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?”
After all, all solar power comes from the sun, what else is there?
When we discuss types of solar power, what we’re really talking about is the different methods of harvesting and using the sun’s energy. With solar power, we can warm a room so we’re nice and cozy, heat water for our showers and baths, create electricity or even cook food! Today we’re going to focus on ways to create or harvest energy using solar power.Continue reading
First things first, kilowatts (kW) is a measure of an installation’s size. Basically, kW is a measure of how much electricity the solar installation can produce in a single instant. The average residential solar installation in the US is 5.6 kW, so a 12 kW solar system is over 2x bigger than the national average! However, 12 kW is by no means the biggest solar system homeowners install (check out our article on 20 kW to read about even bigger solar installations!).
Take a look below to see how big a 12 kW installation really is, what it can power, and how much it costs!Continue reading
We all know the good parts about solar energy: financial savings, cleaner energy, and little more independence from your utility to name a few. With all these positives, this might leave you wondering what is bad about solar energy? For the most part, solar energy is a win-win for all involved – you save money and the environment is happier- but there are two sides to every coin.
Read on for the top 6 most common bad things about solar energy.Continue reading
Read on about the basics of installing solar panels, financing options, and the financial incentives available.
Austin might be the most solar friendly city in the whole state of Texas. The local utility, Austin Energy, is well known across the country for leading the way on utility programs that encourage its customer to take up energy efficiency and renewable energy.
For solar installations, the utility provides upfront rebates as well as net metering - a rarity in the state – which allows homeowners to knock thousands of dollars off their total installation price.
For a broader state overview, see our Texas Solar Energy page.
* 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). This estimate was made for a 5kW solar array for a homeowner using Austin Energy.
Like homeowners in most states, Austin residents have a few options available to finance their solar installation. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks and homeowners can choose between a lower cost installation or a more hands-off, convenient approach.
Homeowners who purchase their installation outright typically stand to see the highest savings over the life of their installation. As the owner of the solar system, they are eligible to receive all rebates and tax credits, but homeowners will have to shoulder up an estimated $18,000 in cash at the very beginning – no small peanuts. As the sole owner, homeowners are responsible for all maintenance, monitoring, and repair over the life of the installation.
If that kind of dough sounds unobtainable or the idea of replacing a solar panel doesn’t appeal to you, take a look at the next option.
Since 2009, solar leases and power purchase agreements (which are not allowed in Austin Energy territory) have become the dominant financing option for residential solar panels across the country, accounting for around 70% of all installations in 2014. With a lease, you won’t save as much over the life of the solar installation as with a cash purchase, but the ease of the installation and little upfront capital required more than make up for the smaller savings.
With a lease, the solar company installs the system for little to no money down and the homeowner pays off the installation in small monthly increments over a 20-year agreement. As the actual owner of the installation, the solar company (not the homeowner) is eligible to receive most financial incentives, including the federal tax credit, though they usually account for these savings in your monthly bill. As the owner, though, the solar company is responsible for all maintenance and repair. So if you’re looking for an easy installation but still want to save thousands of dollars, you can’t go wrong with a lease.
More: Solar Leases
Taking out loans to pay for solar installations is becoming increasingly popular and some think that in the next 5 years it will be the dominant financing mechanism.
For solar installations, homeowners take out a loan with a bank, credit union, or dedicated solar loan company to initially pay for the installation, then pay the loan back (with interest) over an agreed upon amount of time, typically between 5 and 20 years. Unlike leases, loans enable homeowners to own the solar installation so they receive all rebates and tax credits. However, as with cash upfront ownership, they are also responsible for all maintenance and repair over the life of the installation.
Austin Energy has partnered with Velocity Credit Union to offer low-cost financing for solar installations and energy efficiency improvements.
More: Solar Loans
Homeowners in Austin, TX, are eligible for some of the best solar incentives in the state, sponsored mostly by Austin Energy.
For solar homeowners, Austin Energy provides net metering, an extremely rare incentive in Texas, as the state doesn’t require utilities to offer net metering (as with most states with a high amount of solar). The utility provides $0.11 per kilowatt-hour for all excess electricity produced by your solar installation and fed back into the grid. Credits are applied to customers’ bills and carried over month to month.
More: Net Metering
Austin Energy also provides an upfront rebate to customers going solar with an Austin Energy-approved installer. To be eligible for the rebate, homeowners must be the owner of the installation, so homeowners who lease systems aren’t eligible. The rebate is currently set at $0.70 per watt installed which for an average size system of 5.6 kW adds up to almost $4000!
This rebate program was designed to encourage local residents to adopt solar technology by overcoming the main obstacle to going solar – the high cost. So as more people install solar and costs continue to drop, the rebate phases out. When the program began, homeowners installing solar received $1 per watt. The rebate is currently at $0.70 per watt and will drop to $0.50/watt before dropping off completely after 14 cumulative MW is installed through the program.
Homeowners installing solar nationwide are eligible for the federal 30% renewable energy tax credit, which is expected to drop to 26% by 2019 and 22% by 2022. The tax credit goes to the owner of the installation, so if your system is leased, this incentive goes to your solar installer. Unlike deductions, tax credits have a dollar-to-dollar monetary value, so in essence, you’re getting a 30% discount on your installation!
To add to all the financial incentives, the state of Texas offers a property tax exemption for the additional value a solar installation brings to your home. So, for example, if your home is worth $100,000 and you install a $20,000 solar system, you are only taxed on $100,000, not $120,000.
With all of the credits, rebates and exemptions available, the final cost of your solar installation can possibly drop by 50%!
To encourage residents to use less energy, Austin Energy uses a tiered rate system. As you use more energy in a month (measured in kilowatt-hours), you pay more per kilowatt-hour. For the first 500 kilowatt-hours (kWh), the utility charges $0.03/kWh in the summer. From 500 to 1000 kWh, the price increases to $0.08/kWh and all the way to $0.11/kWh after 1500 kWh!
By producing your own electricity, you decrease the amount of electricity you purchase from the utility, meaning you stay at the lower tier prices, saving you big bucks over the next 20 years!
With tax credits and rebates set to expire and installation costs at an all-time low, the time has never been better to install solar in the Austin area!
Once you’re ready, get the ball rolling by getting a solar estimate and reaching out to contractors.
Solar panel size is an important consideration when designing your solar installation. The size of your panels can affect the number of panels you can fit on your roof and therefore how much energy your roof-top installation can produce.
There are different ways to look at a solar panel’s size. In the most basic sense, you can look at its physical dimensions – its width and height. Or, you could look at the number of solar cells that panels are composed of. Most of the time however, when we discuss the size of a solar panel, we are referring to the panel’s wattage, also known as the panel’s capacity or output.
For residential panels, wattage is the only measurement that truly varies from one panel to the next – dimensions and cell count are fairly constant across the board.Continue reading
In 2015, the United States used about 3,724,500 million kWh of electricity.
Most of us don’t have enough context to realize how big this number actually is, so here are some facts: First off, the US is the 2nd biggest user of electricity in the world (just behind Canada). Secondly, think about what exactly this number includes: all the electricity used in millions of homes across the US for air conditioning, lights, refrigerators, stoves, hot water, and all our devices, as well as factories, office buildings, data centers, agricultural applications, government offices, recreation centers, football fields, streetlights, and about a billion other things we don’t even think about on a daily basis.
With so much electricity being used and created every day, as a country we need to constantly assess if all this electricity is being created in the most responsible way, both monetarily and environmentally.Continue reading
On Friday, October 28th, in typical grand fashion, Elon Musk unveiled a new Tesla product that he claimed would revolutionize the solar industry. In front of 200 invited guests, and with 4 of the posh homes from the Desperate Housewives set in Universal Studios behind him, he asked if attendees had noticed that the 4 normal-looking houses were in fact solar homes with Tesla’s newest product, solar roof tiles.
Musk called it the future of solar. Looking at the tiles, you’d never know they were in fact producing solar electricity. They look like every other roof tile you see, but is it really the future of solar?Continue reading
Like it or not, our modern life requires a lot of devices: phones, tablets, cameras, smartwatches, laptops, GPS’s. Smart phones are ubiquitous across the globe and increasingly out in the wild–while backpacking, camping, or just lounging in the woods there’s an equal number of uses, which range from the frivolous to serious backcountry GPS apps or emergency signals.
This is great if you’re only out for a day or two. But more than that and your battery-powered devices can leave you hanging, running into safety issues if you don’t have any other emergency signal. Luckily, a new niche market has popped up around our need to be constantly charged, even in the wilderness.Continue reading
Over the last 40 years, solar panels have been installed and removed on the White House under three different presidents, starting with Jimmy Carter installing panels and Reagan removing them less than 10 years later. Each successive installation and removal is representative of a sea change in the country’s values at that time and highlights how quickly sentiment can change in politics and among the public.
Let’s look back into history to see how this story unfolded.
In the 1970s, the United States was facing an energy crises like it had never experienced before. With an oil embargo in full swing, everyday citizens waited in long lines just for a little gas to put in their cars. Then-president Jimmy Carter felt renewable energy, including wind and solar, was the best method of liberating us from foreign oil and to create an energy-independent country. As a symbol of what he hoped was the country’s future, as well as to display his own trust in the new technology, he had 32 thermal solar panels on the roof of the white house that produced hot water for the cafeteria and laundry services.Continue reading