Nine factors to consider before going solar


With more Americans expected to install solar on their rooftops in 2012, residential provider American Solar Direct recently offered nine factors for homeowners to consider in terms of going solar.

“Producing electricity from your own rooftop is getting easier and more affordable. The trends we saw in 2011 – primarily, that home solar was truly entering the mainstream market – should continue at a strong pace this year,” predicts Ravi Thuraisingham, ASD’s president and chief financial officer. “Thousands of homeowners will continue to seek ways to cut electric bills and have a positive impact on the environment.”

According to Thuraisingham, homeowners considering solar should consider the following nine key factors:

Lease versus own. An average home-solar installation can cost $25,000 or more. An 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 and handles securing permits and managing the many other small details leading up to turning on the system. Leasing is affordable for many homeowners because they immediately see savings from lower electric bills and someone else worries about the system’s maintenance.

Net metering. When a rooftop solar system produces more energy than needed for a home, the excess is supplied to the local electric utility. Depending on whether your state and utility offer time of use net metering, homeowners can see some of their greatest monthly cost reductions when their rooftop solar panels are providing energy back into the system.

cxRebates. 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.

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 better with an installer providing these services with their own employees.

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 many new homes for this reason.

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.

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.

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Appearance. In California and in many, but unfortunately not all states, laws prohibit homeowner associations, municipalities and other organizations from enforcing rules that prohibit a homeowner from having 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.

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 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.

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