Joshua Bartlett
Author Archives: Joshua Bartlett

How Many Solar Panels does it take to Charge an Electric Car?

how-many-solar-panels-to-charge-an-electric-car

How many solar panels are needed to charge an electric car?

The residential solar industry has enjoyed a huge growth spurt over the last decade due to falling prices and new financing mechanisms. At the same time, electric car ownership has grown steadily, pushed forward by companies like Tesla and Nissan that are constantly researching and developing new ways to make electric vehicles cheaper and go further on a single charge.

Some electric car drivers are even installing solar on their home’s roof to charge their car. An electric car powered by clean, renewable energy? Yes, please! This idea though might leave you asking the obvious question “How many solar panels does it take to charge an electric car?”

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Is Solar Panel Removal Possible?

solar-panel-removals

For anyone asking themselves ‘Is solar panel removal possible?’ read on as we explore common reasons, routes, and issues.

It might seem like solar panel removal would be a bit of a taboo topic in a community so heavily focused on renewable energy production, but the reality is that solar panels are just like any other piece of equipment attached to your home. Just like the occasional HVAC replacement, it’s entirely possible that you will need to remove your solar panels for one reason or another at some point.

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How to Get Solar Power Without Batteries

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Installing solar power without batteries

How do you store the energy, anyway?

If you’re interested in purchasing a new solar system, then you likely have a lot of questions about how the system works and what you will need to suit your individual needs. One question that comes up often is whether or not a solar system needs a battery and how to get solar power without batteries. It’s really a trick question because although most systems don’t use batteries at all, but use the electrical grid as a sort of flexible battery storage and on demand power system. If this makes no sense, that’s fine, because we’re going to explain!

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Does Solar Panel Cooling Boost Output? (+Video)

solar-panel-cooling

Discover solar panel cooling methods that can help enhance your system’s performance.

Solar panels suffer from a somewhat ironic problem: You need more sun to generate more power, but the hotter the panels get, the less efficient the panels are. This inefficiency means that the sunniest months of the year might hold the most potential, but might not be the most productive months for your solar system. Solar enthusiasts have been searching for ways to get more power from their system for years, and solar panel cooling is a topic frequently discussed.

So, are you looking for ways to increase your solar panel output? Do you like to tinker and explore DIY projects to wring every ounce of performance from your rig? If so, then read on to explore why it is that solar panels have this problem in the first place, some ways in which technology is evolving to cope with the problem and find methods that many DIYers have used to tackle the problem on their own.

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Guide to New York Solar Panels

new-york-solar

Information about Solar Panels in New York

New York comes out very highly rated concerning the overall grade for anyone interested in purchasing a solar system. They have the solid support of the state government for now and in the years to come and they also have significant rebates, credits, and exemption policies. Read on to see how the government is practically begging you to invest in solar and make a handsome return!

#1 Overall Solar Grade

A-
Overall Grade
6 years Avg. Payback Time (For Cash Purchase)
24.2 % Estimate IRR (Return on your investment on cash purchase over 25 years)
$39,028 Your Net Profit Over 25 Years (Cash Purchase)

* Note that these are estimated values for informational purposes only, and do not take into account the full complexity of all financial projections. They also only apply to cash purchases, which means your numbers will be different if you lease your system or pay for it with a loan (factoring in interest). Also note that we are not financial advisors, so this information should not be construed as financial advice.

#2 Options for Buying Solar Panels in New York

There are three main ways to get access to a brand new solar system:  paying cash, taking out a loan, or leasing it from a third party.  Each of these methods carries its own set of pros and cons, but we’re going to dive into each and see how they look financially to determine which is best for you.

Cash upfront

Paying cash is the most straight-forward method to use to purchase your new solar system.  Using this method, you won’t have to worry about things like interest, leasing terms, or any other strings that could start to overcomplicate the installation.  Because there is no interest, cash can also deliver the highest actual return on your investment providing that you have money to burn up front.  Let’s see what purchasing a solar system with cash would look like.

For all of these examples, we will use a 5kW system that has a before-discount price of $16,900 (our average price for this area).

Starting with $16,900 you will then:

  • Take 25% off the top from your state tax credit – $4,225
  • Take 30% off of the remaining amount – $3,802.50
  • Apply your state rebate on the original purchase price – $2,000

After we deduct those costs, we arrive at $6,872.50 – Wow!

But don’t stop there because you will also be saving money on your yearly electric bills.  Your first year’s savings should be around $1,190.58 so you can take that off the top as well to arrive at $5,681.92.  So after all is said and done, you’re basically paying a third of the price for your solar panel system after the first year.  That’s pretty amazing!  Remember that your utility bills will go up a little bit over time, so your yearly savings will continue to grow as well!

To put this in terms of an investment you will:

  • Pay off your system in about 6 years
  • Make about $39,028.29 in profit over the 25-year life of your system.
  • Have about a 24% IRR on your initial investment.
Bottom Line: This is an incredible investment if you have enough cash to make the initial investment.

Leases

For those of you with little cash to spend or equity to use for a solar loan, leasing a system is still an attractive option.  In fact, more than 50% of the residential solar systems in New York were owned by and leased from a third party in 2014 (although that trend has been changing over the last few years as prices come down).  Leasing is attractive because it requires literally no financial capital other than your monthly payment.  If you qualify for the lease, you will pay a set amount per month over the entire length of your contract.  An important thing to note, however, is that because you won’t actually own the system, you won’t get any of the tax credits, rebates, or exemptions on the equipment and installation.  Your installer will get all of that money.The specifics of every contract is a little different, but with a lease, you will end up:

An important thing to note, however, is that because you won’t actually own the system, you won’t get any of the tax credits, rebates, or exemptions on the equipment and installation.  Your installer will get all of that money.  Something else to consider is that you often won’t be responsible for any maintenance, repairs, or replacements under a leasing agreement – your installer will have to take care of any issues!

The specifics of every contract is a little different, but with a lease, you will end up:

  • Paying around $600-900 per year for your system
  • Saving around $1,190 per year with your system
  • Coming out about $290-590 ahead each year, which will rise over time with increasing utility costs

Those amounts might not seem that great, but it is essentially money in your pocket just for having a solar system on your roof.  Also, you’ll come out further and further ahead as time passes.  Add to this the fact that you won’t be responsible for any upkeep on the system and you are looking at an awesome low-risk, low-reward scenario.

Keep in mind that leasing a unit can complicate things if you choose to sell your home before the agreement is up.  If your purchaser doesn’t want to transfer the lease, it could be costly to cancel.

More: Solar Leases

Loan

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Getting a loan to pay for your solar system is an attractive option because you won’t have to put any money down up front, but you will still get to take advantage of all of the various tax, rebate, and exemption goodies available to a cash buyer.  Essentially, you will take out a loan for the entire purchase and install price of the system and start making payments.  At the end of the year, however, you’ll get the tax credits and rebates applied to your income tax bill, and you will still be exempt from paying sales tax at the time of purchase and your property taxes will not increase because of the additional home value.

Although you won’t come out quite as ahead as the cash example, we’ll crunch the numbers to see how it will all play out:

Starting with the $16,900 system cost, you’ll take out a loan for the full amount (we’ll assume it’s a 15-year loan at 5% – it’s entirely possible that you could get better terms)

From then on you will:

  • Make payments of about $129 per month on your system over 15 years
  • Earn about $99 per month in electricity savings during the first year with steady increases until you start to break even with the loan payment around year 9 (this means initially you’re paying about $30 a month for your solar panels)
  • Pay about $6,895 in interest over the course of the loan
  • Make about $32,133 in profit over the 25-year lifespan of the system (cash profit minus the interest)

As you can see, the downside to this method is that you will actually be paying an extra $34 per month for having a solar system for the first 15 years.  The huge advantage, however, is that you will be getting about $10,027 back from the credits and rebates after the first year (or multiple years if you can’t use all the credits at once).  This money means that you are “earning” an enormous upfront payment from going solar because you didn’t have to use any of your own money besides the loan payments.  In this scenario, even though it will take 15 years to pay off your system, you will never be “in the red” because of that large initial payment.

You can see that all of this makes going solar with a loan a great investment opportunity!

More: Solar Loans

#3 New York Solar Policy Information

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The state of New York has become extremely enthusiastic about renewable energy over the past couple of decades.  According to their state website, they feel very strongly about preserving the environment, acting on climate change, and keeping nature safe from pollution.  It’s always very encouraging to see this level of involvement by local governments to make sure that solar power gets a chance to shine!

Renewable Portfolio Standard

Briefly, a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is the set of rules and policies that govern how a state handles its renewable energy. They can set targets for the future, specify how much energy should come from residential sources and more.  It’s important to have these policies in place because solar power is not usually a moneymaker for the big utility companies.  They have to spend more money on infrastructure to produce the same amount of power from fossil fuels as well as potentially pay their customers for extra energy generated from their homes and businesses.  You can see why it often takes a federal and state government to help point them in the right direction.

Luckily, New York has a grand plan for its energy policy called the Reforming Energy Vision (REV).  Within this vision, they include an aggressive RPS which includes the following by 2030:  a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 23% decrease in energy consumption in buildings, and a whopping 50% of electricity must come from renewable energies.  With less than 15 years until time is up, it’s clear that New York won’t be doing much to slow down the growth of solar in their state!
More: Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)

Electricity Prices

The price customers pay for electricity isn’t necessarily set by state policy, but the local energy landscape and regulations will affect how much people are paying on their power bills.  This price is critical because it is the utilities’ price that you will be offsetting with your solar energy system.  The higher the price-per-kWh, the more money you could be saving.  Customers in New York paid an average price of 18.28 cents per kilowatt-hour in October 2016 which is much higher than the national average of 12.45 cents and ranks 8th-highest in the country.

These prices mean that New Yorkers stand to profit nicely from installing solar compared to other states.  Also keep in mind that utility companies usually increase rates on a regular basis to keep up with inflation and costs.  In New York City, for example, Con Edison wants to increase their electric bills 5.2% in 2017.  The beauty of solar is that once you install your system, you will be mostly immune to any of these price hikes and it will only increase the return on your investment.

Net Metering

One of the most amazing things about going solar is that you have the opportunity to act like a tiny power plant for your community.  It’s possible, depending on your system size and energy use, that your system will produce more power than you are using at any given time.  The way your utility company handles this excess production is outlined in the state’s net metering rules. In New York, your utility companies are required to provide net metering availability for any residential systems that are 25kW or smaller.  For most people reading this, there will be no problems fitting in under this maximum.

As far as rating net metering services go, it all comes down to whether or not your utility allows it and then how much money the utility will give you for the power you’re producing.  New York requires that utilities pay the “full retail” price to customers for their energy. Over the course of the year, all of the excess power you generate will is tallied up and paid to you at the end of the year as an “avoided cost” payment.

Although still in the exploration phase, New York state has also started looking at more thoughtful ways of looking at net metering, power bills, and energy production in general.  If these proposed changes were to come into play, it would make a significant impact on the way customers deal with their utility companies.

More: Net Metering

Interconnection Rules

Although going solar might conjure images of secluded cabins in the woods relying solely on their own energy production without a power plant in sight, the reality is that most residential systems will need to or even be required to connect to the local grid.  Assuming that you aren’t required to hook up, it’s likely that while your system will generate enough energy for your home during the day that it won’t have enough juice during the nighttime periods to keep you running without a system of battery backups.  Also, any technical hiccup in your system could mean that you would be without power until the situation resolves.  In this way, the local grid remains in your life as the ultimate backup generator.

New York’s interconnection rules, like most others, are quite technical and the majority of the details are best left up to your installer and local utilities.  For you, just know that there are no direct insurance requirements, external disconnect switches, or net metering required.  There is also no system capacity issues as long as your system is below the 25kW threshold.  Further, you will be able to use an expedited interconnection process if your system is below 50kW (nearly everyone reading this).

#4 Financial Incentives, Rebates, and Tax Credits

We’ve already seen how enthusiastic New York is able solar at the adoption and connection level, but what about the finances?  The good news for prospective buyers in the empire state is that there is a whole host of financial incentives for going solar.  Let’s explore all of the awesome credits, rebates, and exemptions that will help you afford your system and come out further ahead on your return!

Federal Tax Credit

Before we get into state-specific information, the federal tax credit must be mentioned.  This is because it has been the single-most influential catalyst for residential solar adoption with its amazing 30% credit to your federal income taxes.  This is money straight back in your pocket off of your purchase price and on its own often makes a strong case for buying a new system.  Do remember that this credit won’t be around forever and it will soon be dropping on a yearly basis before going away completely.

More: Solar Federal Tax Credit

New York Solar Tax Rebates

NY-Sun is a program started in 2012 that aims to improve the efficiency, affordability, and reliability of the energy production systems in New York.  Part of this program allows for a state rebate of $400 per kilowatt of installed solar production.  The way this works is that each utility has “blocks” of residential solar production that they have to fill over time.  As they fill, the next block will offer slightly less rebate than the one before it so time is of the essence if you want to take full advantage of this rebate.  The current price should be good for a while, but there are no guarantees!

Another great program offered through NY-Sun is their affordable solar program.  This doubles the rebate for households earning less than 80% of the area median income that apply, helping to make solar available to not just the affluent investor.

New York Solar Tax Credits

Just like the federal program, New York state itself offers a generous tax credit for new residential systems under 25kW.  Under the terms of the credit, you can get up to $5,000 back for your solar system, assuming that it is grid connected and net metered with your local utility.  For those of you keeping count, we are really started to rack up the incentives here!  Although the credit is capped, it should be very easy to stay under the $25,000 budget for most residential applications.  This credit can also be carried forward for up to five years if you have any excess while doing your taxes.

Interestingly, this credit can also be taken in some form even if you are leasing your system by allowing lease payments to count as taxable expenditures.

Utility Based Incentives

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Some states actually mandate that utility companies pay residents for operating a solar system on their home as an incentive to adopt solar.  While not the best for the utilities, residents stand to make out like bandits if their utility finds themselves in this situation.  Unfortunately, no such payments exist in New York state.

Property Tax Exemption

Because solar power systems are technically additions to your home, it would stand to reason that they would increase your home’s value in some way.  Your reasoning would be correct, but many states, such as New York, have added an exemption on their property taxes to provide yet another incentive to go solar.  Basically, any value added by your solar system will not be added to your tax basis once property taxes are assessed for the year.  You will be able to enjoy the increase in property value when selling your home, but won’t have to worry about your taxes going up!

Sales Tax Exemption

Much like the property tax exemption, many states are also offering a sales tax exemption to provide more incentive to buy solar.  In New York, they offer a 100% exemption on any sales tax that would normally be owed on the purchase of any solar-related equipment and labor.

Interestingly, lease payments and the sale of energy from third-party systems are also exempt from state sales taxes.

General Increase in Home Value

Although solar panel installations are relatively new to the mainstream, research is suggesting that there are real value-added benefits to owning a system.  A large study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that most homes could expect to add about $4/W in home value for their system.  In this scenario, it is possible to increase the value of your home for a relatively small investment and as mentioned before you will not have to pay property taxes on this extra value!

What to do next?

If you are a current resident of New York then you should be happy to see that your state offers a huge amount of incentives for going solar.  Between the credits, rebates, and tax exemptions, it’s really a no-brainer!

Remember that our pricing is only an estimate and you should look for a local installer to help give you some more concrete details concerning your individual situation.

Image Credits: CC License via Flickr – 1, 2, 3

Solar in Phoenix, AZ

solar-phoenix

To give you a running start with Phoenix solar, we've compiled this handy guide.

Going solar in Phoenix is a great choice, as there are a lot of solid incentives for those of you looking to jump into the solar market. A state that offers favorable rebates, state tax policies, and a utility company that offers incentives to their customers, combine into worthwhile savings for anyone paying cash or taking out a loan for their solar panel system.

For a broader overview see our Arizona Solar page.​

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Buying Solar Panels in Tuscon, AZ

solar-panels-tucson

Information about Solar Panels in Tucson

Tuscon, AZ has a lot of very solid incentives for its residents to go solar. Between their state energy policies and preferential tax treatment, you will find a lot of ways to save money no matter how you go about installing your new solar panel system. Read on to find out why Arizona is one of the fastest growing hotspots for solar in the US!

For a broader state overview, see our Arizona Solar Energy page.

#1 Overall Solar Grade: Tucson, Arizona

B+
Overall Grade
10 years Avg. Payback Time (For Cash Purchase)
10.21 % Estimate IRR (Return on your investment on cash purchase over 25 years)
$27,791 Your Net Profit Over 25 Years (Cash Purchase)

* Note that these are estimated values for informational purposes only, and do not take into account the full complexity of all financial projections. They also only apply to cash purchases, which means your numbers will be different if you lease your system or pay for it with a loan (factoring in interest). Also note that we are not financial advisors, so this information should not be construed as financial advice.

#2 Options for Buying Solar Panels in Tucson

In Tuscon, you’ll have access to all three major methods of purchasing solar power:  cash, purchase power agreement, and loans. Which method works best for you depends on your individual circumstances, but we’ll take a look at all three to highlight the pros and cons to each route you could take. All three options offer some type of financial benefit, but these benefits will be higher or lower depending on your selection.

Cash upfront

There are always clear benefits to paying for something up front and having cash in this situation it offers great results.  

In the purest sense, paying cash for means you’ll avoid any type of interest-bearing loan and there will be no strings attached once you’ve made the payment. You could sell your house the next week and wouldn’t have to worry about transferring a loan or lease to the new homeowner. It could also allow you for more wiggle room when you are hammering out the details with your installer.

Writing a check for $16k out of your pocket to pay for a solar system outright might sound a little scary, but let’s look at the math and see how it plays out.

  • If you use cash, you’ll spend about $16,283 up front to pay for your solar system during the first year of ownership. This is a huge upfront cost, but let’s see what happens next.  
  • When filing your federal income taxes for the year you’ve purchased your system, you’ll be able to take advantage of the amazing 30% federal renewable tax credit for $4,885. 
  • The state of AZ has an awesome tax credit of 25% up to $1,000.
  • You will be saving about $1,003 during your first 12 months electricity bill costs.
  • That takes your upfront costs down to about $9,395 that first year, big savings.

Your solar system will generate about the same amount of energy year after year in its lifetime, but the cost of generating this energy will stay mostly the same (just maintenance costs).

The energy from your local utility provider, as we’ll discuss below, will normally increase by around 3% per year on average. TEP, Tuscon’s electric company, has proposed rate increases of about 9% next year for the average homeowner. With solar, you will only be saving more and more money when your energy company raises their rates!

- Bottom Line

Looking at the cash method summary, your system will generate about $27,929 in savings over its lifetime and pay for itself after about 10 years of operation.  rom that point, you’ll be making money each and every year!  From an investment perspective, you’ll be earning something like 10%+ over the lifetime of your system, which is not too shabby.

Leases

For those of you that do not have access to a lot of cash, don’t want to obtain a loan to purchase a system, or for whatever other reason do not wish to actually own your solar panel system leasing is an option that can provide the least amount of hassle on your journey towards solar. When you lease a solar system, someone else (usually your installer or utility company) will actually own all of the equipment installed on your home. They will install it, monitor it, service it, and replace any parts that fail due to normal wear and tear.

Because you won’t be responsible for the system after it’s installed, leasing can be the least stressful option to go solar. But because someone else owns the equipment, you won’t get the full financial benefits of going solar such as the tax credits and rebates.

In Tuscon, the local utility company, Tuscon Electric Power, actually has its very own residential solar leasing program. Under their terms, you will pay a small fee to have your system installed and then you will pay a fixed cost on the system over the duration of your lease based on your previous 12 months of usage.

- Bottom Line

This will allow you to get the non-financial benefits of solar (environmental protection, peace of mind) while still mostly breaking even on your energy costs. We’ve seen that the typical monthly electricity payment in Tuscon, AZ is about $131 per month so we can assume that this would be the average cost of a solar lease. The one financial benefit is that your lease price is locked in so as utility prices increase over time you will still keep your monthly bill about the same!

More: Solar Leases

Loan

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Taking out a loan to pay for your solar system has a clear benefit:  you won’t have to pay a large sum of money upfront. In this scenario, we’ll consider that you are borrowing money from a bank (or equity in your home in the case of an HELOC) to pay for the system, but you still get all of the tax benefits associated with solar. It’s a little counter-intuitive to think that financing a purchase like this will make you money over the long term, but because the potential for energy savings with solar increases over time there is a substantial financial opportunity.

Let’s use the $16,283 system cost from our earlier cash example. Let’s also assume for our math that we’re getting a 4.5% interest rate on our loan and it’s over 15 years. But remember how I said that you will still get the tax benefits when you take out a loan?

  • After the first year, you’ll get back $4,885  from your federal taxes and $1000 for you state taxes
  • The issue with taking out a loan is that you will have to service this loan and its interest each month. Because of this bill, you’ll probably spend about $129 a month on your loan payment. This is $1,500 per year.  
  • Your savings for the first year will only be about $1,003, leaving you with about a $41 per month cost for your solar energy over the first year. Don’t forget that your electricity bills will tend to increase over time and you will end up paying relatively smaller amounts for your energy. 

- Bottom Line

Looking at it from this angle, you’ll pay about $6,138 in interest on the loan, and bank about $21,719 in savings with this system over the 25-year lifetime, simply by installing it and paying for the loan. It’s almost like printing money.

More: Solar Loans

#3 Solar Policy Information

A bit of good news for anyone living in Arizona is that their state government is relatively enthusiastic about endorsing solar energy production in the state. The bad news is that the utility companies in the state are actively fighting against the friendly solar policies now in place. These utilities, including the Tuscon Electric Power company, are attempting to make going solar less attractive to citizens by lowering the amount of money paid for excess electricity fed back into the grid and increasing minimum charges on power bills.

Renewable Portfolio Standard

A state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) can be defined as the policy that outlines exactly how much production energy the government wants utilities to generate from renewable sources by a certain date. Basically, this is a way for the state government to set out a goal for renewable energy and force their utility companies, who might not otherwise be incentivized, to start investing in renewable sources. For anyone interested in going solar in Arizona, it’s great news for your that your state has an RPS because it means that the government is enthusiastic about solar power generation.

Arizona’s RPS was passed in 2006 and outlines a plan for the state to generate 15% of their total energy production from renewable sources by the year 2025, with 30% of that coming from distributed energy technologies (basically on-site energy production like a home solar unit). Of that 30% mandate, half should come from residential sources alone!  This isn’t the most ambitious policy, but it is definitely a step in the right direction and a firm foundation for the future. We would love to see them update their plan with more ambitious goals, a longer timeline, or a greater requirement for residential solar.

We would love to see them update their plan with more ambitious goals, a longer timeline, or a greater requirement for residential solar.

Electricity Prices

The price you pay for your electricity matters a lot when discussing solar power because this is the cost that you will be offsetting by installing a solar panel system. On average, citizens of Arizona pay about 12.7 cents for each kilowatt-hour on their electric bill, while those living in Tuscon should be paying closer to 11.5 cents depending on their usage levels. The US average, meanwhile, is about 12 cents. This means that you are usually paying a smaller amount than the rest of America for your electricity.

It also means that you will be saving an average of $1,114 per year on your electricity bill in Arizona with a 5-kilowatt system.

It is also important to remember that utilities tend to increase their prices by about 3% per year nationally, but some areas can see increases of much, much more. The good news for you is that the electricity you are producing with your home system won’t cost any more to you as time passes, but you’ll be able to increase your utility savings every year during the life of the system.

Net Metering

As an owner of a solar panel system, you are basically the owner of your very own power plant. What this means is that your home will obtain its energy from your solar system first and then draw any extra power required from your normal utility company. If you have a powerful system or you are very frugal with your energy use then you might actually be generating more kilowatt-hours than you are using.

In this scenario, net metering is extremely beneficial to you because it will allow any excess power to be given back to your cities electrical grid. It also creates a system in which you can be paid for the excess electricity you generate. Because solar panels generate most of their energy during the daytime, it is essential that you are able to use this system of give-and-take in order to keep your home reliably powered.

In Arizona’s state net metering policies, you’ll see no limit to the amount of people that can plug into the system and they will actually pay you for any excess energy that you deliver to the grid. Of course, there are a few odd exceptions, but generally, the utility company will pay you the retail rate (what you would normally pay them) for any power you generate. Excess energy will be credited throughout the year and any remaining credits will be paid on your last monthly bill of the year as an avoided cost payment.

For anyone in Tuscon, please keep an eye on your local battle over net metering and be sure to submit your opinion to any local politicians that can help keep net metering safe!

More: Net Metering

Interconnection Rules

These rules determine how exactly someone can connect their solar panel system to their local electrical grid. There are a lot of technical details in these rules that may or may not apply to you, but we’ll go over a couple of the most important aspects.

Unfortunately, Arizona does not yet have an officially supported and mandated interconnection policy at the moment. They instead have drafted some proposed rules and have asked state utilities to follow their interconnection document as a guideline for their policies. In practice, most of the utilities have adopted similar rules based on this outline.

Tuscon Electric Power (TEP) established its own interconnection rules that go over the specifics of their service area. Generally, the customer must submit an application showing that their system conforms to electrical code, adheres to their local specifications, and includes a disconnect switch. Be sure to discuss these details with your installer and be sure that you are confident that you are conforming to any requirements that your local utility mandates!

#4 Financial Incentives, Rebates, and Tax Credits 

When solar first arrived in many states and governments were starting to endorse solar energy production by mandating RPS policies a lot of different rebates started popping up from local utilities trying to ensure that they met their quota.  Arizona’s utilities were no different, but as time passed and quotas started to be filled, these rebate programs started to dry up a bit.

Rebates and Other Incentives

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In Tuscon, you are likely serviced by Tuscon Electric Power for your electricity needs and while their TEP Residential Solar Program started in 2015 was created to help provide leasing options for its citizens, the program is currently not accepting any new participants in for foreseeable future.

In Arizona, there are only a few utilities left that are offering any kind of rebate and most are located in rural areas. Here are some of the most significant ones listed below just in case you are planning on making a move in the future.

Tuscon, AZ Tax Credits

Tax credits in Tuscon are a solid offering. Overall it rates very highly in terms of tax implications for a new solar system. Let’s take a look at how you can save money on your taxes and more easily afford to purchase a system that provides clean, renewable energy for decades!

Arizona State Tax Credit

Although there are no state or local rebates in Tuscon, the state itself provides an awesome credit for would-be solar buyers. This credit will be equal to 25% of the cost of any solar device purchased, up to a maximum of $1000 for each residence. You can reach this maximum through multiple installations or all at once on a big solar panel system, but you can never exceed the lifetime maximum. You can also carry this credit forward for up to five years if you owe less than the credit amount.

This is nice icing on the federal tax credit cake that we’ll check out below!

Available Federal Tax Credit

As per usual, anyone that takes the jump into solar will enjoy the residential renewable tax credit. This amazing subsidy by the US government will allow for a 30 percent federal tax credit for any costs relating to the purchase and installation of a new solar system for your home. This allows you to shave 30 percent right off the top of your purchase price if you are paying cash or taking out a loan for your system. Remember that if you lease your system you will not get this credit. It will instead go to the owner of the panels that you are leasing from!

Tax credits are not deductions, but rather a dollar-for-dollar credit that is reimbursed to you for your purchase. This is truly an awesome opportunity that you should take advantage of before it starts to decrease after 2019!

Property Tax Exemption

Here is another area that Arizona rates very highly. According to their Energy Equipment Property Tax Exemption policy, citizens are exempted from paying property taxes on any equipment that provides energy to the home through renewable means.  This can include solar panels, but also things like geothermal electric, solar pool heating, hydroelectric, and even anaerobic digestion!

You will receive a 100% exemption if you make a purchase in any of the eligible categories. Remember though, that even though these devices are considered to add no value to the property for tax purposes, it will definitely still add value to your home for the purposes of selling it!

Sales Tax Exemption

According to Arizona’s Solar and Wind Equipment Sales Tax Exemption, you will currently pay NO sales tax on any eligible equipment related to solar energy. This is an excellent benefit because sales tax on a $15,000 system would be $1,215 under Tuscon, AZ’s current tax rate of 8.1%. This is a pretty sizable discount!

General Increase in Home Value

We discussed earlier that your property taxes will not increase due to the installation of your solar system because it does not count as added home value, but a good solar panel installation has been shown to demand a $4 per watt price premium over similar homes!  Looking at the numbers, that means a 5-kilowatt solar system could be adding as much as $20,000 to the value of your home while paying no additional taxes on your property. This makes for a sound financial investment for those of you living in Tuscon. Assuming you pay cash for your system, you could come out way ahead if you sell your home just for the increase in value alone.

Assuming you pay cash for your system, you could come out way ahead if you sell your home just for the increase in value alone. This type of return lumps solar into the category of any other home improvement that can increase the value of your home such as bathroom renovations or additions.

What to do next?

For those of you in Tuscon looking to go all-in with solar, I think that the numbers presented in this article make a compelling argument for you to take the plunge. Depending on your current financial state, you stand to come out way ahead in a short amount of time from a home value perspective. Factoring in the lower energy bills and peace of mind that comes from doing your part to help the planet and ensure a safe future for your children, it’s an easy decision.

Arizona currently ranks 5th in solar capacity in the US and it shows no signs of slowing down. As solar prices continue to drop and more people learn about the benefits of installing a solar panel system on their home, the solar environment just gets better and better!

As always, we highly recommend that you reach out to a local installer to give you an actual solar quote for your unique situation. All of our information here are estimates based on state averages.

Photo Credits: CC License via Flickr – 1, 2 

Everything You Need to Know About Solar Monitoring

solar-monitoring

Solar monitoring: the metrics dashboard for your panels.

For anyone interested in installing a new solar system, or if you already have one in place, there are likely still some questions about how your system will perform once it’s actually up and working.  You might not have heard of solar monitoring before, but it will help you answer questions like:

  • How much energy is being produced?
  • How does rain or snow affect my production?
  • How much energy do my various appliances use?
  • How will I know if something has gone wrong?

Because solar power is a huge investment it is important to make sure that you are getting a good return on this investment. Many people are also interested in how solar power works and to see exactly how their system is performing.

Let’s check out some of the main advantages you’ll have by adding solar monitoring to your home system:

Advantages of Solar Monitoring:

Advantage #1: Having Live Data

It’s possible that a small monitoring panel came with your system by default, but the most basic systems do not provide the best data.  One great feature of an advanced system is that you’ll often have access to live data about your performance.  This means that instead of seeing updates every 10, 15, or 30 minutes you’ll see updates every few seconds.

Once you’re able to see these frequent updates, you’ll be able to clearly see how things affect your system by looking at shade during the day, turning off appliances, and seeing the real-time effects of rain and snowfall.

More frequent data also smooths out your data reports and means that the analysis will be more meaningful because it will have access to many more data points.

Advantage #2: Knowing Expected vs. Actual Solar Production

When you are picking out your solar panel system it will likely have some amount of expected solar production attached to it.  Your installer will use averages from your area or actual sunlight readings along with your system size to determine how much energy it should be producing on an average day.  The number that they arrive at is extremely important because it will determine how much you will be saving with your system on a monthly and yearly basis.

Depending on how you structured your contract, your system’s production may even be guaranteed.  In this situation, it would be extremely important for you to know exactly what your system is producing to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth!

Advantage #3: Increase in Performance and Efficiency

If you have access to the complete details of your solar system then you will be able to see ways to improve your performance. Say, for instance, that you see a couple of the panels on the left side of your roof are starting to produce less power during certain parts of the day.

You could use this real-time data to check and see what the cause might be. Perhaps some tree limbs are starting to grow over your roof. Maybe they are getting dirty for some specific reason. Either way, a monitoring system will allow you to capture these performance increases in your system.

Advantage #4: Optimize your Energy Use

optimize-energy

With any solar system, your production will be highest during the times of day in which the sun is brightest and aiming directly at your panels. It is during this time that you’ll want to time any high-consumption activities, such as pool pumps or recharging an electric vehicle, to coincide with your peak energy production. On the other side of the coin, you’ll be able to see when your production is lowest and try to avoid high-energy activities during that time of day.

Advantage #5: Resolve Troubleshooting and Alerts

Troubleshoot

Most systems come with advanced troubleshooting and diagnostics features. These will show you when a piece of equipment has failed, possibly avoiding a long period of time with lost production. Something as simple as a pest chewing through your wires could take ages to diagnose and locate without some type of solar monitoring software.

Which Features Differentiate Your Options?

As we begin to look at different options in the solar monitoring space, we’ll see that there is a huge amount of variation in what exactly each company is offering. Some systems want to maximize the amount of customizability while others want to offer the simplest process possible and everything in between.  Here are a few ways in which your solar monitoring systems could vary:

  • Measuring Interval – Your system could update every 15 minutes or every few seconds.
  • Communication Methods – Your system could communicate via WiFi or you might have to manually upload data.
  • Type of Inverter – If each panel has its own micro inverter then you will often be able to diagnose individual panels.  One central inverter might not allow this.
  • Cost – Some systems have a one-time install cost, others have a monthly, some have both!
  • Ease of Use – Does your system offer a portable monitoring solution like a phone app?  How difficult is it to use?

Most Popular Solar Monitoring Companies

There are lots of companies in the solar industry that offer some type of monitoring service. These services are either built into their own hardware, offered as an add-on piece of hardware, or simply plug into existing systems to provide information. Because of the wide-ranging differences between the systems, they all offer something a little different in terms of features, pricing, and convenience.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options for solar monitoring companies:

1#: SolarEdge Monitoring

solaredge-monitoring

SolarEdge has been around since 2006 and was founded and incorporated in Delaware,  going public in 2015. They exist primarily as a secondary equipment provider for solar panel systems by selling power optimizers and inverters. Their SolarEdge PV Monitoring Platform is built into their hardware and it is offered along with the others as a complete package. This would allow you to take solar panels from other companies and couple it with the unique features of the SolarEdge system.

  • SolarEdge Power Optimizer – These power optimizers are either installed onto each PV module or embedded by module manufacturers, replacing the traditional solar junction box. These allow for increased energy output and allows for monitoring the performance of each module. Using these power optimizers allows the customer to have the flexibility and features of a micro inverter without the added costs.
  • SolarEdge PV Inverter – This inverter is specifically designed to work with their own optimizers. By using these components together, the inverter is simpler, more cost-effective, and more reliable than a traditional setup. It has a standard 12-year warranty (extendable to 20-25 years) and has a weighted efficiency rating of >97%.

#2: SolarEdge PV Monitoring System

solar-monitoring

This company has put a lot of effort into creating an optimized, all-in-one type of solution for your monitoring needs. Just keep in mind that you will need to be using their other equipment to effectively use their monitoring system. Let’s take a look at the major feature set:

Pros

  • Enables a top-down, visual map view of your panel installation
  • Shows real-time performance data for individual modules and for the whole system
  • Allows for historical and aggregated data, analysis, diagnostics, and guided root-cause fault analysis
  • Alerts user by email when a fault is detected along with troubleshooting advice
  • Remote service capabilities
  • High-resolution data from up to 12 months prior with visualization options
  • Service is free for 25 years when you purchase a system

Cons

  • Requires use of multiple SolarEdge Products to work
  • Requires an optimizer for each module in your system

Take a look at a home owner’s experience and review with a SolarEdge system:

#3: Enphase MyEnlighten

enphase-myenlighten

Enphase has been around since 2006 and has proven to be a major player in the solar energy space. In 2008 they actually introduced the world’s first microinverter system and since that time the technology has been an integral part of their total energy strategy. They go one step farther than SolarEdge by seeking to offer a complete, all-in-one package that includes everything you need to create an efficient and tightly monitored system for your home.

Their hardware solution consists of Enphase microinverters that will connect to each solar panel in the system. All of those modules will then connect to an Enphase Envoy – basically, the hub used to combine the data from each panel and feed it to the monitoring system and the Enphase AC Battery. From that point, you can access system data from your home or over their cloud-based software called MyEnlighten. Let’s take a look at MyEnlighten’s feature set:

Pros

  • Real-time monitoring of data and system performance
  • Automatic emails of any event that affects system performance.  You can view maintenance issues on graphs or a map of your system.
  • Secure, backed-up online data storage
  • Compare actual system performance against the modeled data to see how your system is producing
  • Share data across social media
  • View historical weather data along with analysis of how it affects performance
  • Today’s performance at-a-glance

Cons

  • Requires multiple pieces of equipment from Enphase
  • Requires a microinverter on each panel

If you are looking for a complete, easy-to-use system that allows for great mobile access to advanced monitoring features, Enphase’s MyEnlighten looks like it could be a good option.

Below is a video of an Enphase customer going through the software and experience:

#4: Locus Energy

locus-energy

As opposed to the two companies we’ve looked at so far, Locus Energy doesn’t produce its own proprietary inverters, batteries, or optimizers. Instead, they produce a piece of equipment that can tie-in to a variety of other installations and provide data on their output. The main drawback to sourcing data in this way is that there is no way to monitor performance from individual modules from their products alone. Their solution is meant to provide general data on your system and doesn’t dig too deeply into the finer details. Let’s look at a few features:

Pros

  • Modular interface allows you to hook their product into a wide range of preexisting installations or plan it as part of your future build
  • Current and historical data
  • Reporting tools
  • Net metering data shows you how much power you are adding to the grid vs. drawing from it
  • On-site data storage with backup and offline access
  • Neat visualization of environmental benefits such as gasoline offset or homes powered

Cons

  • Can’t see data from individual strings or modules
  • No troubleshooting information or alerts about problems with your system
  • Limited ability to diagnose performance issues or optimize efficiency

Here’s a video of the software in action:

#5: AlsoEnergy

alsoenergy

Founded in 2007, AlsoEnergy is another company that focuses on providing a tie-in solution to either previously installed systems or to compliment a new build. They developed their own software, PowerTrack, and then added DECK Monitoring to their product line after acquiring the company that created it in 2013. This allows for both an option between advanced-level and an essentials-only software for your installation. Here’s what both options offer:

  • Revenue-grade Reporting
  • Production values and status indicators
  • Compare actual production against benchmark values
  • Automated alerts for device status and system performance

In addition to this, their individual options offer:

AlsoEnergy Option 1: PowerTrack

  • Has data points for lots of factors including performance models, shading, panel tilts, seasonal variation, etc
  • Workflow Suite for installers and operators that need access to multi-site monitoring and maintenance planning
  • Personalized string maps
  • Apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android

AlsoEnergy Option 2: DECK Monitoring

  • Intuitive tools and navigation to simplify routine tasks. Emphasis is on user-friendliness around alarms, analytics, and reporting
  • Great front-facing PR tool for public displays

Pros

  • Works with a variety of other equipment providers
  • Different levels of software for different levels of needs
  • App support on a variety of devices

Cons

  • No module-level data from individual panels

Conclusion

After looking at some of the most popular options, it’s easy to see how much variation there is in the solar monitoring market. Your final choice will depend on exactly what it is you’re looking to get out of your system, but we think that SolarEdge takes the win here for their overall feature set and convenience. Although there will be more equipment to get up and running, having access to all of the information that their system provides could be worth it to many buyers, enabling your system to perform at its expected level.

With SolarEdge, you’ll get a complete system to couple with the solar panels of your choice and you won’t have to worry about assembling a hodge-podge of different options. You’ll get access to live, visual data, historical analysis, troubleshooting alerts and diagnostics, and much more.

SolarEdge looks to be a great option for anyone looking into maximizing their solar panel system.

Photo Credits:

Images courtesy of SolarEdge; Enphase; Locus; AlsoEnergy.

Buying Solar Panels in Miami, Florida

miami-solar-panels

Miami Solar

For those of you living in Miami, you'll find a lot of good news and some bad news about the state of solar Florida.

As a solar customer there, you’ll find that you will come out way ahead in areas such as property taxes, sales taxes, net metering, and tax credits. Unfortunately, you will be left behind in state-specific tax credits and energy policies.

If you are interested in purchasing a solar system in Miami, then I advise you to read through all of the various options included in this article to find which one works best for you.You will find that solar is a compelling investment no matter where you live, but specifics to the state of Florida will be important to any decision that you make.​

#1 Overall Solar Grade: Miami, Fl

C Overall State Grade
12 years Avg. Payback Time
3.54 % Estimate IRR (Return on your investment on cash purchase over 25 years)
$17,844.22 Your Net Profit Over 25 Years (Cash Purchase)

* Note that these are estimated values for informational purposes only, and do not take into account the full complexity of all financial projections. They also only apply to cash purchases, which means your numbers will be different if you lease your system or pay for it with a loan (factoring in interest). 

#2 Options for buying solar panels in Miami

As with the rest of Florida, the best return for investment in solar comes from a cash purchase.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll use an average install price of $16,600 before any incentives or discounts for a 5kW system. This system size is a great balance between savings and costs for an average home. Below we will talk about the three main ways to purchase a solar system for your house: cash, leasing, and loans.

We’ll look at the upfront costs and expected returns on your investment over a 25-year period. How long does it take to pay off the system? When will you start making money? What is your average return? Which is the best route to take? Read on!

Let me explain a little bit. Consider solar power to be an investment. Investments usually offer some kind of return.

Following me so far?

If you think of the savings that solar provides as the “return” on your investment, then you can look at the value of the system over its 25 year life. 

Cash upfront

If you are able to come up with the cash to buy your solar system outright, it would make sense that this would be the best approach to getting a new solar system for your home. This, however, is not the case.

With cash, you will be plunking down the $16,600 out of your own pocket during that first year. This is a big upfront payment. Now, after you file your taxes for that year you will also get that 30% federal tax credit for $4980 and you will have also saved about $843.54 on your energy bills for a combined total of $6447.54.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Your system will produce roughly the same amount of power each and every year that it is operating, but the cost to produce that energy will stay the same (nothing). Your power company, on the other hand, will typically increase their prices each year. While the national average has increased by less than 3% per year on average since 2008, but some areas see much higher increases.

In Florida, for instance, FPL (Florida Power and Light) recently asked for a 24% increase over 3 years. Increases like this can definitely impact your monthly bills.

With the cash method, your system will typically pay for itself after the 12th year and you’ll see a $17,844.22 income from the system for its remaining 13 years in service. Again, if you look at solar as an investment you’ll be doing a lot better than any kind of savings accounts or bonds.

Leases

Unfortunately, Florida has currently outlawed any leasing agreements between solar producers and potential customers in the state. This is unfortunate, because while it may not always be the best financial method to get access to solar power it is definitely the easiest method to create widespread adoption because of the zero-down nature of leasing.

More: Solar Leases

Loan

Although it may seem a little counter-intuitive, loans may actually the best overall method to pay for your new solar system (in terms of return on investment). The reason is simple: you are using someone else’s money to save money. Financing isn’t usually associated with saving money in the long run, but due to utilities’ yearly price increases, the math will work out in our favor.

Let’s take that same $16,600 system from the cash example. We’ll also assume that you are taking out a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to provide the financing for the solar system, but this scenario works for any loan that has a 5% or less interest rate.

The interesting thing about taking out a loan for solar is that you, as the loan purchaser, actually still get access to the 30% federal tax credit. So, you’ll be taking out a loan for the $16,600, but when you file your first year’s taxes you’ll be getting $4,980 back in your pocket (you’ve already made money!).

Of course, it’s not a perfect scenario. Due to your loan payment, you’ll end up paying about $60 per month for solar in the first year. This is your total loan payments (about $1,575) minus your energy savings (about $843). The good news is that because your utility bills tend to increase each year, you’ll be paying less and less for your solar system as the years go by. Also, after you’ve paid off your system in 15 years, you’ll start to see savings of up to $1100 per year from your system until the end of its 25-year life.

This scenario will give you about $10,815 in profits over the life of your system and you never took a dime out of your pocket to pay for the system up front!

More: Solar Loans

There are tons of credit unions, banks, and loan companies that can provide a loan for you in Florida.  You also have the option to take out a HELOC to finance your solar panels.  If you are shopping for a solar loan, just be sure that you are getting fair terms and keep in mind that all of my scenarios below assume that you are getting at least a 5% interest rate or better.

#3 Solar Policy Information

Miami’s solar energy policies are complicated because Florida, as a whole, seems to be a bit confused in terms of its solar energy policy. On the one hand, they are extremely enthusiastic with certain areas while completely shutting out solar in the other. It can be shown that Miami does have some interest in bringing solar power to various parts of the city, but there are still no real incentives for average customers.

The landscape of solar policy also stays rather turbulent because of the state’s four major energy companies actively trying to circumvent solar progress. Let’s take a look at how the main areas of Florida’s energy policy stack up.

Renewable Portfolio Standard

Florida, and therefore Miami, does not currently have a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). An RPS is essentially a decision by the government to mandate that a certain percentage of the power generated within the state comes from renewable sources.
Florida’s lack of RPS means that it is up to smaller companies and individuals to lead the charge for bringing solar energy to the forefront in the state. It’s still very possible to effect this change, but there is no officially mandated support yet.

Electricity Prices

On average, Floridians pay about 11 cents for a kilowatt-hour which is two cents cheaper than the national average. This means that for those interested in solar, you won’t be offsetting as high of a cost as you might in other states. One of the major highlights of solar, however, is that no matter how low your costs for power are you will eventually recoup your investment and start generating a profit from solar power.

The reason behind this is that your initial cost won’t increase, but utility companies tend to increase prices slightly on a year-to-year basis.

Net Metering

If you are not familiar with net metering, then you really should learn about how it can help you make money with solar power. See, net metering is a system that requires your utility company to monitor how much power you are actually consuming from the grid while also making sure that you get a credit for any surplus energy that you are feeding into it. This means that your power-conscious lifestyle can help your solar panels generate even more savings and even income in the long run.

Florida actually has a very generous set of standards for net metering that they set back in 2008. Basically, it will be easy to hook up to their grid because there is no maximum for the amount of people that can tie in. The energy surplus you generate will roll forward for up to 12 months at which point the utility will pay you for any leftover excess!
Making money by saving money is a win-win in my book!

More: Net Metering

Interconnection Rules

Florida’s interconnection policies are a bit of a mixed bag. In case you didn’t know, interconnection policies state how customers are allowed to “plug in” to the power grid and send power to the utility companies from their home system. The good news is that for small, single-home systems there shouldn’t be any issues at all with connecting to the grid.

Florida has a few requirements for larger systems such as external disconnect switches and mandatory insurance. For systems under 10kw, which would be almost everyone reading this interested in a single-home system, there are no such requirements!

#4 Financial Incentives, Rebates, and Other Tax Credits 

In yet another example of the mixed bag that Florida offers for its solar energy customers, there are huge pros and huge cons in the list of incentives that you can expect from the government. But remember that incentives are just that – incentives to encourage people that wouldn’t normally be interested in solar to try it. There are compelling financial reasons for going solar even without generous rebates or credits!

Solar Rebates

Unfortunately, there are no statewide rebate programs in Florida and nothing specific to Miami. The one program that was available in Florida, the Florida renewable energy tax incentive program, is no longer available. These types of programs offer rebates to help offset the costs incurred with setting up a new solar system.

Miami, FL Tax Credits

As mentioned before, Florida offers no official tax credits and Miami has shown no effort to create it’s own. There are no local rebates in this area.

Utility-based Performance Payments

First of all, what is a performance payment and why is it important for you? Most places will, in some shape or form, pay their citizens to generate solar power. They do this because the state mandates that they do so through some type of incentive program or RPS. This allows companies and individuals to help offset some of the costs associated with installing a new solar setup.
Unfortunately, the Miami area does not offer any such performance payments. The OUC in Orlando does offer some payments for solar, but this is the extent of these programs in Florida.

Property Tax Exemption

Finally, an area that the Sunshine State begins to shine in! The state of Florida allows a 100% exemption for any value added to your home from installing solar for the purposes of assessing property taxes. This is a huge deal because your home’s value can increase up to $20 for every one dollar of electricity that you save each year from solar.

Basically, the value increases because the cost of maintaining the home actually decreases. It also means that any value captured from adding the solar panels could actually be assessed when selling your home. This is a win-win from a financial perspective in Miami!

Sales Tax Exemption

This is another category in which Florida gets a stellar rating. If you purchase a solar system in Miami, you will not have to pay any sales tax on your purchase because the state offers a 100% exemption. This is equal to an automatic 7% tax savings on your solar system in Miami-Dade County. If your system cost $18,000, you’ll be saving $1260 right off the bat!

What to do next?

If you are in the market to buy a new solar system in Miami, FL then you will definitely find lots of businesses willing to provide you service.  Although the state is not the most pro-solar in the US, it has not stopped producers and third-party installers from stepping up to the plate and offering packaged systems with set pricing.

For residents of Miami, you have tons of opportunities to save money by investing in solar technology. The state ranks 3rd in the nation for rooftop solar potential so you are almost guaranteed to have a great experience with your panels.

You’ll also be eligible for federal tax credits, state tax savings, and a strong net metering proposition.

If you are on the fence about going solar, my recommendation is to jump in and check out your options. You’re bound to find something that works for you!

6 Tips for Finding Good Solar Contractors and Going Solar

solar-contractors

Finding Solar Contractors

Going solar can seem like a daunting challenge if you are just starting your research.  You’ll need to figure out how large your system should be, who should install it, how to finance the system, and how to work with your local utility company to tie into the grid – among other things!

The good news is that if you find the right solar contractor, they can help you navigate the entire process, answer questions along the way, and provide you with the peace of mind that you need in order to feel great about your decision to invest in solar.

Let’s read about some things that we should be considering during our search for the right installer.

Flipping through the yellow pages and making random phone calls might work, but there are a few things that you can try to help narrow down your list before you start researching individual contractors in earnest.  To start, check with your local utility or the local/state agency in charge of your local utility.  They might already have a list of pre-qualified installers that are certified to work on your system.  Most pro-solar states, like California, have a database like this to help you get started.

#1 Getting Multiple Quotes

Before you commit to any specific solar contractor it is highly important that you get multiple quotes and interview with multiple installers.  Yes, interview.  Make no mistake, purchasing a solar panel system and having it professionally installed is not a small job.  The workers will be performing modifications to your roof and handling very expensive electrical equipment.  With this in mind, it is important that you are doing your due diligence in determining who is right for the job.

Don’t be afraid to entertain multiple bids and ask lots of questions during the interviews to determine how knowledgeable your potential installer is about solar power and roofing.  During this time you should also be paying attention to how quickly the company responds to your inquiries, their general attitude, their level of helpfulness, and how genuine they are.  All of these qualities will factor into their finished product and it might be worth paying a little extra to ensure that your process is as painless as possible.

Questions to Ask Your Potential Solar Contractor:

  • How many years have you been in business?
  • How many installations have you completed?  In my area?
  • Have you worked with my roof type in the past?
  • Who will design the solar system?
  • Are you familiar with local rules and regulations for installing solar?
  • Do you have experience with interconnection and net metering?
  • Are you certified?
  • Are you insured?
  • May I have a list of references to contact about your previous work?

#2 Checking Solar Contractor Reviews and References

Once you’ve identified a small list of contractors that you are interested in working with, start by looking online for reviews of these companies.  If they do not have an online presence it is not necessarily a red flag, but it should be comforting to see lots of positive reviews on the company that you are looking into.  Pay special attention to any details provided about finished work, timeliness, and general level of satisfaction from the job.

More: What are the best residential solar installers?

After you’ve tossed out any contractors with poor or a lack of reviews you can start asking for references.  Even in the modern age of internet reviews, honest face-to-face recommendations from other customers simply cannot be matched in terms of authenticity.  Don’t shy away from asking your potential installer for references from some of their recent clients.  If they refuse to give you the information then they are probably not worth working with.

Questions to Ask Your References:

Just as if you were checking up on any other contractor, you should ask the following:

  • How similar is their system to what you are looking for?
  • Did the contractor clearly explain the entire process to you?
  • Were they timely?
  • How did their crew perform the work?  Were they pleasant and easy to work with?
  • How was communication with the company?
  • Did the job come in under budget?
  • Did you get the results you were looking for?
  • Would you hire them again?

#3 Handling the Fine Print

As I mentioned before, a solar panel installation is a major commitment and carries a substantial financial investment.  It is extremely important to read your entire contract carefully and ask questions about anything that seems unclear or disadvantageous to you.

Getting into every detail of a contract could require the services of a lawyer if you want to be certain you are protected.  Here are some key things to watch out for to make sure that you are aware of how the contractor will perform under certain circumstances and to ensure that you are protected.

  • Scope of work – this includes obtaining permits, labor, equipment, materials, etc. as well as adherence to the design specs.
  • Timing of the work – making sure the project starts and finishes on time.
  • Payment – how and when the contractor is to be paid for work.
  • Changes to work – you should make sure that you must sign for any changes made.
  • Warranties – What type of warranty is included?
  • Default Provisions – what happens if there is a breach of contract?
  • Lein waivers – in construction projects, it is typical that you request a lien waiver after each milestone payment to ensure that both parties have signed off on the work.
  • Project dates – having a timeline written into the contract will help ensure a timely finish.
  • Escape Hatch – what happens if your financing falls through or you otherwise have to pull out of the contract?
  • Signatures – a binding contract must have the signature of both parties.

#4 Choosing the Right Equipment/Installation

Determining how large your system should be and what type of equipment will work best is one of the first priorities that you’ll have.  This will factor into your next decisions about the type of equipment you need for your system.  The right solar contractor should be able to help you navigate through these options and find what works best for your unique situation.

Earlier I mentioned that you should ask your installer who will be designing your system.  The reason for this is simple:  not every system works on every roof.  It is important that your installer is capable of designing a system that is tailored to your exact needs:  roof pitch, shade, sunlight exposure, etc.

How Big Should Your System Be?

First, ask yourself what your goals are for your system:

  • Are you trying to power your entire home and be completely independent of your utility company’s power?
  • Do you just want to save a portion of your energy bill?
  • What is your budget for the project?

Solar Contractor Roof Square Footage

Photo courtesy of NREL.gov

As you can see in the chart, the size requirements for your system will be determined by multiple factors such as the panels used and your desired output.

Different Types of Equipment

An experienced installer should be familiar with lots of different types of equipment.  Remember that your system will include not only the panels themselves, but also inverters, cables, mounting framework, and other miscellaneous items.  If you have done your research and selected a top-notch solar contractor then you should feel confident that they will be able to help you determine the best equipment for the job.

You do not need to be an expert, but review some information online about power inverters and the basics of solar panel installations so that you can ask your potential solar contractor some questions about your system:

  • What type of power inverter will they be using?
  • What type of solar panels will they be using?
  • What is the efficiency rating of the panels?
  • Will you be able to monitor the electrical output?
  • What is the expected degradation over time?
  • What is the lifespan of individual components in the system?

#5 Exploring Payment Options

There are two major ways that you will be paying for your system and your solar contractor will be more or less relevant depending on the method you choose.

Cash and Loans

If you choose the cash or loan method, remember that you will be responsible for the total upfront cost of the system.  This means that a ballooning budget could end up setting you back way more than you originally thought.  It is highly important that you lock in some kind of price guarantee if you are going this route so that they cannot sneak any hidden costs into the equation.  If you have your financing pre-approved for a certain amount you could try to put that in the contract as a maximum allowable spend.  Also remember that you will be 100% responsible for any maintenance or repairs to your system so you should have complete knowledge of your warranty’s stipulations.

Leasing

If you are leasing your solar panels from your contractor or installer then you should be looking at different areas of the process.  Your monthly payment as a lessee will probably be fixed, but this means that your contractor will have a perverse incentive to save as much money as possible on the equipment and installation process.  Be sure to double-check their work and ensure that your contract has iron-clad protection for any potential roof damage caused by your system installation.  You do not want to ruin the value of your home due to a shoddy solar installation.

#6 What Happens After the Install

It is easy for solar contractors to install your system, take your money, and then ride off into the sunset, never to be seen again.  It is important that you put in the work up front to ensure that you will be covered in the future.

Warranty Information

This is the most obvious thing to check.  Key watch-outs are the time covered and any exceptions that would void the warranty.  Remember that individual components might have different warranty lengths.  For instance, even though the panels might be good for 25 years, the inverter might only have a 10-year warranty.  Ask as many questions as you need in order to make sure that you are well aware of your rights and limitation.

Longevity of the Company

An iron-clad lease or contract does not really mean anything if the company you are doing business with has gone out of business when you need them to perform a service.  Just because a company offers the cheapest price does not mean that they are the best team for the job.  In order for them to stay in business, they must provide quality workmanship and service while generating a fair profit.  Companies with long histories are preferable.  Also preferable is a larger construction company that simply has a branch specifically for solar.  This means that they are well-diversified and probably able to withstand changes and ups and downs in the market.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you are feeling a bit more secure about your upcoming solar system installation.  Although the task of finding solar contractors can seem daunting, if you break the process down it doesn’t have to be overly complicated.  Attention to detail and due diligence are your best friends during this journey.  Follow the steps I outlined and you will be well on your way to a great relationship with a great installer!

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions please feel free to leave a comment!