The Dollars and Sense of Solar

The cost to install solar has dropped 70% since 2010. You can cut your electric bill and join the Paris Accord in one smart move. Mais, ouis!

Five Figures to Consider

$50,000 is the average 20-year savings of a homeowner installing solar
$16,800 is the average price of a home solar installation
7 is the average number of years to earn back a home solar investment
30% federal income tax credit on cost of solar system
68% 10-year annual growth rate of the U.S. solar industry

Want to join the climate movement and save money at the same time? Consider going solar. Over the past seven years prices to install solar have dropped more than 70%, and residential solar installations have quintupled. Today the average homeowner earns back the cost of their solar system in seven years and over 20 years saves $50,000 in electricity costs at an average installation price of $16,800.

If you live in an apartment building or don’t want to make the investment in solar panels, there are still ways to convert at least part of your electricity use to solar. In 29 states, including New York, you can choose an electricity supplier other than your local utility. That means you may be able to choose a supplier that generates a large amount of its electricity through renewable sources such as solar. Your local utility will still deliver your electricity, read your meter and handle your billing, but the electricity you purchase will be made by the energy supplier you choose. For a list of providers in your area, check your utility’s website and also visit chooseenergy.com. In some states, including Connecticut, suppliers publish the amount of electricity they generate from renewable sources. In other states, you may have to call the suppliers. Make sure to compare electricity prices, contract terms and energy sources before making the switch, which is free and reversible.

If you are thinking about installing panels, you can learn about solar systems, estimate your savings with an online solar calculator and get competing quotes through online resources like the EnergySage Marketplace. Vendors will look at an aerial image of your property and your most recent electricity bill then submit solar proposals that include the system costs, the design, the estimated electricity savings, and the number of years to payback. You can compare quotes online, read customer reviews and contact installers to arrange a site visit. Not every installer is on the marketplace, so get local word-of-mouth recommendations as well.

Your solar system will not yet give you complete energy independence. That’s because there is no practical way to store the excess solar power generated by day for you to use at night or on cloudy days when your system is generating less power. Instead your solar power contractor will connect your solar system to your local utility’s grid, and your utility will credit you for the electricity you generate. Essentially, you become a supplier of clean electricity for your utility.

Solar electricity generation is still tiny compared with natural gas and coal, but it is growing fast, accounting for 39% of all new U.S. capacity last year. The solar boom has been fueled by a federal income tax credit worth up to 30% of the cost of the solar system for residences, businesses and utilities. Fears that the new administration might eliminate the credit, which has been in place since 2006, led to a post-election, fourth quarter 2016 surge in solar installations. According to current law, the Solar Investment Tax Credit will expire in 2021. Also adding uncertainty to the market is a trade dispute initiated by U.S. manufacturer Sunviva, which is looking for protection against cheaper, foreign competitors. If Sunviva succeeds, panel prices could rise. Higher prices would mean more years to breakeven, but as global warming continues, more businesses, individuals and communities are interested in making the investment in solar.

FIVE FIGURE THINKING
In switching to solar, you will be joining thousands of businesses, cities and states that are pledging action to reach the Paris Accord goals and you could save as much as 70%-100% on your electric bill.