The foundation for the purchase of a residential solar installation is grounded in three principles: the promise of tax credits, energy $ savings, and saving the planet. Let’s briefly examine each of these principles.
Tax Credits – Tax credits are supposedly needed to offset the costs of a solar installation because without them the purchase offers a less attractive return on investment. This is the government’s way of encouraging you to do something that without the tax credit, you probably wouldn’t do. The truth is, if one person gets a tax break, someone else pays for it.
Energy $ Savings – This so-called benefit relies on your solar energy to offset purchased utility power with solar energy you produce. The industry calls this Net Metering. Under this scheme, when the sun goes down, so does your solar collection. Likewise, on cloudy days, your solar energy production is not as efficient. Some companies promote battery backup systems to couple with the solar installation. The purpose of the battery backup system is to provide you with reserve energy storage to use when the solar energy production is insufficient or not available. The size of your battery storage and load determines your reserve run time and potentially the number of solar panels you may need.
Saving the Planet – If this is your objective, the best way to achieve this may be to purchase energy efficient appliances, upgrade insulation, add energy efficient windows, and purchase “green” energy when offered by the utility company. Also, when considering solar panels, recognize that you may have to remove shade trees to allow sufficient sun on your roof top. The effect of removing trees may negate the shading benefit of trees in the summer, increasing your need for air-conditioning as well as losing the other environmental benefits of the trees.
Solar investments make the most economic sense when installed on open land where sun is plentiful and the solar panels can be properly maintained. The PSC will encourage that investment in large scale solar installations by the utility when they make good economic and environmental sense. Likewise, your EMC will make that determination in its mix of renewable energy.
This isn’t to say that a solar installation might not be right for some homeowners. It all comes down to your goals and how best to achieve them. Is it your goal to achieve energy independence, is it saving money, or is it saving the planet? Under the right circumstances, solar may make sense, but it has limitations. The message here is to educate yourself before you start the process. Identify reputable dealers, seek multiple quotes, request references and check them out, and know who will service your solar system and honor the warranty after the installation.