An 8-Step Guide To Prepare Your Business For Commercial Solar Panel Installation 

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Are you thinking about powering your business with solar energy? It’s a smart move! Not only can it slash your electricity bills, but it’s also great for the environment. But where do you start? Don’t worry, as this guide will walk you through the process step by step, so read on. 

1. Energy Audit 

First, you must know how much energy your business uses. Think of it like checking your speedometer before deciding if you need a faster car. An energy audit is your business’s energy speedometer. 

So, what exactly is an energy audit? It’s a thorough look at how your business uses energy. This includes everything from lighting and heating to machinery and computers. You’ll want to gather your electricity bills from the past year or two. These bills will show you how much energy you’re using and how much it’s costing you. 

But don’t stop there. Take a walk around your business. Are there old, energy-hungry appliances that could be replaced? Are lights left on in empty rooms? Is your heating or cooling system working overtime? An energy audit will help you spot these energy wasters. 

Why is this step so important? Well, it sets the stage for everything else. Knowing your energy usage helps you figure out how big your solar system needs to be. It also shows you where you might be able to cut down on energy use, which could mean you need fewer solar panels. That’s a win-win: you save on both your current energy bills and your future solar installation.

2. Roof Inspection 

Now that you know how much energy you’re using, it’s time to look at where your business solar panels might go. For most businesses, that means the roof. However, not all roofs are created equal when it comes to solar panels. Just like you wouldn’t build a house on shaky ground, you don’t want to install solar panels on a weak roof.  

So, what should you look for? First, assess how old your roof is. If it’s nearing the end of its life, you might want to replace it before adding solar panels. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to do this now rather than having to remove and reinstall solar panels later. 

Next, what’s the condition of your roof? Are there any leaks or damage? These need to be fixed before installation. Also, consider the material of your roof. Some materials, like metal or asphalt shingles, are great for solar panels. Others might need special mounting systems. 

Don’t forget about the shape and orientation of your roof. A flat roof might need tilted mounts to get the best angle for the sun. A sloped roof facing south (in the Northern Hemisphere) is often ideal for solar panels. 

Lastly, can your roof handle the extra weight? Solar panels aren’t super heavy, but they do add some weight. An older or weaker roof might need reinforcing. 

If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Most solar installers will do a roof inspection as part of their service. But it’s good to have an idea of what they’ll be looking for. 

3. Solar Potential Assessment 

You’ve checked your energy use and your roof; now it’s time to look up. The amount of sunlight your property gets is crucial for solar power. This is what we call your solar potential. 

So, what affects your solar potential? First, there’s your location. Some parts of the world simply get more sun than others. But don’t worry if you’re not in the sunniest place – even cloudy areas can benefit from solar power. 

Next, look around your property. Are there tall buildings or trees that cast shadows? These could reduce your solar potential. The good news is that sometimes, a bit of strategic tree trimming can make a big difference. 

The orientation of your roof or the space where you plan to install solar panels matters, too. In the Northern Hemisphere, south-facing areas usually get the most sun throughout the day. 

Don’t forget about the seasons. The sun’s path changes throughout the year, so an area that’s sunny in summer might be shaded in winter. 

How do you figure all this out? There are some nifty online tools that can give you a rough idea of your solar potential. But for an accurate assessment, you’ll want a professional. They’ll use specialized tools to measure your exact solar potential. 

Remember, even if your solar potential isn’t perfect, that doesn’t mean solar isn’t for you. It just might affect the size or placement of your system.

4. System Design 

Now, you’re getting to the exciting part – designing your solar system! This is where all the information you’ve gathered so far comes together. 

Think of system design as putting together a puzzle. The pieces are your energy needs, your available space, your budget, and your solar potential. A good solar designer will help you fit these pieces together in the best way possible. 

First, they’ll look at your energy usage from the audit in step one. This helps determine how many kilowatt-hours your system needs to produce. Then, they’ll consider your solar potential from step three. This shows how much energy each panel can potentially generate in your location. 

Next, they’ll look at your available space, usually from the roof inspection in step two. This helps decide how many panels can fit and where they should go. 

But it’s not just about the panels. Your system design will also include other important components. There’s the inverter, which changes the DC power from the panels into AC power your business can use. There might be batteries if you want to store extra energy. And don’t forget about the mounting system that attaches everything securely to your roof. 

5. Financial Analysis 

Okay, you’ve got a system design. Now comes a crucial question: Does it make financial sense? This is where a good financial analysis comes in. 

First, look at the costs. There’s the upfront cost of the equipment and installation. But don’t let this number scare you – there’s more to the story. 

Next, consider the savings. How much will this system cut your electricity bills? A good analysis will project these savings over the life of the system, usually 25-30 years. 

But wait, there’s more! Many places offer incentives for going solar. These might include tax credits, rebates, or favorable loan terms. These can significantly reduce your upfront costs or boost your long-term savings. 

Now, let’s talk about return on investment (ROI). This tells you how long it will take for your energy savings to pay back the cost of the system. After that, it’s all profit! Many businesses find that solar energy will pay for itself in just a few years. 

Don’t forget to consider less tangible benefits. Going solar can boost your green credentials, which might attract environmentally conscious customers or employees. 

Lastly, think about the long term. Energy prices tend to rise over time, but once you have solar, a big chunk of your energy costs are locked in. It’s like a hedge against future price increases. 

A thorough financial analysis will put all these factors together, giving you a clear picture of the costs, savings, and benefits of your solar project. It’s your roadmap to making a smart, informed decision about going solar. 

6. Funding Options 

Now that you’ve crunched the numbers, you might be wondering, ‘How do I pay for all this?’ Don’t worry – there are several ways to fund your solar project. Let’s explore your options. 

The first one is a cash purchase. Buying your solar system outright can be a great option if you have the funds available. You’ll own the system from day one and reap all the financial benefits. Plus, you won’t have to worry about interest or ongoing payments. But not every business has a big chunk of cash lying around for solar panels. 

That’s where solar loans come in. Many banks and financial institutions offer special loans for solar projects. These often have favorable terms because solar is seen as a good investment. With a loan, you can spread the cost over several years while still owning the system and enjoying the benefits. 

Another popular option is a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA). In these arrangements, a third party owns the solar system, and you essentially rent it. You pay a monthly fee, which is usually less than your current electricity bill. The downside? You don’t own the system, so you miss out on some of the long-term financial benefits. But it can be a good way to go solar with little to no upfront cost. 

Some businesses also explore more creative funding options. For example, you might be able to use a property-assessed clean energy (PACE) program, which ties the solar investment to your property taxes. You could also look into crowdfunding or community solar projects. 

Remember, each funding option has its pros and cons. The best choice depends on your business’s financial situation, tax status, and long-term goals. It’s a good idea to consult with a financial advisor to figure out which option makes the most sense for you.  

7. Permits and Approvals 

Alright, you’ve designed your system and figured out how to pay for it. Now it’s time to make sure everything’s legal and above board. Yes, we’re talking about permits and approvals. Now, you might be thinking about paperwork and bureaucracy. While this step can seem daunting, it’s necessary and not as bad as you might think. 

First, you’ll need to check with your local government about building permits. Most areas require a permit to install solar panels. This usually involves submitting your system plans for review. The good news? Many solar installers will handle this process for you. 

Next, you’ll need to talk to your utility company. They need to know about your solar plans because you’ll be connecting to the grid. In many cases, you’ll need their approval before you can switch on your system. They might also need to install a new meter that can track the electricity you’re sending back to the grid. 

Don’t forget about your insurance company. Adding solar panels might affect your property insurance, so it’s best to give them a heads-up. 

If your business rents its space, you’ll need to get approval from your landlord. This might involve negotiating who pays for the installation and who benefits from the energy savings. 

Lastly, if your business is part of a homeowners’ association or business park, you might need their approval, too. Some have rules about what can be installed on building exteriors. 

Yes, it’s a lot of boxes to tick. But remember, these approvals are there to ensure your solar system is safe and effective and won’t cause problems for the grid or your neighbors. 

8. Contractor Selection 

You’ve got your plans, your funding, and your equipment picked out. Now it’s time to choose who’s going to put it all together. Selecting the right solar contractor is crucial – they’ll be responsible for turning your solar dreams into reality. 

So, how do you find a good solar contractor? Start by asking for recommendations. Check with other businesses in your area that have gone solar. You can also look for contractors through industry associations or certification bodies. 

Once you’ve got a list of potential contractors, it’s time to do some digging. Check their credentials – are they properly licensed and insured? How long have they been in business? Do they have experience with commercial installations like yours? 

Don’t be shy about asking for references. A good contractor should be happy to provide them. When you talk to these references, ask about the contractor’s professionalism, quality of work, and how well they stuck to the timeline and budget. 

Get multiple quotes. This not only helps you compare prices but also gives you a chance to see how different contractors approach your project. Be wary of any quote that seems too good to be true – it probably is. 

Pay attention to how the contractor communicates with you. Are they responsive to your questions? Do they explain things clearly? You want a contractor who will keep you informed throughout the process. 

Lastly, trust your gut. You’ll be working closely with this contractor, so it’s important that you feel comfortable with them. 

Remember, the lowest bid isn’t always the best choice. You’re making a long-term investment in your business, so it’s worth choosing a contractor who will do the job right, even if they’re not the cheapest option.  

Conclusion 

And there you have it – your roadmap to preparing your business for commercial solar panel installation. From assessing your energy needs to finding the right provider, each step brings you closer to a greener, more cost-effective future for your business. Remember, going solar is a journey, and while it might seem complex at first, the long-term benefits make it well worth the effort. With careful planning and the right team on your side, you’ll be harnessing the power of the sun in no time.  

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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