Thanks to federal tax incentives and a growing concern for the environment, many Americans are installing rooftop solar panels to cover or offset the cost of their utilities. In the last ten years the solar industry has grown by an unprecedented 1,600 percent and it shows not signs of slowing. As solar becomes more affordable, however, debates have opened up around the use of solar power and its effect on older ways of producing electricity (like coal-fired and nuclear power plants).
Solar power is a complicated process that is part of an even more complicated industry. If you're thinking about making the switch, consider this your crash course in rooftop solar power.
I'm interested in solar. Where do I start?
Before you call a local solar provider and start getting sales pitches it's useful to know some background information on solar in your area. Do some research on your home state to see if your local government has incentivized solar in any way. Some states have provided funding to banks to offer loans for home solar systems.
You should also consider some details about your home, your current energy provider, and the amount of time you're going to spend in your home. If you plan on moving anytime soon, leased panels may not be something you want to put up on the roof. Some buyers will happily take over the lease; others won't be so sure or may see it as a headache.
You'll also want to learn about net metering from your current electricity provider. The electricity market is now in flux due to the increase of solar. As solar makes electricity more accessible, it could make electricity costs go up from your local utilities company. Net metering is the way that power companies measure how much electricity your panels put into the grid during the daytime which will be discounted from your monthly utility bill.
Finally, you'll want to consider how beneficial the panels would be to your bill. If your home doesn't receive a lot of sun or have enough viable roof space, solar panels might not be worth it. If you can buy the panels flat out, however, they'll likely save you a lot of money in the long run.
Buying, leasing, and financing your panels
Buying, leasing, and financing all have their advantages and disadvantages which you'll want to weigh before committing to one option. For example, even if you have the funds to buy outright you might prefer the leasing option for the maintenance and repairs guarantee. Maybe you want to buy or finance to take advantage of local and federal tax incentives.
Another thing to consider is the changing technology itself. As solar power improves, so does the technology that makes it possible. If you're thinking of moving within the next few years it might be in your best interest to wait for the next generation of panels for your new home instead of buying panels that will be outdated in the home you're in.
Making the calls
Once you've decided you want to go ahead with solar panels on your home you have another round of research to do. Compare providers in your area. Get quotes and setup options to find one that you're happy with. Get a sample contract and read all of the fine print. Finally, check out the customer reviews to make sure you'll be happy with this provider--especially if you're leasing and will be dealing with them for the next 15-20 years.