Do Rebates Make Solar System a Wise Investment


Erika Schweickert of Capital City Solar in Rocklin, Calif., has seen a surge the past couple of years in customers interested in investing in solar energy systems for their homes.

A solar energy system can significantly reduce — and in some cases eliminate — your monthly electric bills. Photovoltaic, or PV, solar systems work by converting sunlight that hits solar panels on the roof directly into electricity through an inverter attached to the house.

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“Some people do it to be green, but 90 percent of our customers are doing it because of the financial payback,” Schweickert said.

Kent Crook has spent 30 years working as an electrician as the owner of Wiremasters Electric Inc. in Miami, but for the past five years has built a business as Mr-Solar LLC. He’s sold on solar as a solution to our dependence on fossil fuels.

“It’s going to change the way we live,” Crook said. “We’ve got to do something with foreign fuel, with the carbon we put in the air. I feel solar is not the (only) solution, but it’s one of the solutions to help with these things.”

Solar systems have become much more affordable in recent years. Photovoltaic prices are determined by watts, with the national average about $3 a watt, nearly half of what it was in 2010. Add to that a 30 percent federal tax credit available for residential solar panel installation good through 2016, plus a variety of rebates and incentives offered from local utilities, and it makes the investment significantly less. Systems can range in price from a few thousand dollars to $50,000 before credits, incentives and rebates kick in, depending on the manufacturer and how many panels are installed.

“There’s not a better time than now to put it in,” Crook said.

In most states, home-owners with solar photovoltaic systems can sell back extra energy they don’t use to their local utility companies. In the arrangement, called “net metering,” customers earn credits for excess solar energy sent to the utility provider’s electrical grid from their house.

The number of panels homeowners need depends on their energy consumption and the amount of daylight the home receives. Ideally, panels should be installed on the south-facing side of the house.

If you’re thinking about adding a solar system, be sure to research the products and installers before you invest. One reason prices have fallen is because of a glut of manufacturers producing the products. Both Schweickert and Crook said quality of the panels can vary greatly, as can the quality of the installer.

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