Solar panels for your home
Published on 10 Oct, 2018 by Michael Bishop
Categories: Solar energy
Considering solar panels for your home?
If so, you're in good company — well over a million U.S. homes are now solar powered. We hope this article helps you navigate this exciting home (and wallet... and planet) improvement.
Are solar panels a good financial decision?
It depends on where you're located and your particular situation; but most probably, the answer is yes! Here are a few questions to consider.
Is my electricity fairly expensive?
Electricity rates vary by utility. In our review of 100 major utilities across the U.S., average rates were as low as 6¢ and as high as 40¢. If you pay 15¢ or more per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for electricity, you're probably a good candidate for solar energy. Your latest utility bill should show the rate per kilowatt-hour you're being charged.
Is net metering available for my utility?
Most of the solar energy you create will directly power your home. So you'll have the satisfaction of brewing your coffee with 100% pure sunshine. But when you're out of the house, your solar energy will go off to the grid (to power your neighbor's coffee brewing). On average, 20-40% of rooftop electricity goes to the grid (source). With net metering, the utility credits you for every one of those extra kilowatt hours. That credit is typically worth the retail electric rate, although this varies by utility.
Fortunately, net metering is offered across 43 states. Any local solar installer can confirm whether it's available for your utility. If net metering isn't offered by your utility, you can consider combining your solar panels with a Tesla Powerwall or other battery to get the most bang for your buck.
Does my roof get good sunlight?
While a little shade is okay — who doesn't love trees around their house — too much of it will turn your solar system into a roof ornament. Fortunately, local solar installers can find out in an instant how much sunlight your roof will get across the entire year (either with a handheld device or over the internet). They'll include this sunlight data in their financial model, to determine whether your roof gets enough sunlight for solar panels.
If your utility charges a fairly high electric rate and offers net metering, solar panels are looking good. If your roof also has ample sunlight, solar panels are looking great!
Should I buy or lease my solar panels?
A solar lease works like a car lease — you pay a monthly charge to rent the solar panels. The leasing company gets your monthly payment and you get savings on your monthly utility bill. While solar leasing was popular five years ago, a large majority of homeowners now buy their solar panels outright. This is because solar systems are much cheaper now, and because more friendly solar-loan options are available.
With a loan, you could start saving money immediately. In other words, your solar loan payment and your new (much smaller) utility bill could be less than your otherwise-applicable utility bill. That sounds good! A local installer will be able to tell you whether you can start saving money immediately with a solar loan (this depends on your particular situation).
You can learn more about buying vs. leasing solar panels here.
Are solar panels actually good for the environment?
In a word, yes. While it takes electricity to make solar panels and supporting materials, your solar panels will create the same amount of energy in less than 3 years (followed by 30+ years of emission-free energy). And while some hazardous chemicals are used when making solar panels, better solar panel makers dispose of these chemicals carefully. The environmental impact varies depending on your local utility's energy mix (for example, the impact is higher in coal-heavy areas than large hydro power areas).
Overall, solar panels are great for the environment. Your home solar system would be an important contribution to slowing climate change and reducing smog.
Am I increasing my neighbor’s utility bill by going solar?
Some utilities would like you to think so! The government research organization Lawrence Berkeley National Lab looked closely at this, and concluded that if rooftop solar accounts for 10% of the utility's overall capacity, retail rates should be expected to increase by only 3% over 20 years (source). While more rooftop solar on the grid creates new challenges for utility engineers, some utilities are overplaying the potential shared cost.
We hope this article stoked your enthusiasm for solar panels! Local solar installers would be happy to run a complimentary personalized analysis for your home, and share a comprehensive report. You can find the best-reviewed local installers at SolarReviews.com. And you can get an initial idea of your personalized solar financials using the Solar-Estimate online calculator (which, if you'd like, can also connect you immediately with a few reputable local solar installers).