As customers consider an investment in solar, it's critical that they look beyond the simple math of the installed cost per watt of the system, and focus instead on maximizing energy production. Simply assessing a system based on its static capacity (measured by kilowatts) doesn't provide the whole picture: looking at the system's dynamic output over time and the cost per kilowatt hour is a better measure of solar benefit.
So how do you determine the true value of a solar system? Break it down into its key components to understand how each of them comes into play.
Because panel costs are so low, typically the standard approach for a project is to focus on panel configuration, and the solution for reaching a given power level tends to be to simply add more panels. This approach is changing as solar dealers realize it's critical to look at all the equipment needs--everything from inverters to racking to to hardware--to determine the most efficient and economical solution for a project. The answer isn't always quantity, but quality. If you're working with components that are known for their higher production (for example, tracking solar systems instead of fixed, or higher-power solar panels), you'll yield a much better ROI without sacrificing space.
Siting is another key factor in determining the production of a project, and can greatly contribute to the overall value of your installation. Sitework is, of course, dependent on the size and scope of a project. The dimensions and weight of the system dictate the size of the site selected and the base used, so picking racking options that provide a smaller footprint while still maximizing power production is key. Spending time visiting the site and understanding its layout is also important, as this will allow you to determine the optimal location for the installation to take full advantage of the sun throughout the day, and to minimize site preparation as much as possible. Many installers choose to outsource this work to a third-party contractor, so if you go this route, be sure to have all the necessary information about your system upfront and to define the scope of work concisely and accurately.
After the sale is closed and before the system is actually installed, there are many details that need to be addressed, and these take time, energy, and money. They can include things like designing the system, procuring components and hardware, coordinating the site and basework, and getting equipment to the site. These activities are all crucial to the success of the installation, and can have a direct (and significant) impact on the overall profitability of a project. The key to minimizing the cost of this work is being organized and systematic, and partnering with vendors who do the same.
For any project, labor costs are a significant part of the equation, the most obvious being the time and work spent on the actual installation. In any installation there are a whole host of minor adjustments that have to be made onsite, and the key to being efficient (and creating more ROI) is by anticipating these details and having a plan in place. The net result? Less downtime for your crew, a shorter install process, and a more profitable project.
The Bottom Line
A little planning will go a long way towards ensuring that you spend less time and money on installations, and create projects that maximize power and return on investment. Thinking beyond the installed cost per watt to the bigger picture is key: think about the project in terms of equipment, install, and siting costs, time spent on advance preparation, and the actual production capacity of the components selected. These costs add up, so understanding them, accounting for them, and thinking in terms of dollar per kilowatt hour can help you gain a much clearer sense of the true value of a solar installation.
Interested in learning more about how you can create more value for your solar installations? AllEarth Solar Trackers are a great solar solution. Learn more in our free whitepaper!