Not very long ago, home solar was just for early adopters, off-grid locations, and for the ultra-green crowd that wanted to put their money where their mouth was, so to speak. But as the cost of solar modules continues to drop, and solar efficiency continues to rise, home solar is now so much more than a feel-good home accessory, and is now a solid investment with a great return.
When coupled with state and federal tax credits, along with net-metering programs (which allow solar homes to “sell” excess electricity back to the grid) and innovative solar financing models, installing a home solar system has become a lot more mainstream, and much more lucrative over the long run (that solar array will keep generating out clean electricity for at least 30 years) than just about any other home investment option.
Up until about 1987, the cost of solar remained above $10 per watt (which was a huge drop from the cost of solar in 1977 of somewhere in the neighborhood of $76 per watt), so in the late 80s, if you wanted to install an average-sized home solar system of 5 kilowatts (kW), it would set you back about $50,000. And some people are still holding that number in their heads whenever the topic of home solar comes up, even though the current cost of solar is only about a third of that, and excellent solar incentives are making the actual cost to the homeowner even lower.
With the current median cost of solar of about $3.75 per watt, and an average home-sized solar system weighing in at 5kW, an investment in a residential solar array is less than half of that of buying a new car, yet your solar panels will never require any fuel purchases or expensive maintenance, and they’ll last for decades. And instead of losing financial value right from the get-go, as a new vehicle does, a home solar system can actually add value to your property.
When is the last time you’ve seen a new car that can function almost as well on the day you buy it as it will 30 years later, requires no fuel, and increases your property value? (If you see one, be sure to let me know, because I could really use a car like that.)
But is home solar really worth it for you? After all, even if the cost of solar is incredibly cheap, that doesn’t mean that it’s right for every home in every region around the country. If you don’t own the house, then you probably aren’t going to have a solar system installed, and if you share a roof with others (such as in a townhouse or condo), then it’s a lot more difficult to work out than if you’re the sole owner of that underutilized roof space. And just because it’s possible to install a rooftop solar array on a building doesn’t necessarily make it a great investment if other factors will ultimately limit the production of electricity from the panels, such as shading from nearby buildings, or being oriented away from the path of the sun or having a really steep pitch to the roof, etc.
Home solar can be worth it to you if you own the house: Installing solar panels on your roof (or in your yard as a ground-mounted solar system) isn’t something you should do on a whim, but is rather a choice to make when you want to invest in your home’s value and in saving on energy costs for years to come.
Solar power can be worth it if you can afford it: Like any other big purchase, if you can’t afford it, then it’s not worth it. If you’re not able to invest in owning a home solar system, just from a financial standpoint, you may still be able to get a solar lease, and let the solar company do the ‘heavy lifting’ of covering the cost of the system, while you enjoy the benefits of clean energy without a long-term commitment.
Solar can be worth it if your local electric costs are high: Regions with higher electricity costs are great candidates for residential solar, because while those electric rates are probably only going to higher in the future, your home solar array is going to continue to generate clean energy at the same pace for decades, meaning your actual electricity costs will essentially go down over the years.
If you use a lot of electricity each month, solar may be worth it: Homes that don’t use very much electricity each month aren’t the ideal customer for solar installers (though low energy homes can still benefit from rooftop solar, as they have a good chance of covering 100% of the home’s electricity needs, as well as generating an excess to sell back to the grid). Homes that have average to high electrical consumption can end up saving more, dollar-wise, on their energy costs than a low energy home, just because of their initially high utility bills that could be slashed with solar.
If you’ve already invested in energy efficiency at home, solar could be worth it: This point might seem somewhat contradictory to the one above, but if you’ve made the effort to upgrade your appliances to energy efficient models, you’ve killed all the vampire power draws, and you’ve added extra insulation to your home and installed an energy saving landscape, then you may be able to cover all your home electricity needs with a solar array.
Solar power can be worth it if other rebates and incentives are available: Every state and municipality has different solar incentives available, and every utility company has different guidelines or rebates for energy production and efficiency. Researching your state’s solar incentives, as well as your local county and city programs governing renewable energy and energy efficiency programs is a great place to start the solar journey, as you might find that going solar is too good to pass up in your location.
Solar might be worth it if your neighbors have it: If your local utility is already a veteran when it comes to solar, and you aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel by choosing clean energy, then your home solar project is already off to a good start. If your neighbors have a rooftop solar array already, then chances are they’ve done their homework and found that going solar pays (but be sure and talk to them and ask questions about their solar installation).
If you have an electric vehicle, solar might be worth it: Even if you don’t have an electric car in your driveway at the moment, but you’re considering buying a plug-in electric vehicle in the near future, then investing in home solar now can be a win/win when you drive up in your EV. Not only will a home solar system allow you to drive your electric car with virtually no fuel (energy) costs, but the electric vehicle could also serve as a backup power source, or can be an excellent way to use any excess electricity generated by the system (instead of selling it back to the grid).
The specifics of every home or business are different, and there’s truly no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “Is solar worth it for me?” but if you’d like to find out more about what home solar can do for you, take a couple of minutes and get some solar answers from our experts.
Image: Oregon DOT
May 13, 2015
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