Deciding “Yes” on Residential Solar

You’ve done the research and have decided to install solar at your home. What’s next to keep the process moving? To know what else to expect and get the system, installer and agreement that meet your needs, here are a few considerations.

Contacting Your Local Electric Utility

Many utilities have websites dedicated to residential solar where you can find utility-specific answers to basic questions, resource materials, information on in-home energy assessments, as well as links to third-party experts and installers the utility has worked with. Your utility may also offer rebates for home energy efficiency improvements that could be worth considering prior to installing your solar array.

When contacting your utility, here are several questions to explore:

Selling Power to the Utility

When considering your future electric bills and how solar energy is treated by your utility, there are certain things to know.

How does my utility pay or credit me for my solar energy?

How much is my energy worth?

Solar Pricing, Before Incentives

What you’ll pay for your array depends on a number of factors, including your location, the installer, the components, any add-ons (e.g., monitoring, data acquisition system or specialty equipment), the size of the system, the distance between your home and the installer’s headquarters (because of travel time), the difficulty of the installation and more.

In North Carolina, the cost of solar in spring 2020 ranged from $2.80/watt to $3.21/watt. This means that a 10-kilowatt system would cost between $28,000 and $32,100 before incentives. Solar Reviews has a county-by-county breakdown of solar pricing, where data is available.

Incentives and Financing Options

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) is an excellent resource for information on the latest tax credits and incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency home improvements. It includes national, local and utility incentives.

For solar arrays, the main incentives to be aware of are the North Carolina-based Property Tax Abatement for Solar Electric Systems and the federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. However, there are many other incentives available, and some may be accessible in your location. Your solar installation company should be able to tell you which ones apply to you.

If you do not have money to buy a system upfront, there is financing available. Sometimes, your installation company will have options, and certain banks, like the Self-Help Credit Union, offer solar-specific loans. You may also be able to take advantage of the HomeStyle Energy Mortgage, which allows borrowers to take a mortgage valued at 15% of the as-completed appraised property value of the home. Keep an eye out for “creative” financing. For example, some companies offer long loan terms to make the cost more affordable, bridge loans (0% interest for a short period and high interest later) and other variations.

Be sure to evaluate the different options to get what’s best for you. It is important to fully understand the potential financing terms to be able to pick the right one.

Finding an Installation Company

There are a few ways to go about finding a solar installation company. If you have neighbors or friends who have added solar, ask them about their installer and experience. In addition, you can reach out to your utility for recommendations and search online for companies in your area.

Focus on local companies who are likely more familiar with your utility and ordinances. Their proximity will also bring down the price of the system, and companies located farther away may be hesitant to perform the installation because of travel time.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has a database of all the solar installers in the state, as well as information on data and pricing. Look for ones accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). While being accredited isn’t required, it can provide confidence regarding trustworthiness and quality.

Be sure to research companies before reaching out. Check reviews and look at previous installations, how long they’ve been in business and their licensing (you can check for electrical contracting licenses by searching the NC State Board of Examiners of Electrical Contractors website). You will want a company that performs the kind of installation you are seeking. In other words, you probably don’t need to consult with a company that mostly does off-grid installations if you want a grid-connected system.

When you are ready to talk to installation companies, get bids from at least three. Bids should come after the company performs a site assessment at your home. When receiving bids, have the company specify both DC and AC capacity (in watts or kilowatts) and estimated annual production by month (in kilowatt-hours). Knowing capacity and production data will help you compare bids and tell you how much energy will be produced by your system and seen by the meter. The bids should take into account losses in the system, inverter size and efficiency.

Collect bids for the same type of system across installation companies. Do not get a bid from one company for a ground-mounted system and one from a second company for a rooftop array. Keeping the type of system consistent will help you evaluate offerings. If you are still unsure about what type you want (rooftop, ground-mounted or other), get bids for each type from each installer.

Keep in mind that the cheapest bid may not be the best. A low price could signify inexperience or poor construction practices. Quality should be considered over price, and before signing a contract, have an attorney or lawyer read over it if possible.

Here are some things to look into when doing your research and contacting installation companies:

It is important to keep all documentation received from the installation company, as it will be useful during tax season and if an issue comes up with your system. Your loan/mortgage provider may also require copies of certain documents. Ensure that you have all manufacturer-provided information on your solar modules, inverters, optimizers, combiner boxes and disconnect boxes. You will also want a written installer warranty (workmanship, equipment, roof), equipment warranty (if separate from installer warranty), interconnection request, interconnection agreement, permits, inspection results, site assessment results, and any receipts and invoices.

In addition, request a single-line diagram (SLD) of the system (a simplified system drawing set detailing all equipment, hardware information, wire sizes, wire run lengths, etc.) and documentation showing where it will be installed, where conduit runs will be and where home penetrations will be. This information will allow you to ensure the installer built the system the way it was intended, and it is useful for checking compatibility if you need to replace or install new equipment down the road. An SLD is essential, as your utility will require it before you interconnect to the grid, some financial institutions will require it before you get funding, and some regulatory bodies will require it before you can receive permits.


Taking these additional steps and having this knowledge will put you in a better position to get the system, installer and agreement that work for you. If you missed our first article on items to consider before going solar, you can check it out here.