Everyone can benefit from turning their home into a solar home. Even people in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, places known for a lack of sunshine, can benefit from solar panels. It just takes one hour of midday summer sun to equal the amount of one year’s electricity demand in the U.S.
Solar panels can be expensive so what can you do if you can’t afford to purchase solar panels? Here are a few options to help you in your quest for creating a solar home.
Community solar is also known as “shared solar”, “roofless solar”, or “solar gardens”. According to the Department of Energy, about half of the households in the U.S. can’t put systems on their roof. This is may be due to living in a rental, not having enough space on their roof for solar panels, or because they can’t afford it. Investing in community solar can help you get around those roadblocks.
Shared solar divides the cost among all participants so multiple houses benefit from one solar array, usually off-site. This way you can fit the cost of a solar home to your budget. There are two ways to invest in community solar. Subscription-based shared solar lets you purchase a set amount of renewable energy production per month. You are charged a solar rate for that fixed “block” of renewable energy. Anything over that fixed amount will be charged at the standard rate. With ownership based shared solar, you purchase solar panels or a portion of the solar system upfront. Your bill will be the month’s usage minus your portion’s production.
A Solarize program is a group of local homeowners and businesses that get together to negotiate with an installer for reduced rates. This type of bulk purchasing makes the process easier and lowers installation costs. To find out if there is a group in your area, check out solarizetexas.org.
Another option if you aren’t able to purchase your own solar panels right away is a solar lease. Someone else owns the solar equipment but you pay to use the system. This option usually consists of lower upfront costs with fixed payments over a set amount of time.
If you are ineligible for the state or federal tax credits and don’t want the responsibility of maintaining the system yourself, this might be a good choice for you. The good thing about this option is you can still take advantage of net-metering by selling excess energy back to the utility company.
Similar to a solar lease in that another party owns the solar system but you get to use the electricity generated by the solar panels. Usually, a developer pays for the system and installation at little to no cost to the homeowner. Then the developer sells the electricity to the homeowner at a fixed rate lower than the public utility’s rate.
Unfortunately, in this option, the developer, not the homeowner, gets to take advantage of the tax credits. The developer is also responsible for the upkeep of the system for the duration of the power purchase agreement, typically 10-25 years. At the end of the contract term, the homeowner has the option of removing the system, buying the system, or extending the agreement.
Before converting to a solar home there are a few things you should do first that will bring you additional savings. A home energy audit can let you know other areas of your home that are wasting energy. You can weatherize your home and switch to more energy efficient lights and appliances. By doing these things first, you may reduce the size of the solar system needed to power your home which will increase your overall savings.