So You Decided To Go Solar, How Long Until You Produce Electricity?

Going solar is a lot like purchasing an automobile. You investigate, you compare, you discuss, you negotiate, and then you cut the check and have a party. OK. So you’ve decided to go solar. You’re going to take money off your electricity bill for the next 25 years (maybe 40+), you’re adding equity to your house (a tremendous amount), and you’re doing something positive for the environment. You've also joined more than a million others in the US. You've selected the best solar panels, the most efficient solar panels, and know that solar panels in Ohio are a great idea. So now the question: when are you going to actually start generating power from your system?

What are the frustrating periods of going solar and what do people not truly understand until they go through the process? How long does it all take? Like most things in life, you hurry up and wait. 

Interest

First you shop for your solar company. Who’s out there? How do I find them? How do I know they're trustworthy? A lot of times you do research on the Internet. Then maybe you call around. Or maybe you go to Energysage.com or Cleanenergyauthority.com, or any number of different solar quote aggregators. Eventually you talk to your solar company. They tell you all the benefits, they give you a quote, and you still have questions. That’s when you get a…

Site Assessment

A solar professional will come to your house for a visit and site assessment. She’s already done her homework, looking on Google maps, checking the azimuth, direction of your roof, and the shading on your property in order to better coordinate where your residential solar panels are to be placed. But now, she needs to confirm your system design, verify measurements, inspect your roof or property, and adjust for a more precise measurement of shade and whatever obstructions are blocking your roof. How long does phone call to site visit last? Approximately 1-2 weeks

Hopefully at this time the customer and company agree on a price, the financing is in order and we can start the work. But things are not instantaneous. You need to get...

Design Approval

The solar professional isn’t finished at this point. After the site evaluation, the solar design expert will make any number of adjustments to your home solar power system plan, your quote, and the best way to build the conduit to make everything look perfect. Finally, she will email you for final approval. How long does this take? Approximately 1-3 weeks

Permitting

The next step is getting permission from the city to start construction. This starts the tricky phase because you're dependent upon bureaucracy. In some jurisdictions it goes quick. In some, the wait can be agonizing. Your solar professional usually is accompanied by a determined permitting expert who gets to know her government officials by name and develop a rapport with them.

A good solar company will consider permitting from the start of the project and orient the timeline expectations to the customers around how long the final documentation will take. This is the longest part of the wait. It could be anywhere from 2-8 weeks.

Installation

So now your permits have come through and you’re ready to go. The solar company is usually chomping at the bit to get the home solar system installed. The parts are ordered, everyone shows up on time early in the morning all ready to go. Now let’s install the most beautiful panels in the world onto your roof or on a ground mount. How long does this phase take? You’re in luck. It’s generally 2-5 days!

City/County Inspections

When your construction is finished, the city or county is required to do a final inspection before your system can be connected to the grid. Depending upon the time of year, the backlog of solar inspections, and the sheer competence of your local government, the estimated time to complete this step is generally 1-4 weeks

Utility Interconnection

You’ve got your permits, you’ve installed your solar panels, you’re connected to the grid, now it’s just a matter of time. Unfortunately, this is the time when customers get anxious.  They've gone through the waiting and the installation is complete, so why isn't the system producing electricity?

There are two things that need to happen first. The solar company submits the documents to the utility company to connect to the grid. This usually takes 1-2 weeks.

Then the utility has to install the bi directional meter and have it come on line to track how much energy you’re producing. But for all the efficiency in the world, this is the spot where our customers get the most antsy. The waiting can sometimes be excruciating and we have little control over how long this step is going to take. Literally. How long does it take? In our experience 2-4 weeks.

So overall dealing with the utility takes between 3-6 weeks. There’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to tell you to be patient. From initial site assessment with your solar salesperson to when the system finally goes online can take between 2-3 months on average. It's not like buying a car and driving right off the lot. Things are a little more complicated.

Conclusion

The major dissatisfaction in the customer process are the delays in the permitting process and with utility interconnection. These are issues that solar companies are desperate to fix and smooth out. The thing is, often times, the permitting departments in the more rural counties might only have one staff member dealing with everything. Solar being the growing industry that it is, a lot of these government departments are simply understaffed to handle the solar permitting requests. This creates a bottleneck in each project that cannot be worked around. Unfortunately the permitting process is all too often the number one cause of delay and origin of customer annoyance.