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Introductory Guide

Thank you for your interest in Black Hills Solar. We look forward to helping you achieve your energy goals! This guide introduces you to our process from sales to installation. We want to answer all of your questions and provide the best service possible, and that's what this guide is all about.


If you don't understand energy very well, we can help with that. Having a basic understanding of some key concepts is helpful in the decision-making process and for learning how to be the most effective with your energy use with a new power system.


Most importantly, we want to be sure everything meets your expectations. We provide an honest assessment of your situation and the options available.


We provide helpful resources in our knowledge base so you can learn more in-depth topics around popular energy topics and related information.


Our first step is to qualify the installation, meaning to determine that our products and services are both a good fit for the property and are able to meet your desired goals.

While solar can be a great option for many, it will be more or less viable depending on the location, the homeowner's goals, and other factors. We encourage learning the basics and beginning with a self-assessment to determine what may or may not work to fit your property, budget, or goals.

To provide pricing, we will start with estimates and follow up with a final quote after a site visit:

  1. Instant estimate: available on our price sheet.

  2. Custom recommendation: complete our project form to receive our custom recommendation and an estimate.

  3. Custom quote: we perform a site visit to confirm installation requirements and discuss options with you before providing a final quote.

Custom quotes typically require three to eight hours to prepare depending on the site location, design of the building, and the size of 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.

Our installation schedule is booked seasonally, so some lead time is to be expected. Due to a high volume of calls, we appreciate your use of this guide and our website resources to help us expedite the process!

New customers are served in the order received as openings become available. Please begin by providing your information using our project form and we'll follow up with our recommendations, estimated lead time, and answers to your questions.

Our Complete Process


From start to finish, we'll progress through the following steps:


1. Qualify / Estimate (free)

  1. You provide information using our project form. Including monthly electric use and some photos will improve our recommendations.

  2. We view the roof/property using satellite imagery to identify suitable solar panel locations. If satellite images are not available, please send photos.

  3. We qualify the project (as described below).

  4. We compare system performance in relation to your monthly electric use (if provided).

  5. We provide our recommendation and an estimate.

If our recommendation is looking good, we will move on to a custom quote.


2. Custom Design / Quote

  1. We schedule a site visit to confirm measurements and document the existing electrical system.

  2. We prepare a custom system design, including the site plan and wiring diagrams.

  3. We contact the utility for approvals.

  4. We provide the quotation and purchase agreement for your approval.

  5. 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 schedule your installation.


3. Installation

  1. We prepare and submit utility notifications, interconnection forms, underground locates, electrical permits, and building permits (as applicable).

  2. We allocate materials and equipment for your project.

  3. We schedule your installation (usually one to three weeks in advance).

  4. You submit a signed interconnection agreement and proof of homeowners insurance to your utility provider.

  5. 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 also follow up to help if you have any questions or need assistance.


How to Qualify a Project


When we say "qualify" a project, we mean to determine how to (if we can) achieve your goals. A qualified project is one that can properly benefit from the intended use of the power system or other equipment we provide.


To ensure lasting customer satisfaction, we cannot accept a project if we believe it will not perform adequately or otherwise meet expectations.


A favorable outcome with solar power depends primarily on the following factors:

  1. Having a location for solar panels where there is no shade for at least six hours per day (during all seasons).

  2. Having a utility service rate that is favorable (depending on the type of system being installed and the interest/objective).

  3. Having expectations that are well-informed (to prevent misconceptions about the system's capabilities).

Qualification Checklist


We encourage beginning with a self-assessment of your property, situation, and expectations. If you believe your potential project is favorable to the following, let us know!


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 very 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 of reduced energy costs and payback. In terms of ROI, every situation will be unique due to factors including:

  1. The energy charges being offset (which will change over time);

  2. Applicability of government incentives (eligibility for the tax credit);

  3. The size of the system (economy-of-scale favors larger systems);

  4. The usage of major appliances (especially HVAC, and EV charging);

  5. When the occupants use energy most - during day or night (and 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). However, no one can guarantee a 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. We can install solar in complex or difficult situations, but sometimes complexity can outweigh certain benefits due to increased costs associated with the nature of the building/roof, the electrical system, or the terrain available for ground mounting. If we believe these costs outweigh the benefits, we will be upfront and let you know if we think it is reasonable or not to move forward. In a few cases, we may decline a project due to excessive complexity or safety hazards.



Circumstances


Best-case

There are a few applications and circumstances for which solar is especially favorable. Some of these include:

  • Air-conditioning - where there is full sun exposure, cooling is needed most as the sun shines.

  • EV-charging - when the vehicle is parked at home during the daytime.

  • Backup power - when continuous, seamless, and quiet battery-backup power is the primary goal.

  • Retirees and working from home - when the home is occupied throughout the daytime.

  • Commercial - where there is high activity and energy use 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 does not work so well:

  • Shaded - in forests, canyons, or other shaded areas, including when tall pipes and chimneys cast shadows on the roof.

  • Electric heat - when the vast majority of electricity use occurs when there is the least sunlight.

  • Mis-orientation - when a southern-facing orientation is not available for solar panels, or when the property is on a steep north-facing slope.

  • Financing options - when high fees and interest rates are applied to loans, it can significantly diminish the ROI.

  • Complex roofs - highly complex roofs (hips, valleys, dormers) can limit solar placement and add significant challenges or aesthetic problems for installation.

  • Flat roofs - at our latitude, flat roofs are ok for summer but not good for winter. Flat roofs also need regular maintenance, which solar panels can complicate.



Why Choose Us

Our work is backed by our NABCEP-Certified PV installation credentials, extensive experience, local knowledge, and positive customer references and referrals.


As this industry grows, prospective solar customers will see more choices from new companies that may be offering cheaper/lower quality products, expensive financing options, subcontracted/outsourced design work and labor, and limited technical knowledge and support. We aim to continue to be the reputable local provider of the highest quality solar power systems and alternative power services for homes and businesses.


Thank you for reading our guide!