What better time to set your mind to a new challenge. 2014 can be the year that you go solar! Whether your motivation centers around money or doing your part to help the environment, or some combination of the two, installing solar panels and generating some (or all) of your own electricity is a worthwhile resolution. With that in mind, we've come up with 5 easy steps to help you keep your new year's resolution! With one step per month, you can be ready and generating your own electricity by the end of May, just in time for the long sunny days of summer.Solar Panel

Step 1 - January:

Start by running Sunmetrix Discover for your location (it's free!). This will tell you how much solar radiation you can expect where you live. Find out what your Solar Score is and see how your location compares to other locations.

If you are considering rooftop panels, then you should also be thinking about your roof and whether it is suitable for solar panels. Check out: Is my roof suitable for solar panels (and what is the weight of a solar panel)?

If you are one of those thinking about solar panels for your cabin or cottage, then check out: Should I install solar panels for my cabin or cottage?

And if you are thinking about solar panels for heating your pool, then check out: Solar Heating for your Swimming Pool.

These first few tasks are quick and easy, taking less than an hour of your time!

January is also the month to speak with your municipal administration and determine if you require any special permits for solar panels (installed either on your rooftop or on your land, depending on where you live and how much space your have). If you need to apply for a permit, start the process now by finding out what kind of information they require. If some of your neighbors have already been through the process and have solar panels installed, talk to them and ask them about their experience. They might have some helpful pointers.

Step 2 - February:

Now is the time to start researching your options. Are you installing your system on your roof or on your property? If you are going for a rooftop system then you have to decide whether you want conventional photovoltaic (PV) panels or solar shingles, the latter being an option for sloped rooftops only and are not available everywhere. And then you have to consider whether you want to own your panels outright, lease them, or have a partnership agreement with a utility company. For more on your options, check out: What is the best way to install solar panels at my home?

Are you thinking of used solar panels? If so, check out: Should I buy used solar panels?

You should also take a few minutes to read: Five common mistakes to avoid when investing in solar energy.

Step 3 - March:

Having decided on the type of system you are going for, now is the time to research installers. In the United States, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has a directory of installers listed by State. In Canada, the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) has a directory of installers by province. Make appointments with at least a few different installers and have them come and assess your situation, make suggestions for suitable systems and give you detailed quotes.

You also should be looking into the financial incentives available to you. There are three main type of incentives: feed-in tariffs, cash back incentives, and tax credits. For more information on these, check out: Government Financial Incentives for Solar Panel Installations. If you live in the United States, you can find more details on  solar rebates, incentives and tax credits at the federal level. And if you live in California, check out this post on state level incentives. The installers should also know about what financial incentives are available to you.

Step 4 - April:

Decision time! You have your quotes, the specifications for the systems you are considering and you know what financial incentives are available to you. Now you have to decide which installer to work with and which system to go with. With the the specifications of the various systems you are considering, you should return to Sunmetrix Discover and learn how much electricity you will generate and how much money you can save/make when your system is installed.

It is also the time to double check with your municipal administration about the permit process - if you need a permit, you should now have at your fingertips all the information required to complete the application process, if you haven't done so already. With the go ahead from your local administration, you can seal the deal with your installer and book a date in May (or when the weather is suitable). Please note that if you live in a snowy climate, you want to make sure your rooftop is clear before the installation and the installers may not even come to issue a quote until they can inspect your rooftop, which may put you behind by a couple of months, but don't despair. You are still well on your way to making your new year's resolution a reality!

Step 5 - May:

Installation! The day you've been waiting for! Soon, you'll be turning solar energy into electricity, saving you money  and helping the environment. But to make sure that you are getting the most bang for your buck, you can register for Sunmetrix GO (it's free!) and keep an eye on your investment and see if you are generating as much electricity as you should be.

And before you consider your resolution complete, take a moment to read about the importance of regular maintenance for your panels in our post: Here comes the sun!

Time to get started! You have already taken the first step in making your resolution to go solar. By following through with the other steps, you can be a doer and not just a dreamer!