Commercial Rooftop Solar System Installation Process – Overview
Rooftop solar is a great way to take advantage of a free, renewable resource and use it to generate electricity. Rooftop solar PV systems work particularly well for commercial and industrial facilities since they usually have large, flat roofs unobstructed by shading and their operations consume a lot of energy. By generating their own electricity, the facilities can offset, or even eliminate, the amount of electricity they buy from their utility. Additionally, many utilities still rely on fossil fuel-based energy generation, such as coal or natural gas. Solar energy has a much smaller environmental impact and avoids a lot of the harmful byproducts of traditional electricity generation, producing green energy for years to come.
Let’s say rooftop solar makes a lot of sense for your facility and you’re considering installing a system. What exactly does the process look like? We break it down into these general steps: evaluation, design, permitting, and installation & maintenance.
Before jumping into a rooftop solar project, there are some logistical considerations that need to be taken into account.
Does your roof have enough space for an adequately sized system?
Is your roof in good condition?
Does the roof get enough sunlight to produce the necessary amount of power?
Are there any laws or regulations that limit your ability to install a rooftop solar system?
What is your budget?
Having an answer to these questions will facilitate productive discussions and help your team determine the most valuable plan of action for your facility. Depending on your needs and priorities, a rooftop system for your facility may look different from the rooftop system of a neighboring facility. Clear communication about expectations, capabilities, and limitations will be the key to a successful project that satisfies all stakeholders.
There are also many financial incentives offered by federal, state, and local governments and certain utilities for renewable energy use. Speak with your project manager about available programs that your project may qualify for. These incentives can significantly bring down costs and allow more flexibility in your budget.
Once you’ve outlined the initial criteria of your desired rooftop solar system, it is now time to move on to the design stage. Your solar contractor will design a system with the required capacity and appropriate safety considerations. Each system can be customized with different components and layouts to meet your facility’s specifications.
The orientation of PV arrays is generally outlined for maximum solar energy collection by keeping panels away from walls and other shading sources. The arrangement of PV panels should also address access to mechanical units, catwalks, anchors, drains, and fire safety. Additionally, the size of a system should account for client needs, budget and space constraints, energy offset, local sun availability, future expansion plans, and degradation of PV panel performance over the lifetime of the project.
With an approved design that meets all requirements, your project can proceed to the permitting stage.
To receive a permit, there is usually an application process with the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). AHJs are the governments, organizations, or authorities that determine what codes and standards need to be met for a particular project. In the case of a rooftop solar project, you will likely have to coordinate with the local government(s), fire department, and utility company.
Permits should be obtained from your local government for electrical, structural, and/or dedicated solar photovoltaic (PV) to ensure the solar installation meets all state-mandated codes.
The local fire department may require a site plan that shows the array layout, location of access pathways, setbacks to roof lines, and location of the utility disconnect.
Utility companies need to be sure that the rooftop solar system meets necessary electrical safety standards and their respective net metering guidelines. Once the electric utility approves the application for installation, the project can proceed with the remainder of the installation process. The final step of solar interconnection and commissioning will occur after the installation of the solar equipment.
Most rooftop solar systems will benefit from being interconnected to the electric grid managed by the local utility. This setup can offset electricity costs for the customer and provide backup power should they need it.
Interconnection designs depend on the utility, but they can be categorized into three broad categories. Be sure to discuss the best course of action with your utility provider.
Category 1: the customer exports excess energy that they didn’t use
Category 2: the customer exports all generation and supplies load if there is a utility power outage
Category 3: the customer exports all generation from the system to the utility
Metering arrangements (Source: Southern Company)
Installation & Maintenance
After the relevant permits have been obtained, the system can be installed. Before commissioning, there will need to be final visual inspections to ensure that the system follows all applicable codes. Once those inspections are passed, it will be clear for use and can begin generating power.
Regular maintenance and routine inspections will be required for the upkeep of the system over its operational life. With proper design, installation, and maintenance, a rooftop solar system will be able to provide clean, sustainable power for 20 to 25 years.
An investment in rooftop solar will bring long term, tangible value to your facility’s bottom line and corporate image. As Environmental, Social, and Governance principles (ESG) become higher priorities for many companies, renewable energy investments will be a straightforward solution to meeting ESG goals. This post provides the general information required for installing rooftop PV systems deployed on rooftops of commercial buildings in the United States - work with your project team to determine the best plan for your specific situation.
If you are interested in a rooftop PV system for your facility, contact a Colite Technologies representative and our team can help you begin discussions for a sustainable energy solution tailored to your goals.