Melba Lara: You're listening to WBEZ, and if like me you're curious about switching your home to solar power, this week's climate conversation is for you. We're going to go through the steps it takes to go solar, and we're doing that with the help of reporter Jenny Whidden. Jenny, welcome.
Jenny Whidden: Hi, thanks for having me
Melba Lara: And Jenny, you wrote an article about this recently for the Daily Herald because you felt like there was some mystery around the process that you could remove for people, and we really appreciate it. So let's get right into it. If you're thinking about getting solar panels, the first thing, you write, is you have to figure out if your roof is ready for it. How do you do that?
Jenny Whidden: Sure. So, the first thing that you want to consider is just the general health of your roof. So if your roof is old and you're planning on a replacement soon, you might want to get that done first. The second thing would be to just consider generally if your roof is fit for solar. Um, so you want to look at your south facing roofs, your east and west facing roofs, to see if they get enough sunlight for you to consider solar as a good option for you.
Melba Lara: And once you know that your roof can actually handle it, and you're in the right direction to get the sunlight, how many panels should you get?
Jenny Whidden: Sure. So, you'll want to look into how much energy your house uses each year. So you can just look at your utility bill and plug that information into solar calculators. So those are actually available kind of widely online, the Illinois Solar Education Association has one. Google Earth also has one. And once you're able to put that information in, the calculator will spit out for you a rough estimate of how many panels you might want, and then also a potential savings of what your solar array could do to lessen your bill.
Melba Lara: Let's talk about what's probably the most intimidating stuff, actually getting solar panels installed. How do you get started installing solar panels on your home?
Jenny Whidden: Similar to any kind of work that you're going to do on your home, you wanna do some research and reach out to installers and contractors. So the Illinois Solar Education Association generally recommends you reach out to three contractors. Um, so that you can talk to an array of professionals and kind of, you know, shop around and see what might work for you and hear what they have to say. They'll walk you through the permitting process and any kind of financial concerns that you have. So that is the first step and that contractor that you end up choosing will kind of be your go to point person for any questions that you have.
Melba Lara: And obviously it's winter, there's not a lot of sunlight right now, and people might not be thinking about solar power, but can you get solar panels installed in the winter?
Jenny Whidden: Yeah, so any time of the year is an okay time for solar installations. While definitely the snow and ice is a concern, so winter tends to be a slower time for installations, professionals say that you can defer to what installers have to say on the best time to do it. And also you can start the process any time, permitting incentives, you know, getting quotes, that takes time. So if you're thinking of solar now and you start the process, it's going to be a little bit of time before anyone's on your roof actually installing your panels.
Melba Lara: And what if you can't buy your own solar panels. If people can't buy them, are there other options out there?
Jenny Whidden: So if you are having financial concerns or maybe you just don't want to go in on actually purchasing your own panels, you want to try them out, you can speak to your installer, your contractor about the potential of leasing panels, renting them. The other option is community solar. So that's a good option for anyone who is interested in solar, but you know, you don't want to install your own panel or you can't. Maybe you live in an apartment, but you feel passionate about getting your electricity from a renewable energy source. You can kind of get a subscription to a community development solar field, that's out there in Illinois. But you're not responsible for actually getting those installed.
Melba Lara: I've been speaking with a reporter Jenny Whidden, who wrote about how to transition to solar power for the Daily Herald and for Report for America. If you want to suggest a topic for a weekly climate conversation, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is WBEZ.
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