Renewable Energy
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The Future is Bright for Residential Solar in Nevada

Rooftop Solar in Nevada

Consumer demands for access to solar in Nevada brought about the nearly unanimous passage of a new law that goes beyond bringing back net metering. Nevada is now the first state in the nation to legally guarantee “the right to self-generate energy.”  NV Energy, the state’s largest utility launched an unexpected war on solar in 2015 that seemed like an apocalypse for the Nevada solar industry. The passage of Nevada State Assembly bill AB 405 marks the return of a top market for residential solar and sets an example for states in the heat of the net metering debate. Compromises have been made, but in essence the bill reinstates net metering at almost full retail rates in Nevada, and it’s being hailed as a victory for the rooftop solar industry.

At the center of the battle for solar in Nevada is net metering. Net metering ensures that homeowners who install solar and produce more energy than they use are compensated for the excess energy they feed back into the grid. The price which homeowners are compensated for this energy is incredibly important in determining how the economics of home solar pan out, and most net metering debates boil down to two points opposing points of viw of view: 1) that homeowners pay the retail rate for electricity from a utility, and should be compensated for any electricity they produce at that rate and 2) that utilities pay the wholesale rate for electricity, and shouldn’t have to pay homeowners the retail rate for energy they feed back to the grid. As can be expected, price drops in net metering rates can cause significant problems for homeowners who have installed solar, and Nevada provided a case study of how destructive net metering drops can be when homeowners with existing panels aren’t grandfathered into their previous rate.

The surprise decision by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission in December 2015 to upend the state’s net metering policy threw the solar industry in the state in disarray. Going against the conclusions of their own report, the Commission took the stance that net metering did not benefit the public and immediately slashed compensation. With the recent reversal, net metering has been reinstated at a rate of 95% of retail utility prices for new installers, with a reduction to a floor of 75% as the number of installations increases statewide. This is the key compromise of AB 405 that is intended to please both utilities and proponents of solar. Prior to 2016, net metering in Nevada was at a 100% retail compensation rate. Ensuring that compensation rates were comparable to retail rather than lower wholesale rates was a huge victory for the solar industry.

With the ups and downs of the past 18 months put to rest, many homeowners are looking to harness the sun as soon as possible, and this month, companies such as Tesla and Vivant Solar have announced that they are returning to Nevada immediately. This should continue to cement Nevada as one of the top states for solar in the nation - as of 2016, there was already enough solar installed in the state to power 372,000 homes. The state ranks fourth in the nation for overall installed solar capacity at 2,268.7 MW. Currently, 8% of Nevada’s electricity is generated by solar, but that figure could soon be much higher – especially if we assume that the development of solar in Nevada will follow industry-wide trends. Consider the following: Prices for solar panels and installations have dropped by 64% in the last five years, and the fact that recent polling showing that 89% of the American public want to see more solar energy. When the Nevada Public Utilities Commission restricted incentives in 2015, several prominent solar installers in Nevada pulled out of the state at a cost of 2,600 jobs.

Although 2015 was a horrible year for the solar industry in Nevada, at the federal level, it wasn’t all lights out for the solar industry! At the end of the year it did bring about a lengthy extension of the federal solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The ITC is in full effect for 30% of installation costs through 2019, when it will be phased out over two years. Whether the looming expiration of this generous incentive will cause a second boom in home solar installations in Nevada after the rapid growth we anticipate due to the reinstated net metering laws remains to be seen, but it would be expected as homeowners tend to rush to take advantage of expiring incentives.

In addition to bringing net metering at close to retail rates back to Nevada, AB 405 helps disarm a common critique of solar energy - that there has been no economically feasible way to store power produced during the day for use when the sun isn’t shining. That is simply an outdated argument in 2017. Battery technologies have matured and costs have come down with the Tesla Powerwall 2 selling for under $6,000, and other solar battery manufacturers following close behind. Recognizing the rising importance of batteries for homeowners who install solar, AB 405 provides new protections for solar-plus-storage customers. The bill makes it tough for any extra fees or utility interference to be applied to those who have battery storage for their excess energy at home. Home solar-plus-storage equals the ability to go ‘off the grid’ if desired. Imagine a sleek solar roof connected to a solar battery in your garage, accompanied by a non-existent monthly electric bill —and importantly, the ability to move past fears of future changes in net metering compensation.

As states continue to experiment with the best policies to promote the development of distributed solar, net metering regulations will surely come up again and again, and Nevada’s experience likely will inform many future policy decisions. We see AB 405 as a huge win for the people of Nevada and the solar energy industry in general – well done, Nevada!

Additional reporting for this article provided by Justin Fischer.

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.

Solar Rooftops and Tesla’s New Solar Roof

tesla - solar roof home

Photo by Tesla

Do you like the idea of going solar but don’t like the look of traditional rooftop solar panels? Then Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, has a prospect for you — the Solar Roof. With a Solar Roof, the solar panels are built-in to individual roofing tiles which are then used to cover your roof as normal. Then, for the lifetime of your home, your roof itself will be generating clean, renewable energy for you and your family. For many, especially those constructing a new home, this is an option that makes solar practical and attractive.

The idea of a solar rooftop has been around for a while — it’s a concept known as Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). This means that the photovoltaic system, or solar panels themselves, are an intrinsic part of a building’s construction. This integration allows homes to utilize solar power while still maintaining a specific design aesthetic that might not be possible with traditional solar panels. However, previous attempts at solar tiles have been bulky and unsuccessful. Musk announced Tesla’s take on the solar rooftop last year, and just recently finalized pricing and started accepting orders.

Type of shingle. With the Solar Roof, you can choose from four different types of tile: Tuscan, Smooth, Textured, or Slate. These tiles are not only indistinguishable from standard roofing tiles, but they are exceptionally durable. Tesla is so sure of the strength of their tiles that they are offering a lifetime warranty on them. You can rest easy knowing your investment will be protected against the elements.

Cost. So what will this all cost you? Well, that’s where it gets a little complicated. You can check out Tesla’s website, plug in your address, and they will provide an estimate for your house based on location and square footage. There are many factors that go into what the final price will be — everything from where you live to how many stories your home is.

Integration with non-solar shingles. One of the main factors that determines how much your Solar Roof will cost is the percentage of your roof that will actually be covered in solar tiles. It is not possible for 100% of your roof to have solar panels, because it is a fire hazard and because most roofs have areas that are not conducive to absorbing solar rays. The rest of your roof that is not covered with solar tiles will instead have “dummy” tiles that look identical but do not have solar capabilities. Tesla will automatically recommend a certain percentage cover for your house when you use their online tool.

Solar Tax Credit. The average American home is about 2,500 square feet, which produces a cost estimate on Tesla’s website from anywhere between $30,000 and $70,000. These prices at face value are fairly high compared to a normal “dumb” roof, but there are several factors that offset the cost and could make the Solar Roof a smart investment for your home. First of all, Tesla calculates the amount of money you will save in energy generation over 30 years with your Solar Roof. Depending on energy prices and the amount of sunshine where you live, this number could be over $100,000. Secondly, the Solar Roof will qualify for the federal government’s solar Investment Tax Credit (SITC). This is an incentive program that provides homeowners a tax credit of 30% of the cost of installing new solar systems — including the Solar Roof.

Integration with Powerall battery. Tesla is also recommending that homeowners invest in their Powerwall 2.0 battery pack with the installation of a Solar Roof. This battery allows you to choose when you want to use the solar energy you have generated, and also allows you to have continued electricity during power outages that affect the rest of your area. The optional battery and installation will run you about $7,000, and is a good option for those looking for personal energy independence and stability.

For now, Solar Roofs seem to be a solid investment for people constructing a new home who have money to invest upfront. Depending on the cost of solar where you live, the long-term energy savings could allow you to break even on this investment and start earning money well before 30 years. While it may not currently make financial sense to homeowners everywhere in the country, the prospect of solar panels that are as beautiful as they are practical is an exciting look into the future of renewable energy.

Ryan Willemsen founded Solar to the People to help "shine light" on the solar industry for the benefit of homeowners. Connect with Ryan on Facebook and Twitter. Read all of Ryan’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.

Can Solar Panels Survive Hurricanes and Withstand Hail?


Like any outdoor equipment, solar panels are subject to the changing weather. Depending upon where you live, your panels may experience heavy rain, high winds, or even hail. In this article we’ll examine how solar panel systems stand up to intense weather conditions, and what government organizations and industry groups are doing to improve their products and protect consumers from weather-related solar panel damage.

How Well Do Solar Panels Withstand Hail and Hurricanes?

As a whole, solar panels are durable and hold up very well in inclement weather. A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on 50,000 solar energy systems installed between 2009 and 2013 indicates that only 0.1% of all PV systems have been reported as affected by damaged or underperforming modules each year. We’ll briefly examine two types of weather that have the potential to damage solar systems – hail and hurricanes.

Solar Panels and Hail

Solar panel manufacturers test their products to ensure that they are capable of withstanding hail storms. In most cases, solar panels are tested and certified to withstand hail of up to 25 mm (one inch) falling at 23 meters per second (approximately 50 miles per hour).

In fact, not long ago, NREL’s main campus in Golden, Colorado was hit with a severe hailstorm just last month. Of over 3,000 panels on or adjacent to the roof of a net-zero energy building, only one panel was broken during the storm. To get an idea of the intensity of the storm, the same weather system left shattered car windows and dents in vehicles and home roofs around the Denver area. The single broken panel appeared to have been hit simultaneously with several large hailstones in a very concentrated location, leading to micro-cracking of the surface glass. The conclusion: hail may be an impressive physical force, but solar panels are well-equipped to withstand impacts even from large hailstones.

Solar Panels and Hurricanes

With high wind speeds and heavy rain, solar panels may be at risk of being dislodged from their spot or damaged by high volumes of water. However, similar to hail, solar panels are typically tested by manufacturers to ensure that they can survive hurricanes. Most solar panels are certified to withstand winds of up to 2,400 pascals, equivalent to approximately 140 mile-per-hour winds.

As with hail, real-life extreme weather events have demonstrated solar’s durability in hurricanes. During Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey was hit especially hard. New Jersey also has one of the highest solar power capacities in the United States. In the second quarter of 2012, just before the hurricane hit, the state had installed 103 megawatts of PV capacity. Analysis after Sandy hit revealed little to no damage to PV systems from the storm. According to a spokesperson for a solar system installer servicing over 200 customers in the regions of New Jersey hit hardest by the storm, a few metal casings covering wires from the panels were damaged by flooding, and one very large system had just two panels come loose.

How Solar Stakeholders are Ensuring That Your Panels Can Withstand Extreme Weather

In addition to the hail and wind certifications that solar manufacturers offer for their products, there are several organizations and initiatives within the solar industry currently working on making solar panels more durable, long-lasting, and cost-effective. Here is a brief overview of some projects in the works.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s SunShot Initiative, which aims to bring down the general cost of solar energy for all Americans, also supports initiatives to improve durability in solar panels. The SunShot Initiative funds NREL researchers to participate in the International PV Quality Assurance Task Force, or PVQAT, which focuses on designing solar energy technology standards.

PVQAT has 12 individual task groups working on implementing their approach to PV component and system quality and bankability. Their three-pronged approach looks to establish a rating system for PV modules based on climate and application of interest, a guideline for factory inspections and quality assurance during manufacturing, and a comprehensive certification of PV systems. Combined, these efforts ensure that modern solar panels will be manufactured with the highest durability standards available.

Additionally, the Durable Module Materials Consortium (DuraMAT), a group of national research laboratories and universities, is focused on improving the physical materials and designs of PV modules. DuraMAT is part of the Energy Materials Network (EMN), a Department of Energy program working on decreasing the time to market for materials critical to clean-energy technologies.

Install Home Solar Panels to Ensure a Reliable Energy Source for Years to Come

Solar panels are one of the most durable and reliable energy technologies in the world, and industry efforts mean that they are becoming more resistant to severe weather damage every day. Installing a home solar energy system ensures that your home can produce its own power, even during severe weather events. When you register for the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can find the solar installer that’s right for your home or business, and compare offers side-by-side to find the best deal for a long-lasting, sustainable, and reliable energy system.

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.

Sell Your Excess Solar Power Back to the Grid with Net Metering

Net Metering Solar To The People

Photo by Solar to the People

If you have solar panels installed on your home, in all likelihood during the summer they produce more energy during the daytime than you use — probably a lot more. Net Energy Metering (NEM), or net metering for short — allows you to profit from this excess energy. To net meter, you use your existing energy meter to track the number of kilowatt hours (kWh) you send back into the power grid, which your utility company then credits against your energy consumption. This results in a lower energy bill, as you can roll over your electricity credits from the sunny summer months to the cloudier months of winter.

You might think your utility company frowns on individuals producing power — that would make you a competitor, right? — or that doing so requires special equipment. In fact, many state and local governments give you the right to connect the grid.

And as the Solar Energy Industries Association explains, sending energy to the grid helps the utilities maintain a liquid energy supply. This means everyone gains energy that’s more reliable during peak hours and far less wasteful.

If you’re concerned that net metering is technically complex or a hassle, think again. Your existing energy meter is likely bidirectional, which means you already have the equipment you need to meter the energy you return to the grid.

Further, it’s common practice for solar installers to set up net metering for their clients, which means that your primary concern as an end user is to understand how you will receive compensation, and to feel good about becoming a clean energy producer.

To get you started, Solar to the People has written an easy to understand primer to net metering, and PG&E has provided a simple visual guide.

Do All Utilities Allow Net Metering?

In 1978, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) created a protected class of “small power production facilities” — that would be your solar-powered home or business — with the Public Utilities Regulatory Act (PURPA). While the act establishes fair energy rates for consumers and guarantees some rights, FERC’s guidelines leave most regulation up to the states. This means the amount of energy you can sell, how much you’ll receive, and the form of repayment varies widely by state and your utility company.

On the plus side, 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted clear net metering policies. The Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) has provided a map of which states have mandatory NEM policies, and those without.

Even if your state lacks clear regulations, many municipal and local governments require utilities to buy back energy, and provide credits to the utilities to offset their costs for doing so, so even if you don’t see your state listed in the map, make sure to check with your local government!

New York Solar Installation Crew

Photo by Kasselman Solar

Net Metering Benefits Your Community and the Environment

When a community’s energy needs grow, the usual response is to build a new power plant. Whether this plant is fueled by nuclear power, coal, a dam, or a wind farm, the process always carries steep environmental costs. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Though humanity’s energy demands are escalating, the truth is households consume the vast majority of power at certain times of day and seasons, while offices and factories have peak demands at different times. For example, most households consume less during the day because the adults are working and the kids are at school, while homes in areas with cold winters consume less energy in the summer, when they don’t require heating.

Simply put, by connecting solar-powered homes with a power-hungry grid, a community can offset its energy needs without building a costly power plant, and at the same time, reducing the cost of solar panels. That, in a nutshell, is why the government encourages net metering.

How to Start Net Metering

As mentioned, your home or business is likely connected to the grid with a bidirectional meter. Assuming that’s the case, getting started with net metering only requires a simple application to your utility company if you choose to have panels installed. While most installers will provide this service for you, if you’d like to learn more, the applications can be found on your utility company’s website, or on the website of your state or local energy agency.

For example, in California, all three major utilities — PG&E, SDG&E, and SCE — offer several options for crediting solar customers’ generated energy, and California provides a useful guide to applying for net metering on its Go Solar website.

One catch is that utilities limit the size of the power system you can connect to their grid, essentially to prevent people from setting up a commercial solar plant on their property. However, it’s highly unlikely your home or business solar power system comes anywhere near that limit.

How to Receive Credits from Your Utility Company

Credits. While net metering can greatly increase the savings generated by your solar system, note that the utility typically provides rebates in the form of credits. Most utilities allow you to use credits to offset your current energy bill, roll-over credits into the next year, and a few allow you to convert them into a cash rebate at the end of the year.

Tariffs. Simply put, a “tariff” is in the context of net metering is the price paid per kWh. Many states and utilities allow individuals who export more energy than they consume to receive money for this net surplus at the end of the year, as energy credits aren’t much use if you don’t owe the utility anything for consumed electricity. The rates are stipulated in a tariff schedule provided by your utility. Additionally, a tariff schedule may offer alternative repayment options, such as a system for transferring excess credits to additional utilities accounts, or for refunding tenants if you are a landlord of a multifamily property through a process known as Virtual Net Energy Metering (VNEM).

Another Way Solar Pays

If you have solar, chances are you can be saving even more money by net metering. If you don’t, net metering offers one more financial incentive to install a solar system. After you’ve installed your solar system, net metering is usually as simple as filing an application with your utility company.

And provided you live in the 43 states with mandatory net metering policies — and the many more cities with even more advantageous policies — you will be fairly compensated for providing reliable, clean energy to your neighbors.

Ryan Willemson founded Solar to the People to help "shine light" on the solar industry for the benefit of homeowners. Connect with Ryan on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

When Will Tesla's Solar Roof be Available, and Should You Wait for It?

tesla roof 1

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, has a well-earned reputation for creating innovative 21st-century products that combine attractive designs with exceptional performance – and generate high levels of consumer interest as a result. The latest Musk technology to make a splash is the Tesla solar roof, which he revealed to great fanfare in October 2016.

According to the company, Tesla will begin accepting on a waiting list for the solar roof in April. Tesla’s roof is now expected to reach homes before the end of 2017, leading many homeowners to wonder – is the Tesla solar roof worth waiting for, or should you install solar panels now?

It Depends on Your Priorities

Standard solar panel technologies are typically evaluated based on their performance, durability, and warranties. However, there are relatively few technical details available for Tesla’s solar roof shingles. Tesla has not revealed how efficiently the panels will generate power, what kind of warranty the company will offer, or how they will be installed.

The company has also claimed that their tiles are significantly stronger than a traditional roof tile, and even shared video footage during the launch to demonstrate their durability. That being said, Tesla hasn’t provided any information about durability or stress tests – standard information that is publicly available from most solar panel manufacturers.

One thing is for certain: Tesla solar roof shingles look great. The shingles, which are made of glass, come in four different patterns that have the look of a standard roof, with one key difference – they generate electricity for your home. The solar cell embedded in Tesla roof tiles isn’t visible from the street, unlike a traditional solar panel.

tesla roof tiles

Tesla solar roof pricing is unclear, but experts expect it will be expensive.

Tesla hasn’t released any official pricing information for their solar roof tiles. However, their own website states that the solar roof tiles will have a “lower cost than a traditional roof when combined with projected utility bill savings.”

Multiple journalists have attempted to come up with price estimates based on Tesla’s guidance, and they’ve all come to the same conclusion: the Tesla solar roof, like most of Tesla’s other products, will be a high-end purchase that comes with a premium price tag.

Consumer Reports crunched the numbers and determined that a Tesla solar roof would cost somewhere between $70,000 and $100,000, based on Tesla’s own pricing guidance. This is much more expensive than a standard asphalt roof replacement, which should cost homeowners between $8,000 and $16,000 depending on their roof size and property location. Labor and installation costs could add an additional premium to the price of the Tesla solar roof, although the lack of information about its technical design makes this price premium difficult to estimate. But think of it this way: roofers aren’t trained as electricians and vice versa, so it’s likely that more highly-specialized contractors will be needed to install the Tesla roof shingles, increasing costs further.

Timeline: when will the Tesla solar roof come to market? 

Tesla solar roof technology isn’t available on the market yet. According to the latest reports from Tesla, the solar roof will be rolled out sometime in 2017. However, it’s unclear exactly when the product will be ready for consumers.

Tesla has indicated that they will manufacture the tiles in partnership with Panasonic at the company’s factory in New York, which won’t be open until mid 2017. However, the auto manufacturer is notorious for production delays across its line of luxury electric vehicles, most famously on the Tesla Model X crossover SUV. Whether Tesla solar shingles will face the same production delays as Tesla cars remains to be seen. Our own estimate is that homeowners shouldn’t expect the Tesla solar roof to be available nationwide until mid-2018.

Not Every Home Is a Good Candidate for the Tesla Solar Roof

Price is a serious consideration if you’re deciding whether to wait for the Tesla solar roof. However, an equally important factor to keep in mind is whether your home is a good candidate for solar roof tiles.

Most existing solar shingle technologies are also known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) because they are integrated with your existing roof, and are a similar size and shape to standard roof tiles. Tesla has created something different.

In August 2016, Musk first explained the difference between solar shingles and Tesla’s solar roof: “It’s not a thing on the roof. It is the roof.” Unlike other solar shingles, Tesla’s roof tiles are designed to completely replace your existing roof. As a result, the most cost-effective way to install them is when your home is being built, which means that they are best suited for homebuyers who have a say in the design and materials of their newly constructed home.

While this doesn’t mean that they can’t be used on existing homes, retrofitting your roof with Tesla solar tiles will come at an additional expense, because you’ll need to pay contractors to remove your old roof first. As a result, retrofitting your roof with Tesla solar tiles is only practical when your roof is already due to be replaced.

Learn How much solar Can Save You Today Before You Make your Decision

Just as Tesla Motors doesn’t make electric vehicles for the masses, Tesla Energy isn’t developing a solar roof that belongs on every home. In many ways, the company’s solar roof product is similar to its first electric car. If you are an early adopter of new technologies, don’t care about price, and are prepared to wait for a product with an uncertain manufacturing timeline, then waiting for Tesla solar roof tiles could be the right decision for your home.

However, there are always risks associated with installing a brand-new, untested technology. Unlike Tesla’s solar roof tiles, many of the premium solar panels currently available on the market today are produced by well-known consumer electronics manufacturers (such as HyundaiPanasonicKyocera and LG) that have been producing solar panels for a decade or more.

Additionally, waiting to go solar has its risks, even if you’re interested in a brand-new technology. The cost of going solar is falling every year, and there are premium solar panels already available today that come with high efficiency ratings and a sleek black design. If you wait years for the Tesla solar roof, you will lose out on years of savings on your electricity bill. You also run the risk of missing out on financial incentives for solar – many state tax credits have already expired, and the federal investment tax credit for solar will be phased out starting in 2020.

Before you make the decision to wait for the Tesla solar roof, use a solar calculator to learn how much you can save today by going solar. If you’re ready to explore the solar options for your home, join the EnergySage Solar Marketplace and get custom quotes from solar installers in your area. You might be surprised by just how much you can save now by installing traditional solar panels on your roof today.

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.

Off The Grid: How To Power Your Disconnected Lifestyle


Want to get away? Like, permanently away? Maybe it’s time to go off the grid. An estimated 180,000 Americans families are currently doing it. Living off the grid can mean a lot of things for different people, but it’s fundamentally defined as being disconnected from most infrastructures like sewer systems, electric and gas utilities.                        

People choose to go off-grid for a multitude of reasons. Some families want to live on acres of land or a very rural landscape. Others feel the need to downsize their material possessions and adopt a tiny-house lifestyle, taking their home wherever they roam. Whichever desires going off the grid may fulfill, it’s a completely different way of living, and there are many things to consider when making this kind of move. A lot of preparation is required when adopting this lifestyle, but with a little extra work, a lot of families are making it work and enjoying it. One of the biggest changes involved in detaching from utility companies is how you are going to power your everyday habits and needs. Here are differences you’ll facing when producing your own energy.

Independently Powered

Homes that are truly “off the grid” do not rely on utility power at all. These homeowners must decide how to produce energy for the household. Renewable energy sources such as wind and residential solar power are essentially what make off the grid living possible! If you go the solar route, this will be a little bit different than installing a solar panel system in a suburban environment. The whole point after all is to not be connected to the grid, which means that you won’t be able to give or take power from it. Therefore, you will need to purchase a system that is big enough to produce energy for all of your needs. The best way to figure out how big of a system you need is by first noting the amount of energy you currently use each month. You should be able to find this on your utility power bill. The typical homeowner, consuming 11,000 kWh per year, will need 28-34, 250-watt solar panels to cover complete usage. If this is larger than you wanted to start with, you could downsize the array if you practice downsizing the amount of electricity you use per month. Try these home energy-saving techniques to painlessly use less power.

Using renewable energy is beneficial to homeowners in many ways. For one, independence from electrical utility companies means no longer being vulnerable to power outages or power rate increases. Your solar-generated electricity will always be free! Secondly, by using renewable energy source instead of costly fossil fuel-sourced power, your carbon footprint is decreased dramatically. Living with renewable energy can also be more cost effective compared to utility power prices. Solar panels require a bigger investment upfront, but the savings add to thousands over the system lifespan.


If you’re disconnected from the utility grid, you’re going to need to store your power independently somehow. To do so, you’ll need batteries that can be charged by your renewable energy source. This will be your source of power at night, or when your solar production is low. When your panels are soaking up the sun and transforming it into energy, the batteries will be charged and ready to reliably pump out power. Batteries do require some maintenance, such as ensuring that its charge does not fall below 50 percent is good practice, as well as periodically adding distilled water to them. There is some daily monitoring and maintenance required when keeping your battery bank at peak functionality. You can read more about battery system maintenance and repair here.

Location, Location, Location

Some regions are better than others for off the grid lifestyles. You could do it just about anywhere, but considering land prices, building codes and property taxes, there are some area with obvious advantages. Northern California has reasonably priced land and a milder climate. It also provides easy access to water and less-strict ordinances, according to Get estimates on solar panel systems in California at Another state with relatively affordable rural land and plentiful sources of water is Florida. Your main considerations when searching for a region to put down your off the grid roots should be things like climate, laws, taxes, zoning, land price, and access to building materials.

 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 Have Solar Panel Cost and Efficiency Changed Over Time?


Solar panel technology has been around in some form for a long time – Bell Labs invented the first useful solar cell more than 60 years ago, and scientists have known for centuries that the sun can be used to produce energy. However, it’s only in the last ten years or so that solar photovoltaics (PV) has really taken off as a renewable energy source. There are two major factors influencing the technology’s growth: the steady improvement of both solar panel cost and solar panel efficiency over time.

Solar Panel Efficiency Over Time

The very first solar cells, invented in the 1800s, were less than one percent efficient, not nearly enough to make them a useful energy source. It wasn’t until 1954 that Bell Labs invented the first useful silicon solar panel, which was about six percent efficient.

Since then, solar PV technology has evolved at a rapid pace. Manufacturers have been able to create solar panels that are nearly 30 percent efficient, and homeowners on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace regularly receive quotes featuring solar panels with 19 to 21 percent efficiency from solar installers. These high efficiency panels can produce 25 percent more electricity than the lower-tier economy panels that made up the majority of the market in past years.

The technology exists to increase solar panel efficiency even further. Researchers have managed to achieve 46 percent efficiency in certain laboratory tests using advanced cell structures. However, super high-efficiency panels are typically made of more expensive materials not used in rooftop solar panels, and as a result, they aren’t currently cost-effective. 

solar panel efficiency graph

Graph: Solar panel efficiency over time

Cost of Solar Panels Over Time: a Tale of Falling Prices

Less than 10 years ago, in 2008, the cost of a solar panel installation was $8.82 per watt. The solar industry today looks very different: in addition to solar panel efficiency increasing dramatically, solar panel producers have significantly improved their manufacturing processes. Solar installers, too, can deploy solar PV across the United States more efficiently now than they could ten years ago. The result: the price of solar has fallen by over 60 percent, to just $3.36/watt.

There’s evidence that the rate at which solar prices are decreasing is picking up speed, too. From the second half of 2014 to the first half of 2015, prices featured in quotes to homeowners on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace fell by 1.85%. Between the first half of 2016 and the second half of 2016, however, the average price per watt fell by a remarkable 6.25%. 


Graph: Solar panel cost over time

The price decreases over the past ten years are major reason why more and more homeowners are interested in installing solar panels. For a standard 6 kW home solar system, the average gross cost has fallen from $52,920 to just $20,160 in the past decade. Subtract the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar, and you’re looking at $14,110 for a home solar PV system that can cover most, if not all, of your electricity needs. If you own your home, why wouldn’t you consider solar?

Changes in solar panel cost over time can be explained by Swanson’s Law, which states that the price of solar PV modules decreases by about 20 percent for every doubling in global solar capacity. The law is named after Richard Swanson, founder of high-efficiency solar panel manufacturer SunPower, and indicates a phenomenon seen across many different technologies: new industries face a major learning curve, and as they improve, prices fall.

In this way, solar panel manufacturers aren’t that different from computer manufacturers. Think about how much more expensive, and less powerful, your laptop was in 2007 compared to the technology that’s available today. If solar PV technology continues along the same trend, it’s easy to envision a future where solar is on every rooftop. 

How to Get the Most Efficient Solar PV System at the Best Price: Compare Options

Solar panel efficiency is improving dramatically, and costs are declining at a similarly rapid rate. However, the solar industry is diverse. Depending on where you look, you may not find the best deal on a system for your home or business.

The best way to ensure that you choose a solar PV system with the right combination of high efficiency and low cost is to compare all of your options on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. Homeowners who get competing solar quotes from installers on EnergySage typically save 10% on their solar installation costs, and frequently choose packages that include some of the most efficient solar panels on the market (from companies like SunPower, LG, and Panasonic).

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.

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