The Sunny Side of Solar
The cost of solar energy might be much less than you realize
Solar energy has gotten a lot of flak over the years regarding the cost efficiency of installing a solar system in an average family home. That may have been true five or seven years ago, but the cost of installing solar panels, or photovoltaic (PV) energy systems, in your home has dropped dramatically in the past couple of years.
According to Dr. Joshua Pearce, Adjunct Professor of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Queens University in Ontario, a lot of analysts estimating the cost of solar energy don't think about recent price reductions and technological developments.
When determining the cost of solar energy systems, analysts look for maintenance and installation costs, financing, life expectancy, and how much electricity the system generates. The problem, according to Dr. Pearce, is that a lot of studies don't take into account the fact that the cost of solar panels has dropped around 70 percent since 2009. And while some solar panel studies place the cost of electricity per watt at between $4.16 and $7.61, Dr. Pearce noted that the real cost, as of 2011, is under $1 for purchasing solar panels in bulk.
What does that mean for the average homeowner looking to go solar? Not only is it less expensive than ever to purchase solar energy systems, the systems are also much more advanced than they were even a few years ago. On top of that, there are several federal as well as state and local incentives for installing solar power.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to take advantage of a number of rebates and incentives for installing a solar energy system in your home including state tax credits, utility rebates, and property tax credits.
As of October 2008, residential and commercial solar installations may receive a federal tax credit of up to 30 percent. And that's not counting what you might get from your state. If you're lucky enough to live in North Carolina, for example, you could receive a 35% state tax credit and any power you generate beyond what you use can be sold back to NC Green Power through their net metering program. In fact, with all of the incentives and rebates offered through the state, a 100kw large commercial installation with a fully installed cost estimated at $500,500 could come to a total owner's cost of $10,103 (http://www.u-renew.com/north_carolina_commercial_solar_incentives.php). It's important to note, however, that an average home would usually only need between a 3 to 5kw system, depending on how many electrical devices need powering at any one time in your home (http://www.thesolarco.com/solar-power-systems/what-size-solar-system-do-...).
To find out what incentives are available in your state, check out the Database for State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at dsireusa.org or visit Find-Solar.org for incentives in your area as well as approved contractors for both solar and wind energy.
Still cloudy on solar? Consider solar leasing
If you're still iffy on installing solar permanently in your home, or if you're a renter with a good relationship with your landlord, check around your state to see if solar leasing is an option. Leasing allows homeowners to pay for their solar system monthly, and eliminates most of the upfront costs for installation. The cost of the system is typically much lower than your utility bill, and rates are usually locked in for 10 to 15 years, as opposed to the current trend of utility companies' rates rising an average of six percent per year. Websites such as One Block off the Grid (http://solarfinancing.1bog.org/solar-lease) and Sun Run Home (http://www.sunrunhome.com/solar-lease/) can help you find out if solar leasing is an option near you.
Before you start solar shopping
Before you jump on the solar savings wagon, however, consider the following questions regarding your home from the Department of Energy (http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/electricity/index.cfm/mytopic=10710) and how well your roof would serve as a solar resource:
- Is your home in an open area or covered in shade? How much access do you have to direct sunlight throughout the day and throughout the year?
- Is your roof big enough for the solar system size your home would require?
- Is it worth the amount you would put into it?
- Are there any covenants or permit restrictions in your neighborhood, city, or state that might prevent you from installing your system?
For more information from the U.S. Department of Energy regarding home solar installation, visit http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/electricity/index.cfm/mytopic=10710. For a helpful booklet on solar options, check out the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's online guide, "Own Your Power!" at http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/43844.pdf.
About the Author
Brent Hardy oversees all corporate construction & facilities management activities for Extra Space Storage and leads corporate sustainability programs, implementing solar power, energy efficiencies and more. He writes about corporate sustainable practices at http://extraspace.com/blog/category/Sustainability.aspx.