Solar systems have been installed at an amazing rate in California over the last 10-years. Something incredible happened in 2007 that exploded the solar industry called the FITC or federal investment tax credit or ITC for short. This long term federal commitment to a simple, no limit 30% rebate on the installed cost of a residential or commercial PV system caught the imagination of some of the most talented business minds in America. The ITC encouraged the finance industry to plan long term and develop products that allowed businesses and consumers to buy in knowing it made good financial sense to do so. This marshalling of minds and resources combined to take solar capacity in California from about 500 megawatts in 2007 to over 20,000 megawatts today according to the California Public Utility Commission. That’s the difference between the sun powering 125,000 homes in 2007 and solar systems powering over five million homes today. This does not include the additional energy contributions of hydro electric, wind turbines, solar thermal hot water systems and a variety of other renewable energy production methods. It’s estimated that another 15,000 megawatts of solar capacity will be added in California through 2021 and by legislation at least 1,300 megawatts of battery storage capacity is to be achieved by 2021 as well. According to HIS Markit, the current federal ITC law allows a 30% rate for projects started through 2019. In 2020 the ITC rate will be 26% and in 2021 the rate will be 22%. If no ITC program extensions are adopted or a new ITC program is not signed into law the incentives will end in 2021 for households and in 2024 for commercial, (commercial projects must begin in 2021). For now though, the federal ITC combined with the California SGIP incentive for battery storage that’s in effect through 2020 will keep demand for new installs high while encouraging system owners to upgrade and enhance their existing systems.
Within these massive former and future install numbers lies the inevitable maintenance requirements that will begin to appear as installed solar systems, (especially roof mounted PV and thermal systems) age. Roof and system leaks, solar panel, panel wiring and inverter failures, shade creep, battery and monitoring equipment failures, human/nature caused obstruction and destruction and an assortment of other issues will become as common as all of the previous installations were. As these maintenance issues multiply, solar system owners will need to be able to call on ethical companies that can accurately identify problems, repair and upgrade and then professionally apply any applicable warranties and incentives. A solar service company, (SCC) must have a skill set that goes well beyond your typical solar install company to accomplish this.
THE RIGHT COMPANY
Some of the most important aspects of a SSC is to be licensed and familiar with all applicable local planning and state codes, the vast array of solar products that have been and are being installed in their market and the ability to professionally administrate each job to a successful conclusion. Additionally, an SSC must have a deep knowledge of the types of roofing structures and roofing materials available in its markets and of the utility grid connected electrical system and codes that support these markets. If the company is serving solar thermal systems, the same criteria would apply to the various aspects of the solar thermal system’s plumbing and its interface with the building plumbing and applicable codes. With these areas of expertise covered by the SCC, it’s possible to field a staff that can perform site surveys to identify and diagnose problems and or potential upgrades, generate an accurate quote and complete the repair and or upgrade to the owner’s satisfaction. The SCC may be independent, part of an existing solar system installation company or a division of a roofing or energy efficiency company. Regardless of the company’s structure, they all should be a licensed contractor in good standing and able to professionally respond, diagnose, quote, repair and apply any applicable warranties and incentives to all serviced systems.
SOLAR PV SYSTEM UPGRADES
In addition to repairs there will be a large demand for solar PV system upgrades, expansions and enhancements. According to NREL, solar panel efficiency has increased from 17.8% in 2012 to 22.8% in 2015 and to 29.8% in 2016 while solar panel costs have dropped over 50%. At this rate, tens of thousands of solar PV system owners will want to switch out their older panels with ones that are cheaper and two to three times more efficient. In most of these cases the old inverter and monitoring system will also need to be replaced and a battery charging and storage system may be added. This efficiency upgrade will naturally add more solar capacity, (more watts) to a system and will be an option many owners that add batteries will want to take advantage of. A study from the University of Texas at Austin found that battery storage in a home solar system increases annual power demand by up to 14%. Throw in a new electric car and the natural inclination to use more power when a PV system is present and the added annual household power requirement could easily top 20%.
Companies that successfully offer system repair and upgrade services will be the best positioned to take advantage of the tidal wave of service and repair demand that will hit over the next few years. These same companies will also thrive as solar system owners discover how profitable it is to upgrade and enhance their systems.