When Should I Get Solar?
Since we got solar on our home almost three years ago, we’ve had dozens of conversations with others asking me all sorts of questions about it. How does it work? What does it cost? How long do the panels last? What about clouds? And one of the most common: “When should I go solar?” We’ve hit on the basics of rooftop solar before but didn’t get too far into the details.
I recently wrote an article titled When should I buy an EV? that has become popular among our readers. So I figured a lot of people likely have the same question when it comes to solar.
Solar tends to feel a bit more of a technical endeavor than electric vehicles, and frankly, that’s because some of the specifics are. I’ll be diving into some of the reasons solar works or doesn’t work for some households, but know this: most solar installers will do all this work for you. While it can be helpful to know some of the ins and outs of why a solar company is making decisions, you don’t necessarily have to get bogged down in the details if you don’t want to.
The easiest way to start? Grab a few free quotes from EnergySage within minutes, or keep reading to see exactly when solar makes sense for you. You can also check out Google’s Project Sunroof to get a savings estimate and find out solar works for your home.
Practicality—Is Solar Practical for My Home?
Solar panels work best when installed on a south-facing roof. Type in your address to Google Maps for an easy way to get a general idea of the direction of the slopes of your roof. A south-facing roof ensures that your solar panels are getting the most amount of sunlight for the day as possible. Project Sunroof may also be able to give you an immediate idea of the solar potential of your home.
Just because your roof isn’t facing the perfect direction doesn’t mean solar is out of the question. Personally, I have solar panels on the back and front of my roof, which faces southwest and northeast respectively, and solar still absolutely makes sense for us.
Depending on your situation, shade may be a deterrent to getting solar. If you have large trees that cover a significant portion of your roof with shade, then it could drastically reduce the available area where solar panels could be installed
If you have a large tree that you love on your property that covers your roof, all is not lost.
- Trim: You may not need to completely cut down a tree that is shading your roof. Especially if your roof is only partially shaded, selective trimming can open up your roof in just the right amount to get enough sunlight.
- Half-cut solar panels. Half-cut solar panels are a type of panel that works better in shaded areas. In short, it works by doubling the number of cells on a panel. They are more expensive, so your payback period may increase—but don’t write it off until you see the final numbers.
Aside from asking about the cost, most people ask me “How many panels do you need?” This is all dependent on the household. A good solar installer will recommend getting only as large of a system as you know you’ll use. There is no real benefit to getting a system that produces more energy than you need over the course of the year.
You can find determine your required system size by looking at your electricity bills. Find the section on your bill that says exactly how many KiloWatt Hours (kWh) you used—that’s how much electricity your home needed. Ideally, a solar installer will want to see how much you used through a 12-month period.
Example: My house uses around 8,200 watt-hours of electricity per year (this includes charging our electric car). So my solar system is an 8.2kWh system.
Panels for residential homes range from 250W-435W in efficiency —the more powerful solar panels tend to cost more. If you have plenty of space for panels (such as a large roof or field to install a ground mount) then lower-efficiency panels could make more sense for you. If you have more limited space or higher than average electricity bills, then higher efficiency panels may be required.
The solar installer will calculate exactly how many panels you’ll need to produce enough electricity, but the math entails a combination of not only panel wattage rating, but also the “solar insolation” — how many hours of sun will hit the panels in a year. The Department of Energy offers a free calculator that can give you a good idea of your total roof capacity.
Getting more than one quote from different installers allows you to ensure you’re getting the right-sized system.
A solar panel’s “useful lifespan” is generally considered to be 25-30 years. However, because there are no moving parts to a solar panel, they often far outlive their warranties. In fact, the world’s first modern solar panel still works, even 60 years later !
Even after a panel’s “useful life” is over, that doesn’t mean the panel is worthless or doesn’t produce any energy. There is a general rule of thumb for solar panel warranties on how much electricity they are guaranteed to produce: You can expect a minimum of 90% of their original production output at 10 years and 80% at 25 years. Technology is improving more and more every year, and some newer panels are guaranteeing a whopping 92% of original efficiency even at 25-years-old!
This is a rule of thumb, so you should confirm with your installer the warranty of the panels you’ll use.
Bonus: Energy Efficiency
Whenever I talk to someone about getting solar panels, I always start with home energy efficiency first. The best “bang for the buck” when it comes to saving on energy costs is to first ensure your home is as efficient as possible with how it uses electricity first, and then to get solar panels to match that new efficiency.
Attic and crawlspace insulation, modern double–pane Windows, properly fitting doors, and energy-efficient appliances and light fixtures are some of the best ways to reduce costs and energy use. Once you’ve ensured your home is as energy efficient as possible, then it’s time to get a solar quote.
Cost Per Watt
This is the biggest question: how much does it cost? Like with all answers, it depends. The average cost for a solar system to be installed on a home is between 18,000 and 20,000 —here’s the kicker, that’s before tax incentives, which can dramatically reduce the cost of your overall system (which we’ll get into next).
When comparing quotes, the main number to pay attention to is the cost per watt. That’s how much money you’ll pay per watt of energy your system will generate.
Solar Company A gives you a quote of 18,000 for a 5.1kWh system — meaning you’re paying 3.53 per watt (18,000/5,100=3.529)
Solar Company B gives you a quote of 20,000 for a 7.2kWh system — meaning you’re paying 5000.78 per watt (20,000/7,200=2.777).
Solar Company B is giving you a much better cost per watt than Solar Company A. Just be sure the size of your system matches the needs of your home.
There is a federal tax credit for installing a residential solar system equal to 26% of the total cost. In the above scenario, this means that 20,000 effectively only costs 14,800—a savings of 5,200 (which brings that cost per watt down to 5000.05).
This federal incentive has been slowly reduced over the years (in 2019 it was 30%) and will go down to 22% in 2023. As of now, this credit expires completely at the end of 2023 and is not set to renew unless Congress acts. So if you’re interested in solar, it could make sense to take advantage of these large federal incentives sooner rather than later.
[The federal tax credit] expires completely at the end of 2023…So if you’re interested in solar, it could make sense to take advantage of these large federal incentives sooner rather than later.
Many states and localities also offer various solar incentives. Some of these manifest as cash rebates, tax credits or deductions, or property tax abatements to reduce your overall financial obligations. Check out DSIRE for a comprehensive list of all the state and local incentives for solar.
Paying outright cash for your solar system usually means the installer will provide a slight discount on the overall cost. Many homebuyers, however (myself included) will get a loan. This can be done privately or through the installer who finances via third-party financing.
Usually, solar loans require a downpayment that is equal to the amount of the tax credit. This downpayment is often deferred 12-18 months from the time your system is installed. Many times your monthly payment is also deferred until that first downpayment comes due. This is to give time for you to file your taxes and receive the tax credit.
Another example: You got a loan for a 20,000 solar system that was installed in January of 2022. You would pay no money on your loan until June of 2023. Then the downpayment of 5,200 would be due (you should have received this amount extra back in taxes by now) and your monthly payments begin.
One of the most important pieces of residential solar is the term “net metering.” This is a blanket term for a number of different policies that allow energy customers (you) to get a credit for excess electricity that you produce. Chances are, you’ll be producing more energy than you’re using during the day, and using more than you’re producing during the night.
The same goes for the season. On average, your system will produce more electricity than you need during the spring, summer, and fall months, and you’ll likely use more energy than you produce during the winter.
In short, net metering is a vital component of a successful solar system. Without it, it’s unlikely that solar makes sense for the vast majority of people.
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The tricky thing about net metering is that it is not standard. It varies not only state-by-state, but also utility-by-utility. Solar Reviews does a great job of grading states based on their specific and nuanced net metering policies.
Bonus: EV charger
Some solar installers offer the ability to install an electric vehicle charger in your home, at the time of installation of your solar system. Especially if you have or are looking to purchase an electric car in the future, this can amount to thousands of dollars saved. Because electricians are already running power lines through your house, they save lots of time by running both lines for your solar and your EV charger during the same trip. In turn, this shaves hundreds or even thousands of dollars of the cost.
How the Climate in Texas Affects Solar Energy Harnessing Possibilities
The climate of Texas is diverse due to the state’s large size. The state has subtropical weather in the southeast, becoming tropical along the coast. Central Texas has a temperate climate, while the mountain areas in the west have an alpine climate. The Panhandle region has a semi-arid climate. So how does this affect solar energy production in Texas?
How Much Sunlight Hours Does Texas Receive
Data show that Dallas receives around 2,850 hours of sunshine per year. However, the amount of sunlight that Texas receives can vary from year to year, especially when hurricanes hit.
Are Solar Panels Worth It in Texas: The Benefits
To start on a good note, we’ll first present the benefits of solar panels in Texas. Let’s dig in.
Unlike fossil fuels, which are finite and release harmful emissions, solar energy is virtually limitless and clean. Solar panels work by capturing sunlight and converting it into electricity, which can be used to power homes, different facilities, and even cars. You can even use solar energy to create steam or heat water.
Save Money on Electricity
While the initial cost of solar panels in Texas (and elsewhere, of course) may be higher than traditional energy sources, the long-term savings and environmental benefits make solar a wise investment in the long term. You will produce and use your own electricity, spending less on electrical bills.
If your electrical bill is still high even though your home is equipped with a solar energy system, the system can be faulty, or there may be another problem.
Protect Home From Outages
Solar panels will still generate electricity when the power goes out because they’re not connected to the typical power grid. As simple as that.
The electricity rates in Texas are among the highest in the US, and solar panels in Texas can significantly reduce monthly costs. In addition, this state offers a variety of financial incentives for installing solar panels.
Net metering is one of Texas’s most beneficial solar incentives and many other states. It’s a billing arrangement between utility customers and their electricity providers. Since Texas has an unregulated grid, net metering in Texas allows eligible customers who generate their electricity from renewable sources to receive a credit on their electric bill for the surplus power they produce. Consumers can use this credit to offset the cost of future electricity consumption.
Federal Tax Incentive
The federal solar tax credit for 2022 (Investment Tax Credit or ITC) allows homeowners to claim a credit of 26% of the solar panel installation cost by the end of the year. If you plan on installing a solar panel system in 2023, expect an incentive of 23%. The credit is available for both new and existing homes.
Local Solar Panel Rebates in Texas
The state of Texas doesn’t yet have statewide solar credits or rebates. Likewise, there are no universal solar buyback plans in Texas. Still, many local governments offer some form of incentive for solar energy systems for residential and commercial installations. Here are some examples of solar tax credit options you can take advantage of in 2022:
- Austin Energy: a rebate of 5000,500 and its Value of Solar Tariff
- CPS Energy (refers primarily to San Antonio solar power)
- Residential property: a rebate of 5000,500 per project plus a 500 premium for projects that utilize local modules
- Commercial property:
Disadvantages of Solar Panels in Texas
While solar panels are a renewable energy resource, they also have drawbacks. Here’s why solar panels are not worth it for some homes and what you need to consider before purchasing a solar energy system.
Not the Best for Every Home
Even though Texas is one of the sunniest states in the US, not all homes get an equal amount of sunlight. For example, northern Texas may not receive as much sunlight as homes in southern Texas, making solar panels less effective. Plus, there are multiple other conditions your home must fulfill for solar panels to generate enough power to get you off-grid ultimately.
However, there are some problems you can solve quickly, one being possible solar panel inefficiency due to the home’s position in the shade. Learn more about the possible workarounds.
The average solar panel installation cost in Texas ranges from 11,432 to 15,468. This means that the average cost of solar panels in Texas is only about 5000.69 per Watt before federal tax credits and other financing options.
Of course, the cost to install solar panels in Texas varies depending on factors such as monthly electricity usage, type and brand of solar panels, number of peak sunlight hours, and number of solar panels. Feel free to check the solar panel cost calculator for Texas to see the cost estimates.
Though it’s safe to say that the upfront cost of going solar in Texas is no longer as high as it once was, it can still be too much for many homeowners.
The average payback time for solar panels is around 12 years. Again, it may seem like an eternity to some people. But hey, according to Energy Sage, you stand to save more than 16,000 after 20 years.
Solar panels are not too expensive to maintain, but improper care can lead to inefficient and possibly forever broken systems (which leads to more money spent), so you must regularly clean the panels to ensure they are working properly. You may also need to replace the panels every few years.
Here’s what you can expect to pay for maintaining your solar system—the national average cost of inspection and cleaning of a 2kW system of ten panels falls between 300 and 700.
.60 per AC Watt for the first 25kW,
The Best Solar Panel Orientation in the Texas Area
While there may be variations depending on your exact location, the south is generally considered the best orientation for solar panels in Texas. Not only is the sun in the southern sky for most of the year, but panels that are oriented towards the south also experience less shading from trees and other objects throughout the day and receive more direct sunlight.
Best Tilt Angle
It would be best to tilt solar panels at an angle that captures the maximum sunlight possible. Texas solar panels are typically tilted between 30 and 45 degrees (or they should be). So, how much are properly tilted solar panels going to improve the power output? You can see up to 25% more energy production.
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Lone Star State property owners are becoming increasingly aware of Texas’s solar power harnessing possibilities and solar energy benefits. With the state’s high electricity rates, solar panels can save a lot of money on energy bill. In addition, there are several solar panel incentives in Texas, including various rebate programs and property tax exemptions.
Is solar energy worth it? It will cost you more money upfront to install solar panels than other forms of power. However, the long-term savings make them worth the investment, especially in a state like Texas, where the sun shines brightly throughout the year.
.10 premium for projects that utilize local modules
- Residential property (fixed incentives):
Solar Panels in Texas: FAQ
Solar panels are typically seen as a valuable addition to a home. According to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study, a properly installed solar system could increase the property value by as much as 15,000. However, if not installed properly, solar panels could decrease the home’s value.
The average household in Texas spends about 450,801 a year on electricity, but that number can be decreased by up to 960 a year with solar panels.
Unfortunately, you can’t get free solar panels in Texas. Still, many programs are available that allow you to get solar panels installed for free or at a significantly discounted rate. Some of these programs are offered through the state government, while utility companies provide others.
If you have a renewable energy source (solar panels, wind turbines, etc.), you may be able to sell the excess electricity that you generate back to the grid. In deregulated electricity markets like Texas, you can choose your electricity provider. This means that you may have the option to sell electricity back to the grid if your provider offers this option (net metering).
Most manufacturers provide a 25-year warranty on their panels. However, the actual lifespan of a solar panel depends on many factors, including the quality of the panel and the amount of sunlight it receives. Generally, solar panels last less in extreme conditions, be it extreme heat or cold. So are solar panels worth it in Texas heat? You can expect them to last up to 30 years in Texas (even longer with proper maintenance).
.5 per Wdc up to 2.999 kWdc, 450,500 for up to 4.999 kWdc, 5000,250 for up to 7.499 kWdc, and 3,000 for up to 30 kWdc.50/Wdc
- Commercial property (tiered incentives):.50 per Watt for up to 25 kWdc.25 per Watt for up to 200 kWdc
Property Tax Exemptions
Homeowners in the Lone Star State who install solar panels on their property can receive a tax exemption equal to the appraised value of the solar system. This exemption applies to both the installation cost and the value of the solar panels themselves in both commercial and residential properties. It applies to both new construction and retrofit projects.
Solar Rights Law
This law prevents homeowners associations from banning solar panels on their properties. This means that no HOA regulations can prevent you from installing a residential solar system in Texas.
Sun and shade
Southern exposure provides maximum output, although east or west orientation may work also. There should be little or no shading year-round for optimal performance. This applies now and in the future, so consider surrounding trees or nearby construction before installing. Talk to your solar contractor for more details.
Most PGE lines can easily support new solar projects; however, a few areas have limited capacity to connect solar without significant changes to the feeder or the substation. Small residential and business projects can still usually be accommodated but may require design changes to protect grid safety and reliability.
Your PGE bill shows how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) you use both monthly and daily. You and your solar contractor can use this to determine what size solar system will meet your electrical needs. Note, the output of a solar system varies depending on weather, season, and time of day. This is also a great time to consider battery storage and resiliency.
There are a lot of expenses associated with a new solar power system, but you can cut your net costs by thousands with incentives and federal tax credits. Additionally, Net Metering rewards you with ongoing credit for the power you generate. Apply for Net Metering online prior to starting your installation project.
Net Metering credit
When enrolled in the Net Metering program, PGE handles both your regular PGE bill and the credit you get for the extra power your solar panels contribute to the grid. The power you use from PGE is offset by the power you send back to PGE.
You’ll want the job done right, but it’s also important to note that Energy Trust incentives require installation by approved contractors. There are requirements for credits and incentives that may apply as well. Be sure to ask your contractor for details.
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But You Need to Read the Fine Print
While great warranties in the world of solar power abound, it still remains important to read through your warranty carefully. It’s crucial to understand what exactly your warranty covers and for how long. Despite the solar panel equipment’s durability — and just because you have an equipment warranty — it doesn’t mean any or all repairs are covered. In most cases, the warranty will cover the cost of a panel repair or replacement for common issues like premature wear and tear, faulty wiring or corrosion, but you’ll want to double-check these details. Also, make sure that labor is covered when looking at warranties, as many only cover the cost of materials to repair a panel, leaving you with a high labor bill. After all, most all solar panel replacements involve a repairman climbing on top of your roof hauling heavy equipment, and as you probably well know, paying for labor can get expensive.
Due to the competitive, fast-paced solar market, it’s not entirely uncommon for solar companies to come and go. And while you can’t see the future, it might prove advantageous to purchase a third-party warranty in case your solar company manufacturer goes out of business.
Going Solar Doesn’t Always Save as Much as You’d Expect
A transition to clean energy won’t always save you money on your electric bills. While it can feel great to start reducing your carbon footprint, in truth, installing solar panels doesn’t always lower your monthly energy costs. Solar panel systems only generate so much power, depending on the size and location of the system. In other words, they can only generate so much electricity at any given time. The savings projection given to you by your salesperson is determined by your historical energy usage data — i.e., the average of how much energy you’ve consumed throughout each year. If there’s an uptick in your energy consumption, you might not see as much savings on your energy bill as you were promised by your solar manufacturer.
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And Then There’s Net Metering
One of the most innovative and talked-about concepts in solar energy is net metering. If you don’t already know, net metering means that your system and other solar power systems are all connected into the public-utility power grid, so surplus power generated from those systems is “sold” back to the grid.
So, as your system starts converting sunlight into electricity, you’ll be selling any surplus energy to your power utility company. In theory, it works well: In the sunny summer months, your system will create a surplus of energy, allowing you to offset the cost of the power you’ll draw from the utility company during dark hours or during those cloudy winter months. Net metering is quite popular in the U.S., with 41 states currently utilizing the system.
While the concept might sound appealing, depending on how much net energy you use per month, your electric bill might not always be as low as you’d imagine. A high electric bill may come as a surprise to those new to solar panels, but it’s important to remember that the energy that can be stored in your solar cell is finite. Even though you’re generating renewable energy, it can only produce a certain amount at any given time. Solar users who remain conscious about their energy consumption are able to maximize solar efficiency while maintaining a reliably low utility bill every month. Less conscientious users, however, may quickly realize that solar panels are not just a “free pass” for electric power.
Going Solar Will Pay Off. Eventually
As you can see, a solar panel installation might not be the free electricity dream some homeowners are hoping for. Saving money by going solar will still require users to be aware of energy consumption patterns. That said, solar has plenty of other financial benefits that still make it a worthwhile investment.
For one, there’s the tax credit. The investment tax credit (ITC) — also called the federal solar tax credit — allows solar consumers to deduct up to 26% of the cost of installing a solar power system from their federal tax liability.
In addition to the ITC, there’s the proven increase in home equity that a solar power installation provides. According to CNBC, depending on where you live, an investment in solar could really pay off. For example, in New Jersey, solar-powered homes can sell for upwards of 9.9% more than homes without solar. In North Carolina, homes sell for around 5% higher.
In conclusion, solar panels can be a safe and secure investment — as long as you know what you’re going into.
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