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Four Factors to Maximizing A Commercial Solar Investment

Sabrina Lopez
July 10, 2017
3 min read

It’s the most common question: “I’ve got a 10,000 sq. foot facility, and my bill is about $3000 monthly. Can you tell me how much installing solar on my business would cost?” In truth, we need a lot more data than that to develop an accurate solar quote. Most business owners are surprised to learn how many factors are crunched to produce an accurate and honest purchase price.

To maximize your system’s performance and return, a good solar design and installation professional will look at much more than just square footage and average monthly bill. The best systems must address your business’ unique energy consumption patterns throughout all four seasons of the year and at various times of the day. In other words, how much electricity you use every month, day, and hour can have an even greater impact on system design and price than simple square footage or roof orientation.

Like any big purchase, the best results happen when you fully explore all the contributing factors and then align your design, goals, and financing options accordingly. To help get you started, here are the four factors that dictate the size, price, and ROI of almost every commercial solar investment.

Your energy consumption patterns

This is probably the most important consideration because it’s unique to your business. It is critical to how much electricity and when you use it because utility costs fluctuate throughout the day. It matters when turning the AC up or ramping up a production line. These patterns are unique to your operation and why any other business operating in your same 10,000 square foot facility is likely to have a totally different electric bill. For these reasons, it’s important for your solar consultant to fully review your previous 12 months of billing and usage history to design a system that fits your specific energy consumption patterns. This will impact the number of panels you need to purchase, the price, and ultimately, your ROI.

Your local utility provider 

Solar panels stop generating electricity when the sun goes down. Battery systems can be used to store solar energy for use at night, but even today’s best batteries are limited and capacity and still fairly costly. In most cases, it’s most economical for business owners to offset purchased utility power during the day with their solar energy system and then utilize grid power at night when the sun is down. While each utility has unique pricing models, most offer much cheaper rates during nighttime hours. So, going solar will still dramatically impact your bill even though the panels are only operational during the day. Designing a solar energy system to optimize your utility district's on-peak / off-peak times is critical to generating an accurate purchase price and honest ROI estimate.

Roof orientation and condition 

There are two very important items to consider when installing a roof-mounted system—whether a ballasted or a penetrating roof system. First, you roof, and any solar panels installed on it, must not be shaded by trees, large air conditioning units or any adjacent structures. Second, your roof must be in good condition. While solar panels will typically extend the life of a roof by shielding it from elements, they must also be removed to replace a roof that’s already in poor condition. You’ll maximize your return by ensuring the roof is in good condition before installing the panels. As for orientation, a south-facing roof will capture the most mid-afternoon sun, which is best for many utility plans. However, a west-facing orientation can be beneficial for offsetting utility power during high-demand on-peak hours later in the day. Ultimately, the best-performing solar energy system is designed to address your specific usage patterns and utility rates. All of these variables will influence the configuration, and price of your solar energy system.

Payment options and tax incentives

There are many ways to fund a commercial solar purchase, including leasing, loans, and cash. In addition, there are both national and state tax incentives that can offset more than 30% of a solar purchase. And for certain types of businesses – such as agriculture—federal grants are available for renewable energy projects. In short, there are many creative ways to combine these options to suit your finances and solar energy goals best while saving you a ton of money! A quality solar consultant will be well-briefed on all available programs and able to provide multiple options for you to choose from.

This is a partial list. While these four factors are probably the most important, there are also many other secondary considerations. We recommend getting a customized quote from a certified solar installer as the best way to learn how much solar can save your family now and in the future.

Contact us today for a free solar evaluation and to learn about additional programs in your area.