Solar power is getting cheaper; here are some smart options for your home
Now that spring has sprung, many homeowners are looking to improve their living space — whether it’s a renovation or redecoration, a gardening or landscaping project, or perhaps it’s time to become less reliant on the grid.
Finding ways to save energy and money in your home isn’t a new concept, but there are many more options available today – led by improvements in solar power. And falling costs help the cause, too: according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, prices of solar have dropped by 60% over the last decade.
If you’re itching to rely less on your electric company, the following is a look at a couple of solar options in some (but not all) areas.
Solar power heating up
No longer a fringe industry, solar power is beginning to catch on. So, yes, you’re not imagining things if you’re seeing more solar panels on your neighbor’s roofs. Just ask Vivint Solar, a company that just hit a milestone of 100,000 installations across 16 states.
Founded in 2011, Vivint Solar provides homeowners with high-efficiency solar panels, plus they take care of installation and maintenance. The company offers an 86-point service check upon installation by employees (not subcontractors) for a consistent installation standard. While solar energy production depends on weather patterns and sun hours, panels are designed to produce between 280 and 290 watts of solar energy, saving homeowners a conservative estimate of 10% to 30% on electricity.
And yes, solar panels can still produce solar energy on overcast days. (Germany, which gets about as much sunshine as Alaska, has five times as much solar power as the U.S., likely because of how costly electricity is in the country).
The cost of solar panels can vary drastically from home to home, but some key factors include size of the system needed (the larger the home, the more it costs), and location of where the system will be installed. A study by University of California’s Berkeley Lab found solar panels also increase property value, by as much as $15,000.
Other popular solar providers include Sunrun, Sunnova, and SolarCity (bought by Tesla one year ago). Many residential solar providers are listed at energysage.com and google.com/sunroof.
How does it work? In the case of Vivint, there are two offerings. One is paying for installation outright, or securing financing, and you own the panels. Costs typically start between $20,000 and $30,000, but there are government incentives you may be eligible for. Any excess power you generate might also be sold back to the electric company, to give you a credit towards your utility bills. The second option is called “PPA” or “Power Purchase Agreement” lease, where there’s no upfront costs to install the solar panels, but you’ll pay Vivint Solar per watt over a 20-year term, with rates lower than your power provider, says the company. You may still sell excess power back to your electric company.
Announced in 2015, Tesla’s Powerwall is a large rechargeable lithium-ion battery that, when paired with solar panels on your roof, stores surplus electricity for future use. Therefore, Powerwall can be used to power your home at night, and it serves as a backup battery, too, such as protecting your home during a power outage — to keep your lights on, Wi-Fi working, and refrigerator running.
Easy to install and with no maintenance, Powerwall can be mounted to a wall or stacked up on the floor. Measuring 44 x 29 x 5.5 inches, there’s no exposed wires or hot vents, so it’s child- and pet-friendly, plus it’s water-resistant and dustproof for indoor or outdoor installation. It runs quietly, says Tesla, and uses an internal inverter to convert DC energy to AC energy, lowering costs. The Tesla app lets you monitor and manage your Powerwall, solar panels, or Tesla vehicle.
(Vivint Solar has said it is also exploring home energy storage options, by the way.)
The official website has a slider for you to select how many bedrooms your home has, ranging from one (about 10 kWh per day) to 6+ (70 kWh or more per day), and it’ll suggest how many Powerwalls you’d want to install. One Powerwall costs $6,200 for equipment, with an estimated installation cost of $800 to $2,000 – not including solar installation, electrical upgrades (if needed), taxes, permit fees, or other associated charges. Two Powerwalls cost $11,700 for the equipment. Depending on how much energy you need, up to 10 Powerwalls can be used in a home.
Tesla also announced on Wednesday it is accepting $1,000 deposits for its Solar Roof, made of shingles that resemble conventional roof tiling. Available in early 2018, costs are $21.85 per square foot, but according to Tesla’s online calculator, it could set back a homeowner as much as $75,000 – a big pill to swallow up front – though the company says would be paid off over 30 years, and with a lifetime guarantee on the solar tiles.