Even with a properly sized solar energy system designed to produce all of your home’s power, it’s possible for energy needs to change over time and you may find yourself asking, “What happens if I need to expand my solar energy system later?". Adding more solar panels to an existing system can absolutely be done, but let’s explain some things to consider to ensure you get the best value and experience possible.
At Positive Energy we value transparency, discussing options, and providing the right solution to fit our clients' needs. Because there are fixed costs (e.g. permitting, project management, travel) associated with solar installations–whether it’s for 1 solar panel or 10– it’s going to provide the best value to go through the installation process one time, accounting for as many foreseeable factors as we can.
In our initial consultation, we ask about your current energy needs and speak to what is reflected on your utility bills (unless it's new construction, which requires some load calculations and estimates). We’ll also discuss any improvements that you may be planning around the home that could change your energy usage like an electric vehicle, hot tub, or heating/cooling additions. Your solar energy system is typically sized to meet 100% of your net electricity needs, and we can usually even add an extra panel or two to provide some cushion. Each utility has different rules for how they handle and reward your excess energy (often referred to as “net metering”) but the goal is to provide enough solar panels to meet your energy needs without selling you more equipment than you’ll ever actually utilize and to ensure you’re receiving the greatest incentives for your system. Because many utilities have different solar incentives based on the size of the system itself, oversizing a system by too much could also cause you to lose some of the net metering benefits. It’s a fine balance and one of the reasons it's important to work with a skilled solar company to get things right.
Let’s say you are investing in a solar energy system and plan on buying a couple of Electric Vehicles in the future; in this case, it could make more sense to oversize your solar energy system upfront and begin banking some of the excess energy credits that can be used at a later time while avoiding the costs associated with twice the permitting, interconnection application, project management, truck roll, etc. The bottom line is if you’re confident your electricity use will be increasing, it’s often the better option to go with a larger system upfront.
Of course, we recognize that life happens and things can change around the home that weren’t predicted. If you find yourself using more energy than your solar system can produce, you have some options.
Considerations when expanding a solar energy system
Your solar system can only expand as much as the existing inverter capacity will allow. This is one of the benefits of micro inverters over string inverters. Your Solar Advisor can help you assess whether your existing inverter has the capacity to handle the additional power generated by the expanded solar energy system. If the expansion exceeds the capacity of the current inverter, you may need to upgrade to a larger inverter or consider adding an additional inverter to accommodate the increased power output. String inverters are designed to handle a specific number of panels connected in a series; Exceeding the recommended amount can result in reduced efficiency or system performance. Microinverters make things a little easier as they are installed on each individual panel allowing for independent power conversion. Expanding a system with microinverters is relatively straightforward as you can add additional microinverters to the new panels which will operate independently, ensuring optimal energy harvest per module.
As long as there is viable space to add more solar panels, an expansion is usually doable. Because this changes the capacity for energy production on the grid, it requires going through the same permitting and utility approval process as your original system. The benefit is that you’ll once again be a net-zero household that isn’t subjected to utility rate increases and continues to utilize as much renewable energy as possible.
Alternatives to adding more solar panels
There are other simple modifications that may help you get the most out of your existing solar energy system and increase your power generation without the need to expand, such as trimming a tree that could be causing some shading or adding power optimizers to an inverter that doesn’t have them. There can even be some solutions to decreasing energy consumption like getting an energy audit or swapping out inefficient appliances for Energy Star certified equipment instead.
If your solar energy system is no longer meeting 100% of your energy needs, but you don’t want to add more panels, you still benefit from a significant reduction in utility bills from the energy you do produce. New Mexico’s largest electric utility, PNM, has tiered blocks of energy that increase in cost the more you use. Simply keeping you in the lowest tier can still save you a lot!
As you can see, there are several options for solar energy to meet your needs now and into the future. Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you. If you are considering a solar energy system expansion or have more questions about whether an expansion is right for you, reach out to us! We’re here to take your questions and be your guide to make sure your solar energy needs are being met.