1. Installer selection
As with any home improvement project, you should seek multiple quotes to find someone you are comfortable working with. Ask for a written description of what the installer will be doing, the proposed timeline, pricing, and potential expenses not included in the price. You can also contact the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office to determine if prospective installers have any complaints on file.
References and licenses
You should also ask for references from previous customers. MassCEC recommends that you call, and if possible, visit, one or more of the installer’s previous installations. Online review resources can be valuable too. According to Massachusetts law, the solar installer must be a professional installer licensed to conduct business in the state, and must have a Massachusetts licensed electrician either on staff or subcontracted to do the electrical work. In addition, there are various training and certification programs which many installers go through, such as those offered by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). If the installer plans to use subcontractors, get their references as well.
After receiving multiple quotes, the next step is to contract with a selected installer. Read more about what to look for in a contract here.
The installer will prepare a design for the solar electric system. The design can range from a simple site plan and electrical diagram to a more detailed set of plans and specifications, depending on the nature of the solar electric project and site. Where a solar electric system is being incorporated into new construction, it is advantageous to integrate the solar electric design process into the overall site planning and building design process to realize certain construction efficiencies and ensure optimal orientation and tilt of the system.
3. Apply to SMART program
The installer will submit an application for the SMART incentive on your behalf towards the beginning of the solar process to reserve a spot in the program’s current funding block.
All solar electric installations must comply with the requirements of the Massachusetts Electric Code. In addition, when an installation results in a structural change in an existing building, a solar electric system is subject to the Massachusetts Building Code. Solar electric installations require local permits and inspections by a local inspector. The licensed electrician on the job is responsible for ensuring that the installation meets state electrical code requirements. The installer must secure all necessary approvals from local permitting officials prior to putting the system into service.
5. Interconnection application
The utility will need to grant permission to allow the solar electric system to be connected to the electric grid. The approval process includes an application, meeting technical specifications for the interconnection, and meeting inspection requirements. The installer will be responsible for securing the approval to interconnect the solar electric system from the utility. In most cases, where the residence does not already have a net meter in place, the utility will need to install a new meter that will credit you for power sent back to the grid. The utility will install the production meter for systems participating in the SMART program, in addition to the net meter. This upgrade would take place after the system is installed, but before it is turned on.
What is net metering?
If you have a residential solar electric system, you can sell excess power they produce back to your utility, and receive a credit on your electric bill valued at almost the full retail rate for the power produced. This practice is called net metering. As a solar electric system produces electricity, the net meter will spin backwards, just as it spins forward when you consume electricity. At the end of each billing period, you are billed for the net electricity consumed over the entire billing period. This is the difference between the amount of electricity delivered from the electric grid and the electricity generated by the solar electric system and put onto the grid. You can receive net metering credits for any net excess electricity, which can be applied toward future electricity bills. Refer to this Net Metering Guide for more information.
6. Inspection and interconnection
Most Massachusetts homes with solar electric systems can interconnect to the electric grid, allowing you to purchase power from the electric distribution company when the solar electric system is not producing as much electricity as you are using. Utilities may require a special inspection prior to interconnection to ensure that the solar electric system complies with established technical, performance, and safety requirements. Once a solar electric system is fully installed, a municipal wiring inspector will come to the project site to review the system and make sure it was installed in accordance with national electric code requirements. Once that is determined to be the case, the inspector will sign off on the project electrical permit and sign a utility certificate of completion (which is provided to the utility in the interconnection process). The building inspector may also require a separate inspection. Commissioning is not complete until the system is satisfactorily inspected by the wiring inspector and the utility has confirmed that the system can interconnect to the power grid.
7. System testing, warranties and customer instruction
When the installation is complete, the installer should test the equipment to confirm that it is operating properly. You should also ensure that the installer provides you with copies of any technical material, such as a copy of the system design and electrical diagram, system commissioning test results, and information about the system equipment and warranties. The installer should also register the equipment warranties. Finally, the installer should educate you about safety, operations, and any maintenance requirements.
8. Complete SMART incentive process
The installer should submit completion paperwork so that the solar electric system can begin receiving SMART incentives. You should begin receiving monthly incentive payments from the utility within 3 months of the SMART completion process being finalized.
We’re In This Together
Pledge to reduce your home’s carbon footprint by replacing old systems and appliances with clean energy technologies over time.