9 Questions To Ask Before Buying Solar Panels
Despite the immense solar energy generating potential of the United States, the federal government insists on using millions of dollars in tax subsidies to prop up the dying fossil fuel industry.
Thank goodness consumers can see what the government cannot: solar (and all other forms of renewable energy) is the energy source of the future. As such, the industry expects to see thousands of new residential solar arrays purchased in 2012, especially in California.
Deciding to invest in a residential solar system is one of the biggest decisions a homeowner can make, besides the purchase of the home itself. To help homeowners and landlords better understand their options, residential provider American Solar Direct offers these nine essential factors to consider when seeking energy independence.
1. Lease versus own? An average home-solar installation can cost $25,000 or more. The easier alternative is to have a licensed contractor install the system and offer lease financing for little or no money up front. The installer owns and maintains the system, not to mention handles securing permits and managing the many other small details leading up to turning on the system. Solar leasing is affordable for many homeowners because they immediately see savings from lower electric bills and someone else worries about the system’s maintenance.
2. Net metering? When a rooftop solar system produces more energy than needed for a home, the excess is supplied to the local electric utility. Homeowners can see some of their greatest monthly cost reductions when their rooftop solar panels are providing energy back into the system.
3. Rebates? Since a leased solar panel system is “owned” by the installer, rebates will go to the company. This enables the installer to further reduce the overall price of the solar project, which in turn lowers the lease payment. Rebates will vary by region. It also is important to know that some rebates are currently scheduled to expire in a few years.
4. In-house service vs. outsourcing? Does a solar installer have all staff and services – from customer representatives, to installers, to ongoing maintenance and financing – within their company? Or, do they provide some or all of these services through third-party entities? The “continuum of care” is usually more guaranteed by an installer providing these services by their own employees.
5. Home values? Several current studies show that a home’s value increases when it contains the best available energy efficiency devices. Why? Because a home’s overall “operating cost” decreases as it uses less water, gas and electricity. Rooftop solar is becoming a standard feature on new homes for this reason.
6. What if I move? Typically, a homeowner can assign a solar lease to the purchaser (following a simple credit check of the new owner). Studies show an increase in the percentage of prospective homebuyers actively seeking residences with multiple “green” features, such as solar.
7. Remain energy efficient? With solar panels on the roof, it is tempting to crank up the air conditioning, keep lights on throughout the house or otherwise revert to energy wasting habits. Since some power must still come from an electric utility, being energy efficient ensures the lowest monthly costs – even as solar dramatically reduces the amount of utility-supplied power purchased on a monthly basis.
8. Appearance? Some state laws prohibit homeowner associations, municipalities and other organizations from enforcing rules that would prevent a homeowner from installing rooftop solar. But, you also don’t want to upset your neighbor. After determining a home has enough roof space for solar, an installer will usually create a custom design to ensure a solar panel “array” will blend into the roof as much as possible.
9. New technologies? The rate at which solar cells convert sunlight into electricity has increased since the first cells were made. While gains continue to be made, they are at small incremental rates. Therefore, the panels bought today should continue to be very efficient for their 20- to 30-year life. As solar becomes more popular, companies also are developing new solar technologies and cell designs. However, until these designs are incorporated into mass production, these more “exotic” solar panels may be too expensive for the typical homeowner.
Image Credit: Flickr – joncallas