Installing Commercial Solar: What to Expect From Your Utility—and How Your Solar Company Can Help

If your organization decides to start using solar power, you will need to form two types of business partnerships.

Installing Commercial Solar: What to Expect From Your Utility

If your organization decides to start using solar power, you will need to form two types of business partnerships. The first partnership will be with the solar company that designs and installs the photovoltaic (PV) solar system. The second partnership will be with the local utility company. Once your solar panels are connected to the grid, you will have a much more profitable relationship with the local utility company than you have ever had before.

Project Management

Your solar company understands solar systems and how they work. They will also understand what the utility is looking for during the installation process. Once the contract is signed, most of the day-to-day contact with the utility will be mediated by two people. The first will be the project manager, who will manage the construction of the solar project from start to finish. This project manager will work closely with the interconnection coordinator, who will handle all of the technical aspects of matching your solar system up with your local utility's gear.

The Process

The process of connecting solar panels to the grid differs depending on the region. Every region has different rules that the project manager and interconnection coordinator need to understand in order to make sure the project stays on track. The process will involve five major steps from beginning to end before the solar system is up and running.

-#1. Site Survey

The project will start with surveys. These surveys will study the underground cables and your switchgear. The topography of the area and anything else that might affect solar production will also be taken into account. This will help answer questions about where the solar system should be built.

-#2. Design

The team will use all of this information to create a "30 percent design." This plan will include two drawings. One is a single line drawing of the electrical diagram, and the other is a site plan that shows where the solar array(s) will be placed. The team will submit this plan (along with an "Interconnection Application") to the utility in order to get permission to start building.

-#3. Permits

The project manager will be working on the design and getting any required permits while waiting for approval from the utility. There can be many different types of permits, like building permits, city permits, and state permits. This process can take a long time depending on where you are and how complicated the solar design is. Sometimes, the utility will require changes to the wiring, meter, or other equipment. If a project is especially large, it might need additional grid integration studies.

-#4. Construction

After the utility company approves the project and construction starts, the project manager takes charge. They will make sure that everything goes smoothly as the panels and other hardware are delivered, installed and connected. Once that is done, government inspectors (typically from the city or state) check to make sure all of the requirements are met. The project manager will then deal with any problems or issues that may come up before everything is finalized.

-#5. Operation

After the inspection, the project manager will request permission to operate from the utility. The utility will respond with a final check. If everything is good, then you can start producing solar power. But this is not the end of things. The project manager will still work with you for a few weeks to make sure that system monitoring is set up and that you are happy with how everything is working.


The average solar installation process usually takes around 10 months to a year. A more complicated one can take longer. Once the project is completed, you will have a relationship with the solar company that will last for the lifespan of your solar equipment. Meanwhile, your new relationship with the utility will be as another generator of electricity. In most cases, you will use net metering to help offset your energy costs. Regardless, your energy bills will be going down—and you'll be doing something good for the planet.

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