Resurgence of solar power

House Solar Once considered too costly, solar is getting hot (pun intended). Many factors are making it easier for consumers to choose solar; including lower installation costs and tax credits. Solar energy has also become a selling point for some home builders in sunny states such as California; where builders have offered the option of solar panel installation during construction.

Solar technology has come a long way. Manufacturing advances have not only made the technology more affordable, it has paved the way to new applications as well. Besides the panels with which we have become accustomed, photovoltaic (PV) technology is now available as roof shingles and windows; and some companies that can even apply the PV to other exterior home surfaces.

Is the investment worth it? A recent Washington Post piece (March 26, 2014; Real Estate Matters: Are solar panels worth the investment?) explores the value of installing solar panels – and concludes that it depends on your individual costs and savings. Authors Glink and Tamkin take into account the installation costs, tax credits and a monthly power bill of $120. Assuming that their system would supply all of their electricity needs, they applied the $120/month savings to repay the loan taken to cover the solar panel installation; and based on their calculations – there would be no savings for the first ten years.

However, your actual utility savings can vary on a number of factors, including (but not limited to): the amount of solar power produced; system size and placement; and available sun energy. Additionally, the cost of maintaining your solar panel system can vary; regular maintenance is required to ensure your system is producing power efficiently. Maintaining your system typically entails cleaning the panels (debris, dust, bird droppings can collect on surfaces) and testing other components. Furthermore, because the average life expectancy of a solar panel is about 30 years (depending in manufacturer), you should consider the time you intend to live in your home and resale. Home buyer attitudes on existing systems and possible replacement costs is not entirely clear.

If you’re considering a PV system, offers these tips: measure the amount of sun available; calculate the size of the system to meet your needs; predetermine the best location for the system, as well as making sure it will fit; decide if the system is a standalone or connected to the power grid; and how will the safety needs be met (

Before choosing a contractor, recommends due diligence. Ask about the company’s time in business and experience installing the type of system you have chosen (technical differences can exist). Check the contractor/company for complaints, judgments or liens. And, of course, make sure the contractor has appropriate valid licenses; according to the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation website, “a home improvement contractor or subcontractor license is required to install solar panels for a homeowner, regardless of whether the panels will be installed on the home or an outbuilding adjacent to a residence, or will be attached to the land next to the residence. A licensed master electrician is required to hook the panels to the electric system.”

Finally, also recommends getting multiple installation quotes because panel efficiency can vary depending on the manufacturer. The estimates should include the total cost of getting the PV system up and running, including hardware, installation, connection to the grid, permitting, sales tax, and warranty.

© Dan Krell

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