Going solar at your home or business can save you money, give you energy independence, reduce fossil fuel use, and help slow climate change. Photovoltaic panels are getting cheaper and federal financial incentives are making them increasingly affordable. Below are resources on the basics of solar energy and on determining if makes sense for you.
1. Is your site suitable for solar?
The orientation of your roof and shading by nearby trees will determine how much solar energy you can potentially generate. Additionally, the condition (age) of your roof will indicate whether PV panels are a good investment now. Google’s Project Sunroof is a simple, fast way to answer the first two questions. Enter your address and you’re on your way.
2. How much energy do you use?
Knowing how much energy you’re currently using and how that might change in the future will help you determine the size of your system. Look at your utility bills for the past 12 months to determine current electricity use. Consider the future: do you have plans for an addition, an electric car, or a heat pump, all of which will increase your electricity use. Or, very importantly, what energy efficiency upgrades should you undertake first to reduce the size of the solar system you’ll need.
3. How many solar panels do you need and what will it cost you?
In addition to estimating how much electricity you use, you’ll need to know how much electricity each solar panel can produce and the solar potential of our area. Generally, a solar panel can produce between 300-400 watts of electricity per hour. Whether it will do so depends upon the sunlight exposure on your roof (which varies by time of year and location in the country). To estimate the solar potential on your roof, the Department of Energy recommends two websites:
- EnergySage, for free estimates, financial analysis, and contact information for qualified installers in the area; and
- PVWatts, the National Renewable Energy Lab’s online tool for consumers to calculate energy production and costs.
As you estimate the upfront costs of your solar system, also consider tax incentives and rebates that maybe available to you. Below is information from Iowa Energy and Infrastructure Funding Hub.
- Individuals and businesses are eligible for 30% federal tax credits for solar and storage from 2022-2032, with no maximum amount for claims. Click here for more information.
- Financial incentives for nonprofits and governments are also available from 2022-2032.
4. What solar installers are qualified to work in your area?
Increase your chances of success by comparing information and bids from multiple solar installers. Local installers are more likely to be familiar with permitting and interconnection issues in your area, can provide local references, and more likely available to resolve mechanical issues.