You’ve done your homework about the value of solar power and determined that it might benefit your business. The return on upfront investment doesn’t take too long, the reduction in operating costs is significant, the equipment is reliable, and if solar will not remove your business completely from the local utility’s power grid there is at least a benefit in being largely divorced from the grid’s dirty power sources. Moreover, your customers and employees appreciate your switch to renewable energy and dedication to a lower carbon future; they’re even more loyal as a result.
Now the big question is: is it viable?
Solar energy requires solar panels, which require space on a surface. And they require a connection to the power grid, so that you can offset the grid’s electricity you use when the sun isn’t shining with electricity you produce when the sun shines.
That is where a site inspection comes in.
When you contact a solar supplier, such as Alder Energy Systems, they’ll ask for some specifications about your property. They will consult online maps and sophisticated aerial imaging software to make some preliminary determinations about your property.
Typically, they will follow that up with a visit from a sales consultant, whose visual inspection, measurements and photographs supplement that information. If all systems are go, an electrician and solar technician will arrive to hone the picture and determine exactly how to prepare for engineering and permitting.
What are they looking for? It comes down to three things: roof, land and connection.
The type of roof and its condition make the biggest difference in the character of your solar installation. Solar panels last 25-30 years. A roof with just a few years of shingle life left may have to be replaced first, whereas a new roof has a similar life span, especially with solar panels cooling and protecting the shingles from the elements.
The structural integrity of the roof is critical too. The solar array will be engineered to withstand wind and snow loads specific to your location. Flat roofs present a different challenge: the panels may be tilted to catch sunlight efficiently. That requires more space, so they aren’t casting shadows on each other. The racking system and method of attachment are all dependent on your building’s specific roof conditions.
In those cases where the solar array will be positioned on the ground, rather than on a roof, other determinations must be made. On one hand, there are fewer engineering challenges connected to bracing the panels. But there are issues with zoning and the contours of the property. Are there wetland considerations or uneven surfaces to contend with? The site evaluation will identify these issues and help the solar installer determine if the project is viable and cost-effective.
Finally, where does the system tie into the grid? Will you have a transformer or meter connection outside the building or use an electrical panel inside? Do the installers need to run a conduit through the walls or under a parking lot? Can equipment be installed in a closet or on the outside walls? All these items will be examined during a site evaluation.
Besides the phone- and in-person inspections, solar companies now employ drones to fly over properties and provide aerial imagery of the property. The cameras they use are accurate to within an inch.
A lot goes into a site evaluation, but here’s the good news: most sites are compatible with a solar installation, even when there are some momentary challenges. Once the installation is done, the sun can go to work for your business – everyday.