Interested in solar panels? Here are a few tips.

Thanks to advances in technology and manufacturing, the costs of solar panels have dropped over the past decade, making solar power more popular with homeowners. But figuring out how to add a solar power system to your roof can be daunting.

Workers installed a solar and battery system this winter at my home in a New York suburb. This was a major investment, but it has already started to pay off by reducing utility bills and ensuring that we have at least some electricity during power outages, which is common here because storms often bring down power lines.

Interest in rooftop solar systems is high and growing as energy prices rise and concerns about climate change grow. Many people are also worried about power outages caused by extreme weather conditions linked to climate change. A 2019 Pew Charitable Trust survey found that 6% of Americans had already installed solar panels and a further 46% were considering doing so.

“The biggest thing is that solar power is much cheaper than it used to be, even in places like New York and Boston, where it tends to be more expensive than in the suburbs,” Anika Wistar said. Jones, director of affordable solar power at Solar One, an environmental education nonprofit in New York that helps affordable housing and low-income communities adopt solar power.

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. An installer told me that my roof was so shaded by trees that the solar panels wouldn’t produce enough electricity to pay for the investment. Hearing another opinion was worth it: the installer I hired allayed those concerns and recommended tree pruning. On sunny days, my system often generates more energy than my family uses.

It can also be difficult to know what your local government and utility will allow, as the information is usually not readily available in plain language. I learned this lesson in my old home.

When I was living in New York, it took me months of research to learn that I couldn’t put panels on my roof. Turns out the city needs a big clear area on flat roofs like mine for firefighters to walk on. And I couldn’t install solar panels on a canopy – a roof frame that elevates the panels — because it would violate a city height restriction for homes on my block.

The best approach is to expand your network and talk to as many solar installers as possible. You can also check out neighbors who have installed solar panels on their roofs: people in many parts of the country have banded together in so-called solarization campaigns to jointly buy solar panels to get lower prices from the installers.

“It’s really been successful in neighborhoods and communities across the country,” said Gretchen Bradley, community solar manager at Solar One.

You should ask several installers for proposals. Price comparison services like EnergySage and SolarReviews make it easy to contact multiple installers.

When reviewing proposals, pay attention to the cost of the system per watt. This tells you how much you are paying for the power generating capacity of the system and allows you to compare offers.

The median quote for new rooftop solar systems is $2.75 per watt, according to EnergySage. That equates to about $26,125 for an average 9,500 watt system before factoring in a federal tax credit. For the 2022 tax year, the credit is 26% 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 offer residents incentives to install solar systems, such as rebates and tax breaks.

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

Rooftop solar systems can reduce monthly utility bills, depending on electricity rates, the amount of energy a home uses, and state policies. Systems that save more money will help buyers recoup their investment faster. Vikram Aggarwal, Managing Director and Founder of EnergySage, said solar systems should ideally pay for themselves within 10 years.

Excess electricity generated by rooftop systems is sent to the power grid, and utilities typically compensate homeowners for this energy through credits on their monthly bills. The value of these credits varies by state.

If you can afford to buy a solar system, you will get the best deal by paying cash. Systems purchased with loans or leases tend to cost more, especially over the term of the contract. Shopping around is your best protection against falling prey to dubious or predatory deals.

The main advantage of renting a solar power system is that your costs are usually fixed for the duration of the contract. But experts warn that leases can be difficult to obtain and could become a burden when you sell your home, as buyers may not want to accept your contract.

Mr. Aggarwal noted that leases “make sense” for some people who may not be earning enough to claim the federal tax credit. He suggested that people interested in solar leases get three or four quotes from different installers.

Adding a battery to your solar system will allow you to store some of the excess electricity it generates for use during a power outage or in the evenings and nights. A solar system without a battery will not provide you with electricity during an outage, as most residential systems automatically turn off when the grid fails.

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

But another reason to buy a battery is that the federal tax credit for rooftop solar systems only applies to the costs of batteries purchased with solar panels, not batteries added in another year. of taxation. About 28% of residential solar systems installed in 2021 included batteries, up from 20% in 2020, according to a survey by EnergySage.

The Wirecutter, a New York Times product recommendation service, offers an in-depth guide to buying solar systems and batteries.

Most electric cars cannot power homes. Only a few models, like the Ford F-150 Lightning and Hyundai Ioniq 5, have this capability, and they’re incredibly rare.

But many energy experts believe it will eventually be common for car batteries to send power back to homes and the power grid.

In many parts of the United States, extended power outages may only occur once or twice a year. As a result, Mr Aggarwal said, it may not make sense to invest in an expensive household battery, which typically contains far less energy than electric car batteries. “Everyone is starting to talk about using your car to run your home.”

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

Although the rules vary by state, community solar programs generally operate similarly. Members receive two bills per month: one from the community solar project and one from their utility. Projects sell electricity at less than the rate charged by your utility, and each kilowatt-hour of electricity you buy appears as a credit for one kilowatt-hour of energy on your utility bill.

New Yorkers who join a community solar project, for example, can save about 10% on their monthly electric bill, Ms. Bradley said. “It costs nothing to join or leave a project,” she added.

While most states allow community solar power, the majority of these projects are in just four states — Florida, Minnesota, New York and Massachusetts — according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

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