Solar Panel Installation and Solar Installer Terms
Bankability – The measurement of how likely a solar company will be in business in the future. A solar manufacturer’s bankability is dependent on a number of factors, including market share, the number of years in business, financial strength, etc. A homeowner wants to be sure the equipment used on their install is manufactured by a bankable company with a high degree of likelihood that they will be in business and able to honor their warranty in the event of defective equipment.
Building Inspection – After a solar PV system is installed, the installation company must schedule a building inspection with the city or AHJ (authority having jurisdiction). On the day of the inspection, a rep from the city meets at the homeowner’s residence with a rep from the solar installation company to ensure that the project was installed with a level of quality and that the system is safe and in compliance with all relevant city codes. After passing inspection, the solar installation company applies for permission to operate with the local utility.
Certified Dealer – A solar installation company who is obligated by the parent company to sell one particular brand of solar panel.
Change Order – A change order is a document that details changes to a solar system design or scope. This is required when the engineering plans must be changed after they have already been signed.
Design Engineer – The individual who creates a customized solar system design for a homeowner. They use irradiance data to determine where to put the panels and electrical engineering principles to design the wiring and inverter.
Homeowner Association (HOA) – This is an organization that sets rules for a residential community. Rules are typically set to preserve a certain aesthetic appeal and prevent a neighbor from infringing on another neighbor’s experience. Homeowners who want to go solar will need to get approval from their HOA. However, the California Solar Rights Act has streamlined this process and the HOA may not request changes that significantly reduce the system performance or increase the system cost.
Interconnection Paperwork – Standard utility paperwork that a solar installation company will have the homeowner sign. The solar installation company is then required to submit this paperwork, as well as other required documents, to the utility to apply for permission to operate (PTO).
Irradiance Map – A map which takes into account local obstructions and shows the average amount of sunlight a rooftop area receives. These maps are used to determine which locations are ideal for solar panels.
LIDAR – Light Detection and Ranging, LIDAR, is a technique used to measure distances. It works in the same way as RADAR, but uses light waves instead of sound waves.
Local Solar Installer – A local installation company who conducts business in a local geographic region.
Maintenance – Solar panels have no moving parts. The two primary components of a solar PV system are panels and inverters. Due to the fact that these are very simple systems, the maintenance requirements are equally simple. Cleaning off panels with a hose is the only regular maintenance requirement and inverters may need to be replaced once every 15 years.
National Solar Installer – This is a solar installation company that does business all across the United States.
Online Monitoring – Most solar PV systems will come with a monitoring system. A monitoring system tracks the energy production of the solar panel over time and displays that data in an online portal. This enables the homeowner to easily see how well their panels are performing.
Operations and Maintenance (O&M) – Typically, costs for construction projects are broken down into capital costs and operations and maintenance costs. These are recurring costs that the customer must pay to keep the system performing at an optimal level. In the solar industry, the capital costs are relatively high, but the O&M costs are very low due to the low incidence of equipment failure.
Permission to Operate (PTO) – Once a solar PV installation is complete and has passed city inspection, the final step is for the installation company to apply for permission to operate. Once the utility grants PTO (waiting times can range from 2 days to 30 days), a homeowner is able to switch on the power of their system.
Permit – A written authorization given by a city, county, or another AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) giving the solar installation company permission to install a solar PV system on a customer’s property.
Price Projections – The average turn-key installed price of a solar PV system in a particular geographic region.
Remote Design – This is a method of designing a solar PV system which does not require the installation company to come out to the homeowner’s residence. A potential PV system can be analyzed using satellite imagery and irradiance data to determine the optimal location for solar panels. These tools can take nearly every facet of a project into account, including trees!
Required License – Most states require solar companies be licensed by the state’s licensing board to ensure that when a homeowner hires a solar company, the company has the proper training and is ethical.
Sales Commission – The money sales reps earn by selling solar PV systems. Typically, this amount could be anywhere between 3% – 8% of gross system price.
Shade Analysis – To accurately calculate and analyze how much energy a solar system will produce over the course of a year given a certain amount of shade from trees and other obstructions. Shade analyses can be performed with data obtained from software such as Aurora or from rooftop-derived data obtained from handheld devices, like the Suneye by Solemetric.
Site Assessment (or Site Evaluation) – A site assessment is when a technician representing an installation company comes to the homeowner’s residence to analyze their house for solar capability. This can take an hour or two. With the advanced software tools available to the solar industry, some site assessments can be conducted remotely.
Solar Consultant – A solar consultant is an expert in the solar industry and can guide a homeowner through the solar process. They collect information about the homeowner, obtain bids from several installers, assist during installation, and maintain contact with the homeowner continuously after the project is completed to ensure a quality experience is provided.
Solar Consultation – A solar consultation is the first step in the solar process. A solar consultant will talk with the homeowner about their energy usage, solar preferences, and financing options to begin putting together a proposal.
Solar Dealer – A solar company whose primary focus is the distribution of solar PV equipment. These type of companies typically focus in one or two brands of panels, as opposed to Solar.com who deals in a wide variety of brands.
Solar Panel Cleaning – Solar panels typically do not require cleaning as rain does a good job in washing away debris that may otherwise negatively affect your system’s production. However, in areas that receive little rain, there is no harm in cleaning the modules every 3 to 6 months to maintain the maximum power production. Over time, dirt and dust build up on the panels reducing the panel efficiency. If you decide to hose off the panels, we would recommend doing so in early in the morning (before the sun is hitting them) or late at night (after the modules have cooled down from the direct sunlight exposure during the day).
Solar Pathfinder – A solar pathfinder is a device that tracks the sun across the sky and captures the shading information for a specific location. This information, combined with global solar data, estimates a proposed system’s annual solar irradiance for that location and is used for computing system production.
Solar Provider or Solar Installer – The company (licensed contractor) who installs the solar PV system (panels, inverter, balance of system) on a homeowner’s property.
Solar Quote, Proposal, or Bids – A solar quote is an estimated cost for the system, usually expressed verbally. A proposal is more formal than a quote and usually presented in written form. A solar bid on the Solar.com platform is an offer to install a particular system for a particular price. Customers typically pay 20% less than expected market price.
Trenching – Process of digging a new trench for the electrical cables serving a household. This process is occasionally required for a rooftop solar PV installation and always required for a ground mounted system.
Solar Roof, Racking, and Mounting Terms:
Air Gap – The area between the panel and the rooftop, between 6-12 inches, that allows for air to flow over the back side of the panel to prevent overheating and malfunction.
Ballasted Racking – A PV racking design for a tilted array on a flat roof that is not directly mounted into to the rooftop, but rather utilizes weights, cinder block, or sandbags, to hold the framing/racking down to the roof.
Comp-out/Strip and Go – Installation method for clay tile or concrete tile roofs in which the area where the panels will be installed is removed and a layer of composite shingle is laid. The solar system is then installed over the composite shingle and the exposed areas are then relaid with clay or concrete tile.
Composite – A type of roofing shingle that is made of tar paper and covered with asphalt; standard roofing shingle.
Concrete Tile – A roofing material that is made from concrete or cement to form individual tile units.
Flashing – Material that is used on roofing that is waterproof and installed around joints and crevices to prevent water leaks.
Flush Mount – Style of mounting a PV system to a rooftop wherein the system is as close to the roof as possible and nearly eliminates the air gap; usually done for aesthetic purposes.
Footing – The physical part of the racking system that attaches to the roof; a solar array will have multiple footings.
Non-Penetrating Racking – An installation method wherein the racking system does not bore down to the roof beams. Tile hooks or footings that attach to the plywood underboard are used but do not penetrate the larger roof beams.
Re-Roof – The process of installing a new roofing material, which can occur sometimes before a solar installation is performed.
Re-Deck – The process of removing the plywood portions underneath the roofing material; performed if any wood portions are rotted and need to be replaced to support the weight of the solar system.
Ridge – The horizontal area where two roof slopes meet.
Roof Obstructions – Any object on the roof that may not be covered by solar panels, such as a chimney, kitchen vents, and AC units.
Roof Types – The most common roofing materials are concrete tiles, clay tiles, composite shingles, metal tiles, standing metal seam, and a flat roof.
Sealants – A substance used to block any open holes on the roof; to waterproof any open areas.
Set Backs – The distance a solar system must be away from either the roof edge, or certain roof obstructions, such as skylights, chimneys, AC units, and vents.
Stand Offs – An installation method where the solar modules are installed a few inches above the roof plane, but then tilted towards the optimal angle for solar production; used on rooftops that have a shallow incline.
Valley – The point on a roof where two different roof slopes meet, often referred to as “hips and valleys.”
Breaker Box Terms
Amperage or Amps – The measurement of the strength of an electric current flowing through a system. Amps are the measured magnitude of the electrical current in the circuit. Voltage x Amperage = Watts.
Breaker Box – Another term for Electric Service Panel.
Electric Service Panel – Also called a breaker box, panel box, or main panel, this is the electrical fuse box in or on your home. It is the hub for your electrical flow into your home. It is divided up into electrical loads for various parts of your home. The loads are dependent upon the amount of energy each portion of the home uses.
Electrical Loads – This is the division of your electrical usage into groupings. These groupings each have a fuse connected to them in your electrical service panel. They typically look like a switch inside your service panel box. These are called circuit breakers. They are assigned a numerical value based on the amperage able to flow through them safely.
Circuit Breaker – Each electrical load is connected to a circuit breaker in your electrical service panel. They look like a switch inside of your breaker box. The circuit breaker is designed to trip or turn off when it exceeds the limit of its capacity.
Main Panel – Another term for Electric Service Panel.
Main Panel Upgrade (MPU) – This is when an upgrade is needed to your breaker box to accommodate the additional solar system needs. The total amperage your Breaker Box can withstand may need to be larger to manage the amount of electricity coming through it from your new solar system.
Panel Box – Another term for Electric Service Panel.
Subpanel – A smaller breaker box typically for special use in an area such as a garage or separate structure on your property. They are connected to your main breaker and subject to its main breaker.
4 Solar Contract Terms You Need to Know
Estimated Production – Your solar system is going to produce an estimated kWh for the year based on a number of factors, including the size of the system (kW), orientation, shading conditions, etc. The actual production may be slightly higher or lower than the estimated production.
Guaranteed Production – This is the amount of energy that your system is guaranteed to produce. If your system produces any less than this you will likely be eligible for compensation. This compensation is often at an agreed upon rate per kWh.
Performance Guarantee – This is a guarantee of the production of the panels from the panel manufacturer. Panels have a natural degradation over time due to light, age, etc. In perfect conditions, this is based on a percentage of the nameplate wattage rating, usually 95-97%. In real conditions, this will be based on the first year production. Starting at the second year, the warranty will decline annually by the degradation factor, usually 0.7%. If the panel does not meet this requirement, you will be eligible for either a repair/replacement of the panel or a refund of the difference between expected production and actual output.
Workmanship Warranty – This warranty is from the installer of your solar system. It can vary from installer to installer. Solar.com has standardized the workmanship warranty. Your workmanship warranty will cover roofing penetration, water damage, electrical work, and anything related to the installation. Warranty periods range from 10 to 25 years.
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