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Project Feasibility and Assessment

Updated: Feb 10

The first step in a project assessment is to verify that your goals are achievable based on the conditions of your property, the utility power provider, and your unique interests.

Being well-informed about the options will help you determine if a solar power system will work well in your situation. Check out the resources on our website to do an initial self-assessment, then provide some information to us using our project form so we can qualify the project and provide personalized recommendations.

Determining the feasibility of a solar power project (a.k.a. "qualifying" a project) considers the following factors:

  1. Location and Shade-Free Area: Solar panels need a south-facing location clear of shade from trees or structures to avoid significant performance losses, sometimes necessitating tree removal.

  2. Utility Rates and Solar Viability: Familiarity with the applicable utility rates informs when solar offers savings on energy charges or if batteries can offer savings on demand charges.

  3. Financial Expectations for Solar Investments: An investment in solar assumes that the power bill savings will equal the cost of the solar investment within the lifetime of the system.

  4. Solar Capacity and Roof Suitability: Larger roofs and high energy-use homes qualify more easily, while homes with limited roof space may have insufficient solar potential.

  5. Project Complexity and Feasibility: The complexity of installing solar systems varies, with feasibility affected by the building, electrical system, and terrain, which all contribute to the cost-effectiveness of a project.

Professional Assessment

Assessing the feasibility of a solar project

Our certified system designer will evaluate the following factors to ensure that a solar power system is the right fit for your property and goals:

Location: There must be a shade-free, southern-facing 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.

Utility Rates: We are familiar with the electric utilities around the Black Hills, their various services and rates, and in what situations solar is more or less favorable to achieve specific goals. When approaching solar with the goal of bill reduction, here's what you need to know:

  • The benefit of solar is equal to the cost of the electricity it replaces, with savings limited to the energy charge (kWh) portion of the power bill.

  • Demand charges, unaffected by solar, require solutions like battery systems or smart panels for reduction.

  • There is no net-metering in South Dakota. The compensation structure is known as net-billing, which differs from net-metering. Net metering credits equal the retail electricity rate (what you, as a utility customer, pay for electricity). In contrast, net billing credits equal the wholesale rate (what your utility company pays for electricity). Net-metering currently exists in Wyoming - contact your utility provider for details.

  • Excess solar power returned to the grid is valued at an avoided cost rate, limiting the benefit of oversized systems. Avoided cost credits are only 15-20% of the retail rate.

  • Compatibility with special utility services (such as heat meter, EV charging) and the inevitable change in utility rates over time are important considerations when estimating bill savings and investment outcomes. Utilities do not allow special rate EV and electric heat submeters on a site with solar power.

Financial Expectation: Solar power generally comes with the expectation of reduced power bills and an eventual payback for the system through those savings. The estimation of a payback will be influenced by factors like the location quality, times of energy use (night vs day), usability of the tax credit, the system size, the ease of installation, and changing utility rates.

The anticipated return on investment should be well within the system's 20 to 30-year lifespan. Estimations for most qualified residential projects in South Dakota figure 10 to 15 years to reach a payback (excluding the battery cost).

Battery systems offer their own set of benefits based on the additional features they offer (such as backup power for refrigeration) and utility bill reduction of demand charges (when applicable).

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 (use of the tax credit);

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

  • The usage of major appliances (especially space heating, HVAC, and EV charging);

  • When the occupants use energy most - during day or night and seasonal differences;

  • Whether or not a battery system is included.

Solar Capacity: The capacity of the system (or the 'size' of the system) will also contribute to site qualification. Homes with large roofs and relatively high energy usage more easily qualify as they can get the most benefit due to the economy of scale. On the other hand, homes with very limited usable roof space for solar panels, especially complex hipped roofs, may offer limited solar potential.

Complexity: Our team is experienced in installing solar power systems in a variety of situations including very large off-grid power systems and steep roofs. In some cases, the complexity of a project and increased installation costs might outweigh the benefits. Factors including the characteristics of the building or roof, the existing electrical system, or the terrain available for ground mounting may significantly impact the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of a project. If we believe that the costs may outweigh the benefits, we will let you know if we think it is reasonable or not to move forward. In some cases, we may decline a project due to excessive complexity if we do not believe could produce a desirable outcome. Thankfully, these situations are rare and we are experienced with addressing some highly complex scenarios.

Best versus Worst-Case Scenarios for Solar

Best case: There are several applications for which solar is especially favorable. Some of these include:

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

  • Superior solar resource - when an unshaded roof of 6:12 to 9:12 pitch faces directly south.

  • EV-charging - when the vehicle is parked at home during the daytime at least a few days per week.

  • Backup power is desirable - when a superior backup power systems is desired for continuous, seamless, and quiet backup power with batteries instead of a generator.

  • 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: There are also some situations where solar cannot perform well or meet expectations, making a project hard to qualify:

  • Poor solar resource - 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.

  • Where heat meters are installed - sub-metered electric heat offers discounts that are not eligible when solar power is on site.

  • Peak demand rates - reduced energy costs lessen power bill reduction, necessitating batteries be used to instead offset peak demand charges.

  • Complex roofs - highly complex roofs (hips, valleys, dormers) can limit solar placement, sometimes adding 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. Solar arrays on flat roofs require ongoing maintenance.



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