With rising utility costs and environmental concerns in the news frequently, homeowners are increasingly considering a switch to solar power. Yet, the vast majority of Americans overestimate the cost of solar panels, resulting in a failure to even investigate the possibility of making such an investment.
According to a nationwide poll commissioned by SunRun (conducted online by Harris Interactive in February 2012), 97% of Americans overestimate the cost of solar panels. On the other hand, 80% of those who do not have solar panels stated that they would make the switch if cost was not a factor.
For about 40 percent of those surveyed, it was found that 4 out of 10 adults think that solar system installations cost $20,000 or more. Just 3 percent were found to truly understand the cost of setting up such systems which is about $1,000 upfront. For 97 percent of the population, solar energy, while no doubt beneficial, is too expensive to consider.
As we have posted several times on this blog, homeowners can go solar with no money down through programs like those offered by Sunrun. A solar panel lease or a power purchase agreement can allow customers to enjoy the benefits of cheap solar energy without the commitment of ownership. A fixed monthly rate is charged, usually for the life of the contract (15-20 years).
The idea that solar panels are too expensive stops most people from even obtaining an estimate or additional information about the various options for financing solar panels.
“The widespread myth that solar is too expensive is a remnant from the time when buying costly panels for tens of thousands of dollars was the only option,” said Sunrun President and co-Founder Lynn Jurich. “Fortunately that era is over. Misinformation is the root of the problem, and this data can help increasing numbers of homeowners get educated and opt into solar.”
Yet with the growth of solar power service options, like those offered by SunRun, homeowners can immediately begin saving money the day after installation. Ownership, maintenance and insurance remain with the solar company, while the property owner begins enjoying clean, reliable, consistently priced solar power right away.
Are you overestimating the cost of solar panels? Is that holding you back?
Guest Post by Dane Cross, April 2012
Solar power is the generation of electricity using solar energy. It consists of a series of chemical reactions, all of which happens in the solar panel. But how do they work?
Photovoltaic solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (or PV) cells, which can be manufactured from a variety of materials; the most popular being crystalline silicon. These cells are produced by over 100 manufacturers across the globe, commercially available in four types. The type of panel appropriate for the customer differs according to their requirements – fortunately this is something the installer is qualified to discuss.
Below are the four main types of photovoltaic cells, along with a brief rundown of how each is made and their unique individual benefits:
Monocrystalline Silicon PV – These are the most commonly used panel types, accounting for approximately 93% of all solar modules sold around the globe. They are incredibly flexible in terms of project size, suitable for both large and smaller scale solar PV systems. This has lead to broad application and use across domestic and commercial installations alike, with some companies offering free solar incentives for using the technology.
Monocrystalline PV cells are produced when highly pure molten silicon forms a crystal, which is then cut into thin slices to comprise the basis of a solar cell. These slices are between 0.2 and 0.3mm thick, that are then cut into a hexagonal shape to optimise the module’s space. Monocrystalline cells are 13-17% efficient, making them the most efficient type of PV cell. They are therefore ideal for optimising smaller roof areas. However, the panels take more time and energy to produce which is reflected in their often high costs.
Polycrystalline Silicon PV – Another commonly used panel type, polycrystalline PV cells are also produced from pure molten silicon. However, instead of being formed as a crystal, they are produced using a casting process. The silicon, having already being heated to an extremely high temperature, is cooled under controlled conditions before setting to an irregular multi-crystallised, or ‘polycrystalline’ form.
The silicon is then cut into 0.3mm slices to be used in the panel. Polycrystalline panels have a notable blue appearance, due to the anti-reflective layer which is applied to the cells to increase their efficiency. These cells have an 11-15% efficiency level which, whilst lower than their monocrystalline counterparts, is usually reflected in their cost. They are best used for a larger surface area in order to make the installation less expensive, suitable for both domestic and commercial solar PV systems.
Amorphous Silicon PV – PV cells comprising of amorphous silicon make up 4.2% of global market sales. This particular type of silicon is non-crystalline and therefore formed in an entirely different way to poly and monocrystalline PV. The semi-conductor material required for amorphous silicon is much thinner at only 0.5 – 2.0um thick (1um=0.001mm). The process therefore requires considerably less raw material compared with the production of crystalline silicone.
Amorphous silicon cells are 6-8% efficient, which is lower than crystalline PV cells. Due to this low generation-density, these types of PV cells are not currently suitable for residential installations. Whilst their lower efficiency levels mean that they require a larger surface area, the output is less affected by shading and higher temperatures.
Hybrid PV – Hybrid photovoltaic cells use two different types of technology. The most common type contains a monocrystalline silicon cell coated in an ultra-thin amorphous silicon layer.
Combining the advantages of both crystalline and amorphous PV cells, they perform well at high temperatures whilst maintaining higher efficiencies than conventional silicon cells. They are also more sensitive to lower and indirect light levels, with efficiency levels of often more than 18%. However, whilst they are more cost-effective, they do carry a higher cost.
Which to choose?
Personal circumstances and requirements are key things to consider when choosing solar PV panels. Is the system required for a domestic or business installation? What is the priority – cost or efficiency? When deciding on an installer, it’s always best to ensure that they are reputable and accredited by the Renewable Energy Association and the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. Remember that they are in a position to help find the best panel type for different requirements and should be willing to discuss all available options.
A decade ago, you simply did not see solar panels on mainstream and/or middle class homes. They were a unique feature, seemingly reserved for the ultra rich, or ultra green.
Today, there are many reasons to switch to solar power, and more and more people are doing so! In fact, One Block Off the Grid (1BOG) recently published an infographic that shows most residential solar is installed by people who make less than $100,000 annually, and who describe themselves as frugal consumers.
Consider these reasons:
1. Saving Money on Utility Bills
Did you know you can save 1/3 or more on your monthly power bill by going solar? Even if you don’t own the solar panels yourself, you can still rely on solar electricity through a power purchase agreement or solar lease at a cost less than what you are currently being charged!
2. Boosting Property Values
The rule of thumb with regard to residential solar panels is that, for every $1 you save annually on electricity bills, your home increases by $20,000 in value. In addition to the boost in property values, homes with solar arrays sell faster than similarly situated houses in the neighborhood.
3. Less Guilt
When you switch to free solar power, you might not feel as guilty leaving the lights on, or forgetting to unplug “energy vampires” like cell phones, coffee makers, etc. While you don’t want to waste electricity, if you are 100% solar, you can take comfort in the fact that you are not contributing to unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions if you do so.
4. To be Ahead of the Game
Some people love to have cutting edge technology – to experience the future before their friends, family and neighbors. Maybe you already drive an electric car and smart home technology. Of course, solar panels should be part of the package!
5. To Help Save the Environment
A significant percentage, yet not as high as you might expect (26%), switch to solar to help save the environment. Electricity generated by solar energy is cleaner and greener than power from burning coal or gas. There are also fewer environmental impacts than hydroelectricity, which can threaten salmon and other species.
What are your reasons to switch to solar power? What considerations prevent you from doing so?
Have you heard the term, “solar power purchase agreement“?
If you are considering switching to clean, renewable solar energy, you can save upfront costs of equipment by purchasing solar power generated by someone else’s solar panels.
A solar power purchase agreement can be entered into by any property owner – whether residential, commercial or industrial. Public property owners, such as cities and counties may also wish to consider this type of contractual arrangement. The company selling the solar power is usually the manufacturer of the panels, or a local utility company.
The arrangement is summarized as follows:
Under a typical power purchase agreement, the solar panel manufacturer or retailer (known as an independent power producer) will finance, install and own your solar panels. You pay nothing for the installation of rooftop solar panels. Then, as the panels generate clean, solar electricity, the provider acts as your utility company. You are billed for the electrical output of the solar panel system, but at a discounted rate.
Before you seriously consider entering into a solar power purchase agreement, you should review the proposed contract with an attorney. The following are key components of such an agreement:
Term: How many years long is the contract? Often, the term of a PPA is 15-20 years. Find out if you can terminate early, and whether there is an early termination penalty.
Assignability: Can you assign the benefits of the PPA to a future buyer of your property, or will a new owner have to renegotiate with the power provider?
Cost: How much will you be required to pay for power generated by the solar panel system? Will you be billed monthly? Is the cost “locked in” or subject to escalations? If so, how often?
Taxes and Insurance: Make sure that you are not on the hook for taxes and insurance costs associated with the solar panel system – these are usually the responsibility of the power provider. Your local government may deem the panels to improve the value of your property, even if you don’t own them. Make sure you don’t get surprised by a tax or insurance bill down the road.
Destruction and Damage: The PPA contract should specify under what circumstances the provider will replace and restore the solar panels if destroyed or damaged by acts of nature or vandals.
Termination: When the term of the contract expires, find out whether you have a right to request an extension. If so, on what terms? If you don’t want to continue the PPA, determine whether the power provider must remove the panels and restore the property? Perhaps you wish to purchase the solar panel system at the end? Make sure you have that right and agree on a reduced price for the system.
The bottom line is that a PPA can help you afford switching to solar power with no money down. The monthly cost of solar energy is less expensive and better for the environment than grid-based electricity.
If you are interested in residential solar panels, probably the best place to start is at the top.
Rooftop solar power is convenient in large part because it does not take up any property space, using an area of your structure that is probably already exposed to sunlight. But is YOUR roof the best place to install solar panels?
It turns out that solar roofing is not a one-size-fits-all proposition!
While solar panels can be installed on any roof (with proper space and lack of shading), there are several considerations that will affect cost and efficiency of a solar array.
1. Roof composition
The material from which your roof is composed will affect installation of a solar panel system. Generally speaking, it is more expensive to install solar panels on tile or shake roofs because they are delicate and can easily be damaged. When professional installers walk across the tiles or shingles, they may break or crack. The additional repair cost and/or insurance may add to the price.
2. Roof pitch
Very steep roofs also pose a challenge for solar panel installation. Not only because of the dangerous conditions, but also because special equipment may be required. On the other hand, flat rooftops require positioning solar panels at the proper angle, which may necessitate additional hardware, increasing the cost.
3. Roof Age
If you have an older roof that will need replacement soon, that will be part of the consideration for solar panels. The panels themselves can help extend the life of the areas of the roof they cover, but they are not themselves a replacement for a new roof. You may want to consider solar power roof tiles, also known as building integrated photovolatics (PV).
Keep in mind that rooftop solar power requires an attachment of the brackets and bolting mounts to your roof before installing rails and panels. Here are the steps for installing solar panels on your roof.
We’ve written a number of posts on residential solar panels to help homeowners deciding whether to go solar.
Among the top cited concerns is the cost of solar, whether you purchase an array, or go with a solar panel lease.
Now, you can try out solar power with an affordable, easy to install solar panel product from Sharp. A single solar panel from its SunSnap line costs only $1,000 and includes built-in a micro-inverter and mounting assembly. Its named “SunSnap” because you can literally snap the panel into place and connect them to each other. Each panel is a 235-watt module.
With an affordable price of $1000 for each solar panel, homeowners can add to an array over time, instead of having to invest thousands of dollars up front. Sharp claims that SunSnap solar panels are easier to install than a new dishwasher!
As of the date of this publication, SunSnap is only available through solar contractors. However, Sharp will begin selling the solar panels to the public later in 2012.
If you have considered switching to solar power, you’re not alone!
Residential solar panels have been growing in demand over the past several years as prices have fallen, efficiencies have improved and solar rebates and incentives allow significant savings for homeowners.
Before you plan this home improvement project, you probably want to know: how do you install solar panels on a roof?
Traditional photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can be installed professionally, or as a DIY home improvement project.
Rooftop solar panels require brackets for mounting, a solar power inverter, the panels themselves, and the ability to do wiring work within your electrical panel. Of course, you’ll also need equipment including a ladder, drill, power screwdriver, and the ability to safely hoist solar panels up to your rooftop.
You don’t need to be a certified installer to do it yourself, but if you are hiring a solar installer, make sure that they are licensed and insured!
Before you begin your project, choose an area of your rooftop that receives the most direct sunlight. Ensure there is no shading from vegetation or adjacent structures. If necessary, you may need to tilt the panels if the pitch of the roof is too low.
Solar panel mounts must be secured with stainless steel lag bolts bolted through into rooftop rafters. Here are the steps to install solar panels on a roof:
1. Locate rafters with a stud finder, then align mounts on top of the rafters.
2. Use a chalk line or laser sight as you work in a straight line pre-positioning the mounts.
3. Pre-drill the holes for the roof mounts with a pilot bit.
4. Secure the mounts onto the roof, using the bolts, then place metal flashing over the mounts.
5. Next, metal rails must be secured to the posts using stainless steel bolts.
6. Finally, solar panels are mounted onto the rails. Multiple panels are connected into an array.
7. Once the solar panels are installed on the roof, they must be connected via a conduit to a solar inverter.
8. Now, you can enjoy free solar electricity generated by your residential solar panels!
Solar technology advancements are leading to thinner, more efficient and cheaper solar panels. One of the most exciting developments may be invisible solar cells. Applied to windows, the building integrated photovoltaic technology allows for see through solar power.
Just think – no bulky solar panels installed on the rooftop! Solar windows may have a clear advantage over less aesthetically pleasing alternatives.
Invisible solar cells are still in development stages, but are showing great promise for the future. Along with flexible solar cells that can be applied to a wide variety of surfaces, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have been working on transparent solar cells. These modules can be fixed to window panes, blending seamlessly into building facades.
While the efficiency of invisible solar cells is not yet to the level of traditional PV panels, the technology is so much less expensive than the alternative (as well as less visually intrusive) that these benefits outweigh the drawbacks of the developing solar technology.
Government programs and policies have a significant impact on many areas of our lives. Taxes on “sins” such as alcohol, cigarettes and soda aim to curb our use. On the other hand, rebates and other incentive programs encourage people to invest in new technologies with the help of government funding.
Politics and solar power is a tenuous marriage. After the Solyndra loan debacle in 2011, many are wary of government-backed investment in allegedly “unproven” energy sources. Yet, there are many programs in the solar industry that are quietly celebrating success. And there is more on the horizon.
California’s Million Solar Roofs initiative has driven installations in the state to levels that would not have otherwise been achieved. Similarly, Colorado and New Jersey, are enjoying an upswing in solar power reliance, both at the local/distributed generation level, and via utility scale solar power plants. Perhaps most importantly, utilities and consumers are now working together via grid-connected smart metering and more.
Government is doing its part to encourage more solar power by requiring utilities to generate a percentage of their electricity with renewables (so called renewable portfolio standards). Green jobs programs also reward both employers and employees. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loan programs allow consumers to install solar panels with no money down and then pay off the costs via incremental increases in local property taxes.
As fossil fuel prices rise and concerns of peak oil continue, we’ll see more governmental policies and other political influence with respect to solar power – via taxes, rebates, loans, and other political programs.
Do you think that politics and solar power should mix? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
If you have or are installing residential solar panels, you may also want to also have a smart meter. These devices track the amount of energy that you use from the grid (i.e., non solar electricity), as well as excess solar power you have generated that you do not use, which is fed back into the system.
The meters are called “smart” because they give you credit from the utility company for the power you contribute to the grid – which they end up selling to other customers. Any electricity you have purchased will have a credit against the bill for the excess solar power generated by your solar panels.
In recent years, smart meters have become “smarter,” allowing homeowners to track periods during which they are drawing on the grid (which can be an incentive to adopt energy saving measures), as well as providing data on the times extra solar electricity is fed into the grid.
While there is no dial on smart meters, as on analog utility devices, people with solar panels can “turn their meters backward,” which is an exciting and rewarding experience.
Some people have erroneously believed that residential solar panels and smart meters are incompatible. But nothing can be further from the truth! The two work hand-in-hand helping homeowners save money and reduce carbon emissions. Other people have unwarranted concerns about EMF radiation or invasions of privacy from use of the meters.
We will prepare a follow-up post to explore the pros and cons of smart meters.