Who hasn’t been at a wedding where no one is dancing and then suddenly, because one brave soul got up and got out on the dance floor, an entire party erupted? There’s a lot of truth to the age old adage that it only takes one person to get the ball rolling. Continue reading
No one wants to make a major purchase, only to find out that if they waited just a little while longer to buy, they would have been better off. Unfortunately, the fear of jumping in too soon is keeping some people from maximizing the benefits they could be receiving from a solar power system. It’s true that the price of solar panel systems is declining 5-10% each year. That’s great news and one of the main reasons some people are waiting, but system price isn’t the only variable that drives the financial returns you will receive. Other factors such as the price of electricity, available tax incentives and rebates, and the availability of Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) programs also play key roles. Your decision should also factor in the opportunity cost of waiting—how much you would have saved during the “waiting” period; how much you might have earned in SRECs; and the interest you would have earned on each.
Some things to keep in mind when you are evaluating the timing of your purchase:
- Solar panel system prices are decreasing 5-10% annually. The typical residential system costs $15,000 after tax credits and rebates. So in rough terms, if you wait one year, you’ll save a maximum of $1,500 on the price of your system; if you wait two years you’ll save $2,850, etc.
- Electricity prices are rising 5% annually. The typical U.S. home spends about $1,200/year on electricity. That means if you buy a system that meets 100% of your electricity needs today, you will have an extra $1,200 in your pocket a year from now. The following year, when prices go up, you’ll save $1,260, the year after that you’ll save $1,323 etc. for the life of your panels (25-40 years). If you don’t buy, these numbers represent the opportunity cost of waiting (lost savings).
- Rebates, tax credits and other incentives are in place to encourage certain buying behaviors. As those behaviors catch on, the need to incent consumers decreases and these programs are gradually phased out. The current federal renewable energy tax credit is 30% and is in place through 2016. Additionally, some state and local governments currently offer similar programs and they may or may not phase them out over time. Likewise, some that don’t yet have them may add them soon. Understanding the ins and outs of the situation in your area will help guide your timing decision. Just to give you a general feel for the rebate landscape, the following are examples of just a few rebate programs that are being reduced or eliminated:
- California used to have rebates up to $15,000. Today, they are $0.
- In Rhode Island, only the first 5,000 or so people who purchase a solar panel system will receive rebates which are somewhere in the $7,500 range.
- Massachusetts used to have rebates in the $9,000 range. Now, they are around $2,000.
- In some states, there are SREC programs in place that allow you to earn money for the clean energy you are producing. These programs also fluctuate. For example, in Massachusetts, a homeowner might earn $2,000 in annual revenue generated through SREC sales. If you purchase a system now, you are eligible to participate in this program for the next 10 years. If you purchase a system next year, you are only able to participate for 8 years which represents a $ 6,000 loss ($4,000 for the 2 year reduction and $2,000 for the year you waited.).
- Finally, the typical solar panel installation avoids 90 tons of carbon emissions in one year. While there isn’t a specific dollar figure associated with the carbon you would avoid, you should consider what value you would assign to that personally and factor it into your analysis.
Using the points above, you should evaluate a number of different scenarios to determine when would be the best time for you to buy your solar panels system.
Convincing environmentalists or eco activists to adopt clean energy is on par with selling ice water in the desert. It isn’t a hard sell. They put a high value on reducing greenhouse gases and an extremely large percentage are willing to do whatever it takes to install solar panels, wind power or geothermal systems at their homes or businesses. They’ll do it simply because they believe that it’s “the right thing to do.” In fact, most of them have already done it. But as we work to expand the pool of solar, wind and geothermal energy users, is “doing the right thing” the only acceptable motivation?
For a large segment of the population, their environmental concerns are tempered with other additional concerns such as cost, reliability and performance. For some others, the environment isn’t even part of the equation. They’re focused only on the bottom line. Trying to sell them on the idea is like trying to sell ice to Eskimos. No matter how hard you try to convince them that it’s “the right thing to do,” they’re not buying it.
If the ultimate goal is to increase the adoption of solar and wind technologies, it’s also going to be necessary to convince the “non-environmental population” to buy into the idea of installing these systems at their properties. Perhaps we as clean energy advocates need to tweak our approach to these audiences to include or maybe even focus on the economics of these systems? This approach may be difficult for environmentalists, who continue to be clean energy’s greatest champions, to swallow. But, if the environmental benefits these systems deliver are the same regardless of homeowners’ motivations for installing them, shouldn’t we still consider it a victory?
One final cliché comes to mind: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. If the financial argument in favor of clean energy is what resonates with these groups and motivates them to install a solar power system, maybe our efforts are better spent making that argument than trying to sell them strictly on the environmental benefits.
What are your thoughts?
So you’ve made the decision to go solar. Well done! If designed right, a solar power system is a great, long-term investment with both financial and environmental benefits.
Choosing the right solar panels is one of the most important steps in designing your solar power system. There are hundreds of options, and while all panels are designed for one purpose – to convert sunlight directly into electricity, not all panels are created equal. Different solar cell technologies and the quality of manufacturing can impact the performance of your panels. For these reasons, choosing the right panels to meet your specific system needs can sometimes be a complicated task; but, it doesn’t need to be.
Here are a few things to consider when evaluating different solar panels.
Efficiency – Efficiency measures a panel’s ability to convert sunlight into DC electricity. The higher the efficiency, the less area needed to generate a given amount of electricity. Panel efficiency will dictate the physical size of your system so it’s an important factor if you’re a homeowner or business owner with limited space. From an environmental perspective, more efficient panels translate into less material and less manufacturing waste.
PTC Power Rating – Power ratings measure a solar panel’s power output in watts. Every panel is assigned a nameplate power output value, which is measured using STC (Standard Test Conditions). Because the STC rating is a measurement calculated under ideal laboratory conditions, it’s not always a useful metric for designing your system.
A more accurate measurement commonly used in the U.S. is the PTC (PVUSA Test Conditions) rating. The PTC measures panel output under more realistic conditions. In some states, the PTC rating is the benchmark for calculating system rebates so it’s an important metric to know. If a PTC value isn’t given, a good rule of thumb is that the PTC rating is about 10-15% less than the STC rating.
Warranty – Manufacturers provide power output warranties to ensure that their panel performance won’t fall below a specified level over the term of the warranty. Depending on the manufacturer, terms usually range between 20 to 25 years. For example, a manufacturer might provide a warranty to guarantee that peak power output does not fall below 80% for 20 years. Sometimes, manufacturers also include a secondary warranty that ensures a higher output level over a shorter period of time (e.g. 90% peak power output for first 10 years). Additionally, most panels come with a workmanship warranty that protects consumers against defective panel parts for the first 5 or so years of operation. Warranties can protect you against operating risks, so you should factor them into your evaluation of panel options.
Degradation Rate – The degradation rate measures the rate at which a solar panel’s power output degrades or decreases over time. Typically, degradation rates for quality panels are below 1% / year. Ideally, you want this number to be as low as possible. Taking into account degradation rates is important for calculating your system’s lifetime return on investment.
Temperature Coefficient of Power – The output of a solar panel is inversely proportional to the temperature of the panel. In other words, as temperature increases, panel performance decreases. The Temperature Coefficient of Power quantifies this relationship between heat and power output. It’s expressed as: % Power / °C. The smaller the temperature coefficient of power, the better the panel will perform at higher temperatures. If you happen to live somewhere hot, a low temperature coefficient will be important in maximizing your system’s efficiency.
Manufacturer Background – It’s also important to know something about the panel manufacturer. A financially stable company is more likely to honor its warranties if your system fails. Additionally, you can expect that a well-rooted company with a strong reputation will provide more customer support and be more open to customer feedback. For those that like to buy American, you’ll want to understand where the panels and components are being manufactured. Doing some homework on the manufacturer is a great way to lower the risk of your solar investment and to ensure that all of your goals are being met.
Panel Aesthetics – If the look of the panel is important to you, always request the spec sheets for the models you are considering so you can see a picture. You might also check out our case study section to see how various panels look on different roof types. Panels come in a variety of colors (black or dark blue usually, but new colors have hit the market recently) and the casing may also be a different color than the cell area.
The metrics outlined above will help you to evaluate the panels included in your solar quotes to maximize the return on your investment. For most smaller, residential installations, a deep investigation of panel quality differences is probably not necessary. That said, consumers should ask providers about the differences in the technologies they are suggesting since technology quality can impact your solar power system’s the financial returns. The measures above affect factors such as the amount of savings you will realize and the value of production-related incentives such as SRECs which in turn will affect your return on investment. Even if you lease your solar system, your financial returns and your environmental benefits can be limited by lesser quality panels. Of course, there are other variables to consider beyond just the panels when making your final decision. Things like the price of your installation and the quality of your solar installer are also important. If you haven’t taken the first step to get quotes for your solar project, visit our Solar Marketplace to quickly receive multiple quotes from our network of high quality installers.
[Stay tuned for more consumer-friendly EnergySage insights on assessing panel quality]
Most of us are completely unaware of how the electricity we use is generated. We just put the plug in the outlet and forget about it. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where ignorance is definitely not bliss!
The chart above displays the sources of our electricity nationwide. No surprise, the decisions that determine this mix are made by your utility company with their best interests in mind. Sources are chosen on the basis of factors such as cost, availability, and reliability of supply. That’s how coal came to fuel almost half of the U.S.’s electrical needs. It’s cheap, it’s plentiful and it’s relatively easy to mine. What didn’t factor into the utility’s decision were things like the environmental impact of their choices–costs not borne by them but by you, me, and the communities in which we live.
Usually, when individuals think about their environmental impact, it’s in terms of their own energy use. For example, you might think along the lines of: “By shutting off a few more lights, I’ll reduce the amount of energy my household is responsible for consuming.” Very few people, however, consider the impact of the methods used to extract the energy they’re using or its effect on their immediate environment. When these numbers are included in the analysis, a much different picture emerges.
You can (and should!) see what these numbers look like for you. Recently, FastCompany CoExist published an interesting blog about the Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA) tool, which tracks the greenhouse gas emissions from 60,000 power plants worldwide. They believe the tool “may be the easiest way to find out how much CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are coming from your country, state, county, city, zip code, or individual power company each year.” It’s worth checking to see how your utility stacks up.
And it’s not just toxic emissions that are affecting our environment–sometimes the processes used to extract the energy itself can be very immediately dangerous. Studies have shown that fracking, a system used to release gases in the earth for energy extraction, releases toxic chemicals into our water supply. A study in Pennsylvania covered in the New York Times vividly demonstrates the hazards of this process.
When you take into account the entire impact of your energy choices, from generation through delivery and use at your home, the environmental benefit of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal becomes clear. Then, when you factor in the economic benefit of adopting these clean technologies, the choice becomes obvious.
A recent Gallup poll determined that 2 out of 3 Americans want the U.S to put more emphasis on generating domestic energy through renewable sources—And that desire was reflected across political parties. We weren’t really surprised by these findings. When you think about it, clean energy has its perks for almost everyone regardless of their political leanings.
For conservatives who tend to be concerned about fiscal outcomes, clean energy systems are a sound investment. Take solar photovoltaic (PV) systems (also referred to as solar panel systems or solar power systems) for instance. Increases in property value, decreases or elimination of electricity bills, and the financial rewards of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) are just a few ways that solar panels can deliver sound economic benefits. In many instances, the returns on investment rival those of traditional investments such as stocks and bonds. It’s an attractive option for folks who are focused on the bottom line.
For the more liberal, environmentalism is a pulling factor. Renewable energy is a viable solution to the increasingly palpable problem of climate change. By reducing greenhouse emissions and the harmful practices associated with extracting energy from other sources, clean energy represents an important pathway to a healthier planet.
For those focused on the economy, renewables make significant contributions to the financial health of our country. The clean energy sector represents a strong source of job growth. Clean energy is also a way for businesses to save money, better manage operating expenses, and become more competitive which contributes to job retention across multiple industry sectors. The environmental aspects of renewables also contribute economically, preserving the well being of many industries such as farming, fishing, and tourism that require a healthy environment in order to thrive.
Finally, those who crave less governmental interference in their day-to-day lives connect with the independence that clean energy provides. Property owners who adopt clean energy from renewable sources are far less dependent on traditional energy sources and no longer at the mercy of volatile and increasing energy prices. They become empowered as they make the move from energy consumers to independent energy producers. Likewise, people who support energy independence on the national level understand the global value of adopting renewables locally.
The wide variety of benefits that clean energy provides, whether economic, environmental, or personal, all contribute to the mass appeal of these systems. In a political environment that is often extremely polarized, we love the idea that clean energy could be a pathway to reaching common ground.
Normally, the announcement of a new Pope wouldn’t get much play in environmental circles, so the fact that newly elected Pope Francis is creating a buzz within the green community is big news.
When you think about environmental protection, the Vatican doesn’t necessarily come to mind, but in fact, the Vatican has been taking a leadership role. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI installed a 100MW solar photovoltaic system that made Vatican City the world’s first solar powered nation state. Although it’s the smallest sovereign nation, it serves as a powerful example to the rest of the world of what is possible. Likewise, in his early days as the new pope, Pope Francis has signaled that protecting the environment will play a central role in his papacy.
During his inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Square, the new Pope told the crowd, “ I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” His repeated references to environmental protection laid the foundation for a papacy that will emphasize everyone’s responsibility as stewards of the planet, creating a sense of hope and anticipation for many concerned about issues related to the environment.
At EnergySage, we are always happy to see world leaders making the environment and climate change issues a priority. We share Pope Francis’ belief that “in the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it.” We’re happy to see him embracing these issues from the start and we hope his commitment is contagious!
When shopping for airline tickets or other big-ticket items, people generally shop around. For airline tickets you might compare: How much will it cost? When are the flights? What are the baggage charges? What’s the airline’s safety record? What’s their “on-time” percentage? How much leg-room will there be? Etc. People use a comparison shopping approach because it gives them all the information needed to make the right choice. The same is true when shopping for solar power systems for your home or business. If you take the first offer that comes your way, how will you ever know if you got the right system or the best price or terms for your property?
Like every other purchase, comparison shopping for solar will yield the best results. EnergySage recommends that you engage 3-4 solar installation and financing providers to get quotes and system design plans to ensure that you maximize your investment. Take the time to review each option, ask questions about key differences between the proposals, and tease out the differentiators.
Here are some key points of comparison when reviewing solar power proposals:
- Solar Panel Brands and Models: There are more than 100 different solar panel brands and many models within each brand. These different panel options include variations in size, design, color, efficiency, country of origin and warranty, to name just a few. Different installers will provide you with different options, but all of them will stand by their choices. You will want to evaluate each option objectively. (Read more about solar panels)
- Inverter Types and Brands: This is the technology that converts the solar energy (direct current or DC) into usable household electricity (alternating current or AC). Depending on your particular property and the amount of shading it receives throughout the day, different inverter technologies (e.g., string vs. micro inverters) or even different brands of inverters may be better for you. Again, many solar providers will offer you what they have and they will be loyal to their options, so you will need to investigate these options yourself and ask each provider about the key differences in the technology that he or she has quoted.
- Financing Options: Financing options can be very important, especially if you don’t have the appetite to write a fairly large check to purchase your system outright. Some options include (1) leasing where you would pay a fixed monthly payment to “rent” your system; (2) power purchase agreements (PPA) where you would pay a lower rate for the electricity produced by the system (but the system would be owned by the PPA provider); or (3) Low cost loans to finance a purchase. Understanding all of your options and the underlying economics is essential to getting the right deal for your particular situation. (Read more about financing options)
- System Design: The configuration of solar panels on your roof determines the amount of solar power you can generate and also how your system will look from the ground. Each installer will design your system differently, taking into account variations in your roof. Again, each installer will be confident in their design, but more likely than not, they all will be at least slightly different. Compare each design and ask your installers about the reasons for any variations. Make sure you are comfortable with both the amount of power your system will generate and how it will look on your property.
- Other Things to Consider: Some other details to consider include: When is the proposed installation date? How are they with customer service and responsiveness? What are the available warranties? Are they local companies or large regional players? What kind of experience / expertise do they have? (Read more about how to choose an installer).
Comparing multiple quotes provides you with multiple options so you can find the option that’s best suited to your needs. In addition to more choices, it also introduces competition into the process which always helps if you want to make sure you are getting a fair price and the best terms for your project! Having choice is important to many people and making a decision to go solar is one that you will enjoy for many years to come. It’s worth it to take the time to connect with multiple high quality providers and to evaluate the various options they provide so you can be confident that you are choosing the right option for your project. EnergySage makes this process very easy. (To get started, click here).]
When shopping for solar photovoltaic (also known as solar panel, solar electric) systems, many businesses and homeowners focus mainly on price. To that end, dollars per watt is a key metric when comparing quotes because it allows the consumer to adjust for differences in system size. While price is certainly an important factor, maximizing the value of your investment both financially and environmentally, involves consideration of several other, equally important factors. Here are some that we think are vital to making the right decision.
- Workmanship Warranties – These warranties often ensure that there is no additional out-of-pocket risk in the first few years of system ownership.
- Technology Choices – All panels, inverters, monitoring systems and racking / mounting equipment are not created equal. Some are better than others and the choice you make will impact your system production and reliability, which are critical to generating solid financing returns.
- Installation Quality – Just like equipment, installers can vary in quality, too. You should ask questions about your installer’s approach to quality assurance. Your system’s performance is dependent on the quality of your installer’s workmanship.
- Installer Reputation – Ask your installer for references. Happy customers are a good barometer for a successful installation at your property. Even better, check third-party ratings and reviews like the ones we provide on EnergySage.com. Reviews can tell you a lot about the company’s customer service and quality performance.
- Solar Electricity Production Estimates – Ask how much solar power your new system is expected to generate in the first 12 months (in kWhs). When you divide that number by the system size (in W), the result will be your production ratio. Do this calculation for each proposal you receive, compare the results, and inquire about any differences.
- Shade Mitigation –Intermittent shade due to trees or other obstructions will impact the amount of electricity your system produces (less sun equals less energy!). Ask your installers how they will address this—would they suggest using micro-inverters to help keep the system producing at a high rate despite some shading? If they don’t know what this technology is, you may want to look elsewhere.
- Installation date – Most property owners want their systems completed and interconnected yesterday. Make sure you understand and agree upon a timeline. If the installer has a large backlog of installations to complete before yours, this may be an important factor in your decision.
- Attention to Aesthetics – Make sure your installer pays special attention to how your installation will look. For example, are the panels positioned in the same direction? Will conduit and wiring be hidden or visible? Some installers will go the extra mile and hide conduit in fake downspouts, paint it to match the roof shingles or siding or make other adjustments. Aesthetics are important to most property owners so ask how these issues will be handled.
- Experience and Commitment – You want a provider who has the experience needed to design and install a system that produces pure solar joy, no headaches. Ask how long he or she has been installing systems—how many systems similar to the one you are considering have they installed? Equally as important, you will want an installer who will be here in the long term so they can honor their warrantees. Make sure this is not in doubt before proceeding.
- Customer Service – Does the installer follow-up with you quickly when you have questions, do you get periodic updates on the status of the system design or quote preparation? These are indicators of what your experience will be with the company after you have signed on the line and definitely something to consider when evaluating your options.
Going solar is an important financial decision and price isn’t the only factor in determining the success of your investment. In fact, a more expensive system often can deliver better financial returns for your family or business. As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider. By automating this process and providing information that is key to the decision-making process, our EnergySage Solar Marketplace makes shopping for solar easy for the consumer. If you’re ready to start the shopping process, you can access the Solar Marketplace here.
Are there other things you think should be considered that we didn’t include? Feel free to chime in below in the comments section.
As people begin the process of researching a potential solar PV system, one of the first questions they ask is “Is my roof even suitable for solar?” Here are a few key considerations that can help you to answer that question. Continue reading