Solar power is primed to make a big impact on the home energy market in the coming years, although that doesn’t mean everyone should rush out right now and get panels installed on their roofs. The Federal Trade Commission has put together a handy guide for prospective solar power system buyers that lists some key questions they’ll need to answer before they take the plunge. Below we’ll go over some of the essential issues you need to think through before making a big investment in home solar power.
In the first place you should ask yourself whether solar power will really be effective for you? Interestingly, a solar power system might not be worth buying for a homeowner who already uses comparatively little power or who already has taken steps to improve efficiency such as buying energy-efficient appliances or who has weatherized their house.
The reason for this is that even if you significantly cut down your reliance on power provided by your local utility company, you’ll still have to pay that utility’s fixed charges every month. So solar power really makes the most economic sense for homes that have high power needs — to learn how much power your home uses, be sure to look at the section of your bill that specifies metered electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh).
Next, you need to consider how long you’re planning to live in your home. If it’s for 20 years or longer, then you’re golden since solar systems are designed to last 20 years or longer. If you’re planning on moving in under a decade, however, you may want to reconsider investing in solar, although have solar power pre-installed in the house might make it more attractive for some buyers. Some solar companies will let you transfer your contracts to new homeowners — be sure to ask them about their policies about this if you think you’re going to sell your house with the solar power system still intact.
And there are environmental issues to consider as well — a home in Phoenix is going to get a lot more sun than a home in Seattle. The Department of Energy has created a customizable calculator to help you estimate how much solar power you’ll be able to produce based on your address, which is obviously a good thing to know before spending a lot of money to upgrade your house.
Another key factor to consider: If your utility uses “net metering,” it could make installing solar panels an even better deal. Essentially net metering gives a credit to your account for any excess power your house produces and returns to the grid. So on sunny summer days, you could actually get money back from your utility for producing more power than you take in. Pretty sweet!
Finally, you’ll want to check in to see if you’re eligible for any local, state or federal tax credits for installing solar systems on your house. The federal renewable energy tax credit will cover 30% of the cost of your solar system, for example, although it’s scheduled to expire at the end of next year. States and municipalities may offer further credits that last longer.
To get a full rundown of questions you need to answer before going solar, check out the FTC’s full post here.