Thanks to technological and manufacturing advances, solar panel costs have fallen over the past decade, making solar power more popular for homeowners. But figuring out how to add a solar power system on your roof can be daunting.
Workers installed a solar and battery system at my home in suburban New York City this winter. It was a big investment, but it has already started to pay off in lower utility bills and provides the peace of mind that during power outages, which are common here as storms often knock down power lines, we will have at least some electricity. .
Interest in rooftop solar systems is high and growing as energy prices rise and concerns about climate change mount. Many people are also concerned about blackouts caused by extreme weather related to climate change. A 2019 Pew Charitable Trust poll found that 6 percent of Americans had already installed solar panels, and an additional 46 percent are considering doing so.
“Most importantly, solar is a lot cheaper than it used to be, even in places like New York City and Boston, where it’s usually more expensive than in the suburbs,” said Anika Wistar-Jones, director of affordable solar at Solar. One, a nonprofit environmental education organization in New York City that helps affordable housing and low-income communities use solar energy.
If you are interested in solar energy, here are some things to consider.
Can you install solar panels on your roof?
This question may seem simple, but finding the answer can be surprisingly complicated. An installer told me my roof was so shaded by trees that solar panels wouldn’t generate enough electricity to make the investment worth it. It was worth hearing a different opinion: The installer I hired took those concerns away and recommended pruning trees. On sunny days, my system often generates more power than my family uses.
It can also be difficult to figure out what your local government and utility company will allow, as the information is usually not readily available in plain language. I learned that lesson in my previous house.
When I lived in New York City, it took months of research to figure out I couldn’t install panels on my roof. The city needs a large free area on flat roofs like mine for firefighters to walk on, it turns out. And I couldn’t install solar panels on a canopy — a skylight that raises the panels — because it would violate a city height restriction for homes in my block.
The best approach is to cast a wide net and talk to as many solar installers as possible. You can also consult neighbors who have installed solar panels on their roofs: people in many parts of the country have united in so-called solarization campaigns to jointly buy solar panels to get lower prices from installers.
“That has been really successful in neighborhoods and communities across the country,” said Gretchen Bradley, community solar manager at Solar One.
Can I pay a solar installer?
You should ask for proposals from different installers. Comparison shops such as EnergySage and SolarReviews make it easy to contact multiple installers.
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When reviewing proposals, pay attention to how much the system will cost per watt. This way you know how much you pay for the electricity generating capacity of the system and you can compare offers.
The average price for new rooftop solar systems is $2.75 per watt, according to EnergySage. That works out to about $26,125 for an average 9,500-watt system before taking into account a federal tax credit. For the 2022 tax year, the credit is 26 percent of the cost of the solar system.; it is slated to drop to 22 percent by 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 what type of home you live in and whether any other installation work is required. For example, if your roof is old or damaged, 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, a home’s energy consumption, and government policies. Systems that save more money will help buyers recoup their investment faster. Vikram Aggarwal, the CEO and founder of EnergySage, said solar systems would ideally pay for themselves within 10 years.
The excess electricity that rooftop systems produce is sent to the utility grid, and utility companies typically compensate homeowners for that energy through credits on their monthly bills. The value of those credits varies by state.
How do I pay for it?
If you can afford to buy a solar system directly, you will get the best deal by paying cash. Systems purchased with loans or through lease typically cost more, especially over the life of the contract. Shopping is your best defense against falling prey to questionable or predatory deals.
The big advantage of leasing a solar energy system is that your costs are usually fixed for the duration of the contract. But experts warn that leases can be difficult to get out of and become a burden when you sell your home, as buyers may not want to take your contract.
Mr Aggarwal noted that leases “make sense” for some people who may not earn enough to claim the federal tax credit. He suggested that people interested in solar lease contracts get three or four quotes from different installers.
Do I need to buy a battery?
Adding a battery to your solar system allows you to store some of the excess electricity that is generated for use during a power outage or in the evening and at night. A solar system without a battery will not power you during a power outage, as most residential systems shut down automatically when the grid goes down.
Batteries can be expensive, especially if you want to run large devices and power them for many hours or days. A 10- to 12-kilowatt-hour battery, which can store about a third of a home’s typical daily electricity usage, 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 cost of batteries purchased with solar panels, not batteries added in another tax year. About 28 percent of residential solar systems installed in 2021 contained batteries, up from 20 percent in 2020, according to a study by EnergySage.
The Wirecutter, a product recommendation service from DailyExpertNews, has a detailed guide to buying solar and battery systems.
Can I use my electric car as a backup battery?
Most electric cars cannot power homes. Only a few models, such as the Ford F-150 Lightning and the Hyundai Ioniq 5, have that power, and they are incredibly scarce.
But many energy experts believe it will eventually become common for car batteries to send power back to homes and the electrical grid.
In many parts of the United States, extended power outages can only happen once or twice a year. As a result, Mr Aggarwal said, it may not make sense to invest in an expensive home battery, which usually contains much less energy than electric car batteries. “Everyone is starting to talk about using your car to run your home.”
If I cannot install solar panels, can I still buy solar energy?
You may be able to participate in a community solar project, which is usually installed on open land or on the roofs of warehouses and other large buildings.
While the rules vary by state, community tanning programs generally operate in similar ways. Members receive two bills per month: one from the community’s solar project and one from their utility company. The projects sell electricity at a discount to the rate charged by your utility, and each kilowatt-hour of power you buy shows up as a credit for a kilowatt-hour of energy on your utility bill.
For example, New Yorkers who participate in a community solar project can save about 10 percent on their monthly electric bill, Ms Bradley said. “It costs nothing to sign up or leave a project,” she added.
While most states allow community solar, a majority of such projects are in just four states — Florida, Minnesota, New York and Massachusetts — according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.