A Guide to Going Solar

Over the past decade, millions of Americans have begun fueling their homes with solar energy to benefit not only the environment, but their household budgets. This has been made possible, in part, by the continuously dropping cost of solar technology along with new ownership and financing options. Is solar right for your home? Read on to learn more.

Cost Benefits

Solar panels have the potential to save money and increase property value. The amount of savings is dependent on factors including energy usage, electricity rates, the system size, and access to solar light. To learn more about your potential savings get a quote from your solar company.

How Does Solar Work?

Most residential solar panels use “PV” systems. Panels absorb photons from the sun creating an electric field that is converted into electric energy. Inverters then direct the electricity to power your home. A net meter is used to monitor usage. The amount of energy generated depends on the size of the system and amount of sunlight the system receives. To learn more click here.

Environmental Benefits

According to the EPA, the average American home produces 6.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity each year. Solar panels convert sunlight instead of burning fuels to make electricity, thus greatly reducing the amount of carbon and other pollutants released into the environment translating to cleaner air and water.

Why Now?

The federal solar tax credit allows residents to deduct 22% of solar installation costs in 2021 before expiring at the start of 2022. Solar panels must be installed and running before the end of the year to obtain tax credit. DSIRE provides more information on tax incentives.

What Are My Options?

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are three primary options for going solar: 

Purchase a system 

You can purchase a solar system outright with cash or a loan. When you buy a system, you are the owner of the system and benefit from all electricity it produces. You are usually responsible for system upkeep, although most residential solar systems require no to low maintenance, and some providers offer maintenance services on purchased systems. You also are the beneficiary of tax credits. If you sell your home, you may include the system in the sale just like any other major home component, or the buyers assume the continuing payments. The PACE program provides additional financing options and information.  

Lease a system 

You can lease a solar system for a set time period. The solar company owns the system on your property and leases it to you. You benefit from using the electricity the system produces, and the solar company is responsible for system upkeep. You make monthly payments to the solar company at the agreed upon rate specified in the lease for use of the system. Some solar companies will allow you to lease with no initial costs (“no money down”). Some companies also give you an option to purchase the system after a certain amount of time. You have options when selling your home; make sure to ask your solar company before signing a lease.

Enter a PPA agreement 

From the consumer perspective, a PPA is very similar to a lease. Under a PPA, you pay for the actual units of electricity generated from the system, rather than leasing the system for a monthly fee regardless of how much energy it produces. In a power purchase agreement (PPA), as with a lease, the solar company owns the system on your property. Also similar to a lease, you agree to purchase the electricity produced by that system for a specified rate and agreed-upon terms specified in a contract. Some companies give you the option to purchase the system after a certain amount of time. You have options when selling your home; make sure to ask your solar company before signing a PPA.

Next Steps

Choosing the option that works best for you and finding a company to work with. Use Sonoma County’s Find A Contractor resource and filter by solar electric trade and “local.”

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