Renewable Energy

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4/14/2016

Solar Panel Size

Solar energy is growing in popularity, especially as solar equipment prices fall and the cost of electricity continues to rise in most parts of the country. In a previous article, I discussed how to determine if switching to solar energy makes financial sense for you (while solar energy will save many homeowners money in the long run, it is not necessarily a good economic decision for everyone just yet).

Let’s assume that you have decided to go solar. The next question you may be asking is “how do I choose the right size solar photovoltaic (PV) system for my home?”

In addition to determining how much solar energy you can produce where you live, there are a number of other factors to consider, such as the amount of electricity you use, the size, orientation and design of your roof, and the state/municipal/utility policies that affect the cost of going solar.

Ultimately, a qualified solar installer will need to come to your home and go over the particularities of your situation with you, but it’s always a good idea to have a better understanding of the situation before this stage, so that you can follow the discussion and ask the right questions.

Electricity Use

One of the first things to consider is how much electricity you typically use, and how it varies with the seasons. For example, do you have an air conditioner that runs at full blast in the summer, or do you heat your home with electric baseboard heaters during the cold winter months?

The most accurate way to calculate how much electricity you use is to dig up your utility bills for the past 12 months (or longer if the past year was unseasonably warm or cold). If you don’t have your bills on hand, you can use our Power Consumption Calculator to estimate your electricity usage.

Once you determine your average annual electricity use, you can use our Solar Power Calculator to determine which size system, where you live, will best match that your needs. A general rule of thumb would be to try and optimize the system for your actual electricity use, and not to over-size or under-size it by too much. Obviously, every situation is different, so as you learn more you can come back to the calculator and fine-tune the parameters so that you get the most bang for your buck.

Here is an example for a south-facing roof in Jackson, New Jersey (see image below). Let’s assume that your average annual electricity use is 8,500 kWh, which is slightly above the state average of 8,036 kWh/year. Using the Solar Power Calculator, you can adjust the Annual Electricity Consumption slider so that it reflects your electricity use and then adjust the Number of Solar Panels slider until the solar electricity production matches (and the blue wedge in the orange circle is minimized).

It’s also important to adjust the utility rate if it is higher or lower than the state average ($0.16/kWh in the case of New Jersey), in order to more accurately estimate your savings. In this case, you would be looking at installing a system that is around 6.5 kW. But not so fast, you need to consider your roof now...

Solar Power Calculator

Your Roof

It’s all well and good to estimate what size system will match your electricity use, but what if the portion of your roof that is south-facing is very small, or is disrupted by skylights, or is partially shaded in the afternoon? Only a solar professional can actually determine what size system will fit on your roof and work optimally to meet your electricity needs.

When a solar installer visits your home, they do what is called a home site audit or assessment. A comprehensive assessment includes taking detailed measurements and making a thorough examination of your roof, looking at the condition, age and structure of your roof, as well as the placement of vents, attic fans, chimneys or other obstructions that will impact the system design and solar electricity production.

The assessment will also include shade measurements and an examination of your electrical panel. These steps are necessary for the installer to determine what type of system is possible and to propose the optimal design for your situation. It’s recommended that, whenever possible, you speak with multiple installers and get multiple quotes.

State/Municipal/Utility Policies

As I mentioned earlier, you generally want to choose your system size to match your electricity needs. However, there can be policies in place at the state, municipal or utility level that might impact your decision.

For example, a smaller system might be all you want (and be less expensive!) if your utility rate schedule is a tiered one and your main goal is to keep out of the most expensive tier. A small solar PV system that covers some of your electricity use can keep you below that critical threshold where the retail rate jumps to a more expensive rate. Or, if you are on a time-of-use schedule, you might be looking for a system that can offset your use during the peak electricity period when rates are highest.

Another reason to consider under-sizing your system would be if you live in a state where net-metering policies are such that excess electricity is only credited at the wholesale rate, rather than at the retail rate (which is what you as a consumer pay when you need extra electricity), such as is the case with the recent policy change in Nevada. Unless you have a battery system to store excess electricity, in a place like Nevada, you would not want to overbuild your PV system.

At the other end of the spectrum, an over-sized system might be beneficial if you want to ensure that you produce enough solar electricity to meet even your highest consumption days and are fortunate enough to live in a place where you are well compensated for your solar electricity production.

A number of states offer performance payments, in the form of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). In the District of Columbia, for example, homeowners earn SRECs for every MWh of electricity generated that are generously credited at the moment, although the rate of compensation is decreasing. Other places, such as Washington State, have other programs to compensate homeowners for their electricity production, and which increase if the solar equipment is made in the state, for example.

Conclusion

While installing a solar PV system is an environmental decision for some, for most it is a financial decision. Determining whether solar energy will save you money in the long run and finding the system size that will help you make the most of your investment are important considerations.

It pays to take the time to understand your situation, to speak with multiple installers, and research your options. Sunmetrix Discover can help you, by letting you adjust your system size, your utility rate, your electricity use, and more.

Simone Garneau is the co-founder of Sunmetrix, an online consumer education website for residential solar energy. The goal of Sunmetrix is to help homeowners go solar and save money with our Solar Cashback Program. In addition to the 200+ articles about solar energy, Sunmetrix offers homeowners three main resources: a Consumer Report for solar energy, Discover to preview solar energy for your home, and GO, the only solar energy test drive experience. Read all of Simone'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.



4/1/2016

Solar and home value increase

If you own your home, you’ve probably heard that going solar can help you reduce your electric bill, delivering major savings over the 20+ years that your solar panels produce electricity. You may have also heard that installing a solar energy system on your roof can increase the value of your home – but by how much? It’s time to get past the sales pitch and understand exactly what solar companies mean when they say that your home value increases when you install solar. 

It’s True: Going Solar Can Increase Your Property Value by $20k or More

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), a Department of Energy-affiliated research lab, has studied solar home sales extensively. In 2015, researchers at LBNL compared sale prices of solar homes to homes without solar across eight different states to determine just how much value a solar energy system adds to a home. What they found: “Home buyers consistently have been willing to pay more for homes with host-owned solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems —averaging about $4 per watt of PV installed—across various states, housing and PV markets, and home types. 

For a 5-kilowatt (kW) solar energy system (the average system size in the U.S.), $4/Watt means an added value of $20,000. That extra value is a big part of the story, but remember – it doesn’t even include the month-to-month savings you’ll see on your electricity bill when you install solar on your roof. Considering that the average solar panel installation cost in the U.S. is about $3.70/Watt, it’s easy to see why going solar is a smart investment in your home.

Your Solar Home Value Increase Depends on Where You Live

There are many factors that influence how much you can save when you go solar, but the most important one isn’t how much sun you get – it’s the cost of electricity from your utility. As a result, the value that a solar energy system will add to your home is dependent on where you live.

Because solar reduces or eliminates your electric bill, your 20-year savings from installing a solar energy system will be greater in areas where electricity is more expensive. That means high electricity prices can result in greater solar home values, because potential home buyers are willing to pay more for a home with greater solar savings., That also means that newer solar panels will add more value to your home, because they will generate electricity for a greater lifespan.

Does Leasing a Solar Panel System Increase Your Home Value?

LBNL’s 2015 study only analyzed homes with solar PV systems owned by the homeowner, which means that it doesn’t include homes where the property owner signed a lease or power purchase agreement (PPA). Solar lease corporations like SolarCity say that both owned and leased systems increase home values, but the additional value that third-party owned solar provides isn’t quite as clear. NPR and the Los Angeles Times have both written stories featuring homeowners who say that their solar lease made it more difficult to sell their home. So what’s the truth? 

Unlike a system bought in cash or with a solar loan, selling a home with a third-party owned solar energy system means that you also have to transfer your lease or power purchase agreement to the new property owner. This can make the sales process more complicated, and some prospective buyers might not be excited about taking over a long-term lease or PPA.

The good news: a 2016 survey from LBNL found that, while a leased system can make your home sale more complex, “the overall impacts [of solar leases and PPAs] in terms of sales price, time on market, agreement transfers and customer satisfaction are largely neutral and in some cases a net positive.” So while leasing a solar panel system might not improve your home’s value, it probably won’t hurt it either – and you’ll have the benefit of a reduced electric bill for as long as you live there. 

How to Get the Best Solar Value: Compare All of Your Options

At the end of the day, the best way to be confident in your solar investment is to fully understand and compare your options. Use a solar calculator that gives you an instant estimate of how much you can save, and then use comparison-shopping marketplace like EnergySage to receive multiple offers from solar companies online.

With the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can compare equipment, financing, and solar company reviews to find the right combination of cost and quality for your needs. By comparing multiple offers, EnergySage customers can save as much as 20 percent on their solar panel systems.

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.



3/14/2016

Solar Energy Home Improvement

Now that spring is here, many homeowners are thinking about taking advantage of the warmer weather and longer days to tackle some home improvement projects. You don’t need to look very far to find a great opportunity to increase the value of your home and save you money in the long run – just look up! Solar energy is growing in popularity because of its many benefits. But homeowners naturally have a number of important questions. I hope to answer some of the most common ones here.

Will solar panels really save me money?

In many cases, the answer is yes, but it all depends on three important considerations, all of which are location dependent. The most obvious one is the amount of sunshine where you live, but this is less important than you might think (and I address this point in more detail below). The other very important factors is assessing the profitability of solar energy are the available financial incentives that bring down the cost and the price of electricity where you live. Obviously, the more you pay for electricity, the more you stand to save with solar energy.

The term grid parity is used to describe when the cost of solar electricity is the same or cheaper than electricity from your utility. A number of states have reached grid parity, such as California and New Jersey to name a couple. They receive quite different amounts of sunshine, but because of the generous incentives and the high cost of electricity, solar energy is a worthwhile investment in these states. In another example, going solar in Connecticut makes much more financial sense then in Florida (the Constitution State beats the Sunshine State hands down, when it comes to the value of solar electricity!)

A solar power calculator, like Sunmetrix Discover, can help you determine the profitability of solar energy where you live, and by adjusting some of the parameters in the Buy or Lease Calculator, you can determine the best way to finance your system. Generally speaking, a purchase (with or without a solar loan) will save you more money than a lease in the long run.

Doesn’t it have to be very sunny where I live?

It’s only natural to think about the level of sunshine where you live, when you think of solar energy. But even places that are fairly cloudy year round or further north with short winter days benefit from solar energy. Germany, for example, is a world leader in terms of installed solar capacity, and Berlin, Germany receives just over half as much solar radiation as Los Angeles, California. Yes, it’s true that cloudy places will not produce as much solar electricity, but they can still produce enough to be a profitable investment, if the other two factors I mentioned (available incentives and cost of electricity) are favorable for solar energy.

If I still need to be connected to the grid at night, then what’s the point?

Most residential solar photovoltaic systems are grid-tied. In other words, you keep your connection to your local utility. This is important for two reasons: 1) you can receive extra electricity when your panels are not producing enough, such as at night and 2) you can sell your excess electricity back to the utility for credits when you are producing too much. This is called net-metering.

Recently, there has been quite a bit of news about changes to net-metering in certain states, such as Nevada. Instead of being compensated for excess electricity at the retail rate (what you would have paid for the electricity if you needed it), Nevada is only compensating solar generators at the wholesale rate (what the utility pays to buy electricity from power plants), which is considerably lower. This can significantly lower the profitability of your solar system if you’re regularly sending excess electricity back to the grid for credits. As a result, we will see batteries for excess solar electricity grow in popularity in areas that do not credit solar electricity at the retail rate (Australia is a great example of this trend).

However, most states still have net-metering policies that credit homeowners for their excess electricity at the retail rate. Even if you’re not producing electricity at night, you will benefit from the credits you accumulate producing excess electricity during the day, and/or benefit from lower electricity rates at night where time-of-use electricity rates are in place.  

Will installing panels cause roof damage?

This is a common question. One of the first things a solar installation company should do, when preparing a quote for you, is to visit your house and look at your roof. In addition to looking at the shade levels and orientation of your roof, they will be assessing the condition of your roof. If it is relatively old or in need of repairs, you will want to address this before proceeding with a solar system installation. After all, those solar panels can be ticking for 20-25 years, and the last thing you want to do is remove them after a few years for a roof repair.

But what about a brand new roof? It is important to look at the fine-print of your roof warranty (because most roof warranties are null and void if you do anything that interferes with the integrity of the roof), but you should also protect yourself by choosing a solar company that offers their own warranty. Talk to the installer and get them to explain the risks and their warranty, and read consumer reviews to find the most highly-rated installers in your area. Nearly one million homeowners have gone solar in the U.S., according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). With some initial homework, you can find a solar company you feel comfortable with, and join those homeowners who are enjoying the benefits of producing their own clean, green electricity.

Shouldn’t I wait until solar-panel prices come down more?

Like with many high-tech purchases, it’s usually not long after you purchase them that the price comes down. According to SEIA, the price of residential solar has dropped nearly 60 percent since 2006, but this rate of decrease is likely to slow down, as mass production and intense competition in the solar equipment market (i.e. the panels and inverters) made up most of the price drop. Today, it’s actually other so-called “soft costs” that make up most of the cost of installing solar panels. These soft costs include permits, design and customer acquisition to name a few. While many companies are working hard to bring down these soft costs with innovative software tools, the rate of price decreases is not likely to be as dramatic as it has been.

In locations where grid parity has been reached, holding off from going solar means missing out on savings today. This lost opportunity could translate into a considerable chunk of change in the long run. If you’re on the fence about whether to go solar, there are two other important considerations to keep in mind: the electricity escalation rate and the federal investment tax credit of 30%.

Electricity prices have been going up on average across the United States. Since 2005, the average escalation rate (the rate by which electricity prices have gone up each year since 2005) for the U.S. was 3%, with Michigan experiencing the highest average year-over-year increases since 2005, at nearly 5.5%. By comparison, Louisiana experienced the lowest average year-over-year increases since 2005, at 0.3%. While looking at what has happened in the past does not tell us what will happen in the future, it gives us some ideas about the general trend. Solar energy gives you the chance to lock-in cheaper electricity for the next 25 years on average.

The federal investment tax credit (ITC) of 30% for solar panels is another very important reason not to delay by too much. While it was originally set to expire at the end of 2016, it was recently extended through 2019, after which it will be gradually phased out over the following three years. The solar ITC has made the difference in many places, making solar electricity cheaper than electricity from the utility. Make sure you take advantage of this generous incentive by going solar soon. There’s never been a better time to reap the benefits of solar energy.

Conclusion

So there you have it: solar power may sound a bit complicated at first, but with some basic research you can be on your way to generating your own clean power at a very competitive price point. Now, if only tackling your kids’ bedroom closets for spring cleaning was this easy...

Simone Garneau is the co-founder of Sunmetrix, an online consumer education website for residential solar energy. The goal of Sunmetrix is to help homeowners go solar and save money with our Solar Cashback Program. In addition to the 200+ articles about solar energy, Sunmetrix offers homeowners two main tools: Discover, to preview solar energy for your home, and GO, the only solar energy test drive experience. Read all of Simone's MOTHER EARTH NEWS POSTS here.


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



3/11/2016

Home Renovations and Solar Panels

Whether you’re considering selling your home in one year or ten, knowing how a home improvement project will impact your home’s resale value can make or break the decision. The conventional wisdom from HGTV and home improvement magazines is that updating your kitchen, renovating your bathroom, and building an addition are among the smartest ways to increase the resale value of your home. But there’s another home improvement that you may not realize can add serious value to your property: installing a solar energy system.

 Multiple studies by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), a research laboratory affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy, have shown that solar can improve the value of your home. The lab’s 2015 Selling Into the Sun report analyzed sales of solar photovoltaic (PV) homes in eight different states over 11 years with the goal of determining just how much value solar adds to your home’s sale price. The key finding: on average, homebuyers are “consistently willing to pay PV home premiums” of approximately $4 per watt of installed solar capacity.  For a standard 6-kilowatt (kW) solar PV system, this means that solar can add $24,000 to your home’s resale value. 

While a $24,000 increase in property value is compelling, knowing how much a solar panel system costs, and how that cost compares to other home renovations, illustrates why going solar is truly the best investment you can make in your home.  

The Value of Solar-Panel Installations vs. Other Home Renovations

According to EnergySage data, the average cost of a solar panel installation in 2015 was $3.70/watt, which means an average 6-kilowatt (kW) system has a $22,200 price tag. Tax breaks and other incentives drastically reduce that cost – once you subtract the value of the 30 percent solar tax credit, your total solar installation costs are a little less than $15,600.

When you sell your solar home, you will be able to recover your installation costs and more, but how does this compare to more traditional home improvement projects? To determine the answer, EnergySage used the Remodeling 2016 Cost vs. Value Report, which evaluates project costs and resale value for a variety of home renovations. What we found is that you are not likely to recover your costs for the majority of home improvement projects (see chart).

Table Comparing Solar Panels and Home Renovations

According to the Cost vs. Value Report, a $20,100 minor kitchen remodel – which includes replacing appliances and upgrading countertops and fixtures – only adds $16,700 to your home’s resale value. That means you will recover 83.1 percent of your project costs. You’ll recover even less with a bathroom remodel, just under 66 percent. The same is true for a deck addition. In contrast, by installing a solar energy system you will recover 154 percent – that’s 54 percent more than you spent in the first place! 

Why Is Solar Such a Valuable Home-Improvement Project?

Perhaps you’re now wondering why homebuyers are willing to pay so much more for a solar-equipped home. The most important reason is that these prospective buyers can reduce or even eliminate their electric bill when they move into in a solar-powered home. Solar panels can help save money in the short term, and additionally protect from increasing utility rates for the 25+ years that they generate electricity. And it doesn’t hurt that solar reduces one’s impact on the environment by producing emissions-free electricity.

If you’re considering going solar as a way to improve the resale value of your home, remember that increased property value is only one component of solar’s financial benefits. That value doesn’t take into account the month-to-month savings you will see on your electricity bill – money that you can use to make other investments (like finally adding those granite countertops, or investing in the stock market).

So what’s the downside? Buying and installing a solar panel system on your home might seem like a more complicated process than other home improvement projects at the outset. However, you can use home equity loans and lines of credit to go solar, just as you can to make other updates to your property. Many solar financing options are low-interest, and most require zero money down. And unlike a disruptive home remodeling project, solar can typically be installed in a single day. Take a look at EnergySage’s short Solar Power Installation in Less Than a Minute video to see just how quickly a solar installer can get your system up and running.

Compare Your Solar-Panel Options to Find the Best Installation for Your Home

As with any other home improvement project, the best way to ensure that you’ll be satisfied with your solar installation is to get multiple quotes from contractors first and then compare all of your options. To get started, use a solar calculator to estimate just how much you can save. Once ready, register your property on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to easily receive and compare multiple quotes from pre-screened solar installers in your area.

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 Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/1/2016

Confirming expectations, solar PV installations broke multiple records in 2015, according to figures released by GTM Research in advance of the U.S. Solar Market Insight Report. In total, the solar industry installed 7,286 megawatts (MW) of new capacity, which accounts for an impressive 17 percent annual growth. To put the solar industry’s growth in perspective, aggregate U.S. solar installations can currently produce more than 25 gigawatts (GW) of energy, which compares to just 2 GW in 2010. Investors and potential residential producers should take note, because with the surprise extension of U.S. tax credits in December, solar energy’s rise is sure to continue for the remainder of the decade.

Table: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

In a symbolic milestone, new solar installations surpassed natural gas installations for the first time, which is significant because politicians and the natural gas industry have long marketed the fossil fuel as a “bridge fuel” to renewable energy.Perhaps we’re closer to crossing that bridge than previously thought.

When broken down by source, residential solar continued to recover its share of the solar market in 2015, sporting a year-over-year rate of 66 percent, which represents its highest new installation share since 2009. Meanwhile, the industrial solar sector—long the driver of the U.S. solar market—installed 4 GW and grew 6 percent. By comparison, non-residential, non-industrial solar installations, often seated on top of big-box stores, storage sheds and office buildings, remained unfortunately flat, installing slightly more than 1 GW of capacity.

 

 Table: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

In 2016, solar energy advocates should support continued national capacity growth while arguing for a larger, national distribution of production. Currently, 87 percent of new installations occurred in only 10 states, according to Shayle Kann, a senior vice president of GTM Research. Of these, California led, while North Carolina’s solar industry boom kept that state in second. Solar industries in Nevada, Massachusetts, and New York rounded out the top five for new installations by GW. Because state policies, such as net metering, are particularly influential in spurring or hampering local solar markets, investors and home-producers should research local solar legislation and advocate for renewable production models. 

Once again, the overall news is positive for the solar industry. As installation prices continue to fall, 2016 will likely continue to smash records as renewable energy’s share of the U.S. market continues to grow. The full U.S. Solar Market Insight Report will be available on March 9th along with detailed projections from Greentech Media.    

 
Josh Brewer is an Assistant Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS who covers Renewable Energy, Green Homes, Omega Fatty Acids Nutrition, and Nature and Environment.


2/25/2016

Pairing energy efficiency and solar panels

There’s a reason why home energy efficiency measures are referred to as the “low-hanging fruit” of home energy upgrades. Achieving an eco friendly house can be as simple as swapping out incandescent light bulbs for LEDs or installing a programmable thermostat that only heats or cools your home when you’re there to enjoy it. Simple energy efficiency measures are one of the easiest ways to make an investment in your home and reduce your home energy costs – but they will only take you so far. 

Thanks to solar incentives and rebates and rapidly falling equipment prices, investing in a home solar PV system is another smart option for homeowners who are looking to reduce their energy costs. By installing a solar energy system, you can generate your own electricity and protect yourself from utility rate increases for twenty years or more.

What many homeowners don’t realize is that energy efficiency measures and solar panels are each effective ways to save on electricity costs, and when you combine them, they can save you even more. Here’s how it works.

How Green Homes, Energy Efficiency, and Solar Power Work Together

When you implement green home design in your home before going solar, you reduce your electricity consumption. This in turn decreases the amount of electricity your solar panels have to generate to match your household usage. As a result, energy efficiency can help you save on the price of your solar power system by making it possible to install a smaller system with fewer panels. The end result: lower upfront costs for your new solar energy system, and the same amount of electricity bill savings over its 20+ year lifetime. 

Even if you don’t have the cash to pay out of pocket for a solar energy system, the increased availability of $0-down solar loans puts home solar within reach for everyone. Most homeowners in the U.S. can achieve payback on their system in five to 10 years, meaning that all electricity that their solar panels produce after break-even is essentially free – that’s a home improvement worth making!

In addition to turning your roof into your home’s own mini power plant, going solar has another energy-efficient benefit – it makes you more aware of your energy usage. Many solar energy systems come with performance monitoring systems that help you track how much electricity your solar panels produce, how much you’re consuming at home, and how much you’re sending back to the grid. This increased level of energy awareness often results in less usage and an environmentally friendly home. 

And if that wasn’t enough, pairing energy efficiency and solar power will also reduce your impact on the environment.

Comparing All Your Options is the Smartest Way to Go Solar

When you start exploring your solar options, be sure to compare multiple options – when solar installers compete for your business, you can save 20 percent or more off the costs of installation. 

Start off by using EnergySage’s solar calculator; this energy savings tool takes electricity costs, incentives available in your area, and real-time market prices into consideration to provide you with an estimate of how much you’ll save by going solar. Once you’re ready to move forward, register your property on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to receive multiple quotes from pre-screened, local solar installers in your area.

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 Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/18/2016

Solar Energy Green Home

Do you know that only 1% of homes in the United States have solar panels today? This may not sound like much but it’s actually the result of an exploding solar market. There’s every indication that within the next ten years, solar power will become ubiquitous.

In many ways, today’s solar energy market is like the smart phone market of ten years ago. Disruptive change is around the corner, and here are the top five reasons to go solar today. 

1. Favorable Legislation

The federal investment tax credit (ITC) for solar energy was recently extended so that it will remain at the 30 percent level through 2019 and then ramp down over the following three years, before being eliminated completely for residential customers. This is essentially a 30 percent discount on your solar system courtesy of Uncle Sam, for those of you who opt to purchase your system (with or without a loan). Those who lease or go with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) are not eligible to claim the ITC.

2. Stabilizing Costs

Over the past decade, the cost of going solar has plummeted. It has never been cheaper to go solar, especially when you factor in financial incentives like the ITC. However, the rate at which these costs are coming down is slowing now and we can’t expect to see the same rate of decline in future years.

Equipment prices have taken the most dramatic plunge, but it’s the other so called soft costs, related to customer acquisition, permits and site design, that are more stubborn and difficult to budge. These will continue to decrease, but not at the rate equipment prices fell.

3. Rising Electricity Prices

Electricity prices continue to go up. On average, they have increased by nearly 33 percent in the past decade across the United States. As rates rise, solar energy becomes more and more profitable. By going solar today, you can minimize the risk of rising electricity rates and lock in savings by producing your own electricity for the lifetime of your panels, on average 20-25 years.

4. Low Interest Rates

Most of us cannot afford to make an outright purchase of a solar power system (which costs on average about $20,000 for a 5 kW system before the ITC or other incentives are factored in). Thankfully, the cost of financing your system, whether you choose to go with a loan, a lease or a PPA, is made more affordable with the low interest rates available today. Interest rates are expected to increase, so researching your financing options today could save you money.

5. Helping the Environment

For some, the decision to go solar is purely economic – will solar panels save me money in the long run? For others, it is about more than that. We have been hearing a lot about climate change in the past months, especially with the Pope’s proclamation that the world needs to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and the Paris Climate Conference this past December.

More and more homeowners are asking themselves what they can do to help fight climate change. We can all start with some simple energy efficiency measures at home and learn more about the benefits of solar energy.

Going solar today is one of the safest investments available, one that can save you money over the next 20-25 years, increase the value of your home and help the environment, all at the same time. Make the most of this opportunity by investigating solar for your home today.

Simone Garneau is the co-founder of Sunmetrix, an online consumer education website for residential solar energy. The goal of Sunmetrix is to help homeowners go solar and save money with our Solar Cashback Program. In addition to the 200+ articles about solar energy, Sunmetrix offers homeowners two main tools: Discover, to preview solar energy for your home, and GO, the only solar energy test drive experience. Read all of Simone's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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