Going Solar: Answers to Common Questions
Solar energy has been around for decades, but in the past few years it has finally started to take off in residential markets. Previously it was considered too expensive, but times have changed. The rising electricity costs, improvements in panel technology, mass production of them as well as federal and local governmental incentives have driven costs down.
Given all these current factors, going solar now is a much more affordable investment which can lead you to free energy, increased property value & a chance to do your part in going green.
As a part of my green home series, I interviewed my friend David Javate of SolarUniverse and asked him if he would demystify solar and answer some common questions and misunderstandings:
Erica: Could you explain in simple terms exactly how solar energy works?
David: Solar panels consist of “cells” of chemically treated silicon. These silicon cells, when hit with light, induce a chemical reaction which produces DC current. An inverter converts DC current into AC current which can then be used by your household. Any unused electricity gets fed back to the grid, which in turn spins your energy meter backwards.
E: Is solar reliable?
D: Absolutely. Solar energy has been around for over 50 years, and is a safe and reliable source of energy. Panels are normally warrantied for a 25 year lifespan, but usually last longer. There’s a reason that NASA chose solar panels to power their satellites. You may also notice them on street signs and some public buildings.
E: What are the environmental benefits of solar energy?
D: Traditionally, electricity is generated through the use of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Use of these fossil fuels produces carbon emissions which cause pollution and global warming. The main environmental benefit of solar energy is that using solar does not produce any carbon emissions. Throughout the lifespan of a photovoltaic solar system for a 3 bedroom house, one could potentially reduce the carbon emissions equivalent to 140,000 tons of carbon, 227,00 miles not driven, or 2,500 acres of trees saved.
E: Is solar a good investment for the basic homeowner?
D: It depends on the household and your usage. Physical issues first need to be considered: Your roof should be south or southwest facing, should have minimal shading obstructions and should also have enough space to hold the appropriate number of panels to cover your energy goals.
In California where we are based, we usually recommend it as an energy solution if your electric bill tends to be over $130/month if you are considering a leasing option; however, if buying is an option, homeowners with bills of $50-75/month can reap the benefits.
Currently, there are a number of incentives available, such as a 30 percent federal tax credit, rebates through your utility company, and local incentives, such as the GoSolarSF initiative which provides a $2,000 grant towards installation for homes in San Francisco. If you choose to buy your system, typical systems can have a payback period of 5-7 years. After you’ve paid it off you’ll be able to reap the benefits of free & clean energy for the next 20 years!
E: What if someone doesn’t have the money now? Are there financing alternatives?
D: The most attractive financing alternative is leasing. These come in different forms, with or without a down payment, with or without a fixed interest rate, and in a prepaid form, where a bulk amount of the lease payments are made in advance at a discount. Depending on the lease you secure, you should be able to take advantage of a substantially lower electric bill, at a monthly predictable rate, without the upfront cost of buying.
E: If someone is interested in looking into a solar alternative, what should they do next?
D: Do some research:
- Look at your electric bill. Has it become a rising and annoying cost for you? Is it causing you to limit your enjoyment in some activities?
- Research solar companies in your area. Check them out on review websites like Yelp & Angie’s list.
- See what solar incentives are available to you through your utility company, your city and county.
- Consider buying versus leasing. Buying can be a great investment which pays for itself in a few years. Leasing can reduce your electric bill, while also giving a predictable fixed rate for energy.
Solar energy can be a great energy solution which can zero out your electric bill, add value to your property, and help reduce carbon emissions which harm the environment. Not all homes are ideally suited to take full advantage of solar, but with the info given in this article you should have a good starting point to figure out if going solar is a wise choice for you.
David Javate is a SUN Advisor for SolarUniverse South San Francisco, and currently services homeowners in the San Fransisco Bay Area. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.solaruniverse.com
Readers please note: This article is solely for educational purposes, I have no financial connection to the company mentioned.