Tag Archives for " solar 101 "

Discreet Solar Panels: From Simple Tactics to Tesla’s Solar Roof

discreet-solar-panels

If a modest approach to ‘Going Solar’ appeals to you, we’ll show you how it is possible with discreet solar panels.

Do those big blue rectangles up on the roof make you squirm a little bit? You know they are for the best, they help the environment and save the homeowner money, but you just can’t wrap your head around how they’d look on your roof. If you believe in simplicity and modesty, then discreet solar panels are right up your alley.

Continue reading

Solar Panels Maintenance: Is It Really Necessary?

solar-panels-maintenance

The Honest, No-Sales-Talk Answer: Is Solar Panel Maintenance Required?

There’s a lot of information out there on if, or how much, solar panels maintenance is needed. Some of this information is accurate and useful, but some is simply conjecture and product sales. How can you tell the difference between what’s necessary and what’s just a sales pitch? Let’s take a look.
Continue reading

How Do I Evaluate If I Should Go Solar or Not?

should-i-go-solar

Should I go solar or not?

Why should I go solar? Everyone’s got an opinion. And in the age of information, everyone’s got an opinion online. Which is handy for wasting years of your life. But not so for finding anything resembling the truth.

That’s where we come in.

See, we know a thing or two about solar. And it’s our mission to wade through the flotsam of speculation to find the solar facts, so you don’t have to.

So, sit back, relax and pop a cold one while we answer the topic of the day:

Should I go solar?Continue reading

The Complete Guide to San Diego Solar Panels

san-diego-solar-panels

Information about Solar Panels in San Diego

Thinking about installing solar panels in San Diego, but don’t know where to start?

You’ve got questions floating around in your mind: How much can you save? What type of financing should you choose? What incentives are available? Is the process fast?

Going solar can initially seem confusing. But don’t worry, we’re here to help! We’ve outlined all of this and more to make installing solar panels in San Diego a super easy process.

For a broader state overview, see our California Overview page.

#1 Overall Solar Grade: Good

B
Overall Grade
9 years Avg. Payback Time (For Cash Purchase)
12.3 % Estimate IRR (Return on your investment on cash purchase over 25 years)
$36,392 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.

San Diego homeowners can take advantage of the clear skies, great incentives, and high utility rates to save some serious money by installing solar panels. While many of the financial incentives that encouraged the explosion of solar in the state are now defunct, the sheer amount of savings homeowners can see (even without those incentives) lead us to give solar in San Diego a solid rating of good.

#2 Options for Buying Solar Panels in San Diego, CA

San Diego homeowners have several options available to finance their solar installations:

Cash upfront

If you want to save the most money possible going solar, purchasing your installation outright is the way to go. With typical installation prices hovering around $3.61 per watt in the southern California area, an average-sized solar installation costs about $18,050. That’s a lot of money, so let’s see if we can’t drop that price down and then put it into perspective.

First off, by purchasing your solar installation you are automatically eligible to receive the federal 30% tax credit, worth a dollar-for-dollar discount on your total cost. This means that just by receiving this credit your total cost to go solar drops to just $12,635. That’s a pretty big tax credit!

$12k is still a lot of money to foot for an investment though, so is it worth it?

The real question then is how much can you save by installing solar? Southern California – obviously – sees fantastic weather year-round that is perfect for solar. Couple this with the state’s high utility rates and you can see a nice return on your original investment. Over 25 years (the typical lifespan of solar panels), you can see savings up to $36,392 for a 5-kW system, with a payback of just 9 years!

To estimate these savings, we compared the total solar installation cost against how much you’d pay the utility for the same amount of power over 25 years, factoring in both solar panels’ loss due to age and wear as well as utilities’ typical rate increases each year.

Purchasing your solar installation outright is a great way to save money, but there are downsides, most notably the large initial investment you need to make. To be honest, most of us just don’t have $12k sitting in the bank waiting to be used for an investment.

Next, while you are eligible to receive all the financial incentives yourself, as the owner of the installation you are also responsible for maintaining and repairing the system. If something breaks, it’s your job to fix it or hire an installer to fix it. Solar installations are pretty self-contained and don’t require much fiddling, repairing, or maintaining, but it’s certainly something to be aware of.

Bottom Line: That being said, if you have the money, purchasing a solar installation is a safe, easy way to save long-term money. If shelling out that kind of cash isn’t on the table right now, take a look below at some financing options that don’t require that huge upfront payment.

Lease

Leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs) became the dominant financing mechanism for residential solar after they were introduced by installers in the late 2000s. As we saw above, purchasing a solar installation requires a lot of cash – about the same amount as a brand new car. There are other ways to finance purchasing a car without that huge upfront bill, so why not apply that to solar installations as well?

And boom. Here come solar leases. Leases allow homeowners to install solar but avoid that prohibitively high initial investment. You won’t save as much with a lease or PPA as with a cash purchase (just like a car lease is more expensive in the long run than an outright purchase), but there are serious benefits as well.

Since the solar installers own the installation for the entirety of the lease, they are responsible for monitoring and maintaining the system. If something breaks, they have to fix it and pay for it, leaving you free time to enjoy your leisure activities like disc golf or ball golf.

As they’re the owner of the installation, most of the financial incentives for going solar (including the federal tax credit) go to the installer – not you. Solar companies claim that they pass these savings onto the homeowners, so you should be indirectly benefiting from those incentives even if you’re not receiving them in your own hands.

Just like a car lease, you make small monthly payments each month for the life of the lease. Monthly payments can remain the same throughout the contract or increase slightly each year with what’s known as an escalator. You should definitely talk to your solar installer to decide which one makes more sense for you, but in general not having an escalator allows you to save more in the long-term, but your monthly payments will be higher for the first few years.

Once your lease is over, you typically have a few different options for your installation:

  1. The solar installer will remove the panels at no cost to you.
  2. You can continue your solar lease on a month-to-month basis.
  3. You can purchase the installation at a fair market value (usually very cheap, though the equipment is nearing the end of its useful life, so in the near future it’ll be your financial responsibility to fix, repair, or remove the installation).
Bottom Line: You can save money with lease, but it’ll be nowhere near as much as a cash purchase.

More: Solar Leases

Solar Loan

Loans take the best parts of cash purchases and leases and put them together. You own the installation and receive all the financial incentives, increasing your savings, but you also avoid the high upfront costs that are common when you purchase solar.

You’ll typically save more money with a loan than a lease or PPA, but not quite as much as with a cash purchase. (You do have to pay interest on that loan, after all.)

A lot of organizations offer loans for solar installations these days, from banks to credit unions to dedicated solar loan companies. Each offers different loan terms, interest rates, and fees, so be sure to do your homework before moving forward, as all these components contribute to (or detract from) your total savings.

If you’re installing a 5-kW installation (the same size that we used in the Cash section above) and take out a fairly standard 15-year loan with 5% interest, your total cost jumps to $20,259 after the federal tax credit.

That’s quite a bit more than a simple cash purchase, but even with a loan, you can save $28,756 over 25 years! Savings obviously aren’t as high as cash, but almost $30k with little to no upfront cost is pretty good! Your payback increases to 13 years, so it takes about 4 more years to recoup your investment, but after that you are sitting pretty, producing renewable (and absolutely free) electricity!

Bottom Line: If you don’t have the cash to purchase solar outright and want to avoid a lease, loans might be your answer. Call a few installers, banks, or credit unions to see what loans they offer.

More: Solar Loans

#3 Solar Policy Information

Over the last 40 years, California has adopted fantastic policies to protect and encourage solar installations.

san-diego-harbor

Renewable Portfolio Standard

Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) are simply goals that lawmakers make stating that a certain percentage of all electricity in the state must come from renewable sources by a certain date. Meeting these goals is typically left to utilities, in essence forcing them to adopt renewable energy much more quickly than they otherwise would have, leading to a much cleaner electricity industry at a much faster rate.

When compared to other states, California has one of the highest RPS goals in the country. 33% of all the electricity in the state must come from renewable sources by 2020 and 50% must come from renewable sources by 2030. Closing in on the first goal, utilities across the state have begun purchasing electricity from solar power plants and encouraging solar installations on a wide scale in their service areas.

If there’s any one piece of policy we can thank for pushing the solar industry forward in California, it’s the RPS.

More: Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)

Electricity Prices

There’s no getting around it: California has high electricity rates. If you’re just an average Joe, this means you are spending more and more money purchasing all your electricity from the utility each year. If you’re a Solar Joe though, these high electricity prices mean you can save a lot of money by installing your own solar installation and avoiding those costs (as we saw above).

California homeowners pay an average of $0.1797 per kilowatt-hour – some of the highest utility rates in the country and 30% higher than the national average. These rates are comparable to the northeast but are much higher than southern and mid-west states (and homeowners there would have a much harder time of saving money going solar because of it).

High utility prices are never fun, but if you live in California, just consider them your ticket to saving tons of money by installing solar panels!

Net Metering

California requires all three investor-owned utilities operating in the state, including SDG&E, to offer net metering to solar customers.

As a solar homeowner, net metering allows you to push excess electricity you produce (and which you don’t use) into the grid to be used by other homeowners or businesses. SDG&E will then give you credits on your next bill based on how much electricity you put into the grid.

Each month your credits roll over and after 12 months, you can choose to continue rolling over your credits on a month-to-month basis indefinitely or cash out and receive a payment for those additional credits. While the bill credits are based on the utility rate that you actually pay (typically around $0.17 per kWh), if you cash out your payment it is based on how much SDG&E pay the companies that they purchase their electricity from (around $0.03 per kWh).

In 2016, the California Public Utilities Commission passed the Net Energy Metering Successor Tariff, giving new regulations for all future residential net metering customers. Under these new rules, you still receive credits for any excess generation you produce that goes into the grid, but there are three major changes:

  1. When you apply for a net metering agreement, you now have to pay a one-time interconnection fee (estimated to be around $75 to $100).
  2. You must pay monthly utility charges for programs like nuclear decommissioning and low-income and efficiency programs based on your total gross kWh consumption from the grid, without taking net metering into account. Existing net metering customers also have to pay these charges, but they are calculated based on their net total consumption. These charges are typically around $0.02 to $0.03 per kilowatt-hour.
  3. All future net metering customers will be placed on time-of-use rates. If you’re used to the standard tiered utility rates, this will be the big change for you (though it’s fairly simple once you get the hang of it).

As of December 2016, Pacific Gas & Electric in northern California have already begun implementing these new rules. SDG&E customers can expect to see changes by summer 2017 at the latest.

More: Net Metering

Interconnection Rules

In California, the approval process to connect your solar installation to the utility grid is quick and painless, thanks to the state legislature passing Rule 21 ensuring it is so.

With SDG&E (as well as the other 2 investor-owned utilities), you are eligible for the Fast Track interconnection process when you enter into a net metering agreement. Fast Track offers a simplified approval process with minimal review requirements, so you can get your system up and running as quickly as possible.

#4 Financial Incentives, Rebates, and Tax Credits 

With the solar industry being so mature in California (and so many homeowners having already installed solar), many of the truly great state-wide solar incentives have expired. However, San Diego homeowners are still eligible for the single best solar incentive available today – the federal tax credit – as well as tax exclusions and, of course, net metering.

san-diego-skyline

Federal Tax Credit

We’ve already mentioned the federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit in sections above, so suffice to say that this credit is incredible! As a tax credit (not a tax deduction), it’s equal to a dollar-for-dollar 30% discount on the total cost of your installation.

Again, the tax credit goes to the owner of the installation, so if you financed your installation in cash or with a loan, you are eligible to receive this awesome incentive.

The credit was originally set to expire in 2016, but Congress extended it until 2019, at which point it drops to 26% until 2021, then 22% until 2022 when it completely runs out.

Should your tax liability be insufficient to claim the entire credit in one year, you can break it down into more manageable chunks over several years. Talk about easy!

More: Solar Federal Tax Credit 

Property Tax Exemption

When you install solar in California, you’re also eligible for a 100% state property tax exclusion on the value of your installation. So if you spent $18,000 on solar for your $200,000 home, you only pay property taxes on the $200,000 value of your home, not the $218,000 total value.

The state-wide average for property taxes is around 0.74%, so installing a 5-kW system lets you save about $110 in your first year. This obviously isn’t a huge amount, but considering how much you are already saving, it’s just icing on the cake!

Homeowners Associations

Solar homeowners in California enjoy some of the best pro-solar access rights in the country, thanks to the 1978 state-wide Solar Rights Act. This act protects your right to sunlight and also restricts HOAs from denying you the right to go solar.

The state also passed the Solar Shade Act in 1978, providing solar homeowners with legal protection from excessive shade from neighbor’s trees and shrubs, as long as the trees were planted after the solar system was installed.

All this to say, if you’ve got a cantankerous HOA or neighbor who might try to cause you grief for going solar, you don’t need to worry. The state of California has your back!

General Increase in Home Value

Solar panels on your roof can add some serious value to your home, as long as you own the installation. Depending on the age of the system, solar panels can add an average of $4.51 per watt to the total value of your home, and as much as $5.90 per watt if the installation is new. This means that the 5-kW installation we referenced above could bring over $20,000 to the price of your home.

If you financed your installation with a lease or any other mechanism where the installer retains ownership of the installation, according to a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, your solar doesn’t really add value to your home. But it doesn’t detract from your home either. When researchers compared similar homes, some with solar and some without, sales price and time on the market were about the same.

More: Buyers Will Pay More for Solar Homes

If you’d like to dig even more on local incentives and rebates, check out the DSIRE database.

What to do next?

So is installing solar panels in San Diego a good deal? No, it’s a great deal! Clear skies, high utility prices, and great financial incentives mean going solar in San Diego can save you some serious cash. Just be sure to do your homework, get estimates from several installers, and review agreements carefully.

Did we miss any other important considerations for San Diego homeowners? Add them in the comments!

Image Credit under CC License from Pixabay - 1, 2 & Flickr - 3

The Complete Guide to Solar Panels in Los Angeles

solar-panels-in-los-angeles

Information about Solar Panels in Los Angeles

Installing solar panels in Los Angeles is almost a no-brainer - a win-win-win situation no matter how you look at it.

With sunny skies, high utility rates, and excellent rebates and tax credits, homeowners can make out like a bandit (and contribute to a cleaner world) by installing solar panels in Los Angeles. In fact, Los Angeles residents are eligible for one of the best incentives in the state for going solar!

For a broader state overview, see our California Solar Overview.

Continue reading

What Are Some Good Solar Panel Cleaning Tools?

solar-panel-cleaning-tools

If it’s time to spruce up your solar panels, let’s first look at the best solar panel cleaning tools.

You probably remember the moment your shiny new solar panels arrived at your home and were installed on your roof. Just like we marvel at brand new TVs with no fingerprints or smudges fouling the picture, pristine solar panels can be quite impressive. But just like that TV, solar panels will start to accumulate dust and dirt on the surface very quickly, and that is when you have to consider your solar panel cleaning tools.

Continue reading

Solar Inverter Costs and How to Choose the Right One

solar-inverter-costs

Solar inverter costs, warranties, and efficiencies you should know before making your purchase.

Quick Tip: If you’re not too familiar with solar inverters, glance over our primer on solar inverters What Solar Power Inverter Should You Get For Your PV System? to understand the basics before moving forward with this article about solar inverter costs.

If you are already working with a solar installer, most have a short list of inverters they typically like to install, so your options for inverters might be somewhat limited. Which inverter is installed in your home is typically decided by availability and installation size as well as placement of your solar installation (see the article linked above for more information on this).

Even if your installer has shortlisted a few inverters to make it easy for you to choose, or even if they already chose for you, it’s a good idea to know a little the technology and typical solar inverter costs so you know what you are getting and whether it’s a good deal. There are a lot of inverters out there, each with different prices, efficiencies, and warranties, so knowing a little background information will go a long way to helping you make a sound financial decision.Continue reading

Installing Solar Panels Gainesville, FL

solar-panels-gainesville-fl

Information about Solar Panels Gainesville, Fl

In 2011, the sheer quantity of solar panels residents and businesses of Gainesville, FL had installed made national news. The number of solar installations was three times as high as the US national average and higher even than solar-friendly countries like Japan and France. No doubt this spike in popularity was due in part to GRU’s (Gainesville Regional Utilities) very popular solar feed-in tariff program which provided incredible financial incentives for solar electricity pushed back into the grid by their solar customers.

Continue reading

North Carolina Solar – All you need to know

north-carolina-solar

Information about North Carolina Solar Power

North Carolina has the 3rd most residential solar of all 50 states in the US, beating other very solar-friendly states like Colorado, New Jersey, and Massachusetts! No doubt the explosive growth in the state was due in part to North Carolina’s incredible 35% tax credit for solar - which unfortunately has been defunct since 2015 - but even today homeowners in the state can save upwards of $16,000 with North Carolina Solar!

Read on for more information on purchasing solar in North Carolina as well as relevant solar policy and incentives.

#1 Overall Solar Grade for North Carolina

C
Overall Grade
13 years Avg. Payback Time (For Cash Purchase)
0.7 % Cash Estimated IRR (Return on your investment on cash purchase over 25 years)
$16,787 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.

North Carolina is almost a trailblazer for solar in the southern states, paving the way for others to follow. They’ve been first-adopters of many policies typical of solar-friendly states like RPS goals, net metering, and solar tax credits.

While this is all great news, unfortunately many of these policies feel like legislators settled for ‘adequate’ instead of fantastic. For example, the state mandates that utilities must offer net metering to customers with solar - great! - but stops short of mandating that they must pay customers at the end of the year for any electricity put into the grid - not so good.

Even still, North Carolina earns a solid average for establishing a robust framework of solar policy and incentive that other southern states can look to as an example.

#2 Options for Buying Solar Panels in North Carolina

North Carolina homeowners currently have two options for buying solar: upfront cash purchase and loans, and a third financing method gaining momentum. Read on to see which makes sense for you!

Cash upfront

If you’re purely interested in financial savings, a cash purchase is certainly the way to go! Homeowners who install an average-sized 5-kilowatt solar system can expect to spend about $12,985 on the installation after receiving the federal tax credit, but save around $16,787 after 25 years!

Our estimates take into account both the slow drop in efficiency of the solar panels each year (0.08% decrease annually), as well as the increase in utility rates (3.5% annually), and a 25 year expected lifespan.

As the owner of the installation, you are eligible to receive all the federal, state, and local financial incentives, which can drop your cost even more. You’re also responsible for your system – if equipment breaks or your installation starts producing less power, it’s up to you to hire a technician to troubleshoot and repair. Keep in mind though that inverters and solar panels both have long term warranties, usually between 12 and 25 years, so your out-of-pocket expenses will remain low.

However, there is a catch to these high savings. While the federal tax credit and other incentives certainly take a huge dent out of the total cost going solar (more on that below), you’ll typically receive these incentives after the installation is complete, so you have to pay the entire bill upfront for your solar installation!

Bottom Line: Unless you’ve got thousands of dollars sitting in the bank waiting for investment, paying cash for your installation might be out of reach. If this is the case for you, take a look at solar loans.

Solar Loans

Loans offer a great way to purchase a solar installation while avoiding the high initial investment. Your financial savings over the life of the installation won’t be nearly as high as with a cash purchase due to the interest you’ll have to pay.

Many institutions now offer loans for solar installations including banks, credit unions, and even dedicated solar loan companies. With loans, the agreement term, interest rate, and fees all affect how much money you can save, so be sure to call around to a few different establishments to see what terms they offer. Solar installers often have a preferred lender as well, so it doesn’t hurt to reach out to a few installers!

Bottom Line: For the same 5-kilowatt installation above which costs $12,935 (after the federal tax credit), when you add a standard 15-year loan with 5% interest, you can expect to save about $11,289. Savings are about half as much as a cash purchase, but loans have the huge added benefit of not requiring any large upfront payment like cash purchases. For many homeowners, this might be the only option.

More: Solar Loans

Solar Leases and Power Purchase Agreements

Third party ownership is not allowed in North Carolina at this time.

More: Solar Leases

PACE Financing

PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) is an exciting new financing mechanism that is slowly growing in the US after it began in the late 2000s in Oakland, CA. With PACE financing, local governments foot the bill for homeowners’ solar installations (or other green home projects), and the homeowner pays back the ‘loan’ through an assessment on their property taxes.

PACE programs often see low interest rates and longer terms than conventional loans, which makes them a great deal for homeowners wanting to go solar. Besides, the loan is connected to the property – not the individual – so if you decide to move, the new owner simply continues to pay the loan off on their property tax assessment.

Seem like a good idea? It is! North Carolina homeowners might have to wait a little bit though. While North Carolina has passed legislation allowing PACE financing in the state (a huge first step in the process!), there aren’t yet any active programs.

Bottom Line: PACE will be a great option when a program is finally available! So be sure to call up your local city or county and tell them to look into it!

#3 North Carolina Solar Policy Information

Despite its status as one of the best states for solar, North Carolina lacks really strong, robust solar policies. They’re certainly better than many other southern states – which lack any pro-solar policy – many of the policies, like their net metering or solar access laws, feel unfinished. That leaves progressive cities like Asheville to fill in the gaps when proper statewide legislation is lacking (read on for more about this situation).

north-carolina-map

Renewable Portfolio Standard

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) is a fancy phrase for when a state sets a goal that a certain percentage of all their electricity used in the state must come from renewable sources. California, for example, mandated that 50% of all electricity used in the state must be from renewable sources by 2030. Montana set a goal of 15% by 2015. As of early 2017, 29 states have adopted RPS goals (you can see a map of them all here).

In 2007 the state of North Carolina set a goal that 12.5% of electricity from investor-owned utilities must come from renewable sources by 2021, with a 10% goal for municipal utilities and electric cooperatives. The state even set a solar carve out but at a fairly low goal of 0.2% (interestingly, the same percentage that should come from swine waste).

The state’s RPS has been under fire for a while now, first in 2013 when lawmakers tried to repeal the bill, and more recently in 2015 when the state House of Representatives voted on a bill to freeze the mandate. Thankfully, that bit was removed before the bill passed.

As the only southern state to adopt an RPS, we can look to North Carolina’s RPS as a beacon for neighboring states to look towards for years to come – as long as it’s still in place.

More: Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)

Utility Rates

Utility rates affect how much savings you can see by installing solar. The higher your rates, the more money you can save! And as utility rates continue to climb across the country and solar installations decrease in price, installing solar panels becomes a better and better financial investment!

In North Carolina, the average utility rate in is $0.1178 per kWh according to the US Energy Information Administration. This is obviously much lower than Hawaii’s $0.28 per kWh (the highest in the country!) and even a little lower than the national average of $0.1245, though a bit higher than the regional average of $0.1170.

It’s safe to say North Carolina has relatively low utility rates. However, even with these rates, we’ve seen you can still save money going solar in North Carolina, much like homeowners in other solar-heavy states that also have relatively cheap electricity like Texas, Colorado, and Arizona (all of which are under the national average).

Net Metering

North Carolina also established net metering incentives in 2005 for homeowners connecting their solar installations to the grid. Any excess electricity you produce is credited to your next utility bill at the full retail rate (so if you pay $0.11 per kWh, you’ll receive bill credits worth $0.11 for each excess kWh you produce!).

If you’re on a time-of-use rate (TOU) like Duke Progress’ R-TOU Program, how credits are calculated is a little different. The excess electricity you produce during off-peak hours is used to offset your electricity usage during off-peak hours. That’s simple enough. If you produce excess electricity during on-peak hours, it offsets your on-peak usage. Also simple.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. The excess electricity you generate during on-peak hours can go towards offsetting your off-peak hours (because on-peak electricity is more valuable than off-peak electricity due to the higher demand). In this same vein, excess electricity you produce during off-peak hours cannot go to offsetting any electricity you use during on-peak hours. Make sense?

Net metering in North Carolina unfortunately comes with one big downside. Unlike in other states like Florida, where homeowners are paid in cash for any excess electricity they have left over after 12 months, in North Carolina any additional bill credits you have left over at the beginning of the summer are forfeited – given to the utility with no compensation to you, the homeowner.

While in other states the payout isn’t much (maybe $0.02 or $0.03 per kWh), it’s really the principle of the matter – you created that electricity and pumped it back into the grid where others can use it. Wouldn’t you like to be compensated? To move the solar industry forward, North Carolina needs to step up their game and finish writing out this incomplete net metering program.

More: Net Metering

Interconnection Process

The process of receiving approval from the utility to connect your solar installation to their utility grid is known as the interconnection process. Utilities aren’t known for being a particularly hasty bunch, so as you can imagine, in the past this could be an arduous, frustratingly tedious process.

As more homeowners install solar, many states across the US have adopted standardized interconnection to ensure the process is as fast and painless as possible.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission initially adopted statewide interconnection standards in 2005 and subsequently revised them in 2008 and 2015 for customers of the state’s three investor-owned utilities: Duke-Progress, Duke Energy, and Dominion. The requirements for approval differ based on the size of the installation, breaking down into three tiers. For North Carolina homeowners, the only tier you’ll probably need to know is the very first tier, referred to as the Inverter Process.

The Inverter Process is reserved for installations up to 20 kW in size. As 20 kW is equal to almost 80 solar panels, the vast majority of residential installations fall into this category! Homeowners are required to pay a $100 fee for the interconnection application (as opposed to $250 or more for higher tiers), and utilities can require additional safety disconnect switches (typically installed on the side of the house next to your solar inverter) for a higher level of safety, but must reimburse homeowners if the installation is smaller than 10 kW.

Solar Access Rights with North Carolina Solar

The state of North Carolina protects homeowners’ right to install solar. First off, cities, counties, Homeowners Associations (HOAs) or other similar organizations can’t prohibit you from installing solar. That’s good news as in the past particularly crabby HOAs have attempted and sometimes succeeded in blocking homeowners installing solar.

HOAs and other organizations can force you to move your solar panels to another section of the roof if they are visible from common areas or areas open to the public. However, this is only allowed if the move doesn’t prevent the solar panels from working efficiently.

Unfortunately, the state’s protection doesn’t act retroactively to covenants already in place, so if the HOA regulations or covenants existed before 2007, they could pretty much do whatever they want.

If you live in Chapel Hill, the city adopted strict solar access rights laws in 2005, two years before the state-wide law! These laws are much stricter than the state laws and provide even more protection for solar homeowners:

Subdivisions shall not include covenants or other conditions of sale that restrict or prohibit the use, installation or maintenance of solar collection devices. (Article 4.6.7 from the above link)

Not only does the law mention installation, but also use and maintenance, all without any caveats in regards to visibility. Good job Chapel Hill!

More: Solar Access Rights in the US.

#4 Financial Incentives, Rebates, and Tax Credits 

North Carolina homeowners can take advantage of the federal tax credit and state tax exemptions to drop their installation cost even further.

Federal Tax Creditnorth-carolina-sunset

Any homeowner who purchases (either through cash or loan) and installs a solar installation is eligible to receive the federal renewable energy tax credit. This tax credit is worth 30% of your total installation cost, and if your tax liability isn’t high enough in a single year, you can break it out and claim portions over several years. The credit was originally meant to phase out at the end of 2016, but federal lawmakers extended the credit to 2019, at which point it drops to 26% until 2021, and then 22% until 2022 at which point it is phased out completely.

As you probably know, tax credits – unlike tax deductions – are worth a dollar-for-dollar amount, so it’s almost like receiving a 30% discount on your entire installation!

More: Solar Federal Tax Credit

State Personal Tax Credit (Defunct)

Until 2015, the state of North Carolina offered a Personal Tax Credit equal to a whopping 35% of the cost of the solar installation, with a cap of $10,500 for residential applications. Unfortunately, the incentive expired in 2015 and is no longer available. 

Property Tax Exemption

North Carolina homeowners can also take advantage of property tax exemptions for their solar installation. According to a memorandum from the North Carolina Department of Revenue in 2011, any residential solar installation that is not used to produce actual income is 100% exempt from property taxes. The memorandum explicitly states that homeowners who receive credits as part of a net metering program are exempt from property taxes for their installation, which is great news for solar homeowners!

If your utility does compensate you for your excess electricity, you are still exempt from paying 80% of your solar installation’s value, though as we saw in the net metering section above, utilities rarely pay residential customers for excess electricity in net metering programs.

So if you installed a $12,000 installation on your $200,000 home and only received credits from your utility, you’d only pay property taxes on the $200,000 value of your home, not the total value of $212,000!

City Permit Rebates

To make the process of installing solar even more affordable, one city and one county even offer rebates for the permitting fees. These rebates aren’t worth thousands of dollars, but money’s money!

As part of their Green Building Permitting Incentives, Catawba County Utilities & Engineering refund 50% of the total fee cost for photovoltaic solar installations (as well as solar water heating, geothermal heat pumps, and greywater or rainwater collection). Homeowners pay all permitting fees before the project then apply for the rebate after the installation is complete.

The City of Asheville also offers rebates on permitting fees for homeowners who install PV solar as well as thermal solar, wind, and geothermal heat pumps. Solar projects are eligible for a $50 rebate and homeowners must apply for the rebate once the project is complete.

If you’d like to dig even more on local incentives and rebates, check out the DSIRE database.

What to do next?

So if you’re looking to install solar panels in North Carolina, you can expect to save up to $16,000 over the life of the installation – just be sure to choose the financing that fits your needs and take advantage of all the available incentives!

We hope you find this review of going solar in North Carolina helpful. Have any thoughts? Add them to the comments below!

Image Credits under CC License  via Flickr: 1 Pixabay: 23 

1 2 3