Going solar is a big decision, one that has big potential to greatly reduce your utility costs and your greenhouse gas emissions. Maybe you’re just starting to explore a solar photovoltaic system for your home, or maybe you feel ready to take the plunge. Here are some factors to consider to get solar ready.
If your home has a south-facing roof that gets plenty of sunlight, then your home is probably suitable for solar. East/west can work as well, but anything past due west/east will likely not be viable. You can see if your home gets enough sunlight by using an online tool that utilizes satellite data, such as the Google Project Sunroof (https://www.google.com/get/sunroof).
Many solar installers can also provide a satellite assessment and preliminary proposal using data you provide as part of their sales process.
Generally, the recommendation is that if you are within the last third of a roof’s lifespan, then either wait to get solar panels or go ahead and replace your roof early. Solar panels will be taking the brunt of the weather, so they will actually protect the roof and allow for a longer roof life. If roof replacement is needed during the life of your system, the solar panels would have to be removed to allow for that and then re-installed.
Reduce first, then produce
By reducing your home’s energy usage as much as possible first, before producing energy with a solar PV system, you can realize even more cost savings and environmental benefits, and perhaps even reduce the size of the solar system needed. Upgrading insulation, especially in attics and crawl spaces, air sealing and switching to all LED lighting all go a long way in reducing a home’s energy usage. A certified building analyst can perform a home energy audit and provide a report detailing the energy efficiency upgrades likely to result in the most energy savings.
Solar is more affordable than ever. Overall, the cost of solar has dropped more than 70% since 2010 and prices remain at historic lows. There is also a 30% federal tax credit through 2019, making solar an even better investment. Currently, there is no state level incentive but the City of Charlottesville offers residents a real estate tax exemption for 5 years for the cost of a solar system. Also, the Piedmont Environmental Council is launching a Solarize Piedmont campaign for April and May which offers discounted pricing on solar systems for their 9-county service area, including Charlottesville and Albemarle.
The overall cost for a residential system depends on the number of panels installed but on average, rooftop solar panels cost between $10,000 – $25,000. Many solar installers offer different financing options, such as no interest for 12-months, which allows a homeowner to claim the federal tax credit and apply that to the cost of their system in the interest free period.
On average, the payoff of a residential solar PV system is around 9-12 years, meaning after that time your system is paid for and any electricity it produces is no cost to you. In Virginia, through “net energy metering,” when your solar power system generates more electricity than you use over the course of a month, your utility bill will receive a credit based on the net number of kilowatt-hours you gave back to the grid. An additional savings bonus for solar is that electricity costs are expected to rise 2% annually.
And of course in addition to the personal financial benefits, your solar panels will reduce your associated greenhouse gas emissions, which makes solar the best investment for you and the environment.