Now that you’ve learned about solar energy and its many benefits for homeowners, there are a few things to consider before moving ahead. This section lays out a typical solar electric system installation process along with a few choices that you and your contractor will have to consider.
Expect the process to last four to five months: approximately four weeks for authorization from LIPA; up to three months to receive a building permit; four to six weeks for delivery of the solar equipment delivery; and up to ten working days for installation. Once the installation is complete, the system will start producing solar power. LIPA will inspect the system four to eight weeks later to install a new "net meter" to ensure that you are compensated for power you send back to the grid.
1. Your home:
Photovoltaic technology is designed to capture both direct and scattered sunlight, so a solar electric system is a practical option for homes in Nassau County. But there are several other site-specific factors that a qualified solar installer can help you consider.
Face south: Yes, to maximize the efficiency of your panels having a roof that slopes towards the south is ideal. However, the direction that your roof faces does not matter as much as you might think. Southeast and southwest are quite good, and east and west can still yield good results.
The pitch: The pitch of your roof can be important, too. Most roofs, from flat to 60-degrees, can accommodate photovoltaic panels. If you have a flat roof, your installer will use "top of pole" mounts, which will tilt your panels exactly to maximize efficiency.
The neighbors: Well, more like the surrounding buildings and trees. Shadows that fall on your solar panels during peak sunlight hours will cause your solar electric system to be inefficient, to say the least. Don’t forget to think about the growth of surrounding trees over the next 10-30 years. If removing a tree or a branch is unavoidable, consider replacement with a native tree elsewhere on your property. Also keep in mind that you may be required by your municipality to obtain a permit prior to tree removal. Trees provide natural energy savings by shading and cooling your home, and they also serve as carbon sinks by taking in carbon dioxide. Removing trees can negate both the energy savings (higher summer cooling bills) and environmental benefits (more greenhouse gasses) of installing a solar electric system.
Your energy use: Your solar electric system will be designed to make your household more energy independent and reduce your electricity bill. That means that you should know how much electricity your home uses each month, and how those electricity needs might change in the future. Before you start shopping for the latest and greatest photovoltaic system, make sure your home is energy efficient. The less electricity you need, the smaller, and cheaper, the system required.
2. Choose an installer
If you’re purchasing a solar electric system, you’re going to need a trained installer. Your choice of a solar installation professional is very important because he or she will do much more than install and maintain your system. Solar installers also:
- Assess the amount of sunlight you get in your location
- Determine the kind and size of system suited to your needs
- Analyze costs of different solar electric systems
- Assist with permitting issues such as building and electrical permits, homeowners associations, and required National Electrical Code and IEEE certifications.
You may check you local phone directory under "solar energy equipment," and we suggest that you visit Renewable Energy Long Island's Sunshine is Free website to select from a list of contractors who have been pre-screened by Renewable Energy Long Island.
Please note that the County does not specifically endorse contractors listed on the SunshineIsFree website.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with a solar installer:
Professional credentials: Many solar installers get their certification through the North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals (NABCEP). Others may not choose to become NABCEP-certified due to the time and expense involved. In either case, when choosing an installer you should ask for customer references. You can also check with Nassau County’s Office of Consumer Affairs.
Shop around: Get several bids before choosing a solar electric system installer. Compare the system features, warranties and expected electrical output from each system. The bids should include the total costs for getting the system up and running, including hardware, installation, connection to the grid, permitting, sales tax, and warranty. You should also be clear about whether you will be paying the full price, and receiving rebates later—or paying the after-incentive price, with your installer receiving the rebate directly.
Read the contract: Be sure that the solar contractor provides you with a written contract that includes a list of equipment with specific model numbers, prices and warranties for your solar system, as well as the cost of installing your system. Make sure you know when to expect delivery and installation of your system. Read and understand the contract before signing it and keep a copy for your records.
Check the warranty: Warranties are very important to ensure that your solar electric system will be repaired if something should malfunction during the warranty period. Make sure your contractor agreement is explicit about what issues the contractor will handle, and what service to expect should something go wrong.
3. Reserve your rebate with LIPA
Before a solar electric system can be installed, your contractor or installer will walk you through the process of applying for incentives and rebates. In Nassau County, that means contractors will help you complete and sign LIPA's Solar Pioneer rebate form and a Net Metering Service Agreement. LIPA provides the forms you will need to reserve and receive money from its Solar Pioneer rebate program and the federal solar electric system tax credit online. Once you can provide a building permit showing final inspection sign-off (see #6 below), homeowners insurance, and a recent utility statement showing electrical service at the installation location, you will receive the LIPA rebate (currently $3.50 per watt up to 10 kilowatts).
4. Building permits
Your solar system contractor will need to obtain various permits from your city or town’s building department before adding your solar electric system. These permits are important because they help insure the safety of the grid and your home. Typically, your contractor will obtain these permits for you, rolling the price of the permits into the overall system price. You will likely need to purchase a building permit, an electrical permit, or both to legally begin installation. Code requirements can vary from town to town, so to get an idea of your town or village’s local solar installation regulations, try searching on LIPA’s website.
5. Net metering agreement
Net metering means that if you generate more electricity through your solar electric system than what your home consumes, LIPA will charge you only for the difference. When your system is producing more electricity than you are consuming, the electrical meter spins backward because you are sending your excess electricity to the grid.
After LIPA pre-approves your completed Net Metering Service Application, the solar electric system contractor can purchase the necessary equipment for your system. You will also need to establish an interconnection agreement with LIPA to get a net-metering account. Again, your contractor should handle much of this paperwork for you.
6. Building Inspection
Your system must be inspected and approved by a local inspector before it can operate, and your solar contractor should assist you in obtaining all building and electrical permits and inspections. As part of your net metering agreement LIPA will also inspect your system before it is turned on and connected to the grid.