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Your Home Can Be A Solar Array of Its Own

November 16, 2017 01:00 PM

​I believe so much in the tangible returns of solar power that my family and I invested in a rooftop array that can, on average, generate nearly as much electricity as our family of six consumes.

As we met with a contractor and worked through decisions, it became clear that installing rooftop solar isn’t as difficult, complicated, or house-changing as some may anticipate. So, with that in mind, I’d like to share a video of the installation at my home. The video takes a minute and a half to watch, and represents an installation that occurred in the course of one workday. 

Now, read on for five insights from DEP staff on the value and ease of putting solar panels on your roof.

Insight 1: You have ownership options

When investigating options for putting solar on your roof, the first major decision is whether to lease panels from a third party or buy them yourself. Each option has pros and cons, so it’s beneficial to explore what is right for you.

Lease: Similar to a car lease, this option allows you to use a product without putting out a large up-front investment. A solar leasing company installs, maintains, and repairs your solar panels for a set period -- often 15 or 20 years -- as you make monthly payments. Typically, your monthly payment is nearly equal to what your monthly electric bill would have been, and over the years will usually wind up being less than your anticipated electric bills.  

Buy: Owning your solar panels is the best way to quickly reap the benefits of solar. Without any lease payments, you can start saving money on energy every month. Plus, owning your panels qualifies you for various tax credits, rebates, and incentives that will increase your payback.

Insight 2: Technology’s gotten cheaper

The technology behind solar energy has developed quickly over the last few years, and continues to do so. In fact, small-scale solar panels cost less than half of what they cost just ten years ago.

Other costs associated with a solar generation system have decreased as well. Inverters, panel frames, and installation costs have declined as more rooftop solar has been developed, thereby improving the payback of projects. On average, installed costs have dropped 70 percent since 2010.

As technology improves, and demand as well as competition between installers keeps rising, prices will continue to fall for homeowners who want to generate clean energy on their home.

Insight 3: Installation is non-intrusive 

SolarInstallSmall.jpgA common misconception about rooftop solar installation is that it is complicated, risky, or may be intrusive to you and your home. The reality is that rooftop solar is a seamless addition to your home that won’t negatively impact the quality of your roof. 

Generally, only the panel frames are actually attached to the roof, not unlike a satellite dish, while the panels themselves are secured to the framework. The installers then simply connect the inverter, to convert direct current energy produced from the solar system into alternating current, the type of current you use in your home through your electrical panel.

Depending on the size and exact layout of the system, the whole installation can take between one to three days. You’ll be able to sit back and start saving before you know it. 

Insight 4: You can store or sell excess energy

What can you do with the excess electricity you generate? There are two primary options -- sell the excess energy back to your electric company through a program called net-metering, or store the electricity on site with batteries.

Storing: Owning batteries allows you to use the stored electricity you generated when the grid is not operating.  Therefore, in emergencies or power outages you still have electricity available for use in your home as long as you have the proper equipment to not allow for back-feeding electricity to the grid.

Selling: Without storage options excess electricity is simply fed back into the grid and accounted for by your electric utility company.  At certain times during the year, the electric utility will pay you for the value of the energy produced if you have produced more electric energy than you consumed over a set period of time, normally one year.

Choosing to install batteries onsite depends on a person’s particular energy needs, the value of power generation during grid outages, and the cost of batteries.  

Insight 5: Pennsylvania’s recent SREC border closing will have an impact

A Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) is issued to you for every megawatt-hour you generate. SRECs can be bought and sold, and typically, utilities buy them from homeowners or aggregators. Depending on the market price of SRECs, selling them can significantly improve the economics of your solar project.

The price at which SRECs are bought and sold by utilities and solar energy generators is determined by a number of factors.

Previously, Pennsylvania allowed utilities to buy SRECs from solar generators outside of the state. This resulted in a very low price for SRECs in PA, as there was a large supply.

However, Governor Tom Wolf just signed a bill into law that directs the utilities to only purchase SRECs from electricity generators in Pennsylvania. It isn’t clear how much, or when, the legislation will impact the price of SRECs, but it is likely to increase the price of SRECs in the future.

A higher SREC price will provide residential solar generators more value for their investment. Previous SREC prices in Pennsylvania reached up to $225 per SREC, while recent prices hovered around $15 per SREC. If closing the SREC border gets the price anywhere near its previous highs, it will be a major boost for residents looking to generate their own solar electricity.

For more information on your options, visit our citizens' solar website​.  

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