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Frequently Asked Questions
Below you’ll find a collection of frequently asked questions to explore adding solar to your commercial property. If your question is not addressed below, please feel free to submit your inquiry through our Ask an Advisor service.
I’d like to explore using solar electricity - Where should I start?
You are in the right spot! You can start by looking through the resources available on this site (linked to the right) including how solar works, available incentives and a resource library focused on Commercial Solar.
If you think your site is suitable for a solar electric system, our Procurement Guidance section can help you with the next steps to finding an installer.
If you are a considering a residential project please see the resources on our Residential Solar site.
How do I identify a reputable solar installer?
MassCEC has guidance for finding a solar installer here.
You can also find a list of installers who have previously installed solar electric systems in Massachusetts and view summary information about completed projects, on MassCEC's Cost and Performance page.
As with the selection of any service provider, there are many sources online for reviews and customer testimonials, as well as marketplaces or other procurement services that can help to solicit and compare quotes for your system.
In addition, several organizations including the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) have developed consumer protection resources with questions for consumers to ask of their installers, including:
- Solar Industries Association - SEIA Consumer Protection Resources
- Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) - Clean Energy Consumer Bill of Rights
- Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) - Solar Smart Consumer Checklist.
How will I know if my site is suitable for solar?
A suitable space requires a large, flat and open roof area, a southwest to southeast facing roof surface, or a large, open land area. The perimeter surrounding the roof space should be free of trees or other obstructions that may cause shading on the roof or ground surface. If roof obstructions are present (e.g. piping, venting, HVAC equipment), properly locating the equipment can minimize the impact on the solar electric system.
A solar installation professional is the best source to provide you with an in-depth feasibility assessment for your site. There are some free tools available to the public, one of which includes the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWatts website.
The MassCEC Commercial Solar - Ask an Advisor service can also help with providing commercial entities a remote assessment of their site at no cost.
I was told solar doesn’t work for my property - What other options do I have?
Not a good solar candidate, don’t worry. To start, we always encourage interested parties to request multiple quotes from installers, as some may have unique solutions for your site. If your last solar site assessment was more than 2 years ago, it may be worth getting a new site assessment as pricing and technology innovations are consistently changing the market. There may also be opportunities to join a community solar project, options for clean heating and cooling technologies or the potential for energy efficiency measures through MassSave.
How much will a solar electric system cost and how much will I save?
MassCEC has collected state-specific information on solar costs to help provide an order of magnitude estimate for system costs. A solar installation professional can provide a more detailed assessment of the cost given your specific site, as well as an assessment of potential savings and revenue based on the project design and available incentives.
What types of incentives are available for commercial projects?
There are several state and federal incentives, tax credits, and assisted financing programs that can help with the cost of solar. Please see the How it Works and Available Incentives page for a brief summary of these opportunities.
Where can I find information on financing for commercial solar electric systems?
MassCEC has a summary of available financing options here.
Additionally, the Solar Project Builder has been developed with support from the US Department of Energy Sunshot Initiative, as a means to help compare financing options. Users can calculate and compare the financial benefits of various options of solar installations.
Will a rooftop solar electric system impact the maintenance or accessibility of other rooftop equipment (e.g. HVAC)? Will it affect rooftop drainage?
A reputable solar installer will assess the existing drainage routes and rooftop equipment prior to designing the system. A well-designed system will ensure that roof drainage is not impacted, and that qualified individuals can gain access to the solar electric system and all rooftop equipment to provide the appropriate maintenance.
What operations and maintenance (O&M) does a solar electric system require?
Like many appliances, solar electric systems may require annual maintenance to ensure efficient performance and reliability over the system lifetime. However, solar electric systems contain limited moving parts, resulting in low O&M costs compared to many other traditional energy investments. The ownership model (i.e. direct ownership vs. third-party) will influence what method of operation and maintenance (O&M) is employed. O&M activities may include monitoring, safety, cleaning, inspection, and any additional annual maintenance.
For a direct ownership model – While the system owner is generally responsible for O&M of the system, in-house management of the O&M can help reduce the overall cost of maintaining a system. A qualified individual is required.
For a third party ownership model – system maintenance is often provided through an O&M contract coverage, which may include monitoring, annual inspections, preventative maintenance services. Costs may fall around $15/kw-yr for systems under 1 MW in scale depending upon the level of service required.
Is glare a concern for solar electric systems?
Glare is rarely an issue since the panels face upwards at an angle of 10 to 45 degrees (for many systems, but depends on site conditions) and any incidental glare can be addressed through proper siting and pre-construction modeling. Solar panels are designed to reflect only about 2 percent of incoming light, so issues with glare from panels are rare. For more information, please see:
- Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Clean Energy Results, Questions and Answers, Ground Mounted Solar Photovoltaic Systems. June 2015.
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Top Five Large-Scale Solar Myths. February 2016.
How long will it take to install a commercial solar electric system?
There are a number of steps involved with installing a solar electric system, including system design, contracting, permitting, installation, and interconnection with the utility. While physical construction can often be completed within a few weeks, steps such as permitting and interconnection involve working with local officials and their respective queue/schedules. This results in the entire process often taking three to six months, or more, depending on the location, motivation of the purchaser, and complexity of the site/permitting requirements. A solar installer can provide a more detailed timeline after considering the complexity of your installation and local jurisdiction.
Can I install a solar electric system on my condo?
Yes, many of the same conditions that make a commercial property a good candidate for solar, apply for condominiums. Condo owners will likely need approval from their condo association before installing a solar electric system. For more information, please download Massachusetts Department of Energy Resource’s Solar Guide for Condominium Owners and Associations in Massachusetts, or this reference for landlords and condos developed for the city of Cambridge.
What are the benefits of installing energy storage along with a solar electric system?
Energy storage is an emerging technology that can be paired with solar electric systems (new or existing). Energy storage can provide back-up power in case of an emergency and enhance energy savings from solar electric systems. Depending on the configuration of an existing system, there can be considerable costs to retrofit a storage installation. However, if your facility’s utility rate includes demand charges, the energy savings from solar and storage may have a competitive return.
Please consult your solar installation professional for further information about storage retrofits or a new solar and storage project. The commercial solar Ask an Advisor team can also assist in understanding the potential options for storage. In some cases, if solar and storage systems are installed together, the system can qualify for a tax incentive from the federal government. Please consult your installer and a tax professional for detailed tax advice.
For more information on solar, storage and the investment tax credit, please see this National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) Resource.
For an overview of demand charge management, please see this NREL Resource on Demand Charges.