Considering Solar?

What to know before you buy a home solar system

By Brandon Wright, Director of Engineering


During this time of economic uncertainty, we may all be looking to reduce our expenses and consequently our electric usage. If you are considering the purchase of a home solar system, Alfalfa Electric Cooperative, Inc. (AEC) can help you through the process.

As you begin looking into a home solar system, be sure to include AEC in the process. AEC requires members to contact our office and request a Distributed Generation Procedure and Guidelines Manual before starting any solar installations. Following this manual will ensure power is produced safely and your bill is read correctly.

It is important to be familiar with the following terms: net metering, solar system size, zeroing out and solar system safety.

NET METERING is the process that compensates members with grid-connected distributed generation (like residential solar) by subtracting the energy produced from the solar system against the energy consumed at the location.

Your SOLAR SYSTEM SIZE is very important if your goal is ZEROING OUT your bill. AEC’s engineering staff can help you understand how much electricity you are currently consuming and show your usage and weather trends. For instance, solar generation is significantly impacted during cloudy conditions and winter months.

This information is also available on SmartHub; however, AEC recommends members call and confirm before committing to a particular solar system size. In addition, members may want to check their homes to see if they need upgrades to their heating and air, insulation, and/or other home efficiency needs before purchasing a solar system. This helps ensure members don’t pay for more than is required. Excess production has little value and can increase the time it takes to recoup your investment.

A question often asked is, “Can I zero out my bill?” It is possible to achieve a net zero usage, but the monthly total on your bill can only go as low as the minimum monthly charge plus tax. For example, if the member uses 1,000 kWh monthly and generates 1,000 kWh, the NET USAGE is zero; however, there is still a minimum monthly charge.

AEC does not purchase power generated by members. For example, if a member used 500 kWh and generated 1,000 kWh, there is no credit system for the extra 500 kWh produced. The amounts generated and consumed are listed on your electric bill under the heading kWh used.

  •   CONS — the amount of energy consumed by the member.
  •   GEN — the amount of power generated by the member’s solar system.
  •   1S — the balance of the consumed amount minus the amount generated.

If you still have questions about your bill, please get in touch with AEC to discuss your account.

It is also important to understand how your solar system will react during an outage. Solar systems are designed to stop generating power if grid power is lost. This means without a battery backup or generator your solar system will not provide power to your home during an outage. This is a SOLAR SYSTEM SAFETY measure to keep your solar system from back-feeding onto the grid, potentially causing harm to our linemen. During an outage, some solar systems can switch to battery power, but typically for a short period.

These safety mechanisms are required by the National Electric Safety Code and must be in place before the member can use their solar system. In addition, AEC engineering personnel must inspect your solar system before it is put to use.

AEC wants to help members through the solar process and help members make informed decisions. Please call AEC during business hours at 580-596-3333 if you have further questions or concerns.