Tag Archives for " solar roi "

An Overview on Solar Panels ROI (Return On Investment)

solar-panels-roi

When you make a costly investment like going solar, you’re going to wonder: what will my solar panels ROI be?

You’re here. And because you’re here looking at Solar Panels ROI, you must be one of three types of people:

a) You’re pondering going solar, and you want to see just how good the ROI is.

b) You’ve already gone solar, and have now realized that knowing the ROI would perhaps be a good idea.

c) You’re hopelessly lost and are actually looking for an informative piece about fire-breathing amphibians.

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The Complete Guide to Flagstaff Solar

flagstaff-solar

Information about Solar Panels in Flagstaff, Arizona

If you’re considering going solar and you live in or around Flagstaff, Arizona, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you are wondering about your local utility’s policy, installation costs, or financing, keep reading. We have the answers to all Flagstaff solar installations below!

This post has been developed especially about solar in Flagstaff, AZ, for residents that are served by the electric utility Arizona Public Service (APS). If that doesn’t apply to you, you can still check out the Arizona solar energy state page to learn more about solar in your state.

If you’re looking for a simple yes or no as to whether you should install solar in the Flagstaff area, the answer is definitely ‘yes’, similar to the rest of the state. The sunny weather, cost of electricity, and relatively solar-friendly policies make it no surprise that Arizona has the third-highest installed solar capacity of any state in the US. Read on to find out more!

#1 Overall Solar Grade

B
Overall Grade
9 years Avg. Payback Time (For Cash Purchase)
10.5 % Estimate IRR (Return on your investment on cash purchase over 25 years)
$28,574 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 Flagstaff, Arizona

Residents of Flagstaff have various options for paying for their solar installation. We look at the three available options: cash, leases, and loans.

Cash Upfront

The simplest option to purchase solar panels in Flagstaff, AZ, is with cash upfront. While this isn’t possible for all homeowners, it will allow you to utilize all tax exemptions and credits, and it offers the largest return on your investment over time. Let’s explore how much this option might cost you, and the benefits you’d see over the lifetime of the system.

Most average rooftop solar systems run about 5 kilowatts (kW) in size. At a state average installation cost of $3.26 per watt, a system of this size in Arizona will cost about $16,283 to purchase and install. If that sounds like too much money, just wait!

Factoring in the 30% Federal tax credit, you can subtract $4,885 from that total and you can also receive a $1,000 tax credit from the state. Unfortunately, you won’t find incentives provided by APS or the local Flagstaff government for solar panels like you might in some other regions (though they do have incentives for solar water heaters and other energy efficiency initiatives).

So with the tax credits factored in, the total cash upfront cost looks more like $10,398.

How long will it take for this expense to pay off? If you pay upfront, 5kW of solar panels should pay for themselves after 10 years or so. Once they pay themselves off, all of your electricity savings can be considered profit – and you could see as much as $28,574 in total income over the life of the system!

Bottom Line: Your return on the investment will come out to about 10.5%, which beats most stock market choices we make. Sounds like a good deal to us.

Leases

An alternate option to paying cash is to enter a contract to lease the panels from a solar installation company. The company will install the panels on your roof and the panels will have the same effects on your electric bill as a cash-purchased solar system, but you won’t own them outright.

This is very similar to the idea of leasing a car, where you will pay a set monthly amount for a period of years, and either purchase the system outright at the end of the lease, continue the lease on a year-by-year basis, or get rid of (uninstall) the system. If you’re worried you’ll have to move before the end of your lease, it is possible to transfer it to new homeowners, but you need to arrange the transfer with the installing company and the buyers beforehand.

Leases cost less out of pocket in the beginning, but don’t provide you with a lot of the same long-term financial rewards as a cash or loan purchase. If the terms of your lease are financed properly, you should save more money on your electric bill each month than you pay toward the lease, which would net you a small monthly profit. The amount you save on your electric bill should grow over time too, as utility rates go up but your lease rate is locked in.

If you’re interested in learning more about solar leases, APS has information and advice for homeowners under their service.

Bottom Line: A worthwhile option if you cannot afford cash upfront, a solar lease will save you money on your bill, and this saving will grow over time as utility rates increases.

More: Solar Leases

Loans

If you don’t have enough cash on hand to purchase upfront, but don’t like the idea of a lease, the third option – taking out a loan for solar – may be the right one for you! Using a loan to purchase a solar system will still allow you to take advantage of tax credits and tax exemptions, while not requiring you to pull too much money out of your bank account at once.

How would the finances of a solar loan compare to the finances of a cash purchase? What would this actually look like for your bank account? Let’s revisit the sample purchase from the ‘cash’ section, where a 5kW system would run you $16,283. If you take out a loan for that much money at 5% interest on a 15-year term (you can calculate some different terms and interest rates too, if you want), in the first year of owning the system:

  • You will get $4,884 back for your federal 30% tax credit.
  • You will get $1,000 back for your state tax credit.
  • You will save about $1,011 on utilities ($84 a month!) your first year (and over $2,000 annually by 22nd year!)
  • You will spend $129 per month paying your loan.

As utility rates go up each year, your savings also increase and at the end of 25 years, you’ll see a net profit of $21,679.

Bottom Line: The return on your investment won’t be quite as large as it would be in a cash upfront scenario, but you are still looking at a very healthy long-term investment!

More: Solar Loans

#3 Flagstaff Solar Policy Information

While you might hear a lot about the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency when it comes to energy and utilities, the reality is most of the policy is driven by the states. And Arizona has adopted some great solar policies.

downtown-flagstaff

Different states have different climates (weather and politics), energy prices, and varying levels of solar feasibility, so Arizona designed its state policy around these realities. The state government develops rules around interconnection, the quantity of energy that utilities must get from renewable sources, and how households can send energy back to the grid.

You’ll read about several policies created in the past decade, but very recently, state policy has taken a turn. The state has been in conflict with utilities – yes, that includes APS – and recently compromised to allow for new increases in electricity rates (you can read more information from Greentech Media and Utility Dive, if you’re interested). This is something you’ll need to keep an eye out for in the coming months and years, but read on for an assessment of current policy!

Renewable Portfolio Standard

One way that states encourage utilities (and businesses and residents!) to utilize renewable energy sources is with a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). This document, common across the country, mandates the amount of energy produced in the state that has to come from sources like wind, solar, biomass, hydroelectricity, or other renewable forms of energy.

The Arizona RPS breaks down renewable energy requirements like this (with a target date of 2025): 15% of the state’s total energy must be renewable, 30% of THAT should come from ‘distributed’ sources like homes or businesses, and half of THAT should come from residential energy sources (like solar on your roof!). That essentially means that Arizona is looking to get at least 2.25% of its electricity from residential solar or wind.

More: Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)

Electricity Prices

Let’s not kid around – electricity prices are a major reason many people start thinking about solar, especially as those costs get higher and higher. Having solar at home helps you avoid those costs, which will only increase as time goes on! As we mentioned, you can expect rates to rise at a rate of about 3% per year.

The average price per kilowatt hour (kWh) (if you’re wondering what the difference between kW and kWh is, check out this explanation) through APS in Flagstaff is about 11.96 cents. At that price, according to the National Renewable Energy Lab’s online solar calculator, a 5 kW solar system would save you $1,015 on your electric bill in its first year!

Net Metering

One of the most complicated and least understood parts of solar policy is ‘net metering’. This term comes from the way that electricity feeds in and out of your home to the grid – it flows into your home from the grid when you need it, and excess flows out of your home to the grid if your panels are producing more energy than you need to use! With solar, you’ll typically export energy during the day when it is sunny, and use energy in the evening or at night when your panels aren’t producing any.

What net metering policy usually governs is how much money (if any) the utility will pay you for the electricity that you produce and export from your home. Arizona drafted their policy in 2009, and it required companies like APS to pay you the ‘retail rate’ for that energy, which was pretty simple: if you paid 10 cents per kWh for electricity, you would also GET paid 10 cents per kWh for electricity you sold back. This money is seen annually on your final yearly bill.

But, like other renewable energy laws in the state, this policy also came under fire from utility companies and recently resulted in a vote to end the current net metering pricing. Utilities are moving to replace the retail rate with a new ‘Resource Comparison Proxy’ price, which will be lower than the retail rate. As of March 2017, we still don’t know what those rates will be, so keep an eye out! The initial new price should be guaranteed to you for the first 10 years after you install solar panels, so we can make new calculations soon.

Regardless of these changes, solar will still be a good call in Arizona, but some calculations will change, like the number of years it takes to fully pay off the panels.

More: Net Metering

Interconnection Rules

Using rooftop solar doesn’t mean ‘going off the grid’ – in many places you legally must connect your system to the utility grid to comply with law. Plus, you can’t take advantage of net metering if you aren’t hooked up!

Interconnection in Arizona is not officially set by the state, but by utilities. The state created a guidance document, but APS sets the rules, which can be read on their website. Your installer should be familiar with these rules, but make sure to do a bit of research and talk to your installer about interconnection rules before starting your project.

#4 Financial Incentives, Rebates, and Tax Credits for Going Solar

While some utilities in Arizona and across the country offer incentives or rebates for solar systems, APS no longer does. The City of Flagstaff does have some energy efficiency rebates, but none are solar-related. However, there are still great incentives at the national and state level that will decrease the upfront cost of solar panels on your roof.

Federal Tax Credit

Your federal tax credit for residential solar will net you a credit for 30% of the money you spent to buy and install a system at your home (remember that upfront cost of about $16K? You can subtract almost $5K from that!). This was passed in 2008, but the amount is set to start phasing down in 2019, so you should make sure to use it while it is still this great of a deal!

This credit, and the state credit mentioned below, are not tax write-offs or exemptions, they are a cash credit you’ll get when you file your taxes. This is a straightforward way for the federal government to incentivize you to go solar, but it can only be used if you purchase the system with cash upfront or via a loan.

More: Solar Federal Tax Credit

State Tax Credit

Arizona has a similarly structured credit specifically for solar, that runs to the tune of a 25% credit on the cost of installations on your state income taxes. This credit is available to any household that installs solar, and maxes out at $1,000. So when you add this credit to the amount you get back from the federal government, it makes the upfront cost a lot less intimidating.

Property Tax Exemption

Are you worried that installing solar panels will make you subject to higher property taxes when your house is appraised? Arizona took care of that with their Energy Equipment Property Tax Exemption, which states that renewable energy equipment (your solar panels!) is not factored into home appraisals when calculating property tax.

So, when it comes to taxation, you get a pretty good deal when you install solar!

General Increase in Home Value

Despite not being factored into appraisals, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that solar installations increase home value in the states they studied, including Oregon, California, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maryland (they didn’t look at Arizona unfortunately, though chances are the results would be very similar). If you take your house with solar and an identical house without solar, your house should have an approximately $4 per watt advantage (since we’ve been talking in kW, that is $4K per kW).

So using 5 kW as an average example, installing solar panels can help you sell your home for $20,000 more than you would otherwise!

When you look at all of the financial factors, you can drop your total cost to go solar through awesome rebates, save incremental amounts of money every month through lower electricity bills, and make a lot of money on the other end when selling your home.

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?

Now that you’ve learned all about solar in Flagstaff, AZ, you should start looking around and contacting installers! We recommend always talking to multiple installers to make sure you get a good understanding of all of your options. You can also get more information from APS, and check out any installers that they recommend.

Let us know if you have any more questions, and come back and let us know if this information helps you to go solar in Flagstaff, AZ!

Image Credits from Flickr under CC License - 1, 2

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How to go Solar as a Small Business?

solar small business

Maybe your business isn’t Apple, Walmart or Google, but solar isn’t just a big benefit for big businesses.

Even a small business is able to leverage the advantages that going solar brings from lower bills to fonder customers – who doesn’t love a green business?

For a business that owns its own building going solar is clear sailing, with several provisos.

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How to Monitor My Solar System Performance?

my solar system

Do I need to buy a monitoring system to check my solar system performance?

Well, yes… and no. Ask yourself this:

1. Am I leasing my solar system – or signing a PPA (a Power Purchase Contract) through a third-party?

If you won’t be the actual owner of your solar system – but merely benefit from the solar power itself through credits that reduce your utility bill – then there is really no reason for you to have to monitor its performance.

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How to Know if Solar Energy Is Right for You

Solar energy is reported to be the most abundant energy resource on earth—173,000 terawatts of solar energy is striking the Earth at any given time. As you consider whether solar energy is right for you, explore some of the following considerations.

Home Architecture and Lot Location

Solar panels are installed on the roof of a buyer’s home to optimize sun absorption. Some homes are more equipped to facilitate such an installation, others may need to be reconsidered or restructured. Homes with one of the two roof extremes—steep or flat—may be less likely candidates for installation and efficiency. Homes that have large trees nearby, especially those with overhanging and shadow-casting branches, may also present efficiency challenges.

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Solar FAQ – Your Most Common Questions Answered

solar panel faq

Answers to common questions about solar panels:

Here are your most common questions answered. Feel free to submit more and we’ll add them to the list!

Solar Basics

Roof Related Questions

Prices, Savings, Incentives

Solar Technology

Other

How much can solar save you?100% free solar estimates

How much do solar panels cost?

This is the question, but it’s the same as asking “how much do cars cost”? What kind do you want? How much do you want to save?

There are numerous factors that go into the cost of a solar array for your home, including the state you live in, the size of your electricity bill, the direction your roof faces (South vs. North), and so on.

But this is the primary reason why solar calculators have limited value: every additional factor that gets added in the calculator can dramatically change its accuracy. In many cases it’s going to be far more effective to get a qualified solar installer to review your details to come up with a hard cost estimate.

How long do solar panels last?

See our post: How long do solar panels last?

Many customers wonder about ‘new solar technology’, but actually the technology was developed in the 1950’s, and has been consistently improved upon. Initially solar panels were mainly used by NASA, so the fundamentals are strong enough to support satellites and astronauts.

Solar panels like the ones that will go on your roof are designed, tested in labs and real life to withstand rain, snow, hail, wind and of course the sun. The predecessors of modern solar panels made in the 1970’s are still producing power. Today’s panels also benefit from 60+ years of development and improvement!

Bottom line: All panels are guaranteed to be producing power in 25-years, and most installers will offer a 10-25 warranty on workmanship and a power production guarantee.

Can’t I just get a ball-park price online?

There are indeed some ways that a ‘ball-park’ price can be given through an online tool, however these are often not accurate because no two homes are the same. If you answer 5-10 questions, and you’re guessing at some or all of them, then the answer you get back is going to be very wrong. Reputable solar companies use sophisticated software, years of experience and take into account the complicated utility bill structures, finance options, etc. to give you a customized proposal that is specifically tailored to your home.

Given the complexity, wouldn’t you rather have an expert’s opinion? We recommend speaking with a couple of installers to make sure that you understand your options. All good solar companies will happily take the time to answer your questions.

What’s best place to get solar panels?

You may be surprised to learn that some states – not especially known for the amount of sun they get – have the best payback rates for solar panels due to the presence of local incentives.

Solar panels don’t necessarily work better in sunnier areas (hotter panels can be less efficient). The largest factors in determining the payback of a solar array is the cost of electricity in your area and the presence of incentives, tax credits, or other programs designed to make solar more affordable.

Is my roof suited for solar?

About 60% of roofs are suitable for solar. If your roof is not suitable, you might be able to place the solar installation elsewhere on your property.

There are many variables in determining if a roof is suitable for a solar system, but the three main ones are: orientation, shading and roof condition.

Orientation: your roof should be facing South, West or East.

Shading: solar panels need direct sunlight for best performance, but some shade during parts of the day is OK.

Roof structure and condition can be hard to assess, but generally speaking if your roof is in good condition and your home is less that 25 years old you should be fine.

On average, you’ll need at least 300-500 square feet of roof space that is facing the correct direction, gets good sunlight and is in good condition.Complex roofs may require a more custom design, however current micro-inverter technology should allow for a successful design and installation. A qualified installer will be able to help you with the specifics of this.

Check out our post on the topic: how does roof position affect solar panels?

If I have solar panels installed how will this affect my roof?

Current solar mounting hardware and techniques should cause no more harm or risk to your roof than any other ventilation duct or roof penetration.

You can ask local installers: ‘what is your method of waterproofing any penetrations you make?’

Do I need to have the roof renewed before the solar panels go on?

When you install a solar array it does add quite a bit of equipment on top of the roof: the entire scaffolding for the panels, wiring, etc. This means that any roofing projects should be taken care of before the panels go up, if possible.

How will solar affect the aesthetics of my roof?

Having solar panels installed raises the value of your home, saves you money, and gives a modern look to your house.

The effect of the installation to the roof is minimal and when installed, panels don’t create noise, not even in windy conditions.

Besides the traditional blue color, there is a possibility to choose black panels for those who desire an appealing technological look while maximizing efficiency.

Isn’t solar expensive? How much do solar panels cost?

In a word: no. Solar is quickly becoming mainstream technology and over the last 7-years or so, the price of solar panels has fallen by 80%! The biggest benefit of solar is that you can lock in years of predictable and affordable power (the sun’s energy is free after all), and the biggest hurdle has been costly equipment.

With the dropping prices, more efficient permitting and installation processes plus innovations in financing – solar is more affordable than ever.

Are prices going to drop quickly in the near future? Is it better to wait?

While it is likely that prices will continue to decline slowly, a much bigger impact on the final price you pay are the incentives. The biggest and most effective incentive is currently available only until the end of 2018.

So, how do I save money with solar?

Thought you’d never ask! The main savings from installing solar is replacing your expensive and volatile electricity bill with a new source of more stable and cheaper power. Your power bill is rising each year (and sometimes by large amounts!), and most estimates calculate that your bill will be 2-3x more expensive in 20-years. So when you install solar you are signing up for cheaper power for a 20-year period. You are eligible to receive incentives to help reduce the initial cost (see below) and then solar power off-sets the bulk of your utility bill.

This off-set is known as “Net-Metering.” You receive a credit for power produced from solar, typically during the day when prices are high. Then at night, when we are using most of the electricity you are charged normal retail rates. During the course of the year you will average out that your credit offsets the most expensive parts of your bill – saving you money!

What about my home value? Will solar have a negative or positive effect?

This is a great question, and definitely a concern for most homeowners that go solar. There are two sides to this question:

– Firstly you’ll want to make sure that you go solar with an experienced and reputable company that will properly install the solar panels on your roof. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Solar installations do not cause any long-term damage to your roof when properly installed.

– Secondly, now that we know the solar will be properly installed, there have been many studies, by the National Appraisal Institute, Wells Fargo and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs that suggest solar adds significant value to a home – often the added value in equity is more than the cost of installing solar in the first place!

So in simple terms, solar increases the value of your home and can help reduce the time to sell your home.

When does the Federal Tax Credit for solar panels expire?

The 30% solar ITC (Federal or Investement Tax Credit) has been extended till the end of 2018!

The ITC will now continue at 30% untill the end of 2018 for both homeowners and businesses, and then step down over the next three years to 25%, then 20%, then 15%, until it is just 10% in 2022. The ITC is essentially a 30% discount on the cost of going solar.

See our full article on the extension of the solar Investment Tax Credit.

 Is a solar lease a good idea?

Like everything else in solar, it depends on you circumstances – credit score, available cash, size of solar array, and the specific financing options available to you.

It also depends on whether you want to save more money now or over the lifetime of the system. Buying outright can earn you a lot more if you’re willing to wait for it, but both options will save you money.

We’ve written a full article on this, please take a look: Advantages of Paying Cash for Solar Systems

What incentives are available for me?

There are three major types of incentives: Federal, State and Utility/Local:

– The main Federal incentive in the 30% Investment Tax Credit. If you lease your solar system, this is factored into your lease payments, so you take advantage of the savings from day one. If you own your system, then 30% of the value of the system will be credited as a tax incentive (e.g. you system has a value of $30,000, then you will receive a $9,000 tax credit, which means you must have at least that much eligible tax liability after all of your other deductions!* Speak with your accountant to understand how this could benefit you and if you qualify.)

– State incentives vary from up front rebates to additional tax incentives. Currently many states offers both up front incentives and additional tax incentives.
– Some Utilities, Counties or Cities offer rebates as well. This will vary greatly from region to region, so it’s best to ask your local installer, although there is some information here.

What financing options are available (lease, loan)? Should I lease (or use a PPA) or buy my solar system?

Ah, to lease or buy a solar system – this is a great debate. Ultimately both have their pros and cons, and here we try to break this down for you. If you choose to own a system, it will likely require $20,000 – $50,000 up front (you’ll get 30% back as a tax credit on the current tax year) and you may have more long-term financial benefits, but the risk and cost are yours to manage. With leasing a system you will have more immediate benefits, including immediate savings and no maintenance worries, but you will forgo some of the long-term financial benefits of ownership.

Purchase Option

OWN/SOLAR LOAN: If you can afford to a own a system (either cash or loan) and your simple-payback is shorter than the period of workmanship warranty, and you don’t mind concerning yourself with maintenance issues, then ownership might be a good option.

LEASE / SOLAR PPA: If you like the idea of 15-30% savings on your electricity costs for years to come without the risk or complications of ownership, or you don’t want to invest the money or don’t have the tax liability, then leasing might be a good option.

BOTTOM LINE: Most reputable installers will be able to talk through a couple of solar financing options with you, so you can see in more specific details the cost-benefits of both models.

How do I know if I qualify for a lease program?

There are four general requirements for a lease program, and there may be some specific requirements from your local utility that you will need to clarify with your local installer. That being said, generally speaking:

– Leases are offered in these states (* denotes broad lease coverage): Arizona*, California*, Colorado, Connecticut*, Delaware, Hawaii*, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland*, Massachusetts*, Missouri, Nevada*, New Jersey*, New Mexico, New York*, Oregon, Pennsylvania* & Texas

– Typically you must have an average electricity bill of $100 or more.

– You must own your home, and plan on living there for at least 2 more years.

– You must have good to excellent credit. Most programs require a FICO score of at least 650.

And of course you have to want to go solar!

Can you confirm that I would not need to put any money down to go solar?

In many of the above states with Leasing or PPA programs, it is very likely that you will be able to go solar with $0 down. You will need to speak with a solar installer to confirm this.

What should my monthly Solar Lease or PPA payment be?

Roughly speaking, most people see about a 15-30% savings per month on average as compared with their electricity bill. This amounts to an average of roughly $40 in savings per month.

What happens after a solar lease or PPA agreement ends?

Great question. Most providers offer essentially the same three options:

– You can buy the system at ‘fair market price’, which would theoretically be pretty low at that point.

– You can have the system removed by the original installation company

– You can extend the term of the lease period.

Should I wait for better technology?

It’s always nice to think of a ‘silver bullet’ technology, or massive short-term improvement, but solar technology is actually pretty established (and boring), so massive changes in the short-term are unlikely.

The cost and efficiency improvements are incremental, and mainly do to small efficiency gains and manufacturing improvements.

After all, there are lots of PhD’s in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering and Industrial Design working on this all the time!

Add to that – your technology has to stand the test of time, so any ‘revolutionary’ new technology will have to be proven before you want to take the chance on it.

Solar panels are already revolutionary technology that is ‘better technology.’

Does solar work on cloudy days? What about cold or snowy days?

Solar panels do require sunlight to make energy, however with light or intermittent clouds, your system will continue to produce energy. If there are thick, dark clouds, your system might still produce energy, but it may also temporarily shut down and automatically turn on when their is adequate sunlight.

Solar energy has been massively adopted in Germany (not your sunny vacation destination) and also US states like New York and Massachusetts (even more than Florida!).

Solar energy works great when there are cold or crisp sunny days. Of course, there are fewer hours of sunlight in the winter, but winter can be just fine for producing solar energy.

Which brings us to the question of snow. Snow does affect solar production when the panels are totally covered, however there are two factors that make this only a minor issue:

1. Most installations are installed at an angle, so the snow will melt and slide off.

2. Because the solar panels are dark, and snow actually allows a lot of light to pass through it, the snow will melt quickly off your panels (think about how a sunny patch of your driveway or the road is quickly free of snow.

Related: 

What are the most efficient solar panels?

All solar panels that will be offered to you work in essentially the same way: they all convert the sun’s rays directly into DC power. Solar panels consistently make small improvements in efficiency, but the biggest benefit of solar technology is that it’s time-tested and proven; that the technology lasts and continues to produce power for 25 years at least.

There are three main categories of Solar PV panels (or modules):

1. Mono-Crystalline: These are the most ‘efficient’ at turning sunlight into energy. These panels will require the least amount of roof area required to produce 1000 kWh. They are often a darker blue, and are also typically used to produce the effect of an ‘all black’ solar panel. They are also the most expensive.

2. Poly-Crystalline: These panels are very similar to Mono-Crystalline panels in their basic form, but are slightly less efficient. The cells are often a brighter blue, and may appear more ‘speckled’, although they are also often available with a black frame or black background (technical term ‘back-sheet’). These are the most widely used solar panels as they have a good blend of efficiency and affordability. They are less expensive than mono-crystalline panels.

3. Thin-film: These panels are often not made with silicon wafers, but made by applying a very, very thin layer of a special ‘paint’ of very fine particles of specific metals. This technology is the relative ‘new-comer’ on the block and has the benefit of a very even coloring. Often the cost of the panel is the lowest, but the most amount of roof space is required and sometimes installation labor can offset the savings. These panels have some additional benefits, but are least widely used in residential applications because they require more roof area.

Check out our post on the most efficient solar panels.

Should I buy American made solar panels?

This is a great and relevant question and topic. Solar, like many of industries, has become a truly global industry, and like many other manufacturing industries, China has taken a general ‘lead’ in terms of volume of products manufactured. Take a look at your phone, your computer, your clothes, etc. So, while I support the growth of the American economy as much as anyone, it’s difficult to say that you should purchase American made solar panels.

In terms of job creation, installing solar and helping your friends go solar will create far more jobs than simply purchasing American made solar panels – so that’s the good news!

Then there is the complication of how solar panels are made and understanding global corporations. Some companies used to manufacture a small percentage of their product in the USA, but were Chinese corporations. There are “American” companies, with headquarters in the USA that manufacture in Asia. There are German companies that manufacture in the USA.

Ultimately whether you decide to purchase American Made solar panels or solar panels manufactured elsewhere in Asia, you can rest assured that your decision to go solar has a positive impact on American job growth! Plus you’ll benefit financially, create a cleaner, safer and more robust energy system for the whole country, contribute to cleaner air for your children and community… the list goes on!

Will I be ‘off the grid’?

Ah the image of the cabin in the woods with a solar panel! This is what most people think of when they think of going solar.

You will most likely be installing what is called a “grid-connected” solar system, so no you will not be “off the grid.” This means that you will continue to draw power from the power lines at night, but during the day you will use your solar power, or “spin the meter backwards” and you will get a credit for what you produce that offsets the cost of buying electricity at night. This is called net-metering.

What is net metering?

Net-metering is one of the most important concepts of saving you money with solar panels. The basic concept is that your energy meter looks at the ‘total net production/consumption.’ So you will receive a credit for all the energy you produce from your solar panels that you don’t use (think during the day, solar panels are making electricity, but no one is home (and the lights are off, right?)). Then at night, when everyone is home, the lights are on, etc. you will be charged for the power you use. So you get a credit during the day, and you use that credit to offset the power that you purchase at night. That’s the basics: charged for power you use – credit for power you produce = total amount you own. And that accounting process is called “net-metering.”

Do I need batteries for storage?

No, you will not need batteries for storage. However, as the price of batteries comes down, and their benefits are better understood, batteries will likely become a more affordable and mainstream technology. So go solar now, and add batteries later!

Caveat: if you live in an area with frequent blackouts, or having power is critical, you can speak with your local installer about battery back-up systems. Batteries do add a significant cost in materials, installation and ultimately maintenance, so you’ll want to be sure about your options.

Will my solar work if the power goes out?

No, your solar system will shut off automatically if the power goes out to protect maintenance crews that might be working to fix the problem. If power goes out regularly in your area, you can discuss options with your solar installer, as there are ways to add batteries and specific products that can help you have at least some basic power during power outages.

 

Do I need a battery backup system for my solar panels?

Short answer: probably not.

Most solar arrays are grid-tied meaning they have no batteries and simply feed energy into and out of the grid.

There are major cost and maintenance advantages to not having to deal with batteries. See our full article here: how does grid-tied solar work.

What happens if it snows on my solar panels?

Great question. Obviously any physical obstruction to light is going to keep solar panels from producing electricity, and one important thing to keep in mind is that if one panel in a solar array is significantly covered with snow or debris, then it compromises the output of the entire system (think Christmas lights). This can be circumvented with panels that carry their own microinverters, but that’s another topic.

Why would I want a phone call from a solar installer?

There’s only one way to know if solar will work for you: get an estimate from a professional. The reason is that each system is unique, and the costs of installation depend on your geographic location, incentives, roof shade, among other factors.

We’re big fans of having options and our goal is to get you at least a few different solar quotes to evaluate. Once you have a few proposals you can decide which one is right for you.

We feel that solar panels are the next refrigerator: at some point we’ll wonder how we lived without them. As solar becomes cheaper than traditional electricity in the US and other parts of the world, this trend will only become more obvious.

How do I get a solar quote?

We’d love to help! Click the button below and fill out the signup form and we’ll get you started.

By filling out the signup form on the site we’ll help you get in touch with solar installers in your area who can answer questions and provide a specific estimate. Our goal is to get several estimates in your hand that you can use to compare options. With a little additional research you should be able to determine the best solution for your needs.

What happens if I move?

Great question, as we know now that solar leases last around 20 years, and solar panels at least 25 years… and there is a good chance we’ll move in the next 20-years!

Of course each market will be slightly different, and it depends if you own or lease, but here’s the simplistic answer:

If you lease your system, you have a couple of options:

– Your buyer will need to assume your lease, although if this is still a good option for them, as it likely will be, they will be interested in assuming the lease.

– You can also buy-out your lease from the provider at that point, and this should increase the sale price of your home.

If you own your home, it’s pretty simple:

– Solar installs increase the value of homes and reduce the time on market. So as long as your solar system is in good shape, this should make it easier and more profitable to sell your home.

Of course you will hear horror stories of things gone wrong in selling a home with a solar lease or solar panels. However, if you have a marketable home and reasonable sales expectations and a good real estate broker, solar will be an asset, not a deterrent. This is the case in the vast majority of home sales. What is certain is that you will need to be aware of the solar, just as you would be prepared about questions regarding a pool or a recent remodel.

Photo Credits (all CC license via Flickr): [1]

Why Solar Panels?

Why install solar panels, or use solar energy?

The most basic question of all concerning solar energy: why use it? Is it actually ‘better’ than alternative sources? Will it actually save you money?

The answer is essentially: yes.

#1 – Solar panels reduce the use of dirty energy

Solar energy is considered “clean” when compared with sources like coal or natural gas — anything that must be burned puts combustion products into the atmosphere. Even when you include the full production impact of solar panels, what we would call the full lifecycle cost, which includes materials used in manufacturing the solar panels, transport, lifetime energy output, etc, they produce much more energy than they use.

Solar panels also have an incredibly long lifetime, easily 25 years of output. This is a very robust, simple, efficient technology for producing energy out of the sun’s energy.

#2 – Solar Energy can immediately save you money on your utility bill

What if you could immediately lower your electricity bill, then keep that fixed rate forever (at a substantial discount when everyone else’s energy bills are only going up)? Sound to good to be true?

It’s not: many solar installers offer what’s called solar lease. Basically, the homeowner leases panels from the solar company. The solar lease payment + the new electricity bill is set lower than the expected cost of electricity. So the savings are immediate–as soon as the solar installation is complete.

Many homeowners choose to treat solar as a financial investment, and the returns are very good. For example, $10k invested in a solar panel array can pay itself off in just a few years. After that the home’s electricity is free or extremely reduced, and in some states there can be other financial benefits including feed-in tariffs (utility company paying you for electricity), tax incentives, and other credits.

How much does solar actually cost? It depends on where you live. Take a look at the infographic below to learn more about how much solar energy costs.

solar-energy-infographic

Why go solar now? Because solar panels have seen record drops in cost over the last few years.

As you can see from this graph of solar panel installations, things are growing dramatically:

solar-installations-2014

#3 – Solar energy is a better investment than the stock market

This might sound crazy until you’ve seen the numbers, but solar panels are the only home improvement that pays for itself. Not only do solar panels boost property values, but the money you put down on your system will come back to you with interest.

Take a look at the following charts:

solar-panel-roi-nj

Things have changed slightly since this chart was put together, but the point is that solar can outperform the S&P 500 by a wide margin. Here’s a state by state analysis of why solar panels beat stocks:

solar-panel-roi

Need we say more?

The reason to seriously consider solar is good for you home, good for your wallet, and good for the community.