Should I Go Solar: How's My Roof?
By Mark Lampman
Solar power is a growing yet still a pretty nascent phenomenon here in Central Florida and across much of the country but its adoption curve only continues climb. I like to think about the process with which neighborhoods transition to rooftop solar photo voltaic (PV) power by visualizing that prairie dog documentary we’ve all seen. The video in which that first brave prairie dog sticks its head up to see if the coast is clear while the rest of her or his ward cautiously waits below ground. A few minutes after that first brave soul has given the all clear a couple more of these ground squirles peak out from inside their burrow. It’s only after a few more minutes pass that the rest of the ward feels comfortable joining those intrepid few who are already enjoying the sunshine. It only takes a few brave souls to stick their heads up and adopt solar PV to get everyone else to rethink how their homes are powered.
Many are curious about whether reaching for the fabled Promised Land that is lower electricity costs is worth chancing the unknown. The first step along this path of discovery should start with evaluating your roof and just like most of life’s heady questions; Google should be your first stop.
Sergey and Larry have built a great tool called Project Sunroof that will show just how much sun exposure your various roof sections receive. Just type in your address and you’ll see whether you have respectable yet orange tinged East or West qualifying roof sections and or are graced with a beautiful southern exposure that’s bathed in a bright yellow glow. Some unfortunate souls will find that their most promising roof sections are shaded purple because they face north or suffer from excessive shading. Solar PV arrays often cover a few roof sections so your system’s output will average their combined performances. Your solar company will provide a much more accurate assessment of your roof’s total sun potential and projected electricity output using hand held measurement devices and advanced software.
Today’s solar PV arrays are projected to produce electricity for decades to come so it’s important to install on a good roof. Families whose roofs have clearly seen more than their fair share of seasons and storms should hold off on going solar. Most all solar companies won’t install solar PV panels on unqualified roofs and you should run screaming from any that would. A roof should have about 10 years of life left in order to be considered a good candidate.
“So what if I need a new roof” is the obvious follow on question and the short answer is, “no problem.” A typical home can have its system pulled off in a few hours and reinstalled later in less than a day. The cost for taking down and reinstalling your solar array will vary but that expense will be more than offset by the savings it will have already generated over those preceding years.
Of course no article about roofs would be complete without discussing hurricanes and storms. The bottom line is that having solar panels flying off homes would be bad for business so solar installers go to great lengths to ensure that doesn’t happen. The best way solar PV installers’ guard against high winds here in Florida for example is to meet Miami-Dade County’s stringent wind load standards. Make sure your installer meets or exceeds building code standards and you’re going to be in great shape. Our company for example has installed a few thousand solar arrays from well south of Tampa to Northern Orlando and last year's hurricane Irma didn’t so much as wiggle a panel. I like to tell people that “If your panels leave your roof, it’s because your roof left your roof!”
The residential solar adoption curve equates well to that of electric cars. Remember just three years ago when you were more likely to spot a unicorn going down the freeway an electric car? Today, in many parts of the country, you can’t drive to grocery store without seeing three of them. Many people are wondering whether they too should adopt these clean energy innovations. Adopting a new approach to old things is difficult but there are a lot of great resources to help and more than a few brave prairie dogs ready to give the all clear signal!
Bio- I have worked in the residential solar field for over three years and am currently with 3D Solar here in Central Florida/Orlando. I hold a Master of Arts in Sustainability from Harvard Extension school, an MBA from IE (Spain) and Brown University as well as a Bachelor of Science from the US Naval Academy.