Who couldn’t benefit from one less bill to pay? Especially one as substantial as your monthly electricity bill.
With solar energy, homeowners may be able to cut off a significant portion of their monthly energy expenses. But when you factor in the cost of the solar system itself, is it actually worth it?
In order to tell if solar is right for your home, consider these four questions:
- How Much Do You Pay for Electricity?
- Do You Have a Suitable Place to Put The Panels?
- How Much Sunlight Does Your Region Get?
- What Incentives are Available to You?
We’ll help you answer each of those questions below so you’ll get an idea of whether or not solar is right for your home.
How Much Do You Pay for Electricity?
The amount of money you can save by installing solar panels is directly related to how much you typically spend on electricity. This is because you’re replacing the electricity you purchase from the utility company each month with free energy generated by your solar system. The higher your bill tends to be, the more money you will save with solar.
Expensive electric bills are caused by two factors: your electricity rate, and how much electricity you use.
High Electricity Rates
Electricity rates vary from state to state and utility to utility. If you live in an area with higher rates, the financial benefits of going solar will be greater.
The map below shows average electricity rates for homes across the country in 2018. While the averages can’t perfectly match what you pay, it should give you a good benchmark to compare your rate against. You can see exactly what you pay by taking a look at your most recent electricity bill. To find out how, check out our blog on how to read an electricity bill.
States in the Mid-Atlantic region, like Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware all have average rates on the higher side. This trend seems to push inland, including Ohio and other states in the midwest.
But even if you don’t live in one of the states that have a higher-than-average electricity rate, you could still stand to save a good deal of money by switching to solar. Electricity rates will almost always increase, whereas the price you pay for free solar energy will stay the same - zero.
The other contributing factor to high electric bills is the amount of energy you use. Take a moment to think about how much electricity your home uses. Do you have electric heat and cooling? Do you often run electric appliances or devices?
The more electricity you use, the greater your home’s savings from solar energy will be. Even if you live in an area with relatively low rates, your bills can still be driven up if you use a good deal of energy.
Do You Have a Suitable Place to Install The Panels?
The next thing you’ll want to consider when evaluating whether or not solar is a good investment is how much sunlight the panels will receive. This is based on a few factors, but it depends on whether or not you want to place the panels on your roof as a roof mount or on the ground as a ground mount.
While roof mounts and ground mounts have their fair share of positives and negatives, the best option for you will come down to where the sunlight is on your property.
Roof mounts are often the less expensive option because they’re installed on the home’s existing roof, instead of a man-made racking system secured into the ground.
However, there are a few factors that make certain roofs more suitable for solar than others. These include the roof’s age, orientation, pitch angle, and exposure to sunlight.
The Age of Your Roof
Solar panels can be installed on many different types of roofs, from metal to asphalt shingle to flat rubber roofs. Before the system is installed, your solar installer should conduct an in-depth analysis of your roof, getting the signed approval of a third-party structural engineer to ensure that the roof can support the additional weight of the solar panels.
However, if your roof is old and in need of replacing, you should do this before the solar panels are installed. While getting your roof redone is never an expense anyone looks forward to, the good news is a solar system installed on top of the roof could help protect and prolong its life.
The cardinal direction in which your roof faces can play a significant role in how much energy your solar panels produce. Certain angles allow for a prolonged sun exposure, which means more free electricity.
South-facing roofs tend to get the most sun in the northern hemisphere, making them the opportune place to put your solar panels. However, if there are trees blocking the southern roof, or if there are several gables on the south-facing roofline that cause shading, it might not be the best option.
Roofs that face east and west can be good alternatives, still getting a fair share of sunlight each day throughout the year. Solar panels placed on roofs in these directions may reduce production by around 15% (depending on the tilt of the roof). However, thanks to dropping material costs, this can be easily remedied by adding a few extra panels to make up for any lost production.
The Tilt of the Panels
The tilt of the solar panels is the degree they’re installed in relation to level. In most cases, the tilt of roof-mounted panels is dependent on the pitch of your roof. To maximize the production of the panels, you’ll want a tilt that matches the latitude of your location. For example, if you live near the equator, a tilt closer to zero will result in more electricity generated. If you live in the central latitudes of the US, you’ll want a tilt around 35 degrees. That said, the difference in production will be minimal if it does not perfectly match your latitude.
Exposure to Sunlight
A very important factor in the success of your solar system is that it has unrestricted access to sunlight. Trees, other buildings, or anything else that stands in the way of the sun reaching your panels can have a negative effect on how much energy your system can produce, which means less free electricity and less money saved.
If your property has several trees that cast shade on the roof throughout the day, you will likely need to remove those trees or find another place to install the solar panels.
Thankfully, solar installers are able to use a handy tool called a solar pathfinder to analyze shading in an area and work that into the production estimate.
Solar ground mounts can be a great alternative to roof mounts if your roof isn’t the best location for solar panels. Ground mounts have the advantage of being able to be placed almost anywhere on your property, allowing you to find the sunniest spot. They can be installed to face south, and they can be installed at the optimal tilt for your location.
However, the further away the ground mount is from your home and electrical service, the more expensive it will be to install, as electrical equipment will be installed underground to connect the solar panels to your home.
How Much Sunlight Does Your Region Get?
While how many sunny days your area gets certainly has an impact on how much energy your solar panels produce, it has much less of an impact than what many people think.
That’s because even on cloudy days, your solar panels still produce a fair bit of electricity. A quick way to check if your system is producing energy on a cloudy day is to look outside for shadows. If enough sunlight penetrates the cloud layer to create shadows, your solar system can likely produce electricity.
On a cloudy day, your system can still produce 70-90% of the electricity it would on a sunny day, depending on how frequently the clouds pass over your system or how thick the layer of clouds is. Even if you live in an area that has less sun than Southern California and Arizona, solar can still be a lucrative investment. Learn more about the weather's impact on solar energy here.
Solar installers should take into account cloudy weather when calculating your system’s production in your solar quote, so you’ll be prepared to make a well-informed decision based on your situation. And if you live in an area with net metering, you’ll be able to use the electricity your system overproduced on sunny days to make up for the cloudy days.
What Incentives Are Available to You?
Solar incentives help to knock down the installation costs of your solar system, fast-forwarding your payback, and bolstering your savings. The solar incentives available to homeowners will vary based on where you live and a few other factors.
The Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit
The solar investment tax credit (ITC) from the federal government has been helping homeowners, businesses, and farmers go solar for years. In short, the amount of money you’ll pay in taxes will be reduced by 26% of what it cost you to install your solar system, meaning you’re only paying 74% of the solar installation cost. And the best part is that’s money back in your pocket the year the solar system is energized, giving you money to reinvest back into your home.
The 26% savings is only available for 2020 as the federal government continues to reduce this credit. In 2021, it will reduce to 22%. In 2022, it will go away entirely for homeowners. This means waiting a few years to go solar will cost you big time.
All you need to be eligible for the ITC is to be a solar owner (as opposed to leasing a system) and to have federal tax liability.
Depending on where you live, there may or may not be additional incentives that can lower the cost of installing solar. New York residents could save additional money on their solar system with the NYSERDA Grant, which can dramatically increase the amount of money your solar system saves you. Likewise, Maryland homeowners can take advantage of a $1,000 grant on systems up to 20 kW in size.
SRECs, or solar renewable energy credits, are an additional type of compensation available to owners of solar systems. For every megawatt-hour (1,000 kWhs) generated by your solar system, you will receive one credit. These credits are how states reach their environmental energy goals, like Maryland’s 25% by 2020 and New Jersey’s 50% by 2030.
The price of each SREC is market-based, meaning it fluctuates depending on supply and demand. The higher your state’s alternative energy goals are and the fewer solar systems in your states market generating clean energy, the higher prices will go.
It’s important to note that SRECs are only available in select states:
- Massachusetts (as of 2018, MA is no longer accepting new solar systems into their market)
- New Jersey
- Pennsylvania (The PA SREC border was closed to all out-of-state systems as of Oct 31,2017)
- Washington, D.C. (closed to out-of-state systems)
How Much Can My Home Save with Solar?
From the price of electricity to the orientation of your roof, there are so many variables that go into how much a solar system can save you. If you’re ready to learn about how lucrative a solar investment would be for your home, you can sit down with one of our solar consultants, download our free solar buying guide, or continue to browse through our many educational blog posts.