With alternative energies on the rise, business owners must decide if and when – and how – they want to use them. Solar energy especially is a popular one, and it makes sense. Why not harness the power of the sun, an inexhaustible energy source we encounter every single day? Many self storage facilities around the nation are doing just that, but it’s still a massive and expensive undertaking.

Although solar panel installation is cheaper than ever before (indeed, solar panels are 99% cheaper now than they were 35 years ago), it’s still a costly venture. With so much money at stake, store owners and managers should do their research beforehand to determine if it’s worth the investment.  If you’re not sure where to start, StorageAhead has compiled a list of questions to ask yourself to help steer you in the right direction.

1. What is solar energy?

There’s no such thing as a dumb question. If you don’t know anything about solar energy, you certainly won’t know whether it’s right for your facility. Luckily, it’s not hard to find resources out there to learn about it. In brief, solar panels, developed in 1954 by Bell Laboratories, convert sunlight into electric currents. This allows us to harness the incredible amount of energy we receive every day from the sun and put it to use in our normal, functioning power grids. Once you know a little about what solar power is, the next step is deciding how you want to use it.

2. Do I receive enough sunlight?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how eco-friendly you are – if your facility isn’t suitable, solar energy isn’t right for you. The most obvious thing to keep in my mind is the amount of sunlight your solar panels will receive. Does your area get a lot of sun? Do you have trees or some structure, such as a chimney, that will shade the panels during parts of the day? Does your facility have south-facing roofs (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case you’d want north-facing roofs)? The less sunlight your panels receive, the less energy you’ll generate. And the less energy you generate, the longer it will take your solar power system to pay for itself.

3. Is my facility suitable?

Self storage facilities are in many ways ideal for solar power. Most are single story buildings spread out over a large area – that is, they have lots of roof area, and more roof area equals more room to place solar panels. And many facilities throughout the nation are installing solar power systems.

But not all storage facilities are created equal. The condition of your building, particularly your roof, could play a role in its suitability for solar power. Roof materials should be expected to last as long as the solar panels you’re putting on them (about 25-30 years). If your roof is old and crumbling, you’ll need to patch it up or even replace it before installing solar panels.

Of course, solar panels don’t need to be roof mounted. If your facility has enough space around it, a solar array could be mounted directly into the ground.

4. What are my goals?

This is the most important question. Once you’ve figured out whether solar energy is reasonable for your storage facility, you need to decide what your goals are. If your goal is to completely power your facility and sell the surplus back to the energy supplier, you’ll need a different kind of system (and a lot more funds) than if you’re merely looking to shave off 25% of your energy bill.

Don’t just think about your immediate goals, though. How long will it take for your system to pay for itself? If you’re planning on selling your facility or moving in the next 10 to 15 years, it might not be the greatest investment of your money. Many solar power systems take 20 years or more to pay for themselves. And think about whether you want to expand your solar power system in the future. The way it’s installed now can make it a lot easier to do so later. Be as specific as you can with your goals, and the questions that follow will be a lot easier to answer.

5. What kind of system do I need?

There are several different kinds of solar panels and solar power systems. The kind of system you need largely depends on what your solar energy goals are. Some systems, for example, are not connected to the power grid, but a business such as a self storage facility will probably want to remain connected, either to supplement their solar energy with standard electricity or to sell excess back to the electric company. There are also various wattages available, so be active, do your research, and talk to the professionals who are going to install the panels to determine what will work best for you.

6. What will it cost?

Unfortunately, solar energy is still not cheap. The price varies by a huge number of factors – wattage, number of panels, the installation company, permitting and zoning processes, and more – so it can vary from just a few thousand dollars to more than $50,000. Comparing the installation cost to the standard price of energy in your region can give you a general idea of how much you can save each year and how quickly it can pay for itself. And don’t forget to include the cost of maintenance in your calculations. Most insurance policies require yearly checks to ensure the solar panels continue to function properly.

But the bare cost is usually not what you’ll pay. The federal government offers a tax credit for 30% of the installation cost, and most state governments have other tax credits and rebates available. Be sure to look into what’s available in your area so you can take full advantage of the possible funding.

7. How will this affect my image?

Not everyone likes the look of solar panels covering a building’s roof. If solar power isn’t very popular in your area, people might not even realize what it is you have on your roof, and that could turn them off before they even step foot on your property. On the other hand, if you live in an area where going green is common or even expected, you’ve just added another selling point to your facility. Don’t neglect the marketing potential in solar energy. Alternative energies are only growing in popularity, and that’s another tool to be harnessed to draw in customers.

This is far from an exhaustive list of things to consider before installing solar power. It’s a very large investment, so don’t try to cut corners. It will probably take a lot of time and effort to figure out whether it’s right for you and, if it is, what kind of system you need, but it can be worth it.

Have you already installed solar panels? Add to this list in the comments below!

Featured image courtesy of Mako Steel.