. We’ll also explain the effects it will have on your electric bill, the environment and the value of your home.

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    You can switch your panels on - after these two steps

    Unfortunately, you won’t be able to start producing renewable energy immediately after the installation is complete. There’s at least one, but potentially two things that need to happen first. 

    Firstly, your home will have to be fitted with a bi-directional meter. This type of meter allows for electricity to not only be supplied to your home via the grid, but for electricity to also be exported from your solar panels. Your home may already have a bi-directional meter and if that’s the case, you can skip this step. 

    Secondly, after your panels and bi-directional meter are installed, you will need to receive a permission to operate (PTO) from your utility company. You can't switch on your solar panel system until you receive this. This usually doesn't require any work on your end as your solar company should apply for this on your behalf. 

    Once you have these two things, your solar inverter can be switched on and you can start selling power back to the grid and substantially reducing your electricity costs!

    You can check panel performance with monitoring apps

    Most reputable brands of solar inverters are equipped with remote monitoring which connects to your home's WiFi network, enabling you to monitor the production of your solar panels from anywhere in the world.

    You can also see how much power your home is using and how much power is being exported to the grid; however, this is usually a premium feature and costs an extra $200-300.

    Most inverter manufacturers even have an app to make things even easier. Below is a view of SolarEdge's monitoring dashboard.

    This picture shows a solar panel system generating 6 kilowatts of electricity. Of that, 1.01 kW is being consumed in the home itself, while 4.99 kW is being exported to the grid. Image source: SolarEdge monitoring

    The image above is from a solar customer who opted for the premium monitoring plan. In addition to solar system production, the homeowner can see how much solar power was consumed by the home and how much was exported to the grid. Under a standard monitoring plan, they would only be able to see system output.

    Your electric bills will be much lower

    During the day, your solar panel system usually produces more electricity than needed by the home. This excess is exported to the electric grid. A program called net metering (available in most states) requires your utility company to credit your bill for the energy your solar system exports at the same rate you would otherwise purchase power at.

    For example, if you pay an electrical rate of 14 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), your utility would then have to credit your bill 14 cents for every kWh your solar energy system exports to the grid. 

    There’s another great thing about net metering: in months where your system has exported a greater amount of electricity than your home has drawn, you can carry over the excess credit into future month’s energy bills. Depending on your utility you may also have the option to be paid out at the end of your annual billing cycle. 

    Net metering allows you to get full value for the entirety of your solar production - without the need for battery storage. Most homeowners who install solar reduce their energy bills by 80% or more, and save tens of thousands of dollars over the life of their solar system. That means they not only recover the initial cost of the system, but also save a large amount over that.

    Net metering isn’t the only incentive you can benefit from, there’s also the federal solar tax credit, worth 26% of the cost of your solar system, as well as many other state and local incentives.

    Below is a graph showing the savings from a 6 kilowatt (kW) solar system in different cities around America.

    Table. Estimated savings from a 6 kW system in cities across the U.S.
    Region City Electricity cost per kWh* Annual solar output ** Estimated 25-year  savings***

    West - Pacific

    San Francisco, California

    $0.24

    8,922 kWh

    $78,682

    West - Mountain 

    Denver, Colorado

    $0.14

    8,682 kWh

    $44,315

    South - South Atlantic 

    Miami, Florida

    $0.12

    8,040 kWh

    $35,176

    Midwest - East North Central 

    Chicago, Illinois

    $0.14

    6,474 kWh

    $33,045

    Northeast - New England 

    Boston, Massachusetts

    $0.23

    6,768 kWh

    $56,753

    Midwest - West North Central 

    Minneapolis, Minnesota

    $0.15

    7,788 kWh

    $42,591

    Northeast - Mid Atlantic 

    New York City, New York

    $0.21

    6,882 kWh

    $52,691

    South - East South Central 

    Nashville, Tennessee

    $0.11

    7,686 kWh

    $30,825

    South - West South Central

    Houston, Texas

    $0.14

    7,770 kWh

    $39,660

    *Electricity cost reflects average of existing rate plans from largest utility in each city
    **Savings assume full retail net metering, actual net metering policies will vary by state and utility company
    ***Production forecast assumes installation at optimal title and azimuth with no external shading and typical isolation conditions based on data from NREL 

    Calculate how much you can save by installing solar panels on your roof

    The value of your home will increase

    A recent article by Zillow finds that homes with solar panels see a 4% property value increase. Zillow also suggests that the average home price in America is $269,039. Assuming Zillow's data is accurate, you would then expect on average to gain a $10,762 increase in your property’s value.

    When you consider that the average price of a typical 6 kW solar system in America after incentives is $13,500, you’re essentially getting 80 percent of the cost of your investment back immediately.

    What makes solar so valuable?

    That’s because any future owner of your home will have very little or no energy usage bills.

    There is, however, a crucial factor to be aware of: the property value benefits are far greater if you own your solar panel installation completely. This means purchasing your system outright by either paying cash or using a loan to own your solar system. Transferring the ownership of a solar lease or PPA (power purchase agreement) can be a major hassle when selling your home. Furthermore, solar leases and PPAs generally yield smaller long-term savings compared to owning your own panels.

    Your solar installation’s value doesn’t just come from reducing your utility bills. Energy production from your system will also help in the fight against global warming and promote a greener, more sustainable world for everybody.

    You will dramatically lower your carbon footprint

    The carbon footprint of solar energy is tiny, especially compared with the alternatives.

    It’s estimated that coal-powered plants produce 2.2 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions for every kilowatt hour of energy produced and gas at 0.88 lbs. Solar panels, on the other hand, are estimated to produce a measly 0.047lbs to 0.088 lbs per kWh - a much better option for the environment. This information is covered further in an excellent article from Solar Bay.

    The small environmental damage that solar panels do have is related to their manufacturing process. And while there is some pollution created during the making of solar panels, researchers still find that the footprint of solar (and wind and nuclear) is ‘amazingly low’ compared to energy from fossil-fuel sources.

    The simple truth is that a lot of good things happen when you go solar - not just for your wallet, but also for your carbon footprint and the planet. If you’re yet to make the leap, you can gain a free estimate on the cost of a solar system in your area by entering your zip code below.

    Your warranty will cover you in the unlikely event of problems

    In the very unlikely event that your panels have issues, this will usually be for one of two reasons:

    • Faulty equipment
    • Faulty installation or poor handling

    In both cases, you will be protected by warranty, although the period of coverage for each differs.

    On the equipment side, solar panels from all major brands are covered by production warranties of either 25 or 30 years. If your panels fail or underperform during this period, you can use your warranty to claim a replacement.

    If the issues you experience have to do with improper installation, then the installer is responsible for making any repairs and replacement for a period of at least 12 years. This type of warranty is referred to as a workmanship warranty and is usually 12 years or longer.

    Warning: just because solar panels have a warranty doesn’t mean it will be honored!

    Unfortunately, some companies operate under the motto of “get in cheap and quick and then get out”. What they do is buy the cheapest possible gear and run on razor thin profit margins (hence why they’re so cheap). When these companies are inevitably plagued with maintenance issues and warranty claims they shut up shop, open up under a new name and completely abandon their old clients. Sadly many of these disgruntled customers never receive help with their solar systems as many other solar installers lack the resources to install solar for new customers and perform maintenance jobs on the side.

    If you’re yet to install a solar system on your home don’t be deterred by a few bad eggs! There are thousands of solar installers across America who are an absolute pleasure to deal with. On SolarReviews you can read thousands of real customer reviews and stories and be better equipped to finally make the transition to solar for your home.

    Get a solar cost and savings estimate for your home

    Key takeaways

    • You need a bi-directional meter and a PTO from your utility to use your solar system.
    • It’s possible to monitor your solar system from anywhere in the world.
    • Net metering allows solar to significantly reduce your power bills.
    • Solar panels can substantially increase your home's value.
    • Solar power is very environmentally friendly.
    • Solar panels are generally protected by strong warranties.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Alex Sendy

    Solar Reviews Blog Author

    Alex Sendy is a content writer and valued team member at SolarReviews.

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