Since 2008, hundreds of thousands of solar panels have popped up across the country as an increasing number of Americans choose to power their daily lives with the sun’s energy. Thanks in part to the Solar Energy Technologies Office's investments, the cost of going solar goes down every year. You may be considering the option of adding a solar energy system to your home’s roof or finding another way to harness the sun’s energy. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solar solution, here are some resources that can help you figure out what’s best for you. Consider these questions before you go solar.
CAN I INSTALL SOLAR MYSELF?
Right now, the best way to install solar is through a qualified professional who holds a certification to do so and works with high-quality solar panels. The industry-standard certification is awarded through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). In the future, though, you will likely be able to install solar yourself. SETO awardee Fraunhofer CSE is developing a plug-and-play solar array that enables consumers to easily attach the panels to their roofs using an adhesive roof mounting system and connect it to the grid in under 12 hours. This is still in development – until it is available at your local home improvement store, you should work with a certified solar installer.
HOW MUCH POWER CAN I GENERATE WITH SOLAR?
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed a tool called PVWatts for this purpose. It estimates the energy production and cost of energy of grid-connected PV energy systems for any address in the world. It allows homeowners, small building owners, installers, and manufacturers to easily develop estimates of the performance of potential PV installations, and can even compare solar’s cost to utility bills. These tools are great for getting started, but make sure to work with a solar installer for a custom estimate of how much power your solar energy system is likely to generate.
WILL I SAVE MONEY BY GOING SOLAR?
The amount of money you can save with solar depends upon how much electricity you consume, the size of your solar energy system, if you choose to buy or lease your system, and how much power it is able to generate given the direction your roof faces and how much sunlight hits it. Your savings also depend on the electricity rates set by your utility and how much the utility will compensate you for the excess solar energy you send back to the grid. Check the National Utility Rate Database to see current electricity rates in your area.
In some cities around the country, solar is already cost competitive with the electricity sold by your local utility. The cost of going solar has dropped every year since 2009, a trend researchers expect to continue. Not only are the prices of panels dropping, so are the costs associated with installation, such as permitting and inspection—also known as “soft costs.” All of SETO's funding programs are working toward improving the affordability of solar and making it easier for consumers to choose solar.
It should also be noted that energy efficiency upgrades complement solar energy economically. By using Energy Star appliances and other products in your home, you’ll need less solar energy to power your home.
CAN I GET FINANCING FOR SOLAR?
Consumers have different financial options to select from when deciding to go solar. In general, a purchased solar system can be installed at a lower total cost than system installed using a solar loan, lease, or power purchase agreement (PPA).
If you prefer to buy your solar energy system, solar loans can lower the up-front costs of the system. In most cases, monthly loan payments are smaller than a typical energy bill, which will help you save money from the start. Solar loans function the same way as home improvement loans, and some jurisdictions will offer subsidized solar energy loans with below-market interest rates, making solar even more affordable. New homeowners can add solar as part of their mortgage with loans available through the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae, which allow borrowers to include financing for home improvements in the home’s purchase price. Buying a solar energy system makes you eligible for the Solar Investment Tax Credit, or ITC. In December 2020, Congress passed an extension of the ITC, which provides a 26% tax credit for systems installed in 2020-2022, and 22% for systems installed in 2023. The tax credit expires starting in 2024 unless Congress renews it. Learn more about the ITC.
Solar leases and PPAs allow consumers to host solar energy systems that are owned by solar companies and purchase back the electricity generated. Consumers enter into agreements that allow them to have lower electricity bills without monthly loan payments. In many cases, that means putting no money down to go solar. Solar leases entail fixed monthly payments that are calculated using the estimated amount of electricity the system will produce. With a solar PPA, consumers agree to purchase the power generated by the system at a set price per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. With both of these options, though, you are not entitled to tax benefits since you don’t own the solar energy system.
Navigating the landscape of solar financing can be difficult. The Clean Energy States Alliance released a guide to help homeowners understand their options, explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each. Download the guide.