Geek Out On Solar Energy

Energy-Alabama-Logo-Website.pngOur thanks to Daniel Tait of Energy Alabama for this great post this week!  While Earth Day may have been this past weekend, staying green is something that’s hip and in style 365 days a year.  Daniel tells us about the benefits and the how-to of solar energy in the piece below!


solar
Time to geek out on solar. Let’s be honest. Solar is sexy as hell. You know you want some. There’s a lot to know about solar before you take the leap.

I’m going to share all the knowledge I’ve gained over the last 5 years working on solar projects so you know the best way to go solar, if you decide to go down that route. Also, if you’re not motivated to go solar after this, I’ve failed you.


Why Go Solar?

Everyone has their own reasons but see how you fare on this quiz.

Am I a Good Candidate for Solar?

Ok now for real… To answer that question in the affirmative, you need to also answer yes to the following.

  1. Is the property free and clear of trees and other items that would obstruct the sweet, sweet rays of the sun?
  2. Does the property have a south-facing roof space or open area(s) where a solar system could be installed on the ground?
  3. Does the property have a relatively new roof that is expected to last for at least another 25-30 years?
  4. Do I expect to own the property for at least another 8 years?

If you answered yes to all these questions, things are looking up for you. You’re probably a good candidate for solar.

What Y’all Tryin’ Do?

solarjumpAll good so far? If your property is feasible, now you need to figure out what exactly you want to do. Your objectives will be limited by your property, your personal desires, and of course, that pesky money thing. The two biggest things you need to determine are:

  1. Do you want to go off the grid or connect to the grid?
  2. Either way, how far do you want to go? Do you want to take your whole home off the grid? Do you want to offset just 50% of your usage?

PS – It is totally possible to go off the grid and be a normal person. But hey normal isn’t for Huntsville.

Here are some things to consider to help you make your decision.

  1. Do you have lots of roof space or open area? If you’re trying to go completely off the grid or offset all your usage, you’ll probably need a decent amount of space to go solar.
  2. Have you already invested in energy conservation and efficiency? It’s cheaper than solar, although way less sexy. Also, the more efficient you are, the less solar you need to buy.

Which brings us to…

The Benjamins

There are a lot of moving parts to understand. Let’s break them down.

Residential solar in North Alabama is selling for about $3.00 per watt (we’ll explain later) before tax incentives. For example, the average home in North Alabama installs 5 kilowatts (kW) of grid-connected solar. This would cost about $15,000 BEFORE tax incentives.

A homeowner can expect a 30% federal tax credit if you have the taxable income to take the credit against. If you’re able to use the 30% federal tax credit, this would bring the total cost down to $10,500.

PS – You own your own business? Sweet.

Additional incentives, such as accelerated depreciation, are available to businesses and can shave 2-3 years off the payback time. Also, businesses can expect lower costs per watt (currently around $2.00/watt) since they typically install larger systems and can take advantage of an economy of scale that homes cannot.

{INSERT OBLIGATORY CYA STATEMENT – We recommend that you consult a tax professional before making this decision.}

cashcat.pngSo… You have $10k just hanging around? Me either. Basically, you have two and a half options to pay for home solar in North Alabama.

  1. Ok maybe you really did have $10k. Then pay cash. Also, please donate to Energy Alabama
  2. Use traditional financing. This can take many forms, but the idea is the same. The cheapest form of financing is likely to be a home equity loan, but you can also get unsecured loans for the system. But if you do this, you’ll still likely need to put some money down.
  3. (Really 2.5 but Microsoft Word wouldn’t work…) Long story short, you CAN add it to your mortgage at the time of purchase of a new, or a new to you, home. On 30 year mortgages, this is cash flow positive… MEANING, you’ll be making money every single month from the get go.

Last note on budgeting: If you decide to go with battery storage, even for a small system, you should know what kind of pricing to expect. Most battery storage systems add about 60-70% additional cost. So, if your solar system is expected to cost $10,000 and you want to add battery backup, you should expect to add $6,000-7,000 to the total project cost. Yeah not cheap. Yet.

This extra cost isn’t without benefit though. With an extra investment, you’ll be able to completely disconnect from the grid and rely wholly on yourself. Of course, battery technology continues to fall in price. Dramatically. This will only become a better and better decision over time.

Get Geeky with Me

If you’ve spent any time around solar panels you’ll notice some oddities. So let’s get into the weeds.

Solar panels are rated in WATTS and systems are rated in KILOWATTS and MEGAWATTS. Remember the example of a 5kW home solar system?

But we don’t pay utility bills in kilowatts. We pay bills in kilowatt hours! Kilowatts are power and kilowatt hours are energy.
solarpanel

OMG… how am I supposed to read this garbage?

Under absolute perfect conditions (read: laboratory), this panel will produce 250 watts of power. If conditions were perfect for an entire hour, it would have produced 250 watt-hours. If conditions were perfect for 4 hours, it would produce 1 kilowatt hour.

Whew…

How often is perfect? Well never… You need to multiply the rating on the panel with the North Alabama average solar radiation per day. Hint: 4.5 hours.

You can also cheat and go to: pvwatts.nrel.gov – They make it easy to see how much energy you can produce based on local weather data and your inputs. It is VERY accurate based on our comparisons with data from live installations here in North Alabama.

/geektalk

The End Parts

I hope I haven’t failed you. If I haven’t failed you, you’ll want to go solar now. I got you. Just shoot me an email at dtait@alcse.org and we can do a preliminary analysis of your home or business. I won’t charge you anything. But you could become a member of Energy Alabama if you loved me. Seriously, it’s like $2/month.

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