Thank you for your interest in Black Hills Solar. We are dedicated to helping you achieve your energy goals by providing a comprehensive guide on our process from sales to installation. Our goal is to answer all of your questions and provide the best service possible.
If you are new to the world of energy, we can assist you in understanding key concepts that will be helpful in the decision-making process and in maximizing the efficiency of your new power system. We have provided resources on our website to help you find easy answers to common questions.
Keep in mind, however, that you don't have to become an expert. You can rely on our expertise to quickly determine if solar is right for you. Just provide us with some essential information and we're happy to assist. Follow up with us if you have any additional questions.
Step 1: Qualification
The first step in our process is to qualify the project. This means determining that our products and services are a good fit for your property and can meet your desired goals. Every property and every customer is unique, which is why we recommend that you begin with a self-assessment using the resources available on our website. This will help you determine what may or may not work for your property, budget, or goals.
To start a project, please complete our project form.
While solar energy can be a great option for many, its feasibility will vary depending on factors such as location, homeowner goals, and budget. We recommend that you educate yourself on the basics of solar energy and begin with a self-assessment to determine if it is the right fit for you.
Step 2: Pricing
We will start with some initial estimates before following up with a site visit and final quote.
Instant estimate: available on our price sheet.
Initial recommendation: complete our project form and we'll respond with a recommendation, an estimate, and some follow-up questions to narrow down what's right for you.
Custom quote: if you're happy with our recommendations, we will perform a site visit to confirm installation requirements, discuss options, and provide a final quote.
Please note that custom quotes typically require three to eight hours of preparation depending on the site location, the design of the building, and the size of the system being designed. For projects that are more complex (including larger homes or commercial buildings, off-grid systems, and major electrical retrofits), at distant or remote locations, or to expedite a quote, we may require a site visit/design fee payment in advance.
Step 3: Scheduling
New customers are served in the order that we receive the project form. Our installation schedule is booked seasonally, so some lead time is normal. We appreciate your use of this guide and our website resources to help us expedite the process.
From start to finish, our whole process follows these steps.
1. Qualify / Estimate (free)
You provide information using our project form. Including your monthly electric use and some photos to help improve our recommendations.
We view the roof/property using satellite images to identify suitable solar panel locations.
We qualify the project (as described below).
We compare system performance in relation to your monthly electric use (if provided).
We provide our recommendation and an estimate.
If our recommendation is suitable, we will move on to a custom quote.
2. Custom Design / Quote
We schedule a site visit to confirm measurements and document the existing electrical system.
We prepare a custom system design, including the site plan and wiring diagrams.
We contact the utility for approvals.
We provide the quotation and purchase agreement for your approval.
You sign the contract and pay a down payment.
Upon receiving your down payment (typically 50%), we finalize plans, prepare equipment, materials, and paperwork (permits, etc.), and then schedule your installation.
We prepare and submit utility notifications, interconnection forms, underground locates, electrical permits, and building permits (as applicable).
You submit a signed interconnection agreement and proof of homeowners insurance to your utility provider.
We allocate materials and equipment for your project.
We schedule your installation (usually one to three weeks in advance).
We complete the installation and notify the utility.
Your invoice balance will be due upon completion. We will ensure the system is fully performing, register the system, and give you access to the online monitoring platform. We will also follow up to help if you have any questions or need assistance.
Qualifying a Project
When we say "qualify" a project, we mean to determine the ability to achieve your goals, based on the conditions of your property, utility provider, and personal interests.
To ensure lasting customer satisfaction, we may decline projects if we believe they would not perform adequately or would otherwise fail to meet expectations.
The feasibility of a solar power project depends primarily on three factors:
Having a location for solar panels with no shade for at least six hours per day (during all seasons)
Having a utility service rate that is favorable for bill reduction (depending on the type of system being installed and the interest/objective)
Having expectations that are well-informed (to prevent misconceptions about the system's capabilities)
Our qualified system designer will work with you to evaluate the following factors and ensure that a solar power system is the right fit for your property and goals:
Location: We must have a shade-free location for solar panels. The shade of a tree (or terrain, buildings, utility poles, chimneys, etc.) across a solar panel causes a significant loss of performance. In some cases, trees need to be removed for acceptable solar performance to be achieved. If we cannot find a mostly shade-free location for the solar panels, we cannot qualify the project due to excessive performance loss.
Utility Rates: We are familiar with the utilities around the Black Hills, the various services and rates, and in what situations solar is more or less favorable to achieve specific goals. For example, the value of solar energy correlates directly with the utility's kWh rate; the value of solar is tied to the cost of electricity you would otherwise be purchasing (which is being offset by solar), and therefore the potential savings with solar power is limited to the energy charge on the bill. Another factor is demand charges, which can only be reduced with a battery system or demand controller (or smart breaker panel). Furthermore, excess power back-feeding the grid has its value limited to the avoided cost rate, limiting the value of oversized installations. Another situation can be compatibility issues between solar power and discounted utility service (such as submetered electric heat or EV charging rates). Utility rates are also destined to change over time. All of these factors become relevant, particularly for the purpose of estimating bill reduction and investment forecasting.
Financial Expectation: Not everyone approaches solar solely as an investment, but solar power generally comes with an expectation for reduced power bills and an eventual payback. In terms of ROI, every situation will be unique due to factors including: the energy charges being offset (which will change over time); applicability of government incentives (eligibility for the tax credit); the size of the system (economy-of-scale favors larger systems); the usage of major appliances (especially HVAC and EV charging); and when the occupants use energy most - during day or night including seasonally. We are able to provide a reasonable estimate (based on current rates) of when reduced utility charges should equal the total investment (which is typically 10 to 15 years). Though it's not possible to guarantee a specific payback period, we can, however, confidently say that a good (qualified) installation has the potential to reach an ROI well within the system's lifespan (which is generally considered 20 to 30 years). Solar should be thought of as a reliable long-term investment.
Capacity: The capacity of the system (or the 'size' of the system) is another contributing factor to site qualification. Some homes have very limited usable roof space for solar panels. Since smaller systems generally have a higher installed cost per watt, it can sometimes make the prospect uneconomical, depending on the total installation requirements. On the other hand, homes with large roofs and relatively high energy usage more often qualify as suitable candidates, as they can get the most benefit due to the economy of scale.
Complexity: Our team is experienced in installing solar power systems in a variety of situations, however, in some cases, the complexity of a project may increase costs and outweigh the benefits. Factors such as the nature of the building or roof, the electrical system, or the terrain available for ground mounting can all impact the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of a project. If we believe that the costs outweigh the benefits, we will be upfront and let you know if we think it is reasonable or not to move forward. In some cases, we have to decline a project due to excessive complexity or safety reasons.
Best versus Worst-Case Scenarios
Best case: There are a number of applications for which solar is especially favorable. Some of these include:
Air-conditioning - where there is full sun exposure, as cooling is needed most as the sun shines.
EV-charging - when the vehicle is parked at home during the daytime.
Backup power - for continuous, seamless, and quiet backup power with batteries.
Retirees and working from home - when the home is occupied, and energy is used most, during the daytime.
Commercial - where most activity and energy use happens during the daytime.
Energy intensive - larger homes or wherever there is higher than average energy use during the daytime.
Unfavorable: Likewise, there are some situations where solar cannot perform well or meet expectations:
Shaded - in forests, canyons, or other shaded areas, including when tall pipes and chimneys cast shadows that would significantly limit solar power production.
For electric heat - since the majority of heating occurs when there is the least sunlight.
Mis-orientation - when a favorable orientation is not available for solar panels.
Complex roofs - highly complex roofs (hips, valleys, dormers) can limit solar placement and add significant challenges for installation.
Flat roofs - at our latitude, flat roof solar is good in the summertime but bad in wintertime. Flat roofs may also introduce complex engineering challenges, and solar arrays on flat roofs require ongoing maintenance.
Thank you for reading this guide!