Interested in Solar Panels? Here Is Some Advice.

Thanks to technological and manufacturing advances, the cost of solar panels has decreased over the last decade, making solar energy more popular for homeowners. But figuring out how to add a solar power system to your roof can be difficult.

Workers have installed a solar and battery system at my home in a New York City suburb this winter. It was a big investment but it has already started paying low utility bills and provides peace of mind that we will have at least some electricity during a power outage, which is common here as hurricanes often knock out power lines.

There is growing interest in rooftop solar systems and rising energy prices and concerns about climate change. Many people are also concerned about blackouts due to the extreme weather associated with climate change. A Pew Charitable Trust survey in 2019 found that 6 percent of Americans have already installed solar panels and another 46 percent are considering it.

“The biggest thing is that solar is even cheaper in places like New York City and Boston, where it is more expensive than in the suburbs,” said Anika Wister-Jones. Solar One, a non-profit environmental education organization in New York City that helps affordable housing and low-income communities adopt solar energy.

If you are interested in solar, here are some things to consider.

This question may seem simple, but finding the answer can be surprisingly complicated. One installer told me that my roof was so shaded by trees that solar panels could not generate enough electricity to fit the investment. It was appropriate to hear another opinion: the installer I hired removed those concerns and recommended cutting down some trees. On sunny days my system often generates more power than my family uses.

Finding out what your local government and utility will allow can also be difficult because information is not usually readily available in plain language. I learned that lesson in my previous home.

When I lived in New York City, it took months of research to figure out if I could install panels on my roof. The city needs a large clear area on a flat roof like mine for firefighters to walk, it turned out. And I couldn’t install solar panels on the canopy – a roof framework that elevates the panels – because it would violate the city height restriction for houses on my block.

The best approach is to cast a huge net and talk to as many solar installers as you can. You can also contact the neighbors who have placed solar panels on their roofs: In many parts of the country, people have joined together in what is known as the Solaris Campaign to jointly purchase solar panels to get lower prices from the founders.

“It’s been a real success in the neighborhoods and communities across the country,” said Gretchen Bradley, Solar One’s community solar manager.

You should seek proposals from some installers. Comparison shopping services like EnergySage and SolarReviews make it easy to contact multiple installers.

When reviewing proposals, consider how much the system will cost per watt. This tells you how much you are paying for the system’s power-generation capacity and allows you to compare offers.

The average quote for new rooftop solar systems is $ 2.75 per watt, according to Energy. It works out to about $ 26,125 for an average system of 9,500 watts before considering the federal tax credit. For the 2022 tax year, credit is 26 percent of the cost of the solar system; It is expected to fall to 22% in 2023 and end in 2024. Many states, including Arizona, California, New York and Massachusetts, also encourage residents to install solar systems, such as rebates and tax breaks.

Prices can vary greatly due to location, local labor costs, and other factors, such as what type of home you live in and whether other work is required prior to installation. If your roof is old or damaged, for example, the solar system may need to be replaced before it can be installed.

The rooftop solar system can reduce monthly utility bills depending on electricity rates, how much energy the home uses, and state policies. Systems that save more money will help buyers recover their investment faster. Vikram Agarwal, chief executive and founder of Energies, said the solar system should ideally pay for itself in 10 years.

The rooftop systems that generate the extra electricity are sent to the electric grid, and utilities typically compensate homeowners for that energy by crediting them to their monthly bills. The value of that credit varies by state.

If you can afford to buy a solar system, you will get the best deal by paying cash. Systems purchased with a loan or through a lease are more expensive, especially during the life of the contract. Shopping around is your best defense against falling prey to suspicious or predatory contracts.

The main advantage of leasing a solar energy system is that your prices are usually fixed for the duration of the contract. But experts warn that getting out of a lease can be difficult and can be a burden when you sell your home, as buyers may not want to take your contract.

Mr. Agarwal noted that the lease is “meaningful” to some people who cannot earn enough to claim a federal tax credit. He suggested that those interested in solar lease get three or four quotes from different installers.

Adding a battery to your solar system will allow you to store some extra electricity used during a blackout or in the evening and at night. A solar system without batteries will not keep you supplied with power during outages because most residential systems shut down automatically when the grid goes down.

Batteries can be expensive, especially if you want to run large devices and provide power for many hours or days. A 10- to 12-kilowatt-hour battery, which can store about a third of a household’s average daily electricity consumption, costs about $ 13,000, according to Energize.

But another reason to buy batteries is that the federal tax credit for rooftop solar systems applies only to the cost of batteries purchased with solar panels, and not to batteries added in a separate tax year. According to a survey by Energies, about 28 percent of residential solar systems installed in 2021 include batteries, up from 20 percent in 2020.

The Wirecutter, The New York Times product recommendation service, contains detailed guidelines for purchasing solar and battery systems.

Most electric cars cannot power homes. Only a handful of models, such as the Ford F-150 Lightning and the Hyundai Ionic 5, have that capability, and they are in an incredibly low supply.

But many energy experts believe that it will eventually become common for car batteries to return power to homes and the electric grid.

In many parts of the United States, extended power outages can occur only once or twice a year. As a result, Mr. Agarwal said there is no point in investing in expensive home batteries, which usually have much less energy than electric-car batteries. “Everyone starts talking about using your car to drive your home.”

You will be able to join the community solar project, which is usually installed on open ground or on the roofs of warehouses and other large buildings.

While regulations vary by state, community solar programs generally work similarly. Members receive two bills a month: one from a community solar project and one from their utility. Projects sell electricity at a discount to the rate charged by your utility, and show the power of each kilowatt-hour you purchase as a credit for the kilowatt-hour of energy on your utility bill.

People in New York who join a community solar project, for example, can save about 10 percent on their monthly electricity bill, Ms. Bradley said. “It doesn’t cost anything to sign up or leave the project,” she added.

While most states approve community solar, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, most such projects are in only four states – Florida, Minnesota, New York and Massachusetts.

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