So, you’ve decided to install a clean and renewable Solar Photovoltaic system at your residence. For that I applaud you, but what are you going to do next? Every endeavor needs a start and for many things what to do is almost intuitive. This ain’t one of them.
In fact, the place to start isn’t about solar it’s about a home energy efficiency (EE) audit … and that should be your very FIRST STEP. Every house can improve in energy efficiency no matter the age, style, or composition.
Last summer we contacted the Energy Trust of Oregon and they completed a thorough evaluation on our home and poolhouse. Based upon the results, we made several improvements before we began our pursuit for renewable energy and I recommend you do the same.
It enhances the value proposition so to speak.
Doesn’t make much sense to install rather expensive solar panels on your house if your place leaks energy, does it?
For Oregonians, here’s the place to start - http://energytrust.org/residential/
But for the sake of this post let’s assume you’ve already done the EE thing and you’re ready for this next big step to solar – quite possibly for one of the reasons cited by the Oregon Dept of Energy:
- Personal preference and pride in owning a renewable energy generation system.
- Fixed future energy costs.
- Return of investment from reduced energy bills.
- Environmental stewardship.
- Supporting local economy and/or patriotism.
That’s the why, but we wanna talk now about the how. Naturally, the easiest place to start is to simply look up “solar” and get listings for your area then make some phone calls. If you think it’s that easy then please consider this …
- If you are planning on buying/owning the solar array, we’re talking about a commitment of some serious dollars contingent upon the size of your system;
- Plus it is something that’ll be at your residence for 25 years, which is longer than many marriages, so you’d better be happy with your decision;
- This decision is right up there with buying a new car.
Research and information gathering is always the best place to begin. This is one purpose of my blog, to help educate people like myself who are uninformed and need guidance at the outset. If you live in the Western U.S. you have a lot of resources at your disposal. Here in Oregon we have two great websites to start your research which. I highly recommend a visit.
Oregon publication Home Power Magazine is another place to go. We’ve had a subscription for a few years and I find the articles interesting, entertaining and very useful. http://www.homepower.com/home/
Okay, you’re ready to go so here’s some proven ways to get started (Oregon-centric, but many states are equally resourced and several of these are national organizations). Spending time at any or all of these websites will get you on your way towards clean energy in a hurry.
- Look to those who’ve gone before you with Solar Oregon’s Solar Ambassador Program — http://www.solaroregon.org/solar-ambassador/?appSession=054119022763424&RecordID=73&PageID=3&PrevPageID=2&cpipage=1&CPIsortType=&CPIorderBy=
- Sign up for a Solar Oregon workshop — http://www.solaroregon.org/workshops/workshops
- Attend Northwest Solar Expo 2010 — http://www.nwsolarexpo.com/
- Solar Home Tour — http://www.solaroregon.org/tours
- Media & Readings:
- Blogs, books, newspapers & magazines (“Solar for Idiots” isn’t a bad read)
- Gov’t & renewable energy association websites
- DVD – Nova’s “Saved by the Sun” is a good hour spent
- Membership Organizations – ASES http://www.ases.org/ or Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association (OSEIA) http://www.oregonseia.org/
- Solar Installer/Contractor and Energy Trust Trade Ally http://www.mrsunsolar.com/
- Attend a Solar summer festival – SolWEST (OR) http://www.solwest.org/
As you review these websites, there are any number of questions you need to keep in mind which will help you get the answers needed to move forward.
Some of the basic questions …
Q: If you’re on the grid, does your state allow for “Net Metering”?
Oregon’s net metering law allows all utility customers to generate their own electricity and reduce their electricity bills. If you install a photovoltaic system, your utility will come to your home and switch out your existing utility meter for bidirectional “net” meter. This meter keeps track of the power you acquire from the utility, and what you supply to the grid. Each month, the power you used from your utility is offset by the power you send to the utility. You are only charged for the difference or the net.
To do this you’ll need to sign a net-metering agreement with your local utility.
Q: Do you have enough available sunshine to make solar practical?
If you live in the trees (like we do) or have shading on your roof, you might NOT be able to make solar work at your residence unless you have alternative site options as we did (more on this later when I write about SITE and SIZING.)
Q: Are there any zoning or permitting conditions you need to be aware of?
Sure, such as roof life. If you are looking for a roof-mounted system your roof must have at least 15 years of life remaining. This is important because you don’t want to install and then have the inspector tell you they won’t approve until you replace the roof. This is something you need to avoid.
Q: What incentives are available in your state? (rebates & tax credits)
One major factor related to PV is always the up-front cost. Because this is a new industry and one that our government is supporting to grow, there are a number of incentives available at both the state and federal level. Currently, the incentives in Oregon for installing solar energy is better than in most states. If you are a Pacific Power or PGE customer you are eligible for an Energy Trust of Oregon rebate, but certain conditions apply so do your homework.
For us this rebate was sizable and cut our out of pocket costs by $9,225.
Oregon also offers a State Tax Credit up to $6000. depending on the size of the installed system.
The Federal Gov’t offers a Tax Credit of 30% of the installed cost (after Energy Trust rebate) that now has no cap and is in place until 2016.
To make good use of a tax credits like these you need an income to apply against and in this economy that isn’t a given, however, there is a way to “pass through” your tax credit to someone else who may have a need for such a credit. (More on this later.)
Q: Should I buy my PV system or lease?
Check with Solar City as they offer a lease program which means little or no up front costs to the homeowner.
Message: Get your home Energy Efficiency audit and actions done first … then do your homework before you make the next move to renewable energy!
Oh … and read my blog!
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