How to Overcome the Challenges of Small-Scale Solar Power

How to Overcome the Challenges of Small-Scale Solar Power

How to Overcome the Challenges of Small-Scale Solar Power

Introduction

Installing solar panels on your home or small business can provide clean, renewable energy and reduce your dependence on the grid. However, implementing a small-scale solar power system also comes with unique challenges. As someone who recently installed solar myself, I learned firsthand how to navigate the complexities of going solar on a small scale. Here is my guide on how to overcome the main challenges of small-scale solar power.

High Upfront Costs

The #1 challenge of going solar for most homeowners and small businesses is the high upfront cost. A typical 5 kW solar panel system costs $15,000-$25,000 before incentives. This steep price tag scares many people away from solar. Here are a few ways to overcome the upfront cost barrier:

  • Apply for federal, state, and local solar incentives and tax credits. The federal investment tax credit (ITC) offers a 26% tax credit on solar installation costs. Many states and utilities also offer rebates. These can reduce costs substantially.

  • Take advantage of loans, especially low-interest solar loans from local banks or credit unions. Loans spread out costs over time.

  • Lease your solar panel system instead of buying it. Leasing avoids the upfront cost, but you won’t own the system.

  • Start small. Install fewer panels now, which reduces upfront costs. Add more later as your budget allows.

Finding the Right Installer

Choosing the right solar installer is key to getting a high-quality system at the best price. Here’s how to find the ideal installer:

  • Get multiple quotes from local installers. Compare costs, proposed systems, warranties, and reviews.

  • Verify the company is licensed and insured. Ask for their license number.

  • Check reviews on sites like SolarReviews and social media. Look for red flags about unreliable installers.

  • Ask if they are certified by reputable organizations like NABCEP. Certification indicates extensive training.

  • Inquire about the warranties on panels, inverters, and installation work. 20+ year warranties are ideal.

Maximizing Efficiency on a Small System

For a residential or small business system, it’s vital to maximize solar panel efficiency in order to meet your energy needs within a limited roof space. Here are tips:

  • Choose premium panels such as SunPower or LG with 20%+ efficiency. More efficient panels produce more energy.

  • Install panels on multiple roof planes and angles to harvest sunlight throughout the day.

  • Use a solar monitoring service to track system performance and quickly identify any drops in production.

  • Consider upgrading appliances and lighting to more energy efficient models to reduce electricity usage and the required solar panel size.

  • Install panels in cool, shaded areas as heat can degrade solar panel productivity over time.

Dealing with Roof Obstructions and Shading

One challenge with small-scale solar is working around roof obstructions that cause shading on your panels:

  • Use a solar shading analysis tool or ask installers to model shading based on nearby trees, chimneys, etc.

  • Prune back any problematic trees or branches to eliminate the shading they cause.

  • Adjust the layout to place panels on unobstructed south-facing sections of the roof.

  • Use a microinverter system so only shaded panels lose production rather than the whole array.

  • Elevate panels on racks above obstructions that you can’t remove. This adds cost but can solve shading issues.

Interconnecting to the Grid

Connecting your solar panels to the electrical grid requires working with your utility company. Here are tips for smooth interconnection:

  • Research your utility’s solar policies and net metering rules. These impact system requirements and billing.

  • Hire an installer familiar with your utility’s application process. They’ll ensure proper permitting and paperwork.

  • For screened enclosures or detached garages, run wires underground to connect to the grid.

  • Ask your utility about options like net metering aggregation if your system is underproducing. This can help get credit for excess power.

Maintaining a Small Solar System

Like any system, solar panels require periodic maintenance. Here are best practices for maintenance:

  • Inspect panels a few times per year and clean any accumulated dirt or debris.

  • Check electrical connections are tight. Loose connections can reduce productivity.

  • Prune any new growth that may be shading the solar panels.

  • Review monitoring data regularly for signs of underperformance or equipment faults.

  • Budget for panel cleaning, replacement inverters, etc. over the system lifetime.

  • Follow manufacturer maintenance guidelines for major components like inverters.

Conclusion

Implementing solar power on a small scale has challenges, especially the upfront costs, limited roof space, and learning process of going solar. However, with the right solar installer, system sizing, and maintenance plan, small-scale solar provides immense advantages. The energy cost savings and environmental benefits make solar power worth the investment for many homeowners and businesses. With the tips above, you can successfully navigate the challenges of small-scale solar.