Residential rooftop solar in Maryland.

Rooftop solar from Maryland resident and solar energy system owner Tionna Richardson.

The U.S. Department of energy is celebrating the Summer of Solar by highlighting stories of Americans who have gone solar—like Tionna Richardson of Charles County, Maryland. Tionna took some time to tell us why and how she decided to get solar panels installed on her rooftop. Here’s what she said: 

Can you share a bit about your background?  

I am a wife of six years, a mother of three children, and a county officer in Maryland holding the rank of corporal. I have a split-level, single-family home. 

What made you decide to “take the plunge” and go solar?  

A past sergeant of mine told me about his process of going solar. He was receiving monetary checks or credit on his account from his electric company because his home produced more energy than his family used. Of course, this information made me very interested, and I gave his contact person a call. 

What is the size of your system, when did you install it, and who is your solar installer?  

My system is 9.1 kilowatts and has 35 modules made by Canadian Solar. Trinity Solar installed the system in April 2016. 

Walk us through the process and steps you took to convert your home to solar power.  

I called Trinity Solar and scheduled an appointment for someone to come inspect my roof, to make sure my home was a good fit for the panels. The whole process was smooth from start to finish. The only responsibility I had was to get signatures from two neighbors, whose homes surround mine, for approval of the installation from my homeowners association [HOA]. 

HOAs have the right to influence how you add solar to your property—for example, they may need to approve your installation’s design—but many states have solar access laws to ensure that HOAs cannot prohibit their members from installing solar. Additionally, some states have solar easements, which are voluntary legal agreements homeowners can enter into with neighbors that protect their access to solar energy. To find the laws in your state, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, search by state, and filter your results for “Solar/Wind Access Policies.”  

What challenges did you encounter along the way, and how were they handled?  

One challenge I had was due to some rule in Charles County in relation to a fire hazard code. Because of it, I could not have the panels cover the majority of my roof. The panels had to leave a certain amount of space around the perimeter of my roof, which didn’t allow me to have as many panels to maximize energy production. 

How did you finance your system--purchase, lease, power purchase agreement (PPA), other?  

My system was financed via PPA. 

Through her PPA, Tionna buys the electricity that her system generates back from the Sunnova at a set rate per kilowatt-hour.

How has the solar system changed your energy costs?  

My solar system has lowered my energy costs. My home is all electric and has a heat-pump system for maintaining my home’s temperature. Unfortunately, heat pumps aren’t that great when temperatures are below freezing, and my home is older, so in the winter we have to use electric heaters throughout the house. Before the solar panels were installed, my monthly electric bills were close to $400 during winter months, but after, my bills were under $250. During the summer, I sometimes receive credits on my account when my system produces more power than we use.  

What other benefits have you seen since installing solar?  

The panels help shield my roof shingles from direct weather-related wear and tear. Having the panels installed also made me look into how to better insulate my home. The solar panels also add value to my home’s equity. The company I used also have refer-a-friend rebates, and when my father had his panels installed, I received a bonus check. 

What advice would you give someone who is considering installing solar power but doesn’t quite know how to begin?  

My advice would be to reach out to some companies and learn more about the process and benefits. Do some research and find the company that suits you and your family the best. 

What do you wish had gone differently in the process of going solar?  

I wish my home could have had all the panels that could actually fit on my roof installed to maximize even more production. I also could have had some trees cut down in the rear of my home to get more sunlight.

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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.