If you clicked on this article, chances are you’re considering whether it’s worth it to install solar panels on your home. You could save thousands in electric bills, you’d help the environment, you’d raise the value of your home — when you really think about it, there are many reasons why investing in solar energy is a good decision.
Well, as luck would have it, your timing is impeccable. Congress extended the Solar Investment Tax Credit (referred to as the ITC), the very subsidy that gave birth to the massive U.S. solar industry you see today. However, despite its overwhelming success and popularity amongst homeowners and solar electricity generators alike, the credit’s value will begin to dwindle after 2019. It will shrink to a mere 10% for commercial and utility-scale installations by 2022 and completely vanish for residential solar in that same year.1
There’s no need to worry — not yet anyway. Right now, homeowners can still take advantage of this money-saving opportunity by investing in a home solar system that will pay for itself in a few years. However, not every home is a suitable candidate for solar panels, and a lot of people want the benefits of solar but not the actual panels.
That’s why we’re here. While we don’t (yet) install residential solar energy systems, we are still residential solar experts — by answering these 11 questions, you’ll gain a greater understanding of home solar and if it’s right for you.
11 Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering Solar Panels for Your Home
1. How Much Energy Does My Home Consume?
To know how much energy your family uses, simply look on your last electricity bill. It will tell you how much energy you’ve used in kilowatt-hours (kWh), and how much the electric company is charging you. If your utility company has an online portal, even better! This way, you can investigate how much energy you’ve used over time — without keeping all of your old bills.
Why it matters: Homeowners need to be aware of how much energy their household uses — both in general and before choosing solar. If you consume a lot of electricity, then you’ll need more solar panels to power your home. If your household uses less than average per square footage (or you’re planning on becoming more energy-efficient), that translates to fewer solar panels required and a smaller monetary investment, which means more dollars in your pocket.
2. How Expensive is My Electricity Bill?
Just like question one, you should either find a recent utility bill or calculate the average amount you pay over a 12-month period. The latter will be more accurate since your energy bill fluctuates based on the time of year, as you use more electricity in some months than you do others (thanks, air conditioner!).
With that information in hand, you can calculate how much money you could save if you completely powered your home with solar panels.
- For an average U.S. household, the electric bill is approximately $120.2
- Solar panels can last for 30-some-odd years.3
- Calculate your raw savings!
$120 (average monthly electric bill) x 12 (months per year) x 30 (average lifetime of solar panels in years) =
Keep in mind: This raw number doesn’t include the cost of solar panels, installation or maintenance.
3. How Can My Home Be More Energy Efficient?
If you discovered in the above steps that you use a LOT of energy or if you’re generally interested in reducing your already-low bill even more, we’ve written a very helpful article with energy efficiency tips. But if you’re thinking “Too long, didn’t read,” let’s quickly recap our seven tried-and-true energy usage reduction tips:
- Ceiling fan direction makes a whirl-d of difference. During the summer, ceiling fans should spin clockwise to push cool air down into the room. During the winter, ceiling fans should spin counter-clockwise so they pull warm air up to the ceiling and then flow into the corners of the room.
- Skip preheating the oven (or skip it entirely). Your oven is a massive energy hog, and for most cooking, you don’t need to pre-heat it. Sometimes, you don’t even need it at all. Microwave ovens use much less electricity.
- Buy power strips. Even when a device is seemingly turned off, it still uses power if it’s plugged into a wall. Such waste equals $200 worth of electricity over one year.
- Do smarter laundry. Your washer and dryer are two of the most wasteful appliances in your home. We recommend the following:
- Wash your clothes in cold water
- Air dry when you can.
- When you can’t, leave the dryer 25% empty and toss in some dryer balls to make your clothes dry faster.
- Replace your air filters. Keeping your air filters clean can save 15% on your electricity bill. This means changing them every three months.
- Install weatherstripping. It’s cheap, easily accessible at your local big-box home improvement store, fairly easy to install by yourself, and can save up to 30% in space conditioning costs.
- Keep your refrigerator coils clean. If your fridge constantly kicks on and off and still has trouble staying cool, you may need to clean the condenser coils. It can slash your electricity consumption.
4. How Much Do Residential Solar Panels Cost?
With the 30% investment tax credit (ITC) credit shaved off, an average solar panel installation will likely run you an average of $12,500.4 However, with the planned phase-out of the ITC, that price will most definitely increase over each subsequent year:
- In 2020, the ITC will lower to 26%
- In 2021, the ITC will lower to 22%
- In 2022, the ITC will no longer exist for residential solar projects; it will remain at 10% for commercial and utility-scale projects
However, there are a number of other incentives and rebates currently available. Check your state, city and even your local utility (also called your Transmission and Distribution Service Provider), as many of these entities encourage the installation of solar.
Plus, if you’re in a state like Texas, you have the option of net metering (which we discuss in further detail below). In a nutshell, net metering creates opportunities for households to be compensated by their utility company if they produce more solar energy than they use in their homes.
This only further increases the ROI on your solar panels and hopefully makes that investment seem a little less daunting.
5. Is My Home Suitable for Rooftop Solar Panels?
Your roof, the angle, the surroundings, even where you’re located in the U.S. can determine the maximum amount of power your rooftop solar panels can produce. A few key factors you should check are:
- How much direct, unfettered sunlight your roof receives
- The condition, age, material, direction and angle of your roof
- Environmental factors such as dust, snow or shade
- Solar irradiance for your part of the U.S. (most solar energy falls in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas.)5
6. How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Power My Home?
On average, a household expends 10,972 kWh annually or 914 kWh every month.6 Yes, your home’s energy usage is unique, but for the sake of the math later, let’s stick with this statistic. While this estimate should not replace a professional evaluation, it provides a rough idea about the feasibility of solar panel installation for your house.
- Calculate your average daily electricity use. For 914 kWh, the average daily use would be around 30 kWh per day.
- Determine the average amount of sun your panels receive. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say your panels get 4 hours of direct sun each day with inefficiencies included.
- Determine the electricity output of your panels. If you install 250-watt solar panels, each panel will produce 1kWh per day if it gets 4 hours of direct sun daily.
- How much of your home do you want to power? Again, for the sake of the exercise, let’s say 100%, although this is rare.
Now, let’s do the math:
30 kWh (your daily electricity use) x 1 (or 100% of your energy use to be powered by solar) x 1kWh (how much electricity your panels produce per day) =
30 solar panels
7. Does My State Have Net Metering Rules?
While you could completely power your home with solar panels, the majority of homeowners don’t use them as their only power source. Instead, their homes are net-metered. Here’s how it works:
- Your household utility meter monitors how much electricity you consumed vs. how much electricity your solar system generates.
- If your home produces excess solar energy, especially during daylight hours, then that electricity would go into the grid to power nearby homes and businesses.
- You’d only pay the “net” consumption. This is the electricity you consumed at night or when your home’s electricity use exceeds the solar panels’ output.
- Only when your solar panels’ electricity generation exceeds your gross electricity use would you be monetarily compensated.
If you want to be compensated for your excess renewable energy, you should check to see if your state offers net metering and whether there are any policies in place around them. Currently, 38 states have mandatory net metering rules in place, and two states — Texas and Idaho — have voluntarily adopted net metering programs.7 Which means only some utilities have policies in place.
8. Will I Still Need an Electricity Plan?
The only way you won’t need an electricity plan is if you’re completely off the grid. This is an extremely rare setup and requires a battery storage system (more below). If your home is net-metered, you have an agreement with a retail electricity provider wherein they will agree to buy the excess power off your hands. Chariot Energy happens to be one of those providers!
9. Will I Want Battery Storage to Use My Solar Power after the Sun Sets?
If you have battery storage, you don’t necessarily have to be “off the grid.” If you have solar panels but don’t have a net metering contract with an electric company and are still connected to the power grid, then you need battery storage so you can use the excess clean energy for a later time when your panels aren’t producing.
10. When Will My Home Solar System Pay for Itself?
The ultimate question. How long will it take your solar panel system to break even? While we could provide that rough estimate for how many panels you need, there are so many unique factors that can determine when your solar system will pay for itself:
- Cost of installation
- Tax credits and incentives
- Your energy usage
- Your electricity plan and bill
- Maintenance costs
- The efficiency of your panels
That said, the average break-even mark is around 7.5 years.8 After that, you’ll begin saving money. And do keep in mind that these systems last for 30 years.
11. Are There Other Options Besides Installing a Rooftop Solar System?
If you discover you’re not eligible for rooftop solar panels, you have other options, including:
- Ground mount panels
- Community solar systems
- Renewable energy credits (RECs)
While ground mount panels typically bear higher installation costs, the benefit is your solar system isn’t married to your roof’s specifications, so you can adjust the size, height and angle of your panels as the sun dictates. Community solar is ideal for those who cannot or prefer not to install solar panels on their own land. Community solar, or a solar garden, is a solar power plant whose electricity is shared by more than one home.
RECs, on the other hand, are perfect for those that cannot or prefer not to have solar panels. A REC is a sellable, tradable and barterable legal instrument that represents the environmental benefits of renewably generated electricity. RECs are the basis of all green and renewable energy plans, even ours at Chariot Energy! Contact us today if RECs sound like a good option for you.
“It seems like there are a lot of questions…”
Yep — we realize this process can be a bit intimidating for anyone, let alone if you’re just entering the world of solar. And right now, you probably have way more questions than answers. We recommend taking one question at a time in the order we put them in — we numbered them for a reason. 😉
If you’ve got sticker shock, you’re not alone. Think of an investment in solar panels this way: Installing solar panels is like buying a car. It’s a big investment, but if you do your research, test drive a few, and make a smart and informed decision, your investment will provide great returns for many, many years.