Thanks to a decrease in solar system prices, an increase in electric bill savings, and a desire to take care of the environment, over 700,000 U.S, households now have solar systems installed. And while it’s true the more sun your area gets the better candidate you are for solar panels, these days, solar power is still a viable option for almost everyone, regardless of if you live in sunny California or not-so-sunny North Dakota. What does a solar system entail and is the time right for you to have one installed? Read on to learn everything you need to know about using sunshine to power your home.
How Solar Energy Works: The Short Version
Solar panels turn the sun’s light into electricity via an inverter that converts it into a current and your electric panel that feeds the energy into your home’s circuits. This doesn’t mean, however, that you’re totally off the grid. Rather, you are still connected to the electric company via a two-way meter. If you need more electricity than your panels produce, then you can buy it from the electric company. And, even better, any excess wattage you don’t use goes back on to grid and you get credited for that energy.
“There are two benefits for residential customers who get solar panels,” Peter Stoik, the owner of SunFreedom Solar in Southern California says. “The first one is the environment. We have an increase in scientific data from numerous organizations showing that we are in a stage of accelerated global warming. By using solar energy, you’re cutting down on the usage of fossil fuels that release deadly gases to the atmosphere and pollute the environment on multiple levels.”
“The second benefit,” Stoik says, “is financial. You have the opportunity to reduce or totally eliminate your electric bill. I encourage my clients to use their system smartly because they can make even more money by selling the excess power that’s not used back to the utility company at the same rate they’d be selling it to you.”
He adds, “Right now is a great time to install a solar system as the US federal reneweable-energy tax credit will reduce the cost of your system by 30%.” That’s a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the amount of income tax you would otherwise owe, but the tax credit expires in 2017 unless Congress renews it. In addition, there are state and local incentives that can even further reduce the price.
Check out a solar calculator like Google’s Project Sunroof for a quick savings estimate.
The Installation Process
Most companies will handle every single aspect of solar panel installation from the permits to the plans to the paperwork.
“The first thing we do is review the electric bills for the past year,” Stoik says. That allows him to figure out your “spending” habits and see what you’ll need based on your average consumption.
“Next, we scale the system and provide an estimate of how much it will cost based on technical details, like if the main electrical panel will need an upgrade, the condition and orientation of the roof, size of the system, etc. This is also the time to discuss financing options, insurance, and for the client to talk to the bank about getting a solar loan, if necessary.” Worried your home might not be a good candidate? Good news. Stoik says there’s a way to make solar panels work for almost every home.
“Once the contract is signed,” Stoik says, “we send a team to conduct roof and sun path measurements. Based on that data, we design the plans which we submit to the local building and safety departments for approval.” During this time, he also helps his clients with all of the paperwork required for the utility company and processing the rebates.
“Once everything’s passed and ready to go, installation can take anywhere from a day to a week depending on the system size and the roof material.”
Basically, Stoik’s goal (and other companies like his) is to make the process as easy as possible for you so you can get everything installed and start saving on those electric bills.
“The smallest system starts at $10,000,” Stoik says. “But that’s not taking into consideration rebates, the federal tax credit, or how much the system will save people over the years.” Depending on the size of your home, systems cost up to $30,000.
Who To Hire
Solar panels aren’t an area where you want to cut corners. It’s best to hire a solar expert—someone who is well-established in the business, has lots of experience, is bonded and insured, offers insurance and warranties, will do all of the paperwork, and provides great customer service. Let them—and that gorgeous sunshine—do all of the work.