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Project Solar Services/Processes

Project Solar holds your hand throughout the entire solar process. The steps involved are as follows:

1. After checkout, an email will be sent with a login link to your customer portal. Within your portal will be the new customer general information form.

2. Your answers from the general form will dictate the pictures we need you to submit. Within your customer portal will be a step by step picture submittal form - submitting these pictures FAST is crucial for our team to begin the design, engineering, and permitting portion of your project.

3. We design your system and send to you for approval. The size of the system (and therefor the price) may change slightly based on the pictures and information we gather, but our pricing model is static so there is no bait and switch. Upon approval, we send out a contract for signing and then the work on our part begins.

4. With your design and provided pictures in hand, we begin work on engineering structural and electrical calculations.

5. Permit pack is submitted to permitting. Permitting can take as little as 1 day and as long as 6 weeks - this is entirely up to your city and out of our hands. WE simultaneously submit to your utility company for net metering. Net metering permission is almost always faster than city permitting.

6. Once we have city and utility approval, we schedule install or ship your product if you opt for DIY. If paying cash, payment is due before shipment. If you opted for full installation, you can expect the installation to occur between 3-14 days after permit approval.

7. After the install is complete we schedule final inspection with the city. The city ensures everything was installed correctly.

8. Upon passed final inspection, we submit for PTO (permission to operate) with your utility company. This can take 2-4 weeks. Often, this involves the utility company coming to your house and swapping your meter for a "net meter".

9. You're now officially powered on. A member of our team will call you to set up your monitoring app (not needed for energy generation but really cool).

Project Solar will take care of all design, engineering, permitting, utility approval, and equipment procurement/delivery. We also provide training videos and documentation, as well as phone support. The process can be simplified into 4 steps; install the anchors and racking, screw the panels onto the rails, and run the wires to your electrical box, connect to your main panel. If you're willing to do that, DIY will save you thousands of dollars and you will experience a fantastic feeling of accomplishment. Many people will hire an electrician for the "grid tie" which is the only part of the process that deals with live wires.

If Project Solar installs your solar system for you, we will do everything A-Z. You'll need to sign the permits before we submit to the city, schedule an install day, and then pay for the system, but besides that, we do all the heavy lifting. Literally.

The size of your solar system is not simply determined by the physical space available on your roof. Even if you have ample space, individual states and utility companies typically enforce system size limits which are based on your annual energy consumption.

System size limits vary, so the first system design we send to you will typically aim to match your usage. If your utility company’s policies allow you to have a system that produces more than 100% of your yearly electrical usage, then we can adjust accordingly.

We will need records of your electrical usage over the past 12 months to properly size your system. A whole year’s usage is needed to determine an average since usage can drastically vary from season to season. Project Solar has to adhere to your state's and utility's policies when sizing your system.

At Project Solar, we use advanced solar design software to produce a precise image of your project site by using a combination of street-level and aerial images. This software allows our site designers to position panels advantageously based on irradiance—the amount of light striking a given area of a surface. With this information, designers can also take time-of-use net metering rates into account and optimize your system.

Currently, Project Solar does not install completely off-grid systems. A solar system is only technically off grid if it is completely disconnected from the power grid. For an off-grid system to be reliable, a solar owner would need to invest in extensive battery storage. This can be expensive and unnecessary, especially in locations that offer net metering. For more information about off-grid solar, check out our blog article about how off grid works and its costs. Even though we don't install off grid, our systems work with net metering and solar batteries are available for purchase.

The price depends on the size of the system you order and the size of the system you order is based on electricity usage (or projected usage).

We are committed to being the lowest price solar provider in the nation with top tier equipment. This price advantage stems from our salesmen-free digital checkout and our innovative network of installers.

Our pricing ranges from $2.00-$2.29/watt for full installation before incentives, $1.48-$1.69/watt after incentives. Details on the price per watt range and our pricing policy can be found here.

We work hard to be as transparent as possible about the cost of our services. Because solar installation is a completely custom job, with a huge variability in home build style/materials/age, and each city and utility company having different requirements, there are scenarios where your project might require additional work/costs.

These "adders" are relatively rare and we work hard to avoid them whenever possible. Click here for a full pricing breakdown of potential adders.

Batteries

Yes, a battery can be added to your system later. At Project Solar, we use premium microinverters, which means you'll need to install batteries that handle AC power. Batteries such as the Enphase Encharge and the Tesla Powerwall 2 are designed for the input of AC power.

At Project Solar, we offer Enphase Encharge batteries. The Encharge 3 has 3.36 kWh of storage, and the Encharge 10 offers 10.08 kWh. If you are interested in a solar battery, check out our blog post to help determine if a battery makes sense for your situation. Also, feel free to make further inquiries if you are interested in adding one to your system.

Without Batteries: Your panels generate electricity to be used by your house right away. Extra power is sent back to the electricity company for storage. Since maintenance workers need to work on the electrical lines during a power outage, your panels will actually shut off when they sense the power has gone down for safety reasons.

With Batteries: A solar system paired with a battery will keep your home running even in the event of a power outage. However, depending on the size/quantity of battery storage you opt for, you may not be able to run ALL of your home during the outage. Many will install a critical load panel, isolating the electrical services you deem most critical in the event of an outage (refrigerator and lights are most common). Depending on the equipment you have, storage capacity and or peak amperage capacity of the battery will be the limiting factor. Our team can help you design and optimize the critical load panel during the onboarding phase. Our batteries and inverters can work in tandem, meaning your PV solar system can charge your batteries while using your batteries.

If you have an electrical company in your area, it makes the most financial sense to go solar WITHOUT batteries. Batteries can more than double the price of your solar system and include warranties that last less than half as long as the other parts of your system.

Batteries make the most sense for people without net metering options, or net metering below 3¢/kWhr.

Additionally, batteries may make sense for you if you live in an area of frequent power outages or if you simply want to "prep" for bad times.

General Solar Questions

Sunlight excites electrons to motion in a process called the photovoltaic effect. This generates DC power which is collected and sent to an inverter (a microinverter in our case) to be used by your home or sent back to the grid.

This process creates renewable energy by harvesting the power of the sun rather than relying on traditional electrification generated by the burning of fossil fuels.

To optimize this energy generation process, we use advanced solar design software to produce a precise image of your project site by using a combination of street-level and aerial images. This software allows our site designers to position panels advantageously based on irradiance—the amount of light striking a given area of a surface. 

This means that panels are placed where they will be able to receive the most light throughout the day. With a solar system, it is important to take into account how trees, the roof, and other panels could possibly create shade spots.

Right now, utility companies burn fuel to turn a complex machine that then produces electricity. This process creates pollution. By going solar, you create energy from the sun, which saves the planet from additional pollution. In fact, for every kilowatt of solar you install, the carbon that is not sent into the atmosphere is the equivalent of planting about 40 trees.

Cutting down on emissions also helps improve respiratory and cardio health on a global and local level. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has found that lower fossil fuel emissions result in fewer cases of bronchitis and lost workdays related to health issues.

Your solar system should last well over 25 years. In fact, the warranty ensures that you will be at at least 80% of your original efficiency by year 25. The general rule of thumb in the solar industry is if your roof is 25-30 years old, you should look at replacing your roof before getting solar. At the very least, have it inspected beforehand. 

If you put solar on a roof that needs to be replaced after a couple years, it's not a big deal. You'll just need to work with a roofer who is comfortable taking the panels off and then putting them back on. Most are these days. 

Your panels generate DC power, but your home runs off AC. So, you need an inverter to make the switch. There are 3 primary types of inverters. String inverters, microinverters, and a hybrid system of string inverter with power optimizers.

String inverters: This is the oldest and most common method. All of the inversion occurs in one inverter, usually placed next to your main service panel. However, there are quite a few downsides. For example, string inverters often create a loud humming sound, they do not offer panel level control/information, and they often don't last as long as microinverters. Perhaps the biggest downside is that they are less efficient than microinverters. If a panel in a cluster of interconnected panels (called a string) is obstructed by a leaf or other shading, then the whole string will have its output reduced. With microinverters, the efficiency loss only affects the blocked panel. 

Microinverters: These are the cream of the crop of solar system inverters. Microinverters are small inverters attached to each panel, giving you panel-level control and visibility for easy maintenance (usually managed through an app). It converts the electricity to AC at the panel and usually results in less electricity loss (higher efficiency). They generally cost more, but because we've standardized our equipment offerings at Project Solar, we offer top-tier equipment at the lowest prices in the nation. When it comes to string or microinverters, our pricing wont be beat. Microinverters through Project Solar are warrantied for 25 years. 

Power Optimizers: This is a hybrid of the two other options because it offers panel-level visibility and higher efficiency than a string inverter. However, power optimizers generally have more problems than microinverters because they have more points of failure and often come at a higher cost when all is said and done. 

Most electrical panels have an amperage range of 100-225 amps. Here's a good, general rule of thumb: 100 amps can handle 4.5 kW PV system, and a 200 amp can handle 12 kW (this will be fully flushed out in our engineering stage). Most homes built within the last 25 years do not require the upgrade.

If a main panel upgrade is required, it usually adds $1,800-2,500 to the total price. The good news is, however, that the upgrade cost is factored into the federal solar tax incentive, so you can receive back 26% of what you pay in the form of a tax credit.

Your panels just need some sunlight to produce energy, so they will still produce electricity on a cloudy day; however, they will not produce electricity when covered by snow. Typically, panels are installed at a slant, so the snow will slide off once the weather clears up, and you can keep producing.

Financial Questions

Since there are so many variables in solar, an effective way to compare systems is by looking at how much you're paying per watt, which can be calculated by dividing system cost by system wattage. That being said, there are two price-per-watt numbers: Price per watt before government incentives and price per watt after government incentives. Most solar companies show you prices after incentives, which is fair, but know that you must be able to handle paying the total price until you receive your tax credit.

For Do-it-Yourselfers...

Cash gives you the best return on your investment (ROI). When you pay with cash, we take a $250 deposit upfront, and then you pay for the system before it is delivered. If you do a loan, we still need the $250 deposit before we get going on your project. Then, you'll need to apply for a loan through us or your bank. Payment will be due before the system is delivered.

If you want Project Solar to install...

When Project Solar installs, you pay a $250 deposit which goes toward system design and engineering. Once a system is ready to be delivered, the payment for equipment is due in full. When the final inspection is finished, we collect the second half of the payment.

You can calculate ROI by first looking at how much you will save yearly by going solar. Then, you need to divide that number by the overall cost of your system. The result is your ROI.

Here's an example: A system costs $10,000, and it saves you $1,000 a year on electricity. You're making a 10% return on your investment because 1,000/10,000 = 10%.

Note: The average Project Solar year 1 ROI is 18%. To put this into perspective, the S&P 500 market average ROI is 9.8%, and average home value appreciation is 3.2%.

Another way to calculate ROI is to look at the total amount of energy your system will generate in 25 years. Then, if you multiply that production by your local utility rate and then divide that total by the system's cost, you can find the system's total ROI over its warranty period.

Here's an example: Let's say that your system costs $9,655 and will produce 397,475 kWh over the course of 25 years. If your local utility rate is $0.09/kWh, then you would have had to pay $35,772.75 for the 25 years' electricity if it had come from your utility instead of your solar system. This total is 3.7X the cost of your system, meaning that your system would ultimately have a 370% ROI over its warranty period.

With traditional solar sales tactics, salespeople price system builds as high as possible while still staying slightly below the customer's monthly bill. A win-win, right? Well, not exactly. This usually leaves the customer way overpaying for solar. This means that the customer is usually paying $10,000-13,000 to the salesperson and another $10,000-15,000 to the company. 

At Project Solar, our main focus is to get you the best return on your investment. By cutting out the door knockers and bloated infrastructure, we can charge less than half of the industry average while still using the best equipment in the industry. With our highly efficient processes, we're able to dramatically decrease your solar cost and increase your ROI. 

With any home improvement project, it is important to consider how much the project costs and how that cost can be offset by the increased value of your home. With solar, studies have shown that home value increases to around 3X the size of the system. Our home value increase calculator will show you how much your home value will increase if you decide to go solar. Since solar helps increase the value of your home, installing can still be a financially smart option if you're looking at selling your home soon.

Equipment Questions

Project Solar uses black-on-black, 340 watt panels with Enphase microinverters and IronRidge racking. All equipment is rated Tier 1 and comes with 25-year warranties. Our primary panels are Q-Cells.

Project Solar only uses Tier 1, black-on-black panels and Enphase microinverters, which both come with 25-year efficiency warranties. Most national installers also use Tier 1 panels with 25-year warranties; however, the the big differentiator is the inverter. A majority of installers will use string inverters, which do not give you panel-level visibility to more easily maintain or troubleshoot your system. Additionally, with string inverters, if one panel is shaded, all of the panels wired in the same string will lose some production until the sun returns to that single panel. String inverters are cheaper for solar companies to source, so they are used to keep margins high. At Project Solar, we have decided to only use microinverters because they are a much better investment over the lifetime of a system.

Our quality solar panels are built to last through harsh weather conditions. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that of the 50,000 solar energy systems installed in the country between 2009 and 2013 indicates, only 0.1% of all systems were reported to be affected by damaged or underperforming modules each year. 

In most cases, solar panels are tested and guaranteed to withstand hail up to 25 mm (1 inch) in size, falling at approximately 50 miles per hour. Along with hail testing, engineers also consider winds and hurricanes. Most solar panels are certified to withstand up to 140 mile-per-hour winds. The typical aluminum and glass casings of a panel's cells also make the panel highly waterproof.

Snow will usually not be heavy enough to cause issues. Solar panels go through pressure tests to assess durability and quality. Additionally, since panels are installed at an angle, snow will usually slide off on its own.

At Project Solar, we utilize 3rd party engineering firms to design and assess wind and snow load possibilities, and your design is tweaked to accommodate your weather needs. The city then reviews the plans and issues a build permit. So yes, the equipment will be supplied according to your needs.

We have pricing discounts with many of the world's top manufacturers. If you want something specific, we are happy to oblige. If the equipment costs more than the equipment we provide at default, we simply adjust the cost to cover the increase. However, 99% of our customers are more than satisfied with our standard equipment.

For most people, our standard panel is more than enough for their needs. However, if you have a small space and truly need a higher output panel, we can help. We recommend reviewing this article on why higher wattage panels don't always make sense.

Reflective surfaces can be problematic. For this reason, it's natural to be concerned that the solar panels on your roof or ground mount may bother neighbors or your own household. Even if you don't know much about the composition of solar panels, it is clear that panel surfaces are going to at least be more reflective the shingles on your roof. 

study performed by Q-Cells, our primary panel provider, evaluated the reflectivity of their panels. Panel manufacturers have taken glare issues into consideration. Q-Cells panels have cutting-edge anti-reflective coatings (ARC) because high reflectivity is not ideal for solar production as it redirects light from the surface of the panel. 

Q-Cells engineers found that solar panel surfaces actually have a generally low refractive index of about 1.25. To put this into context, the refractive index of air is 1, normal "window" glass is around 1.5 and water is 1.33. 

The purpose of a solar panel is to capture light. Since manufacturers like Q-Cells have accounted for glare and created solutions like anti-reflective coatings, solar panels are able to produce energy more efficiently and there are less glare issues for homeowners and neighbors.

Installation

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