A Guide to Going Solar
Going Solar in Framingham
- 1) Get an Energy Audit
- 2) Learn About Solar
- 3) Evaluate Your Site
- 4) Obtain Bids and Find Installer
- 5) Complete Permitting, Installation, and Inspection
- 6) Connect to the Grid
Get an Energy Audit
The process of sizing a solar energy system for your home or business is largely guided by the electricity use that it will support. Learning about your current electricity use, including the rate you pay for your electricity and the amount of kilowatt-hours that you use will help determine the appropriate size of your solar energy system.
Understanding your electricity use is important for another reason; one of the most important steps in evaluating a potential solar energy project is considering whether there are energy efficiency improvements that could be made first. Energy efficiency is often the most cost-effective way to make economical and environmentally-friendly improvements to your home or business. Improving the energy efficiency of your home or business first will help ensure that any future solar energy system is sized correctly and may help save on up-front equipment and installation costs.
Getting a free energy audit from Mass Save will not only help you to evaluate the energy efficiency of your building, it helps you learn if you are qualified for rebates and incentives to do energy efficiency projects.
Learn about Solar
If you are comfortable that your home or business is energy efficient, achieving a better understanding the technological and economic aspects of solar energy systems is vital to successful project implementation.
For more information on solar energy systems and financing models, please visit the Additional Resources section below.
You can learn about the various incentives, rebates, and other financial opportunities to go solar by visiting the MassCEC’s webpage on incentives and programs as well as on the Department of Energy Resources’ incentives webpage, energy CENTS. Outside of the federal tax incentive, the MassCEC currently offers various funding opportunities that you may be able to utilize, listed separately for Residential and Business applicants.
Evaluate Your Site
There are various tools available online that allow you to evaluate your site for solar energy installations and determine what the economics might be for a prospective solar energy system installation. For example, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has developed the PVWatts Calculator to explore possible solar energy system configurations given your rooftop location and size. The Mass CEC’s Solar Costs Comparison Tool will help you to find historical cost data on solar equipment and installers active throughout the state.
Private, third-party organizations have also made solar calculators available online that can similarly help you to determine the economic feasibility of a solar energy system on your rooftop and get quotes from local installers.
You will want to check the City’s MapGEO to determine what the zoning requirements of your district and understand what type of impact they might have on a prospective solar energy system. For example, if you are located within a historical district, your project may require approval from the Historic District Commission (HDC). Depending on the location and zoning district of your site, there may be other factors that will require you to get approval from municipal boards or commissions.
Obtain Bids and Find an Installer
While your evaluation will give you a better idea of what you can expect, any estimates received from an online tool should be verified with an in-person site inspection. When getting quotes, installers should visit the site to assess its potential in detail and incorporate into their analysis of all other site features that would be missed from a preliminary overview. As with any home improvement project, you should be getting multiple bids with written descriptions of all costs and work that needs to be done to completely install the solar energy system.
This step is important. Your installer will should be coordinating the majority of the work on your installation – from designing your solar energy system to getting it inspected after it has been installed. You’ll want to get a firm understanding of project aspects such as the total cost of the system and whether it will be an easy process to interconnect your system to the electric grid.
The MassCEC has provided a guide for finding solar installers. At the bottom of the linked webpage, you can find links for directories and contact information for installers that have a presence in Massachusetts. When searching for a solar installer, you should do some research on your options and ask for references before deciding to do business with them. Friends, family and neighbors may also be able to give you feedback on installers.
The SEIA has produced a series of Solar Transaction Disclosures that will help you make sure you are getting the most from a prospective solar energy system project, whether you are purchasing it outright, leasing it, or financing it with a power purchase agreement (PPA). These standardized forms can be filled out by the installer to increase transparency regarding their bids as well as help make bids between installers more comparable.
Once you have done your due diligence, your next step will be negotiating and signing a contract for your solar energy system. Do not sign any contracts or agreements that you do not fully understand or are not completely comfortable with. The remaining steps in this guide are likely to be completed or managed by your selected installer.
Complete Permitting, Installation, and Inspection
Prior to the start of construction, your installer must first apply for building and electrical permits for the project. During project work and after completion of the project, the system must be inspected by building and electrical inspection staff.
The Division of Inspectional Services’ Solar Permitting Checklist covers the components of the permitting and inspection process for both residential and commercial solar energy systems. Upon submitting the permit application, the Division of Inspectional Services will work with the installer to ensure that the project meets requirements of the state building code and municipal zoning bylaws.
Connect to the Grid
If your system is being connected to the grid to take advantage of net metering, your installer will need to cooperate with Eversource on the interconnection process. While your installer should already be familiar with this process, Eversource has made the Application to Connect available on its website.
SOLAR PERMITTING CHECKLIST
A Solar Permitting Checklist has been prepared to take you through the process of getting your prospective solar energy system permitted, inspected, and interconnected.
Please contact the Sustainability Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions regarding this checklist.
The following links provide an abundance of further information about solar energy systems to help you navigate the process:
Mass CEC: the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center provides an interactive guide on solar energy systems as well as a residential guide on solar energy systems. If you want to learn more about financing options for solar energy systems, the Mass CEC has also provided a Homeowner's Guide to Solar Leases, Loans, and PPAs.
Department of Energy Resources (DOER): The DOER has released guidance regarding the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program that provides incentives for net-metered solar energy systems. Installers commonly work with residents and businesses understand the eligibility of their solar energy systems for this program.
If you determine during this process that your home or business is incompatible for solar, there are other important ways to support renewable energy. For example, to learn more about how you can support solar with your electricity supply, read the section below.
Greening Your Electricity Supply
Did you know that you can also take control of your electricity supply and choose your own competitive electricity supplier? In addition to the possibility of securing greater cost certainty, choosing your own electricity supplier can allow you to provide additional support for renewable energy over the minimum mandated state requirements.