As a recent new homeowner I’ve been trying to find ways to green our home. There are lots of little things we’ve done or started doing to reduce our energy use, reduce our water use, and recycle more. One of the “bigger steps” and certainly a financial commitment we have started looking into is how to generate electricity on-site, and the most effective way currently available to do that is through solar power and the use of photovoltaic (PV) panels. Note that I say effective, not necessarily economical.
There is a lot of information out there on residential solar energy, and sorting through it can be time-consuming and daunting. In the next couple of installments of greenHILLhome, some of the resources available to DC homeowners will be examined.
First and foremost in evaluating solar energy and your home, low-tech aspects of your property need to be studied to determine how efficient such a system can be. Ideally a large, flat area of roof should be available for the system, and that space should have direct access to the sky to the south and southwest. This evaluation is best done in summer when trees are all full so the local vegetation can be evaluated along with neighboring buildings.
Cost is a major factor in determining whether solar energy is right for your home. While the price of PV panels is dropping, the up-front or initial cost needs to be considered. In addition to reducing the amount of energy generated by coal or oil by the utility company (thus reducing pollution) that your home uses, a major benefit to renewable energy is the lowering of energy costs to the homeowner. However, as the installation costs are still high, it takes a little math to figure out when the homeowner will truly see savings. Fortunately there are solar panel companies and energy nonprofits that have free programs available for simplified estimates.
For example, I used the solar calculator at http://www.findsolar.com/ to come up with a quick estimate of first cost and payback in energy savings. With a goal of generating 25% of my energy needs with solar energy, I would need 288 square feet of PV panels on my roof, costing me about $20,100 in materials and installation. There are local and federal financial incentives that bring down that initial cost (to an estimated $8,077), but those have plusses and minuses to be discussed a little later. The solar panel system would save me about $32 a month in energy costs, or $16,241 over 25 years. That’s a return on investment of about 201%, which looks great on paper. Other solar energy calculators are available online and free, including those at http://www.solar-estimate.org/ and the websites of BP Solar and Siemens.
Since the first costs for solar energy systems are high, there are programs available to the DC homeowner to lower the financial burden of installation. The Federal Renewable Energy Tax Credit provides the owner a tax credit of 30% of the installation cost in the tax year the installation takes place, up to $1,500. While not a direct reduction of cost, it is potential “money back” to the owner. DC’s Renewable Energy Incentive Program (REIP) provides homeowners with a rebate of up to $33,000 for a solar energy system installation, based on the size and capacity of the system. While this local rebate could significantly lower the cost of the system, homeowners should note the program requires significant documentation to participate, designated contractors must perform the installation, and the funding available for the program is limited annually so there is quite a waiting list of DC residents who have applied for their rebates.
In our next greenHILLhome, we’ll talk with some Hill residents who have installed photovoltaic panels on their homes and see if they are enjoying the benefits of generating their own energy…