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Community Solar: How to go Solar Without Rooftop Panels


Solar adoption is surging across the U.S., and it isn’t just limited to rooftop solar. The newest innovation in the solar industry: community solar, which offers many of the benefits of a home solar energy system without the need to install solar panels on your roof. To understand whether community solar is right for you, you’ll need to learn about the process and technology, when you should consider it, and how you can find local community solar projects near you.

How Community Solar Works

Community solar, also known as “shared solar” or a “solar garden,” is a solar power plant whose electricity is shared by more than one home or business. A third party, such as a municipality, utility, or project developer, will construct a large solar panel array and sell shares of that project to members of the community. In exchange, project participants receive the benefits from their share without having to install a solar panel system at their property.

Community solar projects offer both environmental and financial benefits. If you own or subscribe to a community solar share, you receive credit for the electricity that your share produces through a policy called virtual net metering. The credits appear on your electric bill and are counted towards your total monthly electricity use. Each credit is equal to one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity.

For example: you use 1,000 kWh at your home in one month, and your community solar share produces 800 kWh. The 800 kWh in credits from your share are applied to your electric bill, and your utility then charges you for the remaining 200 kWh. You pay your community solar provider directly for the cost of your share or subscription.


Your electricity cost savings depend on the kind of contract you have for your share. There are two commonly used community solar pricing models:

Ownership. With this format, you buy some of the panels in the community solar project from the owner, either in cash or with a loan. You then receive all of the benefits from the share of the system that you own.

Subscription. With this format, you “subscribe” to the project and pay a lower price for the electricity sourced from the community solar project. Some subscription projects charge a fixed dollar amount that increases slightly each year, while others offer a fixed discount off your utility electricity rate.

The financial benefits of owning a share of a community solar garden are similar to buying a rooftop solar energy system. If you sign up to a subscription model, your savings will be similar to a lease or PPA for a rooftop solar energy system.

When to Consider Community solar 

Community solar is a great option if you can’t (or don’t want to) install a solar energy system on your roof. Renters, apartment and condo owners, and property owners whose homes aren’t good candidates for solar can enjoy many of the benefits of solar by purchasing or subscribing to a community solar share. If you’ve already installed solar on your home, but aren’t able to meet 100 percent of your electricity needs with your panels, you can get a community solar share to make up the difference with emissions-free electricity. 

Most community solar projects require that you live in the utility territory where the project is located. However, certain community solar companies, like Arcadia Power, also offer special billing structures that make it possible for residents of almost every state to own a community solar share. This option can be a great alternative for property owners who live in states where the economics of rooftop solar aren’t as favorable.

How to Find Community Solar Projects Near You

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are 25 states with at least one active community solar project, and the market is expected to grow significantly in the next five years. Use a marketplace that lists community solar projects to explore all of your options. Different project owners offer different bill structures, prices, and savings – comparing your options is the best way to find the community solar project that’s right for you.

If you’re trying to compare community solar vs. rooftop solar, get offers from multiple providers of each solar solution. You can use EnergySage's Solar Calculator to compare your estimated savings from various rooftop solar options, and you can receive rooftop solar offers from qualified installers on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. Whichever sustainable energy option you choose, you can be confident that you’re reducing your impact on the environment as well as your electricity costs – that’s what we call a solar win-win.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Buying Solar Panels? Check Out These Free Tools


If you’re beginning to educate yourself about the using solar energy in your home, it’s easy to become overloaded with information. Even veterans of the industry have to actively keep up with a variety of topics like state and federal regulations, utility policies, and changing technologies. If you’re excited about having solar panels installed on your roof, don’t be intimidated by the process.

Adopting solar power is a great way to invest funds, increase your property’s value, lower your electricity bill, and reduce your personal carbon footprint. Plus, with the recent and continued drop in solar panel costs, the return on investment is the most profitable it’s ever been. In other words, it’s definitely worth your time and research!

Depending on what state you live in, the type of property you own, whether you want to lease or own your solar panels, and other specifications, there are many aspects to consider during your purchasing process. Thankfully, there are several free tools available to make this process as easy as possible. Whether you’re looking to avoid energy cost fluctuations, make a financial investment, or to live a greener lifestyle, these resources will help clarify some frequently asked solar power questions you may have.

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE)

Also known as DSIRE, this website provides a wealth of free information about renewable energy incentives and policies. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, DSIRE serves as a massive database and provider of technical assistance to thousands of homeowners, businesses, solar companies, policymakers, and advocacy groups.

So what exactly do you need to use it for? DSIRE lets you easily and instantly search solar policies by state and even zip code, so you know exactly which tax credits you should qualify for and the amount of rebates you can expect with your purchase of solar panels. The online platform is very easy to use, and once you select your location, the database will display all state and federal policies that apply for your area and detail each one specifically. It’s the best way to inform yourself about all the policy technicalities, expiration dates, extensions, and more.

It’s important to be well versed in the types of net metering, state tax credits, and federal incentives that before installing your solar panels, so you can accurately crunch the numbers on your investment and future savings. This information should also come in handy when speaking with solar panel installers. A good installer will be aware of the exact net-metering policies in your area and local incentives. 

Solar Savings Calculator

One of the main advantages that you’re probably familiar with in regards to using solar power is that it will greatly reduce your electricity bill, saving you thousands of dollars at the end of each year. But how is this calculation made and how much can you be saving? There’s a solar savings calculator for that!

When you start generating your own electricity, the amount of power that you need to draw from the utility company will obviously decrease dramatically. However, the exact amount that you will save depends on the cost of utility power in your area, the size of your home, your region’s net-metering policy, and your energy needs.

It can be a headache to calculate all of this yourself. That’s why 123SolarPower created a free solar savings calculator that provides an instant estimate of your potential savings. Simply input a few criteria based on your household, and you’ll get an online savings estimate, which can give you a jumping off point on what to expect.

Solar Panel Marketplace

As home solar has become more and more popular, the numbers of solar providers have increased to meet demand. This is great in terms of creating more competition in the market for homeowners to choose from, resulting in better quality service and rates. But researching and selecting which company to go with can become a little overwhelming. That’s where a solar panel marketplace like 123SolarPower comes into play. The free marketplace allows you to request pricing and service quotes from a number of certified solar providers. This gives you the advantage of comparing several companies and prices in minutes, instead of calling and meeting with each one yourself.

This type of tool only connects you only with providers that service your area and offer the exact type of solar that you’re looking for. These companies can be a wealth of knowledge in your shopping process and answer lots of questions about installing solar panels on your roof and what you should expect, not to mention, provide competitive pricing quotes. Whether you’re looking for solar panel San Diego or South Florida, a trusted network of providers can be a big help.

Energy Audit Self-Assessment

Last but not least, if you’re serious about getting the most out of your solar panel system, a home energy audit can be really helpful. While enlisting the help of a professional is best, you can perform your own assessment to spot where your home is losing energy. has a free Do-It-Yourself home energy audit checklist available online.

The checklist provides a number of areas of your home to check and what exactly to look for. From air leaks, insulation, lighting and more, this list can serve as a great tool for homeowners. It should be noted that a DIY assessment won’t be as thorough as one conducted by a professional, but it can definitely help you get a good idea of where you can save.

There are many important factors to consider before making your solar power purchase. Tools like these make the process much easier, answer your questions, and get everyone in your household excited about solar power.

Sarah Kezer is passionate about helping others take advantage of the power of solar energy. At 123SolarPower, Sarah assists in answering questions and providing expert information for users to explore their options when it comes to going solar. 123SolarPower connects individuals with the largest network of solar power providers in the U.S. Read all of Sarah's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Most Important Warranties for Your Solar Installation


Choosing the right equipment for your solar panel system, and the right company to install it, are both crucial decisions to a successful home solar installation. Solar energy systems come with multiple warranties that apply to different parts of the installation, and trying to keep track of them all can get confusing.

Here’s a simple guide to the different warranties for your solar energy system, and which ones you should really pay attention to.

Types of Solar Warranties

Some of the warranties that back your solar energy system are related to the equipment, and some are related to the installation itself. Below are the main solar warranties that you should consider before signing on the dotted line.

Solar equipment warranty

Rooftop solar energy systems have no moving parts, and solar panels are extremely durable. Aside from an occasional rinse (if you live in a dry or dusty area), your panels don’t require any day-to-day maintenance, either.

While issues with a solar installation are extremely rare, your panels will come with a solar equipment warranty. Also referred to as the “materials” warranty, the solar equipment warranty guarantees that your solar panels will be free from problems caused by manufacturing defects or durability issues. If your panels fail as a result of one of these problems, the manufacturer will provide you with replacements at no cost. The industry standard for the materials warranty is 10 years, although the best solar panels offer up to a 25-year warranty.

The inverter, which converts electricity from your solar panels into a form that can be used in your home, also comes with a warranty. Inverters generally aren’t as long lasting as solar panels, so you’ll likely have to replace your inverter at least once over the lifetime of your solar energy system. Materials warranties for inverters typically range from five to 10 years, with some companies offering 12-year or even 25-year warranties.

Solar power production warranty

Solar panel performance naturally degrades over time at a relatively slow and steady rate. To give you a sense of what to expect year-over-year, your solar panels also come with a power production warranty. Production warranties are based on lab tests that reproduce the conditions your panels will have to endure over 25 years.

Solar panel manufacturers offer a power production warranty, which guarantees that their panels will retain a certain percentage of their production capacity over the first 25 years. Most power production warranty will guarantee that, after 25 years, a solar panel will operate at around 80 percent of its original output. For this metric, a higher percentage guarantee is preferable to a lower percentage.

The production warranty should also offer a guarantee that your panels only lose a certain percent of their production capability each year — typically no more than 0.7 percent. In this case, you should look for a warranty that guarantees a relatively low rate of decline (in percentage terms).

Solar installer workmanship and roof warranties

In addition to the equipment included in your installation, many solar installers offer a warranty on their workmanship. Installing a solar panel system on your roof is a smart decision and a big investment. If your solar installer offers a workmanship warranty, it is a sign that they are ready and willing to stand behind the work that they do on your house, from system design to installation.

Properly installed solar panels will not void any existing warranty that you have on your roof, and the work done to install your panels is typically covered under your installer’s warranty. In fact, solar panels can actually extend the life of your roof by protecting it from wear and tear caused by the elements.

Which Solar Warranties Are Most important?

 The bottom line is that, when you consider solar, the most important warranties are the ones around your equipment — not your specific installer. Think about the last time you bought a new dishwasher or other home appliance; did you focus more on the brand name of the appliance, or the contractor that installed it it?

While both are important considerations, chances are you focused more on getting that new Maytag dishwasher or GE French Door refrigerator. Solar is no different, and pairing your equipment warranty with a strong power performance warranty is the best way to be certain you’ll have a high-quality product that performs well into the future.

In the rare event that something does go wrong, many of the companies that manufacture solar energy equipment – such as LG, Panasonic, Hyundai and Kyocera — are long-standing, reputable electronics manufacturers. This means you can be confident that they will be around to honor their equipment warranties if and when the time comes.

Compare Options to Find the Best Solar Panels for Your Home

Finding the right solar panel system for your home means comparing multiple quotes from solar installers. Use a website like the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to find local solar installers near you, and make easy side-by-side comparisons of all your solar options, including equipment, installers, and financing. By shopping around first, you can find the right option at the right price — warranties and all.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Hybrid Home Energy Systems Offer Both Off-Grid and Grid-Tied Benefits

Who hasn’t been attracted to the idea of living off the grid? Between the monetary freedom and the savings — especially when you consider peak pricing and other utility charges — grid independence is enticing. It’s also practical during a power outage or emergency. Grid independence can be a formula to help any home withstand the elements. The situation is never beyond your control when you can generate and use your own electricity.

However, as some homeowners realize late in the process, not utilizing the potential of energy storage is easier said than done. Following Hurricane Sandy, many solar owners in the affected area (New York and New Jersey) learned the hard way that because they lacked hybrid operation and energy storage capabilities — their grid-tied solar electric systems were incapable of keeping the lights on and refrigerators running, because they were required to disconnect during a power outage. All those thousands of kilowatts of solar electricity being generated stayed up on the rooftops, unable to help the homeowners below.

What is a Hybrid Energy System?

What they needed was a hybrid approach, a way to harvest and store solar-generated electricity to use it with or without the grid present, at night as well as during the day. That’s what hybrid systems deliver: the ability to operate in multiple modes and store electricity for later use.

Such a system can “zero out” the grid if enough solar is present for self-consumption, which occurs when your solar electricity use powers the loads in your home, effectively providing off-grid independence. If there’s a surplus of solar-generated electricity available, these systems can export it back to the grid for net-metering incentives if they are allowed by the utility and locale.

Most important, they can store surplus solar electricity in a battery bank, enabling you to use your own stored electricity during peak demand times when rates are higher, giving you time-of-use control and flexibility.

And finally, such a system can keep critical loads up and running during an outage, providing greater security.

For residential users that want to control and master their electrical consumption, as well as business owners and agricultural users, a hybrid approach offers the best of both worlds: reduced or even eliminated utility charges and backup during critical times, without the need to stay totally off the grid with a system that can draw from the grid when necessary to make up the difference.

If your home or business falls into this category, below are three ways to successfully go hybrid.

Choose the Right Battery Size

Battery sizing is critical for any solar-plus-storage project. Lay out your specific intent for the batteries before making a purchase — often, users purchase inexpensive batteries to save money at the beginning of a solar installation, but they need to be replaced quickly when they can’t handle the demands of a solar installation. It’s a lost investment, a frustrating process and entirely avoidable.

Consider whether you plan to use a battery for occasional outages or if you’ll be offsetting electricity costs during peak hours. The two scenarios demand different capabilities from the batteries. Backup batteries, for example, are designed to discharge less frequently and at a greater “depth.” But use them daily and their service life is shortened considerably.

SystemEdge by OutBack Power

Aim to Prove ROI ASAP

An off-grid system is a major investment. Depending on its size, power usage, the owner’s location and goals for the project, the retail price could be $10,000 to $30,000, and that price comes before installation fees.

Of course, solar power helps users reclaim the setup process’ costs. Solar technology increases the value of a home, and you can sell surplus energy back to make a profit. By investing in hybrid capabilities at the start, the payback period can come more quickly, through increased utility savings and the ability to use solar electricity 24/7 and offset peak demand pricing.

Follow a Path That’s Proven to Work

As you talk to your energy providers — electric and solar alike — about your new installation, ask about their customers’ experiences who might have properties, energy consumption habits, and long-term goals similar to yours.

For example, one Silicon Valley home wanted to reduce the electric bills common in its high-cost area, while minimizing its peak load to the grid. The homeowner also wanted to invest heavily in smart-home technology, including the latest solutions in control, lighting, HVAC, networking and entertainment. A hybrid approach gave the homeowner an insurance policy that would keep his smart home running during storms, third-party disruptions and any other issues, while empowering his family to produce energy on site, gain independence from the utility and cut electricity costs.

Going off-grid is perfect for some, but it’s not for everyone. With a hybrid system, users can store electricity for their own use and achieve the full benefits of a solar approach, while maintaining the ability to access the grid if the situation demands. By outlining goals at the start of a project and following a successful path forged by other hybrid users, your home or business can achieve its energy goals with flying colors.

Eric Hill is senior strategic platforms manager at Alpha Technologies, parent company of OutBack Power. He has 8 years’ experience in energy storage focusing on renewable energy, telecom, wireless, industrial utilities, and broadband cable TV. Connect him on LinkedIn, and find OutBack Power on Twitter and Facebook.

Mark Cerasuolo is the marketing director and head of the training program for OutBack Power, a designer and a manufacturer of balance-of-system components for renewable and other energy applications. Prior to his work with OutBack Power Technologies, he held senior marketing roles at Leviton Manufacturing as well as with prominent consumer electronics companies such as Harman International and Bose Corporation, and was active in the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). More recently he was the marketing lead for the Washington State Department of Commerce. Mark also serves as a business & marketing advisor for the educational non-profit organization Healing the Culture in Kenmore, Washington, and was a volunteer field literacy tutor for the Ventura County Adult Literacy program in California.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Are Solar Panels a Sustainable Product?

solar panel lifespan and recycling

Installing a solar energy system on your home is a choice that can simultaneously reduce your carbon footprint and cut your electricity bill – the ultimate win-win in home energy. Your solar panels’ lifespan is long enough to produce decades of renewable energy for your home. Additionally, solar panel recycling options mean that once your system does finally reach the end of its life, you can be confident that your panels won’t end up in a landfill.

What is the Lifespan of Solar Panels?

The industry rule of thumb, based on advanced testing conducted by panel manufacturers, is that your solar panels have a useful lifespan of 25 to 30 years. However, “useful lifespan” doesn’t mean that they stop producing electricity after 25 years – it just means that their electricity production has declined by what manufacturers consider a significant amount.

A 2012 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that, on average, solar panel output falls by 0.8 percent each year. This means that in year two, your panels will operate at 99.2 percent of their original output; by the end of their 25-year “useful lifespan,” they will still be operating at 82.5 percent. In the years since this 2012 study has been conducted, more efficient technologies have been developed and many newer panels have just a 0.5 percent yearly decline in output.

In general, solar panels are extremely durable. Most manufacturers test their panels to confirm that they can withstand high winds and heavy snow loads, and many solar panels are specifically tested to ensure that they can withstand falling hail. Additionally, solar energy systems don’t usually have moving parts, and they require little to no maintenance

Solar panels also come with a few different warranties that can give you a sense of just how long you can expect your solar panel’s lifespan to be. Manufacturers will offer both an equipment warranty, to certify against manufacturing defects, and a performance warranty, to guarantee that your panels will produce a certain amount of electricity. Your solar panel’s performance warranty, which typically lasts 25 years, can give you a better sense of how much electricity to expect from your solar panel system over time.

You don’t need to worry about the carbon footprint of your solar panels, either. The 25 to 30 year lifespan of a solar panel is significantly longer than its “energy payback time,” or EPBT. EPBT is the amount of time it takes for a solar panel to produce enough clean electricity to “pay back” the energy that was used to manufacture it in the first place. A 2010 analysis from Brookhaven National Laboratory found that the EPBT of a solar panel is just six months – a number that has surely fallen in the past six years as panel manufacturing becomes more efficient.

Solar Panel Recycling Options and Programs

In the past 10 years, solar panels have gone from a fringe technology for the environmentally conscious to a viable home improvement option for nearly every household. While the industry is still relatively new, there are a number of panel manufacturers and other organizations that are already exploring solar panel recycling. The International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that, by 2050, old solar panels will be worth $15 billion in recyclable material – enough to produce two billion new solar panels. New recycling options are bound to grow as more and more solar panels reach the end of their lifespan.

Some panel manufacturers already offer recycling opportunities. First Solar, one of the largest manufacturers in the U.S., has a module recycling program that can recover 90 percent of panel materials for use in new products. SolarCity, the largest solar leasing company in the country, also recycles panels from its installations at the end of their useful lifespan.

Another organization that has recognized the importance of solar panel recycling is the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a national trade group for solar companies. SEIA is developing a national recycling program for all of its partners through its PV Recycling Working Group

If solar panel sustainability is a top priority for you, there are certain manufacturers that have certifications related to the sustainability of their solar panel life cycle. Most recently, panel manufacturer SunPower announced that they are “Cradle to Cradle” certified. A nonprofit organization known as Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition also produces an annual “Solar Scorecard” that grades panel manufacturers on the safety and sustainability of their manufacturing and disposal practices. 

Finding a Sustainable Solar Solution for Your Home is Easy 

Going solar is an investment in the earth’s future that can also reduce your monthly electric bills. By thoroughly researching solar equipment manufacturers and working with a solar installer that offers the products you want, you can ensure that your solar panel system is as sustainable as possible. Compare solar quotes side-by-side the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to find the right combination of sustainable products, easy financing options, and a well-reviewed installer for your home’s renewable energy needs.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How Much Does an Average Solar-Panel System Cost?

5kw solar panel system cost

If you’re shopping for a solar energy system, one of your first questions is probably, “how much will it cost?” Prices depend on the size of your system, the type of equipment you choose, and the state that you live in, but reviewing prices for a 5 kilowatt (kW) system is a great place to start – that’s the average system size in the United States. Learn more about how much a 5kW solar system costs, how much electricity a 5kW system will produce, and the smartest way to shop for solar.

What are solar shoppers paying in your state?

We looked at data from the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, the leading comparison-shopping platform for homeowners who are considering home solar panel systems, to find out just how much solar shoppers are paying for 5kW solar energy systems in different states across the U.S.  

The prices listed below have already had the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar deducted. Depending on where you live, you might have additional state or local solar incentives and rebates that reduce the price even more. You may even be able to earn extra income by selling your system’s solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs)

Even if there are no other incentives where you live, comparing multiple offers from solar companies is important to ensure that you’re finding the best deal. Homeowners who register their property on EnergySage save up to 20 percent just by shopping around for the right option for their home. 

5 kW solar system price map

How much does a 5kW solar system cost in my state?


5 kW solar system price range (2015)


$10,360 – $14,070


$11,865 – $14,875


$11,025 – $14,245


$11,872 – $15,095

District of Columbia (Washington, DC)

$10,386 – $14,583


$8,505 – $11,305


$11,074 – $14,687


$12,460 – $16,240


$10,150 – $13,230

New Jersey

$10,325 – $14,455

New York

$11,270 – $16,030

North Carolina

$10,531 – $14,801


$9,898 – $13,720


$9,835 – $12,705


$12,880 – 16,310

Remember, the cost of solar depends on a lot of factors, so these numbers are just meant to be a starting point. In most cases, you should be able to find a 5kW solar system in this price range – if you receive offers from solar companies that are much higher or lower, be sure to ask follow up questions. 

How much electricity will a 5kW solar system produce?

The amount of electricity your solar panels produce depends on many factors, including the direction and angle of your roof. The most important one is how sunny it is where you live – for example, a 5kW system in Las Vegas makes about 30 percent more electricity in a year than one in Philadelphia. That being said, you don’t have to live in the Southwest for solar to make sense for you. The cost of electricity where you live is the biggest determinant of your solar savings.

The table below shows average estimated electricity production numbers for 5kW solar energy systems in cities across the U.S. By comparison, the average household in the U.S. uses 911 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a month, which equals 10,932 kWh per year. We estimated these numbers using PV Watts, a tool developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Solar electricity output of a 5kW solar panel system in U.S. cities 


Average daily kWh

Average monthly kWh

Average annual kWh

Austin, TX




Boston, MA




Charlotte, NC




Chicago, IL




Cleveland, OH




Denver, CO




Hartford, CT




Las Vegas, NV




Los Angeles, CA




Miami, FL




New York City




Philadelphia, PA




Phoenix, AZ




Seattle, WA




Washington, DC




Maximize your solar savings by comparing multiple offers

Now that you know what to expect, you can ensure that you get the best deal on a 5kW solar energy system by registering your property on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. Use the comprehensive, easy-to-understand comparison tables to evaluate all of your equipment options, financing offers, and solar company reviews. When you compare multiple solar quotes, you can feel confident that you’re making a smart investment in your home.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Energy Pros Weigh In on Future of Solar Power

Vietnamese Solar Panels At Sunset

A friend of mine participated in the Second-Annual State of the Electric Utility survey. He also shared with me the results of the 2014 survey, which tabulates the opinions of more than 500 electric-utility professionals on the subjects of demand growth, distributed generation, power supply, regulatory models, and a number of other electricity-generation, transmission, and distribution-related issues.

Distributed Energy Generation

For those of us interested in solar energy, all the issues are important, but none more so than distributed generation. This is where, for example, a community rooftop solar project provides energy close-at-hand for the community’s homes, rather than homeowners buying electricity from an investor-owned utility.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Generating power on-site, instead of buying it from Company A, results in lower costs and fewer inefficiencies, notes one energy firm.

Consumers must agree, because residential or community solar installations in the first three-quarters of 2014 totaled more than 100 megawatts — all without any state incentives!

The loss ratio mentioned above, estimated at up to 6 percent of the total electricity transmitted on average for the entire nation (2012 figures reported in 2014), seems very small, but it depends not only on the age of the lines themselves, but the distance from the generating plants(s) that the electricity has to travel.

In very extensive territories like the Midwest ISO, outliers might experience significant losses in very cold or very hot weather, or when infrastructure is old. In other words, they (and you) pay for electricity that might never reach them.

Fortunately, electricity line losses seem to have dropped across the board since 2012. Of course, so has generation, as commercial and residential energy efficiency measures lighten the electricity load for generators, and more and more homeowners install solar photovoltaic (PV) or solar thermal (hot water) to offset the cringe-making cost of electricity.

Many industry experts feel this is the perfect time to introduce distributed generation in the form of solar energy.

Not only have the cost of solar panels, and installation plummeted, but further reductions are seen for 2016 and beyond, once the numbers are in. In fact, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL – one of 12 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) labs working on energy, renewable energy, energy storage and the like — solar PV system prices fell below $0.65 per watt in 2016, compared with $0.74 per watt a year ago and $4 per watt in 2008.

Grid Parity

Bottom line? That Holy Grail of solar energy – grid parity with fossil fuels — is achieved in several of those states providing solar incentives.

Add net metering and creative financing, and solar now looks like a sure shot to reduce America’s dependency on fossil fuels, both foreign and domestic, along with all the pollution (like fracking and shale oil extraction) generated by those fuels.

Most utility executives view solar grid parity and consequent distributed generation as a mixed blessing. In public, they tout it as an opportunity. In private, they discuss the threat to the traditional utility model that it represents, and in boardrooms, that threat — among coal, oil, or even nuclear-centric utilities — becomes the 2,000-pound gorilla of energy generation.

Most agree, however, that utilities should jump on that distributed-energy bandwagon and take a direct role in supplying their ratepayers with same, either via ownership of the panels (and leaseback to customers) or by partnering with companies vested in distributed generation.

Both of these, properly managed, represent modest revenue sources to an industry that has traditionally been viewed as “slow but steady” in terms of financial gain.

Demand-Side Management

Other technologies that make utility executives nervous are demand-side management, or DSM, and energy storage.

The first, which aims to reduce power requirements through efficiency measures, “smart meters”, and customer-centric cutbacks rather than building more generating plants, has already succeeded in reducing U.S. electricity demand by 0.9 percent (from 1992 to 2006), and by 1.8 percent over all years.

Energy Storage

Energy storage, still in its infancy, has created molten salt (or oil) storage for large solar thermal facilities and lithium batteries for smaller-scale energy storage, but the DOE’s labs are busy investigating a number of options and inventions, and will likely come up with some novel advances before the decade is over.

In essence, solar energy’s future is clear, and the only way to go is up!

Photo by Flickr/Intel Free Press

Jeanne Roberts is a writer at

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