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Why Now is the Best Time to Go Solar

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Solar panels are popping up everywhere, and for good reason. There has never been a better time to add solar electricity to your home.

By Susannah Shmurak Posted Nov 8, 2016

Solar roof panels

Have you considered solar for your home but assumed it was too expensive? Or are you waiting until the technology improves and the cost goes down? If so, wait no longer: now is the time to jump on the solar bandwagon. Technology has advanced markedly, and as more people have seen the wisdom of installing solar electric panels on their homes, economies of scale and efficiencies in manufacturing have brought the price down by more than 70% since 2009.

We just installed solar panels on our roof, and we’re reveling in our ability to produce our own clean energy and be more self-sufficient. We also took advantage of some terrific incentives. Our federal tax credit and a state rebate program lowered the sticker price of our panels by more than 80%! At this price, we expect to recoup our small investment in the panels in under 10 years, after which they will power our house for free and generate additional energy that we sell back into the electrical grid. Plus, there’s the priceless enjoyment of knowing that when we run our electronics or vacuum cleaner, we’re not adding to climate pollution. But don’t just take our word for it: here’s an in-depth look at why now is a great time to go solar.

Five Reasons to Install Solar Panels on Your Home

1. Solar Panels Have Become Very Affordable

Once upon a time, you needed a lot of cash to pay the big upfront cost of solar panels, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Besides the steep drop in price in recent years, a number of rebate and financing programs have put solar in reach for far more people. The US federal rebate of 30% was extended through 2019, after which it will fall by 4 % per year and then get phased out in 2022.

Additionally, most states and some utilities have rebate programs available, which you can see in the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE). Installers in your area can help you figure out which programs have the greatest return for your specific situation. However, as more of us join the solar revolution, it’s likely many of these rebate programs will become too costly to sustain. Many states have already cut back their rebate programs because of the sharp increase in the number of households going solar. If you want to take full advantage of these great incentives, it’s smart to get your solar panels sooner rather than later.

Another consideration is that residential solar has come into its own as a business, and financing programs for solar installations have become commonplace. Most financing options allow you to set up loan payments that are less than you’re saving on your power bill, so you wind up with a small savings each month. At the end of the loan period, you own the panels and enjoy the full savings for years afterwards.

Solar Panels

2. Energy Prices are Rising

Energy prices have risen sharply in many areas, and increases are expected to continue in coming years. In your calculations about the affordability of solar, don’t forget to take into account how much more you might be paying for electricity 10-20 years from now. My solar installer estimated that with predicted 4.5% increases each year, I’d be paying $10,000 more to buy dirty energy over the next 25 years than if we produce it ourselves. Why would I want to do that? We only had room on our roof to cover 40% of our energy use. If you can install a system to cover all your energy needs, your savings might be more than double ours, depending on the your cost for electricity, rebates in your area, and how much sun your panels will receive.

3. Solar Technology Has Improved

The technological improvements that excite people in the solar industry are the same ones that have lowered the cost of solar energy so dramatically. Derek Meyers, solar consultant for All Energy Solar in Saint Paul, Minnesota, reports that innovations in the supporting tools used for installing solar panels have simplified the installation process, greatly reducing installation cost. Incremental gains in panel efficiency also mean that today’s systems are more effective at converting solar energy into electricity.

Rosana Francescato, Communications Director at MyDomino, an energy savings concierge service, notes that the use of individual microinverters on each panel rather than a single inverter for the entire system means that “your system can keep running even if one panel malfunctions or gets shaded.” This innovation allows for greater energy production.

Not only that, Tesla’s recent unveiling of their new and improved Powerwall battery for homes and small businesses means you will soon be able to store the sun’s energy during the day and use that same energy at night, when the sun isn’t shining. According to the company, the battery can power a two-bedroom home for one day. Add additional batteries for more energy and storage capacity to power your home and your car.

Energy meter

4. You Can Sell Surplus Energy

Even if you install a solar energy system without a lot of storage capacity, net metering laws in many states mean that energy companies are required to pay you for the electrons your panels feed back to the grid. Many utilities do net metering voluntarily. This is important because we currently have no way to store the excess power our panels produce. This fall, I’ve gotten to see how out of sync our power production and usage is. In these short autumn days, we produce a whole day’s worth of electricity between the hours of nine and four, but much of our energy use happens before the sun comes up and after it goes down. Since our power company buys whatever we make at the retail rate, we’re paying only for the energy we use over and above what our panels produce. My first grader likes to tell me that the power we don’t use travels down the block to light up her friend’s house.

5. You Can Cut Household Emissions

We all know the clock is ticking on our climate. Using solar electricity is one significant way to reduce your contribution to climate-warming emissions. On many sunny days this fall when our geothermal system isn’t drawing electricity, we’ve actually used less than we’ve produced, making us climate positive, at least in this area of our lives.

The emissions calculator used by our installer tells us that the clean power generated on our roof will help us avoid 41 tons of carbon emissions in the next 25 years, which is roughly equivalent to planting over a thousand trees. Household energy use accounts for about 15% of our carbon footprint, so if you cover all your home’s electricity with solar energy, you’ve knocked a sizeable amount off your emissions for as long as they’re in operation.

Real-time monitor
Our rooftop solar system connects to a real-time monitor (pictured above) that lets us see how much energy we’re producing and using. Besides being great fun for an energy nerd like myself, I think this is a tremendously useful tool for everyone. When you see the needle move down as you turn off lights or unplug electronics, you’re getting a helpful nudge toward more conservationist habits. I’ve always been compulsive about turning things off, but knowing that every day there’s a reckoning between what we produce and what we use has made me even more mindful. Imagine what this feedback system could do for the less ecologically-minded, who might be motivated by the dollars and cents they see slipping away when they waste electricity!

Could Solar Work for You?

Though you may be under the impression that you need to live somewhere known for its sun to profit from solar panels, that’s far from the truth. In New England and the Midwest solar is booming because it makes good economic sense. Even in the Northwest, rebate programs incentivizing solar mean that solar can be a decent investment. Getting a site assessment from an installer will let you know if your roof is a good candidate for solar energy. And if you live under one of the 75% of roofs that aren’t optimal for solar, you can look into community solar in your area or join one of the nationwide programs that allow you to purchase solar energy.

Could the sun power your home? Now’s the time to jump in, find out, and join the clean energy revolution!

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susannahshmurak

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Susannah Shmurak is an enthusiastic advocate for healthier, more sustainable lifestyles. She shares practical tips about gardening, food, and low-impact living at HealthyGreenSavvy.com.
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