There are a lot of great reasons to install solar panels. We’re not going to cover all the pros and cons in this article, but if you have decided to go forward or are looking for tools to help you make that decision, we offer some hard-earned lessons from our own experiences, and those of many others over the years, that can help make your project a success.

Doing Your Own Financial Analysis

Based on extensive experience I can pretty much guarantee that when you contact a solar company to get an estimate, it will include a pitch to zero out your electric bill and a fancy, graphically enhanced analysis showing that you will save a zillion dollars over some future period. My first problem with that is there is no reason to believe zeroing out your electric bill is the right amount of solar to install. Sure, it is an obvious goal, and the way net metering works may give you the most savings. But you might also want to start with a cash budget, or an area of your roof you’re willing to deploy, or some other project size you’d prefer. So you may have to push back a bit and get a quote for the size of the system you want.
Similarly, while the payback projections often look awesome, they come with lots of assumptions. First, they assume a certain annual productivity for your panels. If the company hasn’t been on your roof (or on your site if you have a solar field planned) to evaluate shading, take their initial analysis with a grain of salt. Google Earth is amazing, but as the most common tool used by solar sales teams, it is only an approximation.

Read more: Going Solar Part 1: How to Plan a Successful Solar Panel Project