Solar energy is the future they say. Do you agree? Of course, you do. But, the fact is, solar energy is not the future anymore, it is the present!
In 2018, the US had enough installed solar capacity (64.2 GW) to power up 12.3 million homes. That’s just about 10% of residences at that time. In less than 2 years (Q3 2020) the figure rose to 88.9 GW, enough to light up 16.4 million homes. That’s a whopping 38% increase in solar generation capacity in such a short time. Get the drift?
By 2050, solar energy is expected to become the No. 1 source of renewable energy here, accounting for 46% of the green energy generated. You should check out this, and a bunch of other amazing stats on the bright future of solar energy in the US, in a cool, easy-to-understand infographic.
So, if you’re wondering whether solar energy will pay dividends at home, here are the steps to consider.
Check your Roof Size and Orientation
When you want to calculate the energy that solar panels on your roof can generate, you need to know the size of your roof (square feet), the angle of the roof (slope), and the direction it faces (azimuth). To get the size, you can check out the roof plan, or physically measure it. If neither is possible, you can use Google’s Project Sunroof to determine the size. For the other 2 measurements, there are slope and azimuth apps available, which you can install on your phone.
Remember, South facing roofs are best. And though East and West facing roofs generate 20% less energy, they’re still good options.
Once you have the info, enter it on the National Renewable Energy Lab’s PVWatt calculator and you’ll get a rough estimate of how much electricity your roof can generate.
Factor in the Regional Climate
The region and climate play a vital role in the energy your solar panels can provide. Because the earth is round, the sun’s rays arrive at different slants in different places. The more the slant (or, the further North you are), the intensity of the sun decreases, and so does the energy. Additionally, because the earth’s axis is tilted, and the orbit around the sun elliptical, the US receives more solar energy in the summer, because the sun is almost overhead and the days are longer as well. The other geographical factors that matter are:
- Elevation - the higher you go, the more intense the sun is
- The number of sun-days a year
- Cloud cover and snow - the less the better
- Wind - wind cools solar panels, but can also blow them away
Fortunately, both the NREL and Google sites automatically figure in regional weather data once you enter your location.
Explore the Regulations
There are many ways to install solar energy in your home. Some of the options are:
- Buying your own bespoke solar energy system
- Tapping into shared or community solar systems
- Leasing solar energy systems
- Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) with utilities, where they install and pay you for the electricity generated
- Solarize Programs, where communities or groups can negotiate collectively, giving you better bargaining power
Check out the options are available in your area, as well as the rules and regulations, before you pick the solar system best suited to you.
Investigate Electricity Rates
It’s important to roughly estimate the ROI of a solar system before you purchase and install one. You need to know the current utility prices, the expected increase with time, and therefore, how much you will save. You must also enquire if utilities will purchase any extra solar power you generate, and at what rates. If the PPAs offered are good, you needn’t install a battery storage system (often contributing to the largest share of a solar system’s cost). Any additional electricity will get you a good price. On the other hand, if the rates you get are poor, or such an option is not available in your area, you will need to factor in the costs of storing any extra electricity generated.
Dig up on Incentives
A large part of the reason why so many people are opting for solar energy is government incentives. At the federal level, the government offers tax credits of 22% for systems installed in 2021. It’s up for renewal by Congress in 2022, so now may be a good time to get your solar system going.
At the state level, each state has its own set of regulatory policies and incentives. They range from 10 (West Virginia) to 146 (California). For example, California allows 100% exemption from any property tax for solar systems installed between 1999 and 2024. (Do note, the exclusion is only for the solar system, and not the property itself.) Another example is San Diego’s Green Building Incentive Program, which offers a 7.5% reduction in plan check and building permit fees for any energy conservation.
Once you’ve figured out the plan, get in touch with solar contractors. It will be hard to overcharge you when they realize you know your stuff!
If you’re planning to go solar, the best time is now. Of course, the initial costs will continue to reduce as manufacturers’ volumes and solar PV system efficiencies increase. But, federal and state incentives will also reduce with time. Remember, solar energy systems turn profitable over time, so the earlier you install them, the better. Besides, you’ll be saving on electricity costs.
And the best part is - you know you’re helping to save the earth.