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3 Things to Look For in a Solar Quote, as Revealed by Solar Sales Consultant Kara Blankenship

Welcome to WindSolarUSA’s brand-new blog! We’re excited to share this free educational resource about going solar in Illinois.



Kara Blankenship of WindSolarUSA

The internet makes it easy to find out that going solar saves both the environment and your finances, but sadly, it doesn’t tell you what going solar looks like to you individually. After all, the combination of your building, your grounds, and your lifestyle is one-of-a-kind!

That’s why, if you’re thinking of going solar, getting – and understanding – a solar quote is so important (and by the way, you can get one for free from WindSolarUSA!)

But how do solar professionals and installers figure out each solar quote, and what do those numbers and models mean to you?

To answer these questions, I talked with Kara Blankenship, the main sales consultant and office manager for WindSolarUSA. She led me through examples of the three essential models that every prospective solar customer needs to make an informed decision:

  1. Power bill analysis
  2. Aerial projection
  3. Cost model

So to get an insider’s view of each of these models, read on!

# 1: Power Bill Analysis

Sample power bill analysis, showing a WindSolarUSA customer’s cost per kilowatt hour before going solar

Kara begins each solar quote by conducting a power analysis. “It’s the first step to providing our customers with as much information as possible, both on solar in general and relative to their specific situation,” she says. “That way, they can determine whether or not going solar is in their best interest.

That’s why, when we get a customer looking for solar energy for their business or residence, the first thing that we do is to examine no fewer than twelve months of their power bill data.”

Kara then uses that information to determine the customer’s kilowatt hour consumption; this step lets her find out the size of the solar system that would, in a perfect world, completely offset one year of that customer’s electricity use. (You can find the amount for this particular customer – about 11.49 kilowatts – in the light green box in the lower left corner of the image.)

Then Kara determines what the customer’s currently paying for each kilowatt hour; in this case, the pink box in the middle shows that it’s about $0.11, including tax.

Once she’s figured out the current financial numbers, it’s time for the next step:

Step #2: Aerial Projection

Pitched roof aerial projection, created by Kara Blankenship of WindSolarUSA

After completing the power analysis, Kara’s in charge of creating a computer-generated aerial view of the customer’s particular building – with a theoretical solar array. This step helps customers to visualize what going solar will (literally!) look like for them.

“Now that we know what size system the customer needs to offset all their electricity consumption, we can determine what size system we can actually fit on their property, depending on their roof space or ground area,” explains Kara. “We find out how much of their space we can utilize.”

Flat roof aerial projection, created by Kara Blankenship of WindSolarUSA

Asked whether making the projection for a flat roof is different than that for a pitched roof, Kara responds, “Yes. Flat roof installations are different than most pitched roof installations because when planning the solar array for them, I have to stay away from air units and other such installments.”

As an example, she points out the walkways in the flat roof projection shown above. You have to leave a walkway around the perimeter of the roof, as well as pathways to the units, since if the units ever need any maintenance, you’ll have full access to them.”

The process of making solar projections is one of Kara’s favorites; she comments, “I really like making the solar array projection, since it’s a creative endeavor to make the customer’s array both effective and aesthetically pleasing.”

Step #3: Cost Model

Example cost model, created by Kara Blankenship of WindSolarUSA

“As I said before, we want to educate our customers as much as possible, so they can make an informed decision about going solar. So that’s why we do a specific cost model for each individual; we show them what going solar looks like to them financially,” Kara explains.

“Once we’ve determined what size system the customer needs, and what their building or grounds can actually fit, and once we have a preliminary design, we can put that information into a cost model, work it out, and present it to the customer.”

Cumulative cash flow and electricity production graphs in a WindSolarUSA solar power cost model, created by Kara Blankenship

The cost model includes not only numbers, but also graphs such as those above, which show that the cash gained over the life of the system is not insignificant – it’s around $30,000-$40,000, and (Kara points out) sometimes even over that.

How is this possible in sometimes-not-so-sunny Illinois?

We have great incentives going on in Illinois right now,” replies Kara. “Not only do we have the Federal Tax Credit available, but Illinois also has a state incentive called Renewable Energy Credits that’s available to any residential or business owner. And if the customer is a business, they’re also eligible for depreciation, so we’re looking at payback times within 3-7 years – usually 3-5 years.”

Thus, the cost model helps customers to realize that going solar has a much shorter payback time for them than it would have even just a few years ago, in 2012.

In addition to financial savings, the cost model also shows environmental savings; as an example a 10kW model shows that the CO2 (carbon dioxide) reduction per year is an impressive ten tons– for just one single installation!

It really is impressive,” agrees Kara, “And if everybody played that little bit of a part, it would really make a huge positive impact on our environment.”

It definitely would!

Again, many thanks to Kara for her beautiful explanation of these models.

Interested in going solar? You can receive a free solar quote for your own building from Kara Blankenship and Michelle Knox at WindSolarUSA; just contact them here, call them at 217-825-4206, or email them!

Your Turn: What questions do you have about solar quotes and going solar?

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We look forward to hearing from you!


Allison Ruedig is a freelance writer and editor for businesses creating a greener, more sustainable future. She specializes in solar energy; say hi to her at and!