Q&A: Getting Started on a Cooperative Solar System

Question: I own a building in a co-op. There are four units altogether. I and the owners would like to install solar panels and get off the grid, partially if not fully. How do we get started?

Answer: Once you’ve decided to go solar you’ve already started. The next step, however, is not to go out and buy solar panels. That time will come soon enough, but first there are some important steps that you and your co-op companions should take, starting with…

Your Electric Bill

Understanding your utility bills is the first step you should take. All other decisions regarding a new solar energy system will stem from this piece of paper. The total amount of kilowatt-hours of electricity you consume each month, along with other factors such as available roof space, will determine the size and cost of your solar system. When each owner in the co-op understands their electricity usage, you all can then look into ways to better…

Conserve Energy

Most of us are not minimizing our energy usage as much as we could, without sacrificing much in the way of comfort. There are a slew of ways to curb your energy usage, from updated appliances to simply changing the light bulbs. To locate the building’s weak spots, everyone could chip in to have a home energy audit performed on the building. In many cases electricity consumption can be cut by as much as 50 percent, simply by a change in focus and lifestyle at home. You can also look into co-generation, a growing trend among co-ops and other multi-family dwellings.

Conservation will help reduce the necessary size and cost of your solar system and will make it much easier for you and your fellow owners to get off the grid. Also check out other creative ways to combine solar and other green technologies, especially for getting off the grid. These include a cool roof or green roof combined with your solar system. Not only do these roofs help improve the efficiency of your solar system, but you could feasibly have an interworking system that keeps the home cool, conserves energy, provides electricity and hot water, and utilizes a rooftop garden as a food source for all residents. The possibilities are there.

So now that you’re tracking your energy usage from month to month, you’ll have a head start on your first meeting with local…

Solar Contractors

Start off by interviewing and obtaining free estimates from local solar installers. Look for contractors with experience with co-ops or larger systems and perhaps connections or experience in other areas of green design, such as the green roofs mentioned above. Once you’ve chosen a contractor you can trust, he or she will help iron out the remaining details such as how many solar panels you’ll need, how prime your location is for solar, and many more factors. Here is where the idea that started so long ago begins to take shape. Getting totally off the grid will likely require a little extra thought, time, and more than one type of solar system (i.e., PV and thermal), but on the other hand, with four owners, you can also expect to save money on up-front costs. Also, the more generous federal tax incentives kick in at the start of 2009, in addition to whatever state rebates and incentives may be available to you.

Posted on January 14 in Solar Information by .

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