Want to tap into solar? The experts shed some light on the hot topic

Build SA Green, CPS Energy answer a few burning questions to prep you for 20th Annual Solar Fest

Daniel Segura and Samuel Taylor contributed to this article

Solar power is quickly taking over household rooftops and other places as it’s become more affordable in our community in the last decade. Although a growing number of people may be aware of solar power, there are still lots of burning questions that come to mind as customers consider solar options. That’s what makes Build SA Green’s Solar Fest so significant. Solar Fest is a free event and will happen at Hemisfair tomorrow, March 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Beyond just solar, attendees can learn about energy efficiency, gardening, electric vehicles and more — in a fun festival setting.

With the event just around the corner, Anita Ledbetter, Executive Director at Build San Antonio Green (BSAG) and Ana Lozano, Strategic Research & Innovation Manager at CPS Energy, are here to answer some common questions that our customers have when it comes to looking at tapping into solar energy. Look them over and make plans to come out to  the big event to find out even more from our solar and energy efficiency experts!

Anita Ledbetter, Executive Director at BSAG

We’ve seen a 20 percent increase in solar for us, what are the trends that Build SA Green is seeing?

We have seen an increase in green building, solar and more and more interest in electric vehicles. Alongside the huge increase in demand for solar, as the city’s green building program, we have certified over 30 million square feet of green buildings, that’s over 13,250 projects including 14 multifamily, mixed use and commercial. This is the equivalent to 21.5 MW of peak energy demand reduction that has helped prevent over 362 million lbs. of CO2 emissions since we began. This year alone we have over 8,000 more projects under construction which will be included in our emissions reduction for our community. This just demonstrates the growth in demand for energy savings, preparedness for extreme weather, and of course solar, and battery storage.

What are some questions that you feel customers should ask when working with a solar installer?

There are a few important questions to keep in mind when working with a solar installer. A big one is: is my house ready for solar? Is my roof in good condition for installation? Is my home’s roof facing the sun, free of any major shading? These are all important site-specific questions.

The next set of questions relate to the cost and payback of the system. How much is this going to cost me? And how much is this going to save me? What will my monthly bill impact be and what is my monthly energy production going to look like? What rebates and incentives are available to me?

Then you should ask about the solar installation itself. What kind of solar panels would be good for me? How long will my solar panels last? What kind of workmanship and panel warranties do they offer?

And finally, if you are interested in batteries, backup or an electric vehicle charger in the future, be sure to ask prospective installers what that means for the size and design of your current system.

With all the information out there, how do you get started with installing solar?

You need to first start out by asking yourself “what are my goals?” Coming from a Green Building perspective, our goals are to always start with thinking about reducing your energy consumption through energy efficiency. When your home is more energy efficient, you use less energy and then can reduce the size of a solar system your home may require. From that point, we encourage people to think about the goals for the solar system. How much are you trying to reduce your energy bill by? Are you intending to buy an electric vehicle in the future for charging at home? Do you potentially want battery backup on your home? It is important to answer these questions first so that the installer can size your system accordingly.

And, of course, anyone who would like to get started can reach out to us through our Bring Solar Home program which is designed to be a free, unbiased, technical resource to connect people to available options.

What can the community expect at this year’s Solar Fest?

You know, in the past several years Solar Fest has grown into so much more than just solar. It has become a place to find all kinds of information about local resiliency efforts and ways that people can implement energy efficiency and resiliency strategies in their own homes. We are very excited this year to be celebrating the 20th anniversary of our organization which just happened this past year and also after a two-year hiatus, the 20th annual Solar Fest event! We will, of course, be celebrating our successes as an organization and as a community in resiliency through our Climate Ready Plan. There is really something for everyone to engage in. B-Cycle is going to be providing free rides, there will be giveaways and a raffle, you can get up close and personal with some EVs, learn some gardening tips, pick up a free tree, vegetable starts, seeds, etc. It really is an opportunity for the community to connect with their options and engage with local efforts.

Ana Lozano, Strategic Research & Innovation Manager

What are the solar options that we have at CPS Energy and how should a customer assess which option is best for them?

CPS Energy has a long history of supporting solar in our community and has worked to develop different solar options to help more customers participate in solar. As a result, we lead the state in solar generation.

Our most popular solar option is our Rooftop Solar Rebate Program. It offers customers a rebate to help offset the upfront cost of installing solar. This is a great option for customers who own their home with a roof that gets good sun exposure and are interested in owning their system. We recommend enlisting the assistance of a CPS Energy Registered Solar Installer to help assess whether your home is a good candidate for solar. Panels should be placed on the most southern facing side of the home and away from shade. We have a list of approximately 80 CPS Energy Registered Solar Installers on our website, which can be found on our website. As always, with large investments such as solar, we recommend shopping around and getting multiple quotes.

We have also had much success and interest by customers in our community solar programs. Community solar offers customers the option to purchase panels at an offsite location and receive credit for the energy generated on their CPS Energy electric bill. This program is a great option for customers who rent, have shading challenges, or just prefer not to own and maintain a system on their property. While our community solar programs are sold out, we occasionally have customers moving out of our service area who need to sell their panels. We encourage customers to email us at [email protected] to check availability.

If you choose rooftop solar, what is the timeline for getting solar panels installed?

Once a customer decides to invest in solar and selects an installer, the entire process typically takes 3-4 months, with complex projects such as those involving batteries sometimes taking up to 6 months. The installer will submit a solar interconnection application to CPS Energy, along with a proposed design of the system to be installed. CPS Energy teams review the documents and either approve the design or request changes to the documents to ensure that CPS Energy safety standards are met. The updated documents must be resubmitted to CPS Energy for an additional review. This review and approval process typically takes between 2-3 weeks for each submittal. Once all documents are approved, the system is installed by the customer’s contractor and inspected by the city (or AHJ) and CPS Energy. Once the system has passed inspections, the customer’s installer will reach out to CPS Energy to schedule a date to meet and interconnect & commission the new system so that it can begin to generate electricity. This commissioning activity is typically scheduled for 2 to 4 weeks after the system has passed all inspections.

What are some factors that customers should consider when trying to decide on solar panels?

It is important to note that solar panels are an investment. While there are tax incentives and rebates, there is still a significant cost to installing solar panels on your property. The average residential system size in our service area is about 8 kilowatts (kW) and costs approximately $30,000.

Customers should size their system to fit their needs. Oversizing their system is not financially beneficial and could overstress the infrastructure powering their neighborhood.

Again, customers should shop around and get multiple quotes from CPS Energy Registered Solar Installers. A list can be found on our website.

What is the best way for customers to avoid solar energy scams, which have become a growing concern in recent years?

There are over 100 solar contractors installing systems in our community.  The vast majority of the installers have experience working locally and are familiar with CPS Energy’s solar guidelines. However, we have seen sales companies and installers who choose to mislead customers in an effort to make a sale.

Customers should know that CPS Energy will never call, visit, or solicit them to sell solar panels or promote a solar program. We will also never hire contractors to promote our solar programs, nor do we allow them to utilize our logo. We have seen solar sales representatives mispresent themselves to customers as CPS Energy employees to gain their trust and attention. If someone calls claiming to be an employee, hang up and call our security hotline at 210-353-4000 for help to verify their employment. If someone shows up at your door claiming to be an employee, ask for their CPS Energy employee ID and call the security hotline for help. Click here for more help on identifying scams.

Customers also should be leery of solar contractors who promote free solar systems. These systems are a significant investment and will always require an upfront cost, via cash or loan. One way to help ensure you have a positive experience is to shop around and get multiple quotes from different solar installers and compare the offers, customer service and experience of each. Talk to neighbors about who installed their systems and their experiences. To report any suspicious solar contractor activity, customers can always call our solar team at (210) 353-2728, option 1 (leave a voicemail if it’s after hours).

Interested in learning more? Come out to this year’s Solar Fest! The event is fun for the whole family with live music, local artisans, food trucks and lots of activities. Along with BSAG, there will be plenty of CPS Energy experts at the event to answer any questions you may have about solar power and energy efficiency with you. Click here to learn more about Solar Fest.