It’s 2020, and solar panel installations are springing up all over our neighborhoods. This wave of solar adoption started around 2010, and so today we see some of those homes with legacy solar systems going on the market and getting purchased by new owners. When you come upon a home or commercial property with a pre-existing solar system, here’s what to do!
However you came by it, you deserve a solar panel system that works
Maybe you’re lucky enough that your long-lost Aunt Susan left you her townhouse covered in rooftop solar panels installed 10 years ago. Or maybe you were searching for the perfect home to buy and happened to find one where the previous owners got solar recently. Either way, without a copy of the original solar installation contract, design plans, and detailed proposal estimating annual and lifetime production, it can be hard to calibrate your expectations for how the solar panels will benefit you over time.
Will solar energy from the existing system save you much on your utility bills? Does the system need service or replacement of any components in order to perform well? Has it been kept up to ensure it is safe and will operate reliably? Asking these questions shows you’re a responsible owner of this solar installation and a smart energy customer, and you deserve the attention of competent, skilled solar professionals who can offer real answers and options for system maintenance and optimization.
The basics of solar operations, maintenance, service and support
Unlike drawing up and installing a solar electric system “from scratch”, working with a pre-existing solar pv system means getting the most out of an asset you already have, while finding liabilities and planning fixes. You need a team that’s got the expertise to help you judge what upgrades or adjustments could be worthwhile within your budget.
Broadly, a contractor providing solar energy service will propose two kinds of changes – if they see a system that has apparent issues like dirt and bird waste interfering with solar energy collection, disconnected or damaged wiring, cracked panels, or a problem with the inverter used, they’ll propose replacing components to make the entire system produce more energy for more years to come. If the system appears to be in good working order, but the user wants better visibility on how much electricity is coming from the system instantly, daily, weekly, and monthly, they might consider more of an “elective” upgrade, like changing out the inverter for a new one that comes with data reporting, which captures and sends out complete information on energy generated and allows access to this monitoring data on desktop and smartphone app.
This helps the owner to trust their solar investment is paying for itself and delivers marketable information about the environmental impact of the system in terms of avoiding air pollution and reducing reliance on dirty energy sources of the past like natural gas and coal. In this way, all stakeholders in the project, from family members to boards and co-owners of a business, have peace of mind that it’s prudent to keep that solar system online and functioning at the highest possible level.
Here are some clues to bring to your solar O&M team when you talk to a representative:
- Is there a warning or alert notification on your solar inverter display? What does it say?
- Has the wireless network connection information at your location changed recently?
- Is anything visibly broken or out of place?
- Does the system appear to only occupy a small portion of the roof space available?
- Is the electric bill for the home over $200 in any month of the year, even with solar? Is this month’s bill considerably higher than last month, controlling for the weather?
- Is a remodel or addition planned? Does the property need a new roof?
- Is the permit/utility approval status of the installation in doubt? Does it appear to be a DIY solar project?
- Is there ongoing damage to the house that appears to be associated with the solar panels, like improper sealing of roof penetrations or leaks from inexpert flashing?
What happens if someone else still owns the panels?
While you won’t encounter this in Virginia, where residential solar third-party power purchase agreements, or PPAs, haven’t yet been made explicitly legal, in Maryland it’s super common for a home to feature rooftop solar panels owned by someone other than the homeowner. The equipment may be leased to whoever resides in the home, with bills for lease payments transferring to the new owner. In that case, the company that owns the system, often the installer, is responsible for all maintenance, and the homeowner should potentially look into buying out the system if they want that status to change. Upside to keep the lease is that the resident isn’t having to pay for repairs, downside may be any service will on the company’s own timeline, and the homeowner will still have to pay the utility for as much electricity as they need that their solar system doesn’t provide.
Solar panel systems need love too
Maybe we got a little too into re-watching Toy Story on the Disney+ app recently, but we sincerely believe that even inanimate clean energy systems have feelings.
Like the rest of your house, office, or other built structure, from time to time you might need to fasten something back into place over here or slap on a fresh coat of paint there. Solar energy systems are made to require minimal maintenance – at least, at Ipsun Solar we strive to always set a system up carefully the first time, and make sure every part, from roof attachments to brackets holding electrical conduit, will stand up to weather, nature, and the passage of time.
But for every one of our installations, there could be a solar panel system that develops a flaw, minor or major. You prepare, do your best, and then life happens. We’ve seen manufacturer-defective panels that were never detected, cables unprotected from the onslaught of vicious squirrels, and panels loosened or knocked into by derecho winds or fallen trees. If the original installer is unknown, unreachable, or permanently closed, Ipsun is proud to provide you with a quote to visit and look at the system, and from there we’re going to offer proposals and work with you on what repairs make sense.
So when you’ve got a mysterious solar panel system on your hands, reach out to an installer that offers an operation, maintenance, and service division and we look forward to supporting you in getting your solar installation back up to the performance level you’re after.