Solar energy: A guide to getting started
Thinking about making use of the sun’s energy to power your home? If so, you’re not alone.
Solar energy: A guide to getting started
Thinking about making use of the sun’s energy to power your home?
If so, you’re not alone. Since 2008, hundreds of thousands of solar panels have been installed on homes across the country, according to the website energy.gov.
The cells in photovoltaics, or PV panels, absorb photons from sunlight, creating an electric field and causing electricity to flow. Using solar power instead of conventional forms of energy reduces the amount of carbon and other pollutants emitted, resulting in cleaner air and water. And installing solar on new homes or during roof replacement over the next several years would make a huge dent in the country’s carbon emissions and reduce the country’s impact on climate change, says Becca Jones-Albertus, director of the Solar Energy Technology Office in the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office.
The experts point out that while a switch from traditional sources to solar energy can provide benefits to both the homeowner and the environment, there are a number of factors to consider before taking that step.
Is my roof suitable?
While solar panels are made to work in all climates, they usually work best on a south-facing roof with a slope between 15 and 40 degrees. The amount of shade is also a factor. The age of the roof is another consideration. Will it support a solar array? Does it need to be replaced soon?
How much energy is generated?
A solar installer can create a personalized estimate for your home using the PVWatts tool, which the National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed to estimate the energy production and cost of grid-connected PV energy systems for any address in the United States.
How much would I save?
That depends on how much electricity you consume, the size of your array, and how much power it can generate given the direction your roof faces and how much sunlight hits it. The electricity rates set by your utility and how much the utility will compensate you for the excess solar energy you send back to the grid are also factors. Energy Star appliances and other products require less electricity and add to the savings.
Would solar panels affect my home’s value?
A report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that solar panels are viewed as upgrades, and home buyers across the country have been willing to pay a premium of about $15,000 for a home with an average-sized solar array.
How much would a solar system cost?
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory says the average cost of installing a solar array on a residential rooftop is about $19,000.
What about a combination roof and solar project?
Jones-Albertus cites her own experience. “When I received quotes for the rooftop solar array on my home, the installation company offered me a 30% discount on a new roof if I opted for a replacement at the same time — a price reduction that’s possible because the roofing company wouldn’t have any customer acquisition costs,” she writes, and adds, “Solar panels last about 25-30 years, which is similar to the lifetime of a roof. By doing both at the same time, you avoid needing to have your solar panels reinstalled after replacing your roof.”
What if my roof is not suitable for solar panels?
Consider putting money into a community or shared solar program that lets customers use energy made by solar panels at a location away from their homes.
But if you think a solar array would work for your home, energy.gov offers some tips to help you get started.
Choose a solar installer
Find a licensed installer who is certified by a reputable organization like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioner. Look for qualified, insured installers online or ask for recommendations from people you know who have gone solar. Read reviews thoroughly. To compare prices, ask several installers to assess your roof. When reviewing your contract, make sure you understand the terms. Ask questions.
Determine your needs
Review your electricity bills to figure out how much power you need each year and look at seasonal differences. Can you make any energy-saving home improvements? Your installer may be able to help determine your needs.
Evaluate your finance options
Buyers can either purchase a system outright or obtain a solar loan. When you own a system, you receive solar tax credits and incentives. Solar loans function the same way as home improvement loans, and some jurisdictions offer subsidized solar energy loans. New homeowners can add solar as part of their mortgage with loans available through the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae.
Leasing is another option. You can pay a leasing company a fixed monthly payment for the use of your PV system, or enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) meaning you’d buy the electricity your system generates based on a set price per kilowatt-hour.
The Clean Energy States Alliance and the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative offer a Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Financing that includes information on leases, loans and PPAs. Visit https://www.seia.org/research-resources/homeowners-guide-solar-financing.
What about incentives?
The Solar Investment Tax Credit, or ITC, provides a 26% tax credit for systems installed in 2020-2022, and 22% for systems installed in 2023. The tax credit expires in 2024 unless Congress renews it. New York state also offers a 25% tax credit. Check out the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) website at https://www.nyserda.ny.gov.
A participating NYSERDA approved contractor can also help determine what incentives you may be eligible for.
Permits and inspections
Your installer will need information from you in order to obtain the permits and arrange for the required inspections. Check the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s SolarTRACE tool for a general idea of how long it may take to complete the permitting, inspection, and interconnection processes in your area.
The installation usually takes only a few days, and once completed, your system will be helping to reduce carbon emissions and likely improving your financial picture as well.
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