What Up, Sun?

The urge to go green is enticing because it not only saves money, but also helps our struggling climate by reducing dependence on oil-produced energy. Greg Sachs’ advice for homeowners looking into solar power: do your homework. He’s the COO for Island Park’s EmPower, a leading solar power system designer and installer. Many options—from the efficiency of the solar modules to financing choices—exist for residential solar systems. Sachs discussed some factors to look into.

Pulse: How is the layout for a solar power unit determined?

Greg Sachs: Let’s say a customer has a high-energy bill. They say, “Hey, I’d like to squeeze a little extra power out of my roof, but I have shading over here and I don’t have enough roof surface, I have too many dormers.” They may be a better candidate for a higher efficiency module, so they’ll buy something like a SunPower module because the power density [the amount of energy extracted] is so much greater given their space constraints. [Sachs pointed out these modules are generally more expensive.] Someone who has a low electric bill and doesn’t need a high efficiency module, and has a lot of space—he can afford to use a little extra real estate on the roof for the sake of getting a cheaper module. The power density of a module will determine the price based on a certain cost per watt.

What are the finance options for solar?
In order of ease it goes: lease, purchase and loan. Lease is the easiest because
 you don’t have to deal with tax credits
 or financing or banks. There’s a bit of an application process, but after you get it done, you get those savings on day one. It’s like you’re locking in the rate of electricity over the life of the system. More complicated, but with greater savings, is a loan product. There are banks these days that understand solar energy. Banks like Admirals Bank and EnerBank now have specific solar loan products. The best bet for overall savings is to buy the system outright. Of course that does mean that you pay the upfront cost, but when you file your taxes you can claim federal and state tax credits.

What qualifications should consumers look for when comparing suppliers?

NABCEP is a certification. It stands for North American Board of Certified Energy Practi- tioners. A key question consumers should ask when considering solar providers is: “How many NABCEP personnel are on staff?” That’s a good indicator of the level of professionalism and understanding that the company has.

Get three quotes. There‘s a lot of competition out there, so it’s easy for consumers to get good feedback. By that third quote, you’ll better understand the solar options, paybacks and will be able to choose the right system. It can take about three to four months—between salespeople, site audits, design proposals, visits by master electricians, engineers submitting final designs, building permits and rebate applications—for what takes about two to three days to install. Be sure.