Celebrating the Summer of Solar means highlighting stories of Americans who have gone solar—and Sekar Veerappan of Richmond, Virginia, is one of them. We asked Sekar to tell us about his experience getting solar panels installed on his roof, and he had a lot of good information to share. Here’s what he said:
Can you share a bit about your background?
I am a mechanical engineer, and I work as an independent consultant. I live with my family in Richmond, Virginia, in a traditional two-story, single-family home.
What made you decide to “take the plunge” and go solar?
I am passionate about sustainable living, and I was already following several green living practices at home. I have always been concerned about the climate change and the rise in extreme weather conditions that we have been witnessing in recent years.
The primary reason for my decision to go solar was to help protect the environment by generating my own clean energy. The financial benefits that came along with it made it easy for me to take the plunge.
What is the size of your system, when did you install it, and who is your solar installer?
I installed my solar system in March 2016. My system is a 9.99-kilowatt photovoltaic system comprised of 37 270-watt monocrystalline black panels and a central string inverter, with a power optimizer for each panel.
My solar panels are installed on the rear roof, which is a standard asphalt-shingle roof, facing southeast. On average, my system has generated about 12,490 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.
Walk us through the process and steps you took to convert your home to solar power.
While researching residential solar and getting quotes from local installers, I came across Solar United Neighbors, a nonprofit organization promoting rooftop solar. I joined their first solar co-op in the Richmond area and attended their solar info session.
A solar co-op is a group of homeowners in a certain geographic area who use their combined purchasing power to find the best rate for their individual solar installations.
The co-op was very helpful, answering all my questions. They took the participants through various steps from comparing installer bids to completion of installation. It turned out to be an easy and smooth process.
Other than taking care of the financing, I didn't have to make any modifications to my home or the main electrical panel to install solar.
Also, the information and guides available on going solar—on the websites of Solar United Neighbors and the U.S. Department of Energy—were very useful.
What challenges did you encounter along the way, and how were they handled?
I didn't have any major challenges. I have a good roof, mostly free of shading from trees. I just had to get educated on the system component choices and the different warranties. The co-op was helpful in navigating the purchase process.
Others, however, may face challenges such as not having an ideal roof or getting approval from their homeowners association [HOA], as some HOAs have restrictions to install solar panels.
How did you finance your system—purchase, lease, PPA, or some other way?
I purchased my system and paid for it with a low-interest loan. The 30% solar investment tax credit in 2016 was a big help in reducing the total cost.
How has the solar system changed your energy costs?
My system was designed to offset 95% to 100% of my electricity consumption. Solar has almost eliminated my electric utility bill. Some months I get a small bill, as solar production is weather-dependent, and [also] due to everyone working from home during this pandemic.
As long as I own solar, I am protected from rising electricity rates. I earn some additional money by selling my solar renewable energy certificates [SRECs] as well.
SRECs are an incentive offered in some states that allow solar owners to earn money for every 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity produced by their solar system. Their value varies from state to state. Find out if your state offers SRECs.
What other benefits have you seen since installing solar?
I am more energy-conscious now than before installing solar, and I have taken other energy-saving measures to reduce energy waste. My home with solar is worth more compared to similar non-solar homes in the area.
Besides the direct tangible financial benefits from electric bill savings, it gives me great satisfaction and peace of mind knowing that I am helping to reduce harmful emissions and helping the environment by generating my own clean electricity.
What advice would you give someone who is considering installing solar power but doesn’t quite know how to begin?
As with any big investment, do a lot of research. Talk to people who have already gone solar. You can also join a solar co-op program if there's one in your area. When you get multiple quotes from solar installers, make sure to compare the technical specs and warranties.
Check to make sure the solar contractor has the required licenses to install solar in your state. Most importantly, if a salesman knocks on your door, pressures you to make a purchase decision on the spot or to sign a contract, I would advise against it. Just take all the information and decide only after you have done your due diligence.
Do you wish anything had gone differently in the process of going solar?
I think in my case, it was a perfect solar journey. I cannot really think of anything that could have gone differently! With my own personal experience and by keeping up to date with the latest in solar, I am able to help others go solar.
This blog post is part of DOE’s Summer of Solar campaign, which lifts up stories of Americans who use solar energy and the communities that are making it easier to go solar.