Considering Solar Power for Your Home? Start Here

Tricia Brown, special to Nvate

The future of solar is looking bright, if you’ll pardon the pun. 2013 marked the first time in nearly two decades that the United States installed more solar capacity than Germany, the market leader, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Solar use increased by 76 percent in the United States from 2011 to 2012, and the third quarter of 2013 was the second-largest quarter in the history of the U.S. solar market. While these stats may boost your confidence in solar power, they don’t tell you where to start your search to get solar for your own home.

Go Local and Get Educated

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Instead of picking a company advertising their services online, go straight to your government’s local utility or state agency overseeing your solar market. For example, California’s Go Solar California website houses a database of solar installers, contractors and retailers.

It’s important to understand the local and federal solar-related tax incentives available to homeowners. Start with a site like DSireUSA.org, which features a comprehensive list of local, state and federal incentives and policies promoting solar energy.

Check if your state or a local university operates a solar energy center, such as the Florida Solar Energy Center. They offer education, training and technical assistance for installing a solar-powered PV system, can explain rebates and incentives and conduct energy-efficiency research. You can also use an online calculator from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to determine the energy production and cost savings of a solar energy system in your area.

Determine Costs

Outfitting your home with a solar panel system can prove costly. A three-bedroom home with a current electric bill of about $200 per month would translate to $30,000 retail price for a medium-sized 4 kW solar system, according to SolarCity.com. They estimate that cost could be knocked down to $16,500 after available government rebates and tax credits. But don’t let the sticker shock deter you from taking the next steps.

Explore Payment Options

Consider a Solar Power Purchase Agreement, or SPPA, to arrange financing with a solar provider who owns, operates and maintains the solar system, like Solar City. You act as the host customer and agree to put it on your roof or other recommended area and purchase Solar City’s solar-generated electricity. Before you get started, find out more about SPPA and required renewable energy certificates from the Environmental Protection Agency.

There are other ways to pay for a solar power system. You could lease the equipment for a monthly fee or find other creative ways to pool your resources and pay for a solar power system outright. If you get regular payments from an annuity or structured settlement, you may be able to sell your future payments to a company like J.G. Wentworth for a lump sum of cash now. You could then use the money to help pay for your own solar panel system.

As with any home improvement, always remember to study any provider or vendor contracts carefully, so you know what you’re committing to.

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