In the world of renewable energy resources, solar energy is, well, hot. The Solar Energy Industries Association, a solar trade organization, notes in its Q4 2015 report that solar supplied 29.4% of all new electricity generating capacity brought online in the U.S., beating out natural gas additions for the first time ever. Overall, the report continues, the U.S. installed 7,260 megawatts of solar photovoltaic cells in 2015, the largest total ever and 16% above what was installed in 2014. Residential solar accounted for the largest sector.
Beyond the increasing interest in using clean energy, some consumers have been motivated to convert to solar for their electricity needs by federal, state and local tax credits, as well as rebates that can help offset installation costs. And third-party ownership opportunities, in which homeowners essentially lease the solar panels rather than purchase them, are increasingly popular, too.
As part of its continuing strategy to offer consumers more clean choices, Constellation is now offering more solar options for residential consumers. The residential program, which rolled out in April 2016, is offered in various states around the country with more states expected to come.
Here’s what you need to consider before converting your home’s electricity source to solar energy instead.
The possible benefits of solar energy in your home are both economic and environmental. With the right system and circumstances, you can lower your electricity costs and shrink your carbon footprint all in one fell swoop. Here are the plusses and minuses to consider:
Potential benefits of solar energy:
Potential disadvantages of solar energy:
You’ll need to consider a few additional points when deciding if home solar panel installation is the right economic choice. Size matters. So does siting, both in terms of when and how the sun hits your panels, and whether and where the system will go on your roof. (Sometimes, if your yard is large, panels can be placed there, although there is an additional cost to do so.) Local covenants should be explored to ensure you’re not violating any homeowner or condominium or local city or town regulations.
Climate is another consideration. Obviously your home needs to receive a fair amount of sunlight in the course of a day. Where the sun hits your roof and how long it receives full sun are critical, as are the electricity demands of your home. Energy.gov suggests that homeowners design a system to provide 40-80% of a home’s needs. Systems that provide less than 40% may not be cost-effective.
Before deciding if going solar is the best route for your home, it’s important to understand how solar energy works. We all understand passive solar. We open our drapes or curtains in the winter to allow the sun’s warmth to help heat our homes. Even animals seem to understand passive solar energy, as they curl up in the spot on the couch where the sun shines through.
Architects and builders often design and site homes to take advantage of heat from the sun in winter. Large windows that face south, for instance, can provide passive heat from the sun. In the warmer months, people use awnings and perhaps blinds or drapes to keep the sun’s rays at bay and therefore ensure their home is cooler.
Solar energy technology takes advantage of this general idea to harness the sun’s heat and intensity into usable energy. Photovoltaic cells, located on those flat solar panels you’ve likely seen on rooftops, convert sunlight into electricity.
Here’s the basic way solar energy works:
Some consumers may worry that the benefits of solar energy are outweighed by the price of converting their home. On average a 4 to 8 kilowatt solar electric system on a home can cost homeowners between approximately $15,000 and $29,000 including materials, installation, and labor according to a recent GTM Research U.S. Solar Market Insight Report. These costs can vary based on a number of factors, including house location, quality of solar source, roof quality and shading, as well as incentives for solar.
While consumers can certainly pay for the panels upfront, leasing options can make solar more affordable for homeowners. Called leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs), these contracts allow homeowners to essentially rent the panels. With a lease you pay a fixed monthly “rent” in return for using the system. With a PPA you pay a fixed price per kWh for power that is actually generated from the solar power facility. Both typically require no money down. Homeowners still get credit for any excess energy their system creates and the power purchase agreement can often be transferred as part of the sale of your home.
If you still have questions about whether or not home solar panel installation is right for you, we’re here to help you make the right energy choices for your home and family.
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