Q&A with Customer Experience Manager,
Marlaina Hunter

It is fair to say that with nearly 10,000 residential solar system installations, SunCommon has a lot of experience and expertise. Over the years, we’ve dialed in our approach to transform a complicated process into a seamless and relatively easy experience for our customers. 

We sat down with Customer Experience Manager, Marlaina Hunter to learn some of the most important things a homeowner should know as they begin their solar project.

OK, so here’s the biggie. Help us understand what’s involved in going solar?

To begin, you’ll have a Zoom meeting with one of our knowledgeable Solar Home Advisors. The first thing they’ll want to know is how much electricity you are currently using—this is used to size your system properly and estimate the number of panels you’ll need. (If you have plans to purchase an EV in the near future, we’ll want to know about that too.) Your Solar Home Advisor will use a combination of satellite images and an industry leading tech called Aurora to create a 3D visual of what your home will look like with solar. From there you’ll have a preliminary system design and quote.

3D visual of home with solar

If all systems are go, then what happens?

Once you do decide to go solar with us, we’ll send an evaluator to your house. During their visit, your evaluator will map the path of the sun and measure shading, taking note of any trees that may interfere with your solar system. If it’s a roof mounted system, they’ll venture into your attic to make sure your roof is structurally up to the task of holding panels. They may even fly a drone over your house to get measurements, which is really neat. The most important thing, but probably the least exciting, is inspecting your electrical panels. 

inspecting electrical panel for solar installation

From there, all the measurements and electrical info goes to our solar design engineers. Turning sunlight into electricity is pretty technical stuff. Every system we design and build is custom to the customer’s home and energy usage—no two solar systems are alike. There are a lot of electrical and mathematical calculations that our engineers need to work through, not to mention utility requirements and property setbacks. I think once an evaluator has been to your house, customers are eager to get up and running. But our team of engineers has to analyze every. single. detail. of your electrical system before they can actually design your system. It’s a long but critical part of the process, sometimes taking 6 weeks.

Beyond the panels, what other equipment should customers be prepared to have installed on their home?

The inverter or combiner box, which is arguably the most important part of your solar system. It’s the “brain” of the system that converts DC energy into AC energy so it’s usable in your home. It’s also connected to your home’s Wifi so that you can use your phone to monitor your solar energy production. The inverter can be on the outside of your house, in your home near your electrical panel, or on a pedestal.  Most utilities will also install another meter, for net metering purposes.

So how long, on average, does the process take?

The short answer is: it depends. For most roof-mounted systems in Vermont, it’s a pretty seamless process (as long as you don’t need any electrical upgrades). So, from the time your evaluation is complete to the time you’re powered up, it’s about two months, on average. For ground mounted systems though, we need to consider the time of year. Because the ground freezes in the winter, we’re not able to install the ground screws used for the array. So if you decide to go solar in the late fall, you may not be installed until the following spring. 

In New York, every municipality has different regulations for installing solar, so timing is tricky to predict. It really depends on how quickly your municipality can process your application. It could be two months, or it could be six months. The good news for our New York customers is they don’t have to go to planning board meetings or talk to the municipality. SunCommon takes care of that for all of our customers. In fact, often when customers try to get involved with that phase, they typically end up slowing things down. 

solar monitoring example with solaredge

Let’s shift to after the system is installed. What maintenance is required?

The most important thing is “monitoring”, at least once a week. Monitoring means checking in on your solar production to make sure everything is working as it should. The easiest way to do this is by checking your solar production phone app. Most of the time everything will go like clockwork but because it’s essentially a giant electronic on your roof, that’s exposed to the elements, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it. If you let it go for two months, and then it turns out that you weren’t producing solar energy all summer, when it’s most abundant, you’re going to feel pretty frustrated.

What if you check your phone and things aren’t working?

If it’s a sunny day and your phone shows that your system isn’t producing electricity, you should go out to your inverter and take a look. Some inverters have error codes which can diagnose the problem. If you see an error code, take a photo of it or write it down. Then head to our Customer Support page and check out the instructions for power-cycling your inverter. If your system goes down, one of the best things to do first is power cycle your system, which is just a fancy way of saying restart/reboot. So basically turn it off and on again, just like you do with a glitchy computer, right?

Then, in the event of a power outage, what happens?

If the power is out, and you don’t have battery backup, your system won’t be producing electricity because it is tied to the grid.

energy independence during a power outage with tesla powerwall home energy storage app

What about the battery backup option?

Yes, we install the Tesla Powerwall. Think of it as a generator, but it’s silent and doesn’t run on fossil fuels. If the power goes out, your energy will automatically switch battery power.  If you’re considering battery back-up, it’s important to think about which appliances you want to have backed up. Most people have their refrigerator, freezer and maybe a well pump if they have one. You wouldn’t want to run an air conditioner off your battery because that is super energy intensive, and you’ll run the battery down in no time at all.

Anything else that’s helpful to share?

I like to remind our SunCommon customers that if they feel passionate about reducing the effects of climate change and enjoyed working with SunCommon, talk to your neighbors, family, and friends about the benefits of going solar. Every solar powered home makes a difference and inspiring your friends to go solar is a powerful climate action. Plus, if you refer them and they move forward with us, we’ll send you $500. There’s no limit to the number of people you can refer, so the more the merrier!

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