There are multiple factors and choices to weigh when selecting photovoltaic panels for your roof or property.
To help answer that question, we’ll first need to look at how to answer two others. The first is how to estimate the cost of a solar install for your home. Typically, here in Texas as elsewhere, people starting on their solar journey think of cost in terms of how many panels they’ll need. But solar panels vary not only in size but in how many cells there are per panel and how efficient they are in converting sunlight into electricity. And those numbers are changing all the time as solar cells get more efficient and as new technologies enter the market.
The main factors affecting the price of solar cells and panels are efficiency, durability/reliability, and brand reputation, represented by the Bloomberg rating tier the company is on. The last one is important because as a home solar system owner, you want to be confident that the company will be around through the life of the panels (typically, twenty-five years) to honor the warranty in case of component failure. So how many panels—or how large they are—is not a reliable way to estimate.
Instead, what matters most is system size—how much electricity the panels on your roof will generate. Installers charge primarily by the kilowatts your system will put out. A good home solar company will work with you to give you the best price per watt for your system consistent with quality.
This brings us to the second question: how large of a power offset do you want? That is, what percentage of your current electricity bill do you want to replace with energy you generate yourself from your home solar system? Twenty percent? Half? Or the whole thing, maybe with wattage left over to feed back into the grid? That question raises a bunch of others. To begin with, how big a system can your rooftop handle in terms of square footage? Is it fully exposed or partially shaded, and if so, by how much? Those factors may limit the capacity of the system you want to install. (For more on this, and to get a preliminary rough idea of your potential savings, see our Solar Calculator, here.)
The other major factor is your provider. As you know, Texas has a two-tier power distribution system. The top tier is the patchwork of Transmission and Distribution Utilities or TDUs, which are regulated regional monopolies. So, the TDU that serves you depends entirely on where you live. Below the TDUs are the electric power suppliers that use the transmission and metering services the TDUs provide. There are three types of supplier: Retail Electric Providers (REPs), which are private corporations; publicly owned municipal utilities; and electricity co-ops, which are customer-owned. As their names suggest, municipal utilities and co-ops are local, but some REPs operate throughout the state of Texas.
Both TDUs and retailers vary widely in the support they offer for home solar. Some provide a wealth of helpful information and applications like solar panel calculators. The ones that do this often allow net metering, whereby, if and when your home generates more power than it consumes, you’re paid for it. Others discourage home solar systems and often want to sell you their own “green energy” product. Some offer various rebates for going solar, while others do not. (For more on this, and how to research retailers, see our blog entry How North Texas Power Companies Support Solar.) You’ll want to know all about the plans offered by your TDU and the available retailers so you can pick the one that best suits your home solar goals. And remember—once you have your own home solar system, it’s yours. Whether available retail electricity plans change or retailers merge or go under, that system is going to go right on generating power for you, free once you have paid for the hardware.
If you’re thinking seriously about getting a home solar installation, then, and want to figure out how much you can save (or even earn) with your system, you literally have some homework to do. But luckily, you are not on your own. Here at Universal Solar System, we can provide you with a wealth of expertise on all these issues. Get in touch, and let’s talk.