In December, world leaders met in Paris to put the world on a path toward ending fossil fuels consumption. The world is now adding more power from renewable sources than from oil, coal and natural gas combined. The United States has tripled the amount of energy obtained from wind and solar since 2008. Prices for solar panels have fallen each year – almost 45 percent drop between 2010 and 2014. Especially for those of us living in all-electric homes, going solar is a smart investment. For those residents who have not gotten around to studying what is involved in going solar, the following questions and answers may be helpful:
Why should I buy a solar system?
The main reason for most of us to go solar is to save money. Once the system is paid for, the homeowners are making money every time the sun is shining. Some of us also enjoy the warm, fuzzy feeling we get from knowing that we are doing something good for the environment. The cost of energy from the utility company continues to go up making this a hedge against inflation.
Didn’t the renewable energy investment tax credit just get extended?
Yes, we are happy to report that the 30 percent federal tax credit will be available until 2019.
How does solar work?
The solar panels are made up of tiny cells made of treated silicon. Each one collects solar radiation and converts it into an electric current. The panels are wired together to create an array and the output travels through wires and conduit to an inverter. The inverter converts the direct current to alternating current, which is used to run appliances, lighting, etc. Once this AC current is wired into the breaker box, the homeowner is harvesting the power of the sun. If you are using less than you are producing at any given moment, the excess goes back into the grid as your meter literally spins backward.
Is my home a good place for a photo-voltaic system?
A well designed solar system needs clear access to the sun during the middle of the day. If your south-facing roof is shaded by a huge pine tree, this probably isn’t for you. If your roof will need to be replaced soon, it may be smart to wait until the roofing job is done to install the panels.
What is the permit process like?
The city of Walnut Creek will require a permit, but the cost is small and the solar installer will handle it for the homeowner. The installer will also handle the paperwork with PG&E.
Is it proven technology?
The technology has been around for over 50 years and some of the initial cells are still operating today. The panels come with a 25-year warranty. The efficiency and cost has significantly improved in the last five years. There are no moving parts to break or wear out.
Should I buy or lease the system?
Some companies offer plans that involve no money down and guaranteed lower electric bills. While the homeowner can’t lose with one of these plans, unless the homeowner plans on owning the home for the next 20 years, owning the system may make more sense. Home improvement loans at low interest are readily available for those homeowners who don’t have the cash. There is also a program called the PACE program that allows payments to be included as part of the homeowner’s property tax bill. The solar companies will be able to discuss the pros and cons of buying versus leasing and options for financing.
April 15 is Earth Day event here at Rossmoor. As part of that event, four or five solar companies will be here to show their wares and talk with residents about the specifics of what will be involved in considering the possibility of going solar. Now may be the time.
The article first appeared in the March 16, 2016 issue of the Rossmoor News, authored by Bob Hanson and Kent Steele