- OK, I’m considering solar. What are my basic options?
There are conventional flat panels, mounted on a suitably oriented roof – or on the ground or on a pole. Unobstructed flat or south-facing roofs are ideal, but systems can be designed to accommodate a wider range. Pole-mounted systems can be designed to track the sun, for much higher efficiency (and cost). There are also more exotic new technologies like vented panels that are more efficient but not yet widely marketed in the Northeast. And there are roof shingles, which are good for some kinds of new construction but still expensive.
- How can I figure out if my home or business is a good fit for solar?
The ideal location has south-facing orientation and exposure to the sun for most of the day – no obstructing trees, tall buildings or other structures. You can confirm the orientation by checking Google Maps or Bing. If it isn’t ideal – but for example faces southeast and has good solar access – then discuss your specific situation with an experienced installation firm.
If the roof is more than a few years old, you want to have it looked at by a good roofer and discuss any repairs or upgrades. It is not hugely difficult to remove and re-install a solar array in the event that a roof does need repair later; but if you are replacing the roof at the same time you install your solar panels, you may be able to apply the Federal tax credit (see below) to the entire job. Some solar installers have roofers they work with and trust.
If your site is in a historic district, you will also want to consult with your local regulatory body such as a historic district commission, and with your neighbors. Often there are straightforward, reasonable guidelines that your system designer can easily meet.
3. Oh boy, so I can go off the grid and never get an electric bill?
You could, but not through Solarize. We are offering grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems that are designed to meet just about 100% of your home or business needs – more in the summer, less in the winter, so you can sell the excess into the grid and receive credits to offset your bill in the less solar-friendly months.
Unfortunately, with most grid-tied solar electric systems, when there is a power failure, your system will automatically shut down. This is for a very good reason – to be sure you don’t feed some electricity into the grid that could injure someone working to fix the lines. However, there are newer systems available with built-in energy storage so that you have a little access to electricity during a power failure. Ask your installer.
- Last week I had never heard of an inverter. Tell me about inverters.
This device takes the Direct Current (DC) from the panel, and converts it to Alternating Current (AC) for home use. There are (1) single ones that manage the system as a whole, and (2) smaller, smarter “micro-inverters” that manage each panel individually tune for optimum efficiency. Do your homework on suppliers. You will need to replace your inverter before the panel$. Plan for this.
- What do I need to know about quality, reliability, warranties?
A typical PV panel system has a 20 year warranty, guaranteeing that what you are buying is going to deliver, and if not, it can be replaced. Look at the exceptions – the more obscure the exceptions seem, the more carefully you should be investigating. The warranty on your inverter should specify that the manufacturer will repair it if it malfunctions, or replace with equal or better quality. Homeowner’s insurance will typically cover damage to your system, such as storm impacts, but not wear and tear or manufacturer deficiencies. You need to research and compare carefully.
- If I buy a solar PV system, what are my financing options?
Solarize Hudson Valley is partnering with RUPCO, provider of NYSERDA-approved Green Jobs, Green New York loans. These fit the needs of Solarize especially well because they are designed to be cash flow positive. That is, from the beginning, your loan payments will be less than the money you save.
There are a host of other loan products out there now that the financial institutions understand the economic value and the customer’s ability to pay back the bank. They are diverse, and they change, so do your homework You can also do a plain home equity loan and pay off the equity through the savings.
- What about no-money-down solar leasing options?
Large companies are partnering with financial institutions to offer leasing service – pay for the power you use rather than for the system — because they are recognizing the return on investment. Leases generally require a good credit score, above 740. Leases are generally designed to have a monthly cost of a little less than your current electric bill. Typically maintenance and repairs are handled by the supplier in a pretty seamless fashion.
There are also lease-buy programs from the big companies, whereby you pay a chunk up front and can capture the tax credits.
- What’s the scoop on state incentives, federal tax credits, and the payback for a home solar investment?
NYSERDA continues to offer direct rebates for residential solar purchases, and program details can always be found at www.nyserda.ny.gov. If you buy your system, then you can also qualify for a federal tax credit through the end of 2016. Payback depends on your usage of electricity and other factors so we don’t generalize – but here is a representative case study that illustrates the scale of benefits.
Suppose you need a 6 KW system to meet your energy needs. At an average Solarize price of $3.50/ watt, the initial system cost would be $21,000, but this would come down substantially with federal and state incentives. First, you would be able to claim a federal tax credit for 30% of the cost of the system (in this example, $6,300). Then, you would be eligible for an incentive from NYSERDA based on the size of your system. Right now, this incentive is set at $0.40 per Watt, so the incentive would be $2,400 in this case. Finally, you would also be able to claim a tax credit on your state taxes, which would be 25% of the cost of the system minus the NYSERDA incentive (so a quarter of $18,600), capped at $5,000. In this case, the state tax credit would be $4,650. You would have to pay federal taxes on the state incentives you received, though. The amount varies depending on your tax rate, but in an “average” case, this would be $2,404. So, after taxes and incentives, the net cost of your system would be $9,154:
Initial Cost $21,000
30% Federal Tax Credit -$6,300
$0.40/W State Incentive -$2,400
25% State Tax Credit -$4,650
Additional Federal Taxes +$2,404
Final Cost $10,054
Next let’s talk about your utility bill. Here’s a short explanation from Central Hudson of their residential utility bill. Each month, you pay them a flat $24 charge, plus a separate charge for every kiloWatt-hour of electricity you use. There are about a dozen per-kWh charges, which add up to about $0.137 per kWh using Central Hudson’s online data. For every kWh that your system generates, you would save that $0.137. If you generated more power than you used in one month, it would carry over to the next month as a credit and you would be able to use it then. If you have extra credits at the end of the year, the utility will write you a little check. You are able to roll over credits from month to month, but not from year to year, which is why it’s unwise to install a system that produces more energy than you will use over the course of a year.
The 6 kW system that we’re talking about would produce around 7,050 kWh per year. At a per-kWh rate of $0.137, that means you would avoid $966 in utility costs in the first year the system operates. If you multiply that by 20 years, you would save over $19,300. In reality, electricity rates will keep increasing gradually over time, so you’ll be saving than that each year more as time goes on. Also, many solar systems keep producing energy for much longer than 20 years, so your actual savings could be even more.
Final Cost $10,054
Year 1 Savings $966
20-Year Savings (no rate escalation) $19,320
As you study up, you will hear solar stories from home and business owners who have gotten their systems under a wide variety of market conditions. It is possible that people who installed solar in the past have not seen savings like this because costs have come down a lot in the last few years. And the economics of each project really is different, especially depending on how good your roof is for solar. But with the incentives that are available for solar in New York today, there really are opportunities for pretty substantial savings.
- How do I find a reliable designer/ installer?
Through the Solarize group purchasing program, t a set of pre-qualified installers work through each “hub” community to serve the six counties of the Mid-Hudson Valley (Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, Putnam, Sullivan).
To get a sense of the industry by viewing a broader list of contractors approved by NYSERDA and subject to their quality assurance program, see: http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/Contractors/Find-a-Contractor.aspx
- Are there solar homeowners or groups I could talk with to learn their experiences?
Solarize Hudson Valley has a regular schedule of open houses so you can meet people who have already gone solar. The campaign installers can also provide you with references on systems they have put in using any particular technology you are interested in
- How exactly does Solarize make all this easier?
Solarize simplifies your research with community educational events, high quality informational materials, and a toll-free help line (866- 205-2999). It builds trust with carefully pre-selected installation firms that have passed our stringent, two-phase proposal process and dedicate staff to serving the community. Solarize’s tiered pricing system also creates an opportunity for everyone involved to cut their costs further as more people sign on. All these supports are available for a fixed period, usually 4 – 5 months, allowing enough time to make a thoughtful decision but not time to procrastinate.
- What are the options for participating in Solarize in 2016? What happened in 2015?
We are launching in Saugerties (all of Ulster County), Northern Dutchess (all of Dutchess County) and Nyack (all of Rockland County) at the beginning of March 2016. Anyone in the Mid-Hudson Valley is welcome to attend Solarize events or sign up online to participate in the group purchasing program. We encourage you to find the “hub” community nearest you.
Solarize Hudson Valley piloted in Kingston through September 12, 2015. We had five additional “hub” communities where most of the programming took place: Goshen and Warwick (working together), Rosendale and Woodstock (working together) and the “Beacon +” campaign reaching into neighboring Newburgh and Cold Spring for joint events. Solarize Goshen-Warwick, Rosendale-Woodstock and Beacon + ended in October 2015.
13 I understand that Solarize requires me to choose just one contractor to assess my site and give me a proposal. What if I want to shop around?
We want you to shop around and do research on the available solar contractors, through Solarize and more broadly. We provide company profiles, comparison pricing sheets, and information on Solarize discounts in each of the pricing tiers. Our community educational events are places where you can meet, and even interview, the two or three selected installers serving each community. We simply ask that you do that research at events, online or by phone, and use it to choose one installer for your site assessment out of respect for their time. Unless you have a special circumstance such as a building with poor orientation for solar, it’s likely that multiple installers will give you similar proposals.
- What about the Solarize wave deadlines? What do they mean?
Solarize group purchasing discounts apply to contracts signed with Solarize selected installers by the deadline of a given campaign.
Kingston – enroll in Solarize and choose an installer to assess your site by September 12, 2015; sign a contract by Oct. 2, 2015
Wave 2 communities (Woodstock-Rosendale, Goshen-Warwick, Beacon +) – enroll in Solarize by October 23, 2015 (with a little flexibility) and sign your contract by November 16, 2015
- I hear that solar technology keeps improving. So should I go for it now or wait?
Now. Because you can save money now, and the improvements in solar we can expect any time soon are incremental, not dramatic breakthroughts. In addition, the federal and state incentives are on their way down. New York makes direct, up-front payments to solar installers for a portion of the system cost – currently about 1/3. This is the amount that the customer never has to come up with. And for anyone who pays federal taxes, there is a credit of 30% for residential and business solar systems – but only through the end of 2016. Financially, there will never be a better time to go solar.