Myth #5: Solar Energy Saves Money

Installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is an excellent way to be sustainable, environmentally friendly, and, possibly, reduce your grid electric bills. However, these savings are not as simple as just installing solar panels and walking away. There are many things to take into consideration pre- and post-solar installation. Below we have created your “go-to guide” for a financially successful solar PV system.

Pre-Installation Considerations

When installing solar, one size does not fit all. It is important to properly size a system. We recommend that solar should cover no more than 70% of the total building’s consumption. Additionally, think ahead and avoid installing solar on a building/meter that will undergo future energy efficiency projects or substantial retrofits. Solar production remains fairly constant year to year, and sizing an installation prior to future, large-scale projects could result in excess generation/wasted production.

It is also important to think of exactly which building/meter the solar installation will be connected to. There is a large difference between “my school/location” has solar versus “this building/meter” has solar. A solar installation tied to a specific building/meter can only offset grid consumption associated to that specific building/meter. For example, the solar installation on the cafeteria will not offset grid consumption at the gym if the gym is not connected to the same meter as the cafeteria. Also note that the rate plan that meter is on needs to be evaluated to determine if it the best plan to support grid savings with solar.

Solar contracts are extremely detailed and complicated. Many times, an organization’s lawyer is not familiar with the verbiage specific to a solar contract. When reviewing a possible contract, be sure to explicitly check for a solar escalator clause. Avoid solar lease contracts with annual escalators. It's like swimming against the (electric) current! The price of solar will increase exponentially every year, which will make it much more difficult, sometimes impossible, to actually benefit financially from solar. Fusebox has in-house specialists ready to help you understand and iron-out your contract.

As with all sustainability projects, it is important to engage and communicate with all stakeholders. In cases of both new solar installations and changes to existing contracts, there are many stakeholders involved, (e.g., organization with solar, utility company, solar company, contractors, PR personnel, Fusebox, etc.) and this can create communication challenges. Everyone must work together and be on the same page to avoid project delays, breach of contracts, and/or inadequate connection of solar to the building/meter.

Post-Installation Considerations

Not only does Fusebox manage and monitor electric meters, but solar meters, both utility- and client-owned, as well. Unfortunately, there are many instances when solar meter data shows that the solar panels are not properly producing electricity. This can be caused by a number of issues, including dirty panels, panels placed in the shade, inverters not properly working, panels getting damaged, meters malfunctioning, etc. It is important to ensure that equipment is working as efficiently as possible, and Fusebox is here to help be the second set of eyes.

Sometimes the issue is not with the panels but with the meter. This past May, we noticed that one of our client’s solar meters was showing zero solar production, along with unvarying demand. Unvarying demand is not normal since solar production changes as the sun moves. Fusebox reached out to the utility who ran another comparison report, and, just like we thought, there was a communication issue with the meter. The utility agreed to replace the meter.

A solar PV installation can be a wonderful asset to an organization. As long as, of course, it is done properly. There are many things to take into consideration, and Fusebox is here to help you navigate the murky solar waters.