Solar panels are a big investment. And while it would be ideal for everyone to have access to a clean energy source like solar, renewable energy has a high barrier to entry, largely due to how intimidating the setup process can seem from the outside.
Fortunately, with a little research, you can easily hop on the solar bandwagon. Here’s a list of questions to consider before you make a final decision about investing in a solar upgrade for your property.
Generally speaking, the upfront costs to purchase solar will be high, but your potential savings should offset those costs over time. If purchasing simply isn’t in your home improvement budget, you may need to explore other financing options.
Is Purchasing Solar Feasible?
As noted above, the upfront costs of solar can be relatively high, even when taking state and federal incentives into account. Furthermore, purchasing your own system means that you are responsible for all of your own maintenance and repair costs.
As long as you live in an ideal area for solar power, though, you should expect those costs to eventually pay for themselves through the energy savings you’ll get from the panels over time.
What Other Financing Options Exist?
A lot of energy companies recognize the difficulties homeowners face when purchasing their own solar panel systems, so many have come up with solutions to reduce the burden of those costs. The two main options that companies currently offer are solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs). Often, these terms are used interchangeably, but there are significant differences between the two types of programs.
- Solar Leases: Solar leases are basically rental agreements, and monthly prices/fees are generally calculated based on an estimated amount of energy that the panel system will produce.
- PPAs: PPAs work a little differently than traditional leases; instead of being charged a monthly rate for the panel system itself, homeowners agree to purchase power from the provider at a set per-kWh cost.
Besides sparing you the upfront costs of purchasing your own system outright, these programs often place the responsibility for maintenance and repair costs on the provider that owns the solar panel system.
Are There State and Federal Tax Incentives for Going Solar?
If you purchase your own solar panel system, you’re entitled to many state and federal tax incentives. You’ll also want to check with your local power provider to see if they have any credits available as well. Factoring in the incentives available to your area might put solar ownership within your reach.
Additionally, while solar leases and PPAs make it easier to afford upfront costs and maintenance, one downside is that the panel provider will often be the owner of record for the system, so they will likely be entitled to any state, federal, and local incentives.
Rules and Regulations
Every state has different rules and regulations governing the solar panel industry, and those laws are subject to change regularly. As such, it is important to figure out if all the rules affecting your home make solar power a practical option for you.
What Regulations Affect Solar Installations?
You can find information about state-specific regulations and how those compare with other states from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) state policy handbook. As regulations change, your local power provider or solar installer should be able to keep you informed on the most current updates.
Are There Any HOA Restrictions?
Homeowner associations (HOAs) may put restrictions on whether or not you’re allowed to install solar panels. It is important to consult your HOA before attempting to install any solar panel system, whether you own it or not.
Does the Area Have Power Grid Net-Metering Laws?
Net-metering laws are among the most important regulations to pay attention to. These laws govern how you will be compensated for any excess power generated by your solar panels. Some states lack the infrastructure to handle net metering, while others lack sufficient policy to guarantee a consistent return on your investment.
Your local power provider should be able to let you know exactly how net metering will work for you.
Home and Property Considerations
Believe it or not, there may be other barriers to solar access beyond the legal regulations. In fact, several possible physical limitations might make your home and property incompatible for solar technologies.
Does Structural Integrity Matter?
Solar panels are very heavy. Unfortunately, not all homes or roofs have the structural integrity necessary to support an entire solar panel system. You’ll need to check with your a professional contractor to determine if your home has the load-bearing structure that solar systems require.
Is There Enough Surface Area for an Installation?
Beyond the strength of your roof and home, the amount of usable surface area is also important. Your solar panels need to have a direct line of sight to the sun as often as possible.
Typically, your roof is the easiest way to achieve that; however, it is possible to install solar panels elsewhere on your property. The main thing is making sure that you have the usable surface area to support the number of panels that your home needs to efficiently generate power.
What Is the Best Angle for Solar Panels?
The best angle for your solar panels depends on your property setup and the solar panel system you purchase. The general rule is that if you live in the northern hemisphere, your panels should primarily face south; the opposite is true if you live in the southern hemisphere.
Additionally, the ability to tilt your solar panels’ angle slightly to follow the sun can have a dramatic effect on their energy output, even if you can only manage it once a season.
Do Solar Panels Need Regular Cleaning?
Solar panels generate power through light intake, and they operate at peak efficiency when their surfaces are clear. And luckily, your solar panels shouldn’t require a lot of cleaning—most are installed with enough of a slope that precipitation naturally cleans the surface. However, depending on factors like climate and the general tilt of your panels, it is possible that dust and debris will collect on the system and impact performance.
If you do need to clean your panels, read through your warranty first; there’s a chance that cleaning them yourself could void that coverage. When in doubt, contact the installer, as they will likely be able to give some insight on how to clean solar panels.
Potential Energy Savings
Your potential energy savings depend on how much power your solar panels generate. And that generation, in turn, depends on what they are made of, how they were constructed, and how much sun exposure they receive.
How those energy savings translate into monetary savings is a bit more complicated. Here’s a look at what can impact those savings.
What Are Solar Panels Made Of?
Most solar panels are made from silicon, along with some glass, metal, and wiring. Silicon panels produce energy through a property known as the “photovoltaic effect,” wherein electrons in silicon particles—when exposed to light and heat—get stimulated into generating energy.
While most solar panels are similar in design, the type of solar panels you purchase and the specific type of silicon or other materials that they contain will have an effect on their efficiency. Today’s solar panels function at around 15–22.5% efficiency.
How Much Energy Do Solar Panels Produce?
There are a lot of factors that govern how much energy your solar panels will generate. The make, orientation, and size of your system all play a part. As a standard rule, you should expect a regular panel to produce about 265 watts of power, though you should check with the installer to see if your panels will generate more or less than that amount.
How Much Does Energy Cost and Are There Ongoing Incentives?
The amount you stand to save will also differ based on how expensive your current utility bills are. Going solar in a state with higher energy rates could give you more room to save than going solar in an area with low energy rates.
Net metering programs, as mentioned above, can also play a role in your savings. If your state offers net metering, you can get bill credits for any excess energy your system produces during the day, meaning you’ll pay less for grid-based energy during your panels’ off hours.
The world of solar energy can seem complex to those just getting started, but the benefits are more than worth the time it takes to figure out. Solar panels can drastically increase home value, save you hundreds of dollars a year in energy expenses, and do a lot of good for the environment. So if you’re looking for an efficient and effective home upgrade, solar could be the way to go.
Guest Writer: Elaine Thompson is a digital journalist based out of Salt Lake. Her writing focuses on sustainability and technology and has been featured in multiple publications across the web.