A D E TA I L E D G U I D E TO I N S TA L L I N G A
Power Naturally SM
YOUR HOME IS PROBABLY YOUR BIGGEST
INVESTMENT, BUT DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN MAKE
AN INVESTMENT IN YOUR HOME THAT WILL PAY YOU
BACK WITH ENERGY SAVINGS? It’s photovoltaic power
— solar electric energy — and it harnesses the power of
sunlight to supply your home with electricity. Simply put,
photovoltaic (PV) systems produce electricity from sunlight
through cells that are installed on your roof or elsewhere
on your property. PV power doesn’t produce any noise or
pollution, it’s reliable and dependable, and it’s renewable
so it makes good sense for the environment. For example,
a 2.5 kW system will provide about 2,900 kilowatt hours
per year and can typically provide about 25 to 35% of an
average home’s electricity needs. The more energy efficient
your house is, the greater the impact of the PV system.
Not only is photovoltaic power
GENTLER ON THE ENVIRONMENT, it is now
MORE AFFORDABLE than ever before.
This is because New York State is offering cash incentives to bring
down the cost of PV systems by 40 to 70%. These incentives from
NYSERDA — New York State Energy Research and Development
Authority — are available to all customers that pay the Systems
Benefit Charge to their electric utility. Working with an eligible
installer, you could receive between $4,000 and $5,000 per kilowatt
for PV systems up to a maximum of 15 kilowatts. The chart below
outlines the different incentive levels NYSERDA is now offering.
All systems interconnected to
the electric grid and eligible for All systems for customers not
End-Use eligible for net metering. Systems
net metering (served by residential
Photovoltaic utility rates). Systems must be must be greater than 500 Watts and
Systems greater than 500 watts and not not more than 15kW.
more than 10kW.
Incentive $4.00 per Watt, direct current $5.00 per watt, direct current
$4.50 per watt for New York Maximum of 70% of
ENERGY STAR® Labeled Homes total installed costs
There are also tax credits of 25% of the purchase price of your system, not
to exceed $3,750, and help from the New York Energy $mart Loan Fund,
which provides financing through special loan rates that are reduced by
4% at participating banks. Check www.PowerNaturally.org for more tax
and loan information.
In order to help you get started, we’ve put together this comprehensive
guide, which contains essential information on PV power, including how to
choose an installer, select a PV system, and calculate your potential energy
savings. It’s not a technical installation guide — your PV installer will
handle those issues — but it will explain how PV works and help you decide
if it’s right for you.
step 1 PV basics
If you’re interested in PV power, the first step is to learn the basics.
step 2 Conducting your own site survey
Now take a close look at your own home to find out if PV power
might be an option for you.
step 3 Choosing an installer
Once you’ve covered the basics, learn how to find and select an installer.
step 4 Understanding your system options
There are several PV systems to choose from — this section will help you
find the right one for your home.
step 5 Determining energy output and savings
Now you can get an idea of how much energy your PV system
might generate and what kind of savings that could mean for you.
step 6 Obtaining permits and approvals
This will give you an overview of permits and other approvals that
could be necessary when you’re installing a new PV system.
step 7 Final details
Check here for additional information resources available to you.
A TYPICAL TIMELINE FOR GETTING A PV SYSTEM UP AND RUNNING
WEEKS: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
RECEIVE PRICE QUOTES
SYSTEM INSTALLED AND TESTED
SYSTEM INSPECTED BY AHJ
(AUTHORITIES HAVING JURISDICTION)
INTERCONNECTION INSPECTION BY UTILITY
PV technology converts sunlight directly into electricity throughout the day,
allowing you to produce your own electricity with no noise, air pollution, or
moving parts. The basic building block is the PV cell, which is connected to other
cells to create larger units called modules. Typically, modules are attached as
panels onto your existing roof or are designed directly into the roof so they act as
both a part of the roof or shingles and a solar module at the same time. The
integrated roofing option may make sense if you are building a new home or
considering replacing your current roof. Modules can also be set up as
freestanding units on the ground.
A PV system includes a collection of PV modules
that is usually connected to the utility grid. Systems
must be connected to the utility grid to be eligible
for the cash incentive offered by NYSERDA. The PV
modules produce direct current (DC) electricity, which
the system then converts to alternating current (AC)
electricity so it can be used to power your lights,
appliances, and other home electrical needs. Being
connected to the utility grid provides two additional
benefits. First, when your system doesn’t produce
enough electricity to power your home (when the sun
isn’t shining, for example), you automatically receive
the additional power you need from the utility. Second,
if you produce more electricity than you need — which
can happen on most sunny days — electricity flows
back through your meter to the utility. In fact, your
meter will run in reverse when your PV system
is producing more electricity than you need, and
you can receive a credit from the utility for the energy
you’re supplying but don’t use. (See Step 6 for more
THE COST OF A
PV SYSTEM VARIES
ACCORDING TO THE
AND NUMBER OF Power Utility Grid
MODULES YOU USE. Panels convert
sunlight to Excess
A SMALLER SYSTEM DC electric power electricity
the PV system
MAY COST LESS goes into the
Appliances, etc where others
INITIALLY, BUT AC can use it.
REMEMBER, IT WILL
PRODUCE LESS Meter
(DC TO AC)
DC=Direct Current AC=Alternating Current
Typical Grid-Connected PV System
(Without Battery Backup System)
A good way to think of it is that purchasing a PV system is like paying for many years’
worth of electricity at once, since the cost is in the up-front purchase. Once your system
is installed there should be minimal maintenance. With the NYSERDA incentive program,
the cost of purchasing and installing a system is reduced by about half, but you’ll want
to examine your personal energy use and savings closely before choosing a PV system.
We’ll look at these issues in more detail later in this guide.
A GOOD RULE OF THUMB:
If you’re building a new home, you can enjoy even greater savings when you participate
in New York’s ENERGY STAR® Labeled Homes program. These homes use 30% less energy
than conventionally built homes by incorporating the best construction practices and energy-
saving measures into your home. New York’s ENERGY STAR® homes are also eligible for a
PV incentive level that is $500 per kW higher than a regular home built to code.
For more information, go to www.getenergysmart.org.
CONDUCTING YOUR OWN SITE SURVEY
The amount of electricity generated by a PV system depends on
a number of different factors, and the first step is to look at your
own home. The reason for this is quite simple: the amount of
electricity you produce is determined by how much sun
reaches your system. You’ll want to look at a few basic areas
to make sure your house is well suited for a PV system and that
you maximize the energy your system produces by placing it in
the most advantageous location.
The first question to ask yourself is whether your property has good
1. access to the sun. In New York, the sun is in the southern half of the
sky and is higher in summer and lower in winter. This means the best
location for a PV system is typically a south-facing roof, but east and
west may be fine as well.
You’ll also want to look for objects such as trees, vent pipes on your
2. roofs, chimneys, or buildings that could block or obstruct the sun
from reaching your system. You’ll want to determine how large the
obstruction is and how long it casts a shadow onto your roof or other
proposed PV system site. Your PV installer will have special tools to
help measure shading.
If you think there are potential trouble areas, then it’s a good idea to
3. use the Clean Power Estimator available at www.PowerNaturally.org
to conduct a more thorough examination. Your PV installer can also
assist with this analysis.
A GOOD RULE OF THUMB:
If all obstructions to the east and west of your PV array
are more than two times the distance from the system
as they are high, and obstructions south of the PV
system are more than three times the distance from
the system as they are high, then your PV system
should have no more than 10% loss due to shading.
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PV DECISIONS YOU’LL MAKE IS
CHOOSING AN INSTALLER.
Your PV installer not only sells and sets up your system, he or she also ensures that
you get the system that is right for your home and your energy needs. By working
closely with your installer, you can identify any potential trouble spots and come up
with solutions so you get the most out of your PV system. Ultimately, it means your
system will run more efficiently and produce the optimal amount of energy.
To help you get started, take a look at the list of eligible
installers at www.PowerNaturally.org. These PV installers
are part of the NYSERDA incentive program, so they’ll be
OTHER QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
offering you cash incentives for PV system sales and
installation. Each eligible installer who has applied for and Have they installed grid-
been accepted as part of the program provides evidence of connected systems before?
his or her skills, experience, and customer track record.*
And as NYSERDA incentive participants, every eligible How many years have they
installer is offering a minimum five-year warranty that been in business?
covers full costs, including labor, and repair or replacement
of components or systems. What is their process and
timing for installing a system
from initial site visit through
Once you’ve reviewed the list, you’ll want to narrow it
down by calling several different installers and asking
them about their experience and working practices. One
of the first considerations may be their location, since it may
be easier and less expensive if they are located close to you.
Based on these conversations, you should solicit price quotes from at least three installers.
The quotes should include a clear outline of how much your system can produce at its
capacity rating, as well as estimated annual energy generation. Energy generation will
fluctuate from year to year due to changes in the amount of sunlight, so you should
remember that your actual system output may be higher or lower than the estimate.
Of course, the quote should include details on the “fully loaded” cost of getting the PV system
up and running, including hardware and installation costs, connection to the electric grid,
permitting, applicable incentives, and warranties. Lastly, remember that you’ll be working
with your PV installer for several months, so choose one you think you can work with closely.
* Neither NYSERDA nor the State of New York: (1) endorse any Eligible Installer; or (2) guaranty, warranty, or in any way represent or
assume liability for any work proposed or carried out by an Eligible Installer. Additionally, NYSERDA is not responsible for assuring that the
design, engineering and construction of the project or installation of any photovoltaic (PV) system is proper or complies with any particular
laws, regulations, codes, licensing, certification and permit requirements, or industry standards. NYSERDA does not make any
representations of any kind regarding the results to be achieved by the PV systems or the adequacy or safety of such measures.
WHAT IS A CERTIFIED INSTALLER?
The North American Board of Certified Energy CHOOSING AN INSTALLER
Practitioners(NABCEP) has developed a national
voluntary certification program for PV installers.
Ask your installer if they are certified by NABCEP
or pursuing NABCEP certification. www.nabcep.org
UNDERSTANDING YOUR SYSTEM OPTIONS
There are several different options when it comes to choosing a system. Most PV
systems produce about 10 watts of power for each square foot of PV module. This means that
you can install a small starter system on as little as 50 square feet of roof space, or as large
as 1,000 square feet for a more powerful system. A typical two kilowatt system will need 200
to 400 square feet of unobstructed area, but always make sure you’re able to access your
system easily. This access space can add up to 20% to the total space you need for your
No matter how large — or
how small — your system is,
you’ll need to decide where
to locate it. The most common
choice is to position the modules
on your roof. The system, or
array, can be mounted above
and parallel to the roof with a
space between the roof and the
array to allow for cooling. The
modules are typically positioned
parallel to the roof so that they
blend in as much as possible.
If, however, your roof is flat,
a PV array may be installed
at an angle to optimize the
A roof-integrated PV system with solar hot water collectors on the left. amount of sunlight it receives.
A PV array can be built onto any type of roof, but the installation cost can vary
based on the type of roofing material. For example, composition-shingle roofs are quite
easy to work with, while slate roofs are much more difficult. Your PV installer should be
able to work with all roof types and should discuss any problem areas with you. One
area that you’ll want to look at quite closely is the age and condition of your roof. If your
roof is old and will need to be replaced soon, you may want to consider replacing the roof
and installing the PV system at the same time. This will eliminate having to take down
the PV system and reinstall it in the future.
If you are considering a new roof or are
building a new home, you should investigate
a roof-integrated system – Building-Integrated
PV Array, or BIPV. This option incorporates the
PV modules into the actual roofing material, so
the roof acts as the solar collector. BIPV’s are NO MATTER WHAT THE SYSTEM,
available as roofing shingles or metal roofing
products and are great because they’re designed YOU CAN CHOOSE ONE WITH
to look like traditional roofing materials. You BATTERY BACKUP OR ONE
do need to take extra care to make sure they’re
WITHOUT. A battery backup system
installed properly, so be sure to discuss
this with your installer. stores energy so your home can be
powered when the sun isn’t shining
Lastly, you can install the array for your PV
system as a ground-mounted structure, or you (really cloudy day), at night, or during
can even mount the array off the ground as a a utility outage. The amount of
shade or patio cover.
energy your battery system can
provide will depend on the storage
capacity of your system. Systems
with battery backup are more
expensive, however the incremental
investment is worth considering if
you want to have power for critical
loads during outages and the added
reliability is important to you.
A GOOD RULE OF THUMB:
If your roof isn’t made of composition shingles, then it will most likely
require a flashed penetration to ensure that it’s properly sealed against
rainwater. Make sure that your PV installer offers a written guarantee that
the roof will not leak as a result of the PV system for at least five years.
DETERMINING ENERGY OUTPUT AND SAVINGS
One of the most important questions you’ll have when you’re considering
PV power is how much your system will cost and how much it will save
you. A good place to start is to understand how much electricity you currently
use. You can do this by looking at your electricity bills for the past year or by
contacting your utility. This will give you a baseline so you know how much
electric energy you’re using now and how much you’ll be able to offset by
installing a PV system.
Your energy savings with a PV system can be estimated by multiplying the energy
in kilowatt-hours (kWh) that your system might produce each year by the electric
energy rate charged by your utility. The chart below shows the estimated annual
energy savings from a small (2 kW) and a large (4 kW) system to illustrate a range
of savings based on four different electric rates.
PV SYSTEM ESTIMATED UTILITY ELECTRIC ENERGY RATE
SIZE OR kW ANNUAL ENERGY $0.08/kWh $0.10/kWh $0.12/kWh $0.14/kWh
2.0 kW 2300 kWh $184.00 $230.00 $276.00 $322.00
4.0 kW 4600 kWh $368.00 $460.00 $552.00 $644.00
To get a better idea of
your own savings, use the
Clean Power Estimator at
With the Clean Power Estimator
you’ll be able to run several in-depth
analyses with your own details so
you can see if solar electric power
makes financial sense for you. The
Clean Power Estimator also includes
information on cash incentives
currently offered by NYSERDA.
THE QUESTION WILL THEN BE HOW LARGE A SYSTEM YOU WANT TO INSTALL.
The larger the system, the more
electricity you’ll be able to generate,
but at a higher up-front cost. You
should consider four factors when
choosing a system: your energy
needs, the amount of the energy
you can generate, whether you
want a battery backup system, and
the system costs. What you should
kWh per kW
remember is that no matter what CITY (range)
system you choose, the actual output
will vary due to environmental and Albany 1064-1315
system fluctuations. The adjacent Plattsburgh 1063-1313
chart is designed to give you a Watertown 1035-12 79
conservative estimate of the amount
of power generated by a one-kilowatt
(1kW) system. Ask your PV provider Binghamton 1017-1256
how much electricity your system Poughkeepsie 1116-1379
will produce each year and how that
compares with the amount of
electricity you typically use each year.
A GOOD RULE OF THUMB:
If you’re installing a roof-mounted system, the tilt and orientation of your roof
will affect your system’s output. For example, in New York State, a 30-degree
roof tilt facing south produces the greatest output, while an east-facing roof
with the same tilt will generate 19% less electricity.
OBTAINING PERMITS AND APPROVALS
If you have a PV system installed, you’ll need to make sure you have the
proper permits and approvals before you begin work. Your installer should be
able to handle most of these details, but you should be familiar with them as well
to make sure you have everything you need.
CODES, COVENANTS, AND RESTRICTIONS
Often called CC&Rs, these are requirements imposed by neighborhoods
or local jurisdictions that often govern the aesthetics of a project.
If CC&Rs are in place in your area, you may need to submit plans
and obtain approval before you can begin work. Check with your
neighborhood association or town council to find out if there are
any applicable CC&Rs.
ELECTRICAL AND STRUCTURAL PERMITS
The most common permit you’ll need for your PV system is an electrical
permit. Photovoltaic systems are included in the National Electrical Code
in Article 690. Your installer should be familiar with this and ensure you
have the proper permit before work commences.
Also, you should determine if you’ll need a structural permit as well.
Normally, structural permits are issued if it is deemed that the project
will have a significant impact on an existing structure or involve a new
structure that could put people or property at risk if the structure
A GOOD RULE OF THUMB:
If your home is less than 30 years old, it should not
need structural enhancements as long as the PV
system weighs less than five pounds, per square foot.
Most PV systems meet this weight restriction. However,
if you have two layers of shingles on your roof, you
must remove both layers and install new shingles
before you install a system.
STANDARDS AND CONTRACTS
In order to be connected to the utility grid,
you must follow interconnection standards
as set out in Institute of Electrical and
Electronic Engineers (IEEE) 929-2000
(www.ieee.org) and New York State
Public Service Commission’s Standard
It is vital that you inform your utility
as early as possible that you will be
installing a grid-connected PV system
and adhere to their rules exactly. Your
PV installer should be familiar with
entering into an interconnection
agreement with your utility.
• In order to be connected to the grid, you and your installer will need to
complete a contract with the utility. This contract includes important system
information and shows that you understand your responsibilities in running
and maintaining your system. Normally, the contract will be finalized once
the utility confirms that the equipment has been installed properly and that
all requirements have been met.
• One requirement of the interconnection agreement is that you have a
minimum level of insurance in place. This should be covered by your
current homeowner’s insurance policy, but make sure your current
coverage is sufficient to meet the interconnection requirements.
• You will also need to complete a net metering agreement
with the utility for residential systems of 10kW or less.
Interconnecting a photovoltaic system to the utility grid
requires an interconnection agreement as well as a sale
and purchase agreement, or a net metering agreement
with your local utility. Your PV installer and utility
company will be able to go through this with you in
Once your system is installed, your PV installer will run a series of
tests to make sure your system is up and running properly. Make sure
you receive a copy of this evaluation, and keep it as part of your system
documentation. Other vital documents to keep with this are your owner’s
manual, copies of any plan drawings, and instructions for any future
UTILITY AND INSPECTION SIGN-OFFS
After your system is installed, it must be inspected by the local
permitting agency (typically this is a building and/or electrical inspector).
Most likely, your system will be inspected by the utility as well. These
inspections may identify problem areas that need to be corrected, so
don’t be alarmed — this is fairly common and your PV installer can
deal with most issues easily. Additionally, NYSERDA may inspect systems
that have been installed through any of its incentive programs.
SYSTEM MAINTENANCE AND MONITORING
PV systems require very little maintenance, but you should discuss
this with your installer and review any recommended maintenance
procedures. One of the easiest ways to check your system’s performance
is to monitor your own electricity meter. This will give you an idea of
how much electricity you are using and if your PV system is performing
properly. Through the NYSERDA program, your system will include an
easy-to-read digital meter that can help you monitor real-power output
and energy production.
All PV installers operating under the NYSERDA incentive program
will provide you with a full five-year guarantee that covers full costs,
including labor, and repair or replacement of components or systems.
Some installers may offer additional warranties, and you should discuss
this with them in detail to make sure you understand what they cover
in case a problem arises.
PURCHASING A PV SYSTEM
CAN BE ONE OF THE MOST
EXCITING MOVES YOU
MAKE AS A HOMEOWNER.
It offers you the chance to use
your own home to produce power
for appliances, lighting, and other
electrical needs. If you have
questions or need additional
information, contact NYSERDA
at 1-866-697-3732 or visit us at
also listed some other resources
too that will provide you with
more information. Customers of
the Long Island Power Authority
should visit www.lipower.org for
information about PV incentives.
New York Power Authority
customers should visit
For more information
on solar power, visit:
What is NYSERDA ? NYSERDA
NEW YORK STATE SOLAR ENERGY INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION
The New York State Energy Research AMERICAN SOLAR ENERGY SOCIETY (ASES)
and Development Authority (NYSERDA)
FLORIDA SOLAR ENERGY CENTER
is a public benefit corporation created www.fsec.ucf.edu
in 1975 by the New York State INTERSTATE RENEWABLE ENERGY COUNCIL
legislature. NYSERDA administers the www.irecusa.org
The New York Energy $martSM program, MILLION SOLAR ROOFS
which is designed to support certain
NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY
public benefit programs during the
transition to a more competitive
NATIONAL CENTER FOR PHOTOVOLTAICS
electricity market. Some 2,700 www.nrel.gov/ncpv/
projects in more than 30 programs REPP-CREST
are funded by a charge on the electricity www.crest.org
transmitted and distributed by the SOLAR ELECTRIC POWER ASSOCIATION
State's investor-owned utilities.
SOLAR ENERGY INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION
The New York Energy $martSM www.seia.org
program provides energy efficiency
SOLAR RATING AND CERTIFICATION CORPORATION (SRCC)
services, including those directed www.solar-rating.org
at the low-income sector, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY OFFICE OF ENERGY
EFFICIENCY AND RENEWABLE ENERGY
research and development, and www.eren.doe.gov
environmental protection activities. U.S. GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL
For more information about INSTITUTE FOR SUSTAINABLE POWER
NYSERDA programs, visit
SOLAR ELECTRIC SYSTEM DESIGN TUTORIAL