A Complete Guide To Commercial Solar Panels – Forbes Home – Forbes

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Solar power generation has grown significantly over the past two decades and is, in part, fueled by a desire to both increase sustainability and take advantage of generous tax incentives that support the bottom lines of business owners. Just as solar panels can be added to the roofs of residential homes, commercial solar panels can be added to properties in the corporate, non-profit and government sectors to generate power.

What Is Commercial Solar?

Though modern solar power has been around for decades, many commercial enterprises still rely on electricity. However, switching to solar power can not only save money for businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, but it can also significantly reduce their carbon footprint.

Like residential solar options, commercial solar panels harness the power of sunlight, turning this renewable source of energy into electricity that powers office buildings, factories, warehouses and more.

Where Can Commercial Solar Panels Be Installed?

Residential solar installations are almost always on the roofs of homes because that is the best, most expansive surface area where the panels can catch the sunlight. Roof installation is also a good option for commercial solar installation, especially since office buildings, warehouses, factories and other similar spaces often have vast, flat roofs that are ideal.

However, the roof is not the only place that commercial solar panels might be installed. Parking lots, for example, can be turned into solar carports, which are essentially open-air garages with solar paneled roofs. Other options include ground-mounted solar arrays; there are even panels that have the ability to tilt and elevate during certain hours to catch the optimal amounts of sunlight.

How Much Do Commercial Solar Panels Cost?

Commercial solar panel installations can cost anywhere between $100,000 for a small business to $1,000,000 and higher for large buildings. It stands to reason that the larger a company is, in terms of both the size of the building and its energy needs, the more solar panels it will need to produce that power.

Factors That Impact the Cost of Commercial Solar Panels

As with all construction or improvement projects, the price will depend on a variety of factors. And since commercial and industrial spaces can vary greatly in size, the price range is even greater.

If more solar panels are needed for a commercial installation, that will cost more, and the installation time will increase. If the structure of a building makes commercial solar installation more difficult, that will likely also cost more.

Keep in mind that generous tax incentives—not to mention the lower cost of energy in general—will also defray the cost of commercial solar installation. The savings, too, will depend on how much energy is created and the energy that is needed to power the business. In some cases, a business might be able to sell back the extra energy the commercial solar installation has created but doesn’t need.

The best way to determine the actual cost of commercial solar installation for your organization’s needs is to get estimates from various commercial solar contractors serving your region.

How to Install Commercial Solar Panels

Commercial solar panels are generally installed on roofs in one of two ways: ballasted racking or attached racking.

Ballasted racking uses cement blocks or other heavy items to secure panels to a flat roof. Attached racking enables panels to be attached to sloping roofs by using roof-penetrating hardware.

While you might be able to DIY smaller-scale solar panels for residential use, commercial solar panel installation is best left up to the tools and the training of professionals. Not only could incorrect installation result in the solar panels generating low power levels, but it could pose a hazard if panels are not secured properly in place.

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Commercial Solar Panel Rebates, Tax Credits and Other Incentives

The solar investment tax credit (ITC) is a federal initiative that incentivizes business owners for installing solar panels on their commercial properties.

The tax credit started at 30% for the total cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed in the current tax year. However, in December 2020, Congress passed an extension of the ITC, which would lower the tax credit over subsequent years. For system installations that were begun in 2020 through 2022, the credit is 26%; in 2023, it will decrease to 22%; and in 2024 and later, the credit will be 10%.

If you’re thinking of commercial solar installation for your own business properties, it pays to get those projects started as soon as possible. According to the US Department of Energy, a solar installation project is considered to be “started” if significant progress has been made in the installation, or if 5% of the total costs have already been paid out for work that is “integral” to the installation and services have been rendered within 3.5 months of payment.

Residential vs. Commercial Solar Panels

Solar panels do the same thing for both residential and commercial applications—they absorb sunlight and transform it into clean energy. However, that is where their similarities likely end.

Due to the sheer size of some commercial properties, there are more ways and places to install panels. Since a commercial enterprise needs far more power than a typical residence, commercial panels will most often be larger and/or more powerful than those used in residential applications.

The average solar panel for a home will have 60 or 72 cells, while a commercial solar panel will have 96 cells or more.

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Best Commercial Solar Companies

Solar power is still an emerging energy source. Some commercial contractors do offer their services in all 50 states, while some focus on particular regions of the country. The variety of options you will have may very well depend on the region where your commercial enterprise is located.

According to Solar Power World’s national ranking of solar contractors, here are the top 10 largest commercial solar companies in terms of the number of kilowatts they installed in 2021:

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How are commercial solar panels installed?

Commercial solar panels are typically installed using heavy weights (ballasted racking) to secure them on flat roofs or with roof-penetrating hardware (attached racking) on sloping roofs. Given the size and the nature of these installations, trained professionals are required to put them in place.

How do you size a commercial solar system?

Though commercial solar systems are complicated to install, figuring out how large a system you need is actually not too difficult. To do it, multiply your business’s hourly energy needs by the number of hours of peak sunlight in your area. Then, divide that number by a panel’s wattage to determine how many total watts you’ll need for your commercial solar system.

How many solar panels do I need for commercial use?

Once you figure out how large your commercial solar system needs to be, you can divide the total wattage by the wattage of the individual panels. Depending on the size of these panels, this will determine how many of each you will need.

Is there a difference between commercial and residential solar panels?

Commercial and residential solar panels are similar in that they both absorb sunlight that is transformed into energy. However, like most commercial products and applications, everything is done on a larger scale than those for residences. Commercial panels will likely be larger/have more wattage than residential solar panels.

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