Saturday, June 9, 2018

Solar Installation Timeline

Assuming you’re decided to go forward with your solar project, it may be helpful to have some sense of what happens when.  Here’s the timeline on my particular solar story.

October 1, 2017:  Signed a contract with Green Power Energy for a 6.80 kWsystem with 20 Axitec AC-340M/156-72Ssolar panels (340 Watts) and a SolarEdge central inverter with optimizers to each panel. Cost = $19,900.  The Axitec panels had 72 solar cells (standard is 60) and are 77” x 39”.

October 4, 2017:  Roof survey is done by a GPE employee.

October 19, 2017:  Received the updated roof design from GPE via email. This was the most stressful part of this process.  I was told that the 20 Axitec panels would not fit on my roof and that they could only put 16 panels (system = 5.44 kW) for an unspecified lower price or they could install a 6.90 kWsystem consisting of 23 standard-sized panels (65” x 39”) from another manufacturer for $21,700. That didn’t seem like much of a deal to me.  The new manufacturer was on Energysage’s list of best solar panels (, but I found a review from a consumer in Utah, who noted that this brand exhibited a significant decrease in efficiency at temperatures greater than 85°F.  There are plenty of summer days in NJ with temperature above 85°F, so that was a definite concern.  I particularly favored the German-engineered Axitec panels because they have a reputation of working well even in low-light conditions.  Like Germany, New Jersey has a lot of cloudy/overcast days, so that was a consideration.

Note: I don’t know how common it is for solar companies to try to change the terms of the contract at this stage, but it is certainly something to be aware of.  Forewarned is forearmed.

The proposed 6.90 kWsystem with twenty-three 65” x 39” panels for $21,700 looked like:

October 20, 2017:  Using their drawing and dimensions, I send back a design that allowed the 20 Axitec panels (77” x 39”) to fit.

I also scan the documents I will need to apply for a home equity loan (last 2 years’ tax returns, recent pay stubs, etc.)

October 21, 2017:  My contact at GPE replied that unfortunately the panels did not fit and they could give me 22 panels of 310 Watts from the same manufacturer as they proposed before for $21,400 for a 6.82 kWsystem.  This response made me a little angry.  Did they think I was an idiot?  This caused me to go up into my attic and take detailed measurements of the attic and the distances between the various roof obstacles (attic fan, two in-roof vents, vent pipe).  I assumed the outer wall was at least 4 inches thick and was able to come up with a reasonable estimate of the roof dimensions and area.

October 23, 2017:  My response included the review I was concerned about with their proposed manufacturer, and my unhappiness that I was being asked to pay $1500 more for virtually the same thing ($19,900 for a 6.80 kWsystem vs. $21,400 for a 6.82 kWsolar array).  I also pointed out that five horizontal Axitec panels (5 x 39” = 195”) covered the same distance as three vertical standard panels (3 x 65” = 195”), and that one horizontal Axitec (77 inches long) required slightly less space than two vertical standard panels (2 x 39” = 78”), as well as presented some of my measurements from the attic.  GPE agreed to review the design.

October 24, 2017:  GPE sent me back a roof design that was similar to the one I had sent them, which I quickly accepted (see below).

In an apparent attempt to dissuade me from accepting the new plan, GPE claimed that the panels would overhang the roof edge by 1-2 inches.  I knew this was not true, because one of the solar companies I had been considering had given me a proposed roof design using three vertical rows of standard panels (65” x 39”; see below). I could also see this example in real life since another townhome (same floorplan as mine) in my development, had solar panels arranged in this manner.  Viewed from the side, the panels came almost to the edge where the gutter attaches to the roof, but they did fit on the roof just fine.  Since three vertical panels (65” x 3 = 195”) have the same spatial requirements as five horizontal panels (39” x 5 = 195”), I knew there was room for the proposed solar panel arrangement that GPE had sent me.

October 25, 2017:  I receive notice of conditional registration into New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program’s (NJCEP) SREC program, along with my project registration number.  This is the first step towards being able to generate solar renewable energy certificates (SREC’s).

With the solar roof design in hand, I applied for approval of my solar project with my HOA.  I also submitted for approval of a roof replacement as I had received three bids by that time, and had selected a roofing contractor.

With the cost of my solar project confirmed with the agreement on the roof design and panels, I am now able to apply for a home equity loan, which I did in-person at my local branch of Kearny Bank.

November 2, 2017:  I received a disclosure package to sign and another form to fill out and return from Kearny Bank.

November 3, 2017:  I scanned the signed disclosure package and form and sent them to Kearny Bank electronically.  Kearny Bank ordered a ride-by appraisal of my property.

November 9, 2017:  Kearny Bank sent me a loan commitment letter, along with the property appraisal report and some forms that I was able to sign electronically.  They also asked for a copy of the payment coupon of my quarterly HOA fee, which I scanned and sent with the other forms.

November 13, 2017:  I received approvals from my HOA for both the roof replacement and solar project.  I sent copies of the approvals to my roofing contractor and GPE, my solar company.

November 14, 2017:  I received part 1 of the interconnection application with JCP&L, my electrical utility company.  I was able to sign it electronically and sent it back.

November 16, 2017:  Kearny Bank contacted me to set up my closing on the home equity loan for November 22.

November 17, 2017:  Kearny Bank sent me a closing disclosure, which had to be signed and returned three business days before closing.  I was able to sign it electronically, but just to make sure, I printed it out, signed and scanned it, then emailed it back.

November 22, 2017:  I close on the home equity loan at Kearny Bank’s local branch office.  I have to wait three business days before the funds will be disbursed.

November 27-28, 2017:  My roof is replaced.  Looks great!

November 28, 2017:  I picked up the home equity check at Kearny Bank.  Now I can pay the roofing company and have the funds for the solar array.

December 13, 2017:  I receive notice from GPE that all permits have been obtained.  I send them a check equal to 55% of the total cost of the project per our contract.

January 2&3, 2018:  Installation of the roof racks for the 6.80 kW solar array and installation of the inverter takes place.  The Axitec panels specified in my contract are backordered.  I give GPE a check equal to 25% of the total cost of the project per our contract.

January 9, 2018:  Two electricians complete the wiring for the solar array.  Still waiting on panels. 

January 20, 2018:  Twenty Axitec solar panels are installed.

January 29, 2018:  I had to be home on this day when GPE installed a new meter that records the kWh generated by the solar array for the purpose of calculating SREC’s (solar renewable energy certificates; 1 SREC = 1000 kWh) and met with the building and electrical inspectors from my municipality.  The solar array passed inspection.  

February 9, 2018:  I received part 2 of my interconnection application with JCP&L, which I signed electronically and sent back.

February 21, 2018:  An employee from JCP&L (my electric company) replaced my electric meter with a new one that runs backwards when electricity flows from my home to the electric utility and forwards when electricity flows from the utility to my home.  If I use less energy than I produce, I should receive a credit from JCP&L on an annual basis.  I am informed that my system has now been turned on and is generating electricity. Later that day, someone from GPE stops by to set up the communication between my wireless router and the solar array.

March 13, 2018:  I received approval for my GATS (Generation Attribute Tracking System) account.  I had signed up for a new account at  Upon receiving approval for my GATS account, I registered my solar system within the account.  The registration process asks for two names for your system, which you can make anything you want.  I called 877-750-GATS(4287) any time I had questions and found them to always be very helpful.  The registration process also asks for the size (turns out this is the number of watts your solar panels are rated for – in my case, this was 340 watts), tilt (the angle your solar panels are mounted at in degrees), and the azimuth (the direction the panels face where due north is 0°, east is 90°, south is 180°, and west is 270°).  I got the tilt and azimuth from information my installer had sent me.

March 15, 2018:  The squirrel guard was installed around my solar array.  Squirrels love to nest under solar panels and chew on the cables, which is usually only apparent after one or more of the panels quits working (especially a problem in the northeast).  At that point, it’s a rather costly repair.  Better to prevent it from happening in the first place.

March 16, 2018:  GPE sent me a link from SolarEdge so I could monitor my solar array.  It was straightforward to create an account, which allows you to see how each individual panel is performing.  I sent GPE the final check (10% of the purchase price) and that was it!  Five and a half months after I first signed the contract with GPE, my solar project was complete.  Of course, someone who doesn’t have to replace their roof as I did, might expect this interval to be somewhat shortened.  However, even in the best of cases, it helps to keep in mind that this is a months-long process.  

Also received approval for my solar facility from the GATS administrator.  Monthly generation in kWh is usually entered between the 1stand 15thof the month.  I had to call the GATS customer service line (877-750-GATS) to get help with updating my first month’s entry on 3/15/2018.  Going forward, I will need to log into my GATS account on a monthly basis to record my energy production in kWh.  Any month that I record generating a MWh (= 1000 kWh) in my GATS account, I will receive an SREC (solar renewable energy certificate) on the last business day of that month.

Despite the back-and-forth with my installer, Green Power Energy, over the price, brand and number of solar panels, in the end, they did come through for me and stick with our original agreement.  They were also the only installer who offered me the squirrel guard as part of their package. No complaints on the installation as everything seems to be working flawlessly.

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