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Solar Installation Guidebook - Introduction
All life on earth is supported by the sun, which produces an amazing amount of energy. Only a very small percentage of this energy strikes the earth but that is still enough to provide all our needs. The City of Philadelphia enjoys over 200 days of sunshine annually. Solar energy use and energy conservation are essential components to sustainable building. The City of Philadelphia understands this connection and is committed to urban sustainability with the Philadelphia Solar City Partnership Program. The regulatory environment, financial incentives both statewide and federally, and the support from city planners will all enable more property owners to enjoy clean and reliable energy from the sun.

This guidebook is designed for developers of residential and commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems and addresses procedures for planning, siting, permitting, interconnecting, metering, and implementing solar installations.

The Solar America Cities Program

Through the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar America Cities partnership, Philadelphia is one of 25 major U.S. cities working to accelerate the adoption of solar energy technologies for a cleaner, more secure energy future. The Solar America Cities program has engaged over 180 organizations, including municipal, county, and state agencies, solar companies, universities, utilities, and nonprofit organizations. The City of Philadelphia with its partners has made a commitment to power our city with clean, safe, reliable energy—solar energy.

The City of Philadelphia hopes to transform into a regional and national leader in clean energy development with a commitment to its community, job growth and renewable energy. Philadelphia’s long-term goal for solar energy is to fully utilize the potential of solar energy to safely, reliably, and cost-effectively displace the use of energy generated by fossil fuels. Philadelphia plans to transform the local market for solar energy with the objective of making solar technologies cost-competitive in the near- to mid-term. The Solar City Partnership will develop a plan to help Philadelphia generate 2.3 Megawatts (MW) of solar electricity by 2011 and 57.8 MW by 2021, the city’s proportional share of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s solar installation goal.

This guidebook is intended to be a tool to overcome commercial and residential solar market barriers within the city and its partnering communities.

Is Solar Right For You?

While the cost of energy produced by PV systems continues to drop, kilowatt-hour for kilowatthour, and depending on where you live, PV energy still usually costs more than energy from your local utility. Yet there are many reasons to consider a PV system other than cost. Whether it is a commitment to more sustainable living, an appreciation of a stable cost for electricity that can be readily inserted in a building owner’s budget, or a way to offset your peak demand, PV is a clear choice for a growing number of users.

You should definitely consider solar if:

  • The proposed building is already as energy-efficient as it can be
  • The roof is new or in good condition (if considering a rooftop system)
  • The proposed space (roof or land) gets sufficient sunlight during the sunny hours of the day (an average of 6 hours is recommended)

There are many advantages to PV systems that consumers are becoming aware of:

System designers know that every decision made during the design of a PV system affects the cost. If the system is designed based on unrealistic requirements, the initial cost is unnecessarily high. If less durable parts are specified, maintenance and replacement costs will increase. The overall system life-cycle cost (LCC) estimates can easily double if inappropriate choices are made during system design. Don't let unrealistic specifications or poor assumptions create unreasonable cost estimates. System designers should be experienced and knowledgeable of proper design techniques, code requirements and implementation. There are many resources available for individuals interested in becoming qualified and educated designers. The City of Philadelphia encourages all contractors and developers to educate themselves so they are able to provide the best service to our citizens. This guidebook provides many informational resources and lists some avenues for getting proper training and certification to become a PV installer. Look for information at the end of each section that is relevant to the section’s topic. The Pennsylvania (PA) Solar Sunshine Program created by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania not only provides financial incentives but also valuable guidance for installers and developers.