For decades, electricity has been nothing more than a bill we pay for to keep the lights on. Some users are more conservative with their consumption to avoid a high bill, while others would rather pay more and not have to sacrifice their quality of life. Regardless of which user you are, the way you use and pay electricity is a habit. And as human beings, we always resist to change, even if it is for the good. The great news is these patterns are shifting and sooner than later, the empire of utilities will begin to be replaced by renewable energy systems.
After years of working in the solar industry, we often come across homeowners with a long list of concerns. Many times they are legitimate concerns, but other times they are the result of misinformation or myths about an industry still in its infancy.
1. SOLAR IS A SCAM
From time to time, we will come across a homeowner who tells us solar is a scam. While they may have a friend or family member who had a poor experience with a solar company, this doesn’t discount the thousands of happy solar customers. When it comes to the functionality and efficiency of the panels, they have been scientifically proven to be reliable. It is no coincidence that even large businesses and corporations use solar energy at their locations to save money on their electric bills.
Another form of scam is the questionable procedures of SOME solar companies and especially their representatives. These are the type of people who look at homeowners as a commission, rather than a person. We will post an extended article about this matter. But the reality is that eventually you will have to sit down with a solar rep, get your last twelve months of electrical usage, and carefully go through all your possible options.
Other than determining what option works best for you, the most important aspect of going solar is to make sure the system you are signing up for is appropriately sized. If you choose a lease or PPA, consider the percentage of your electric bill the solar company is proposing to offset. If the system is going to be producing less kilowatt hours than what you used the previous year, be prepared for a bill from your utility company at the end of the year. The same goes for if you plan to purchase the system yourself. The size of your system will always determine your final utility cost.
2. SOLAR IS EXPENSIVE
There is a common misconception that purchasing the system outright is the only way to go solar. While this is definitely an option, there are many other ways to take advantage of solar energy. The average size of a system is 5 kilowatts, which typically amounts to about 20 panels. A reasonable purchase price for a system like this size would be about $25,000, depending on the quality of the panels. Keep in mind you will get some of that up front cost back from the tax credit offered by the federal government, which is 30% of the price of the system. Another benefit to consider when purchasing a system is owning your power and not having to pay the utility. Coupling the tax credit and energy savings, the average payback for solar panels in California is never more than 10 years. Even with the obvious benefits of buying your system, we understand many people either don’t have the money or don’t feel comfortable putting the money up front.
Luckily, there are a number of alternative options to take advantage of. Leases and PPAs (power purchase agreement) are arguably the easiest ways to go solar. They represent 72% of customers who have already gone solar. With these programs, there is no out of pocket cost up front and homeowners can usually expect to see a 20-50% savings on their bill immediately. The solar company is responsible for the maintenance while the customer just sits back, relaxes, and enjoys the savings. This may be the best option for you if spending money up front is out of the question.
3. IT IS A LONG AND COMPLICATED PROCESS
Most of the time when we do some renovation or construction at home, the process is messy. Contractors might leave tools in your home or yard and the process might take a long time. However, solar installations are very simple and shouldn’t take more than 2-3 days to have the system installed and ready to activate. The installers don’t even need to get into your home. Only outdoors, with access to the electrical panel.
The entire process from signing until system activation usually takes around two to four months, depending on the city you live in. But to make it easy on the customer, the solar company typically handles everything along the way, with no involvement on the customer side at all. Depending on the installer and who they use to do the panel upgrades, when needed, it could also delay the system activation. So I would verify the panels are upgraded in house because if they work with a subcontractor, it could be delaying.
4. DOUBLE BILLING
It is true when you go solar you will receive two bills. But as long you are informed and educated about the way this works, you can avoid any billing surprises in the future. Many people, regardless of which way you go solar, fear receiving a big bill at the end of the year from the utility. There are a couple of factors to consider here. The first is that despite getting your last twelve months of electricity usage and appropriately sizing the system on the front end, it is extremely difficult to predict whether your usage will be the exact same every year moving forward. Our advice for you is to check the representative’s tablet or laptop the system size they are building for you. Year production should match your last 12 months’ usage. Do not only trust the price they give you because here is where we find most of rep’s over promises and misrepresentations.
The other factor is that every utility charges a flat fee for solar customers, regardless of whether you use electricity from their grid or not. These fluctuate between $5 and $10. So to put it simply, having two bills is unavoidable.
The best solution is to build a solar system you and your family feel comfortable with. If you feel your usage will decrease over time, go with something smaller. If you think it will stay the same go with something around 100% and if you plan to add a pool, A/C, electric car, or just want to use more electricity, ask your consultant to build a system more than 100%.
5. THE TECHNOLOGY WILL IMPROVE
Some people think it is worth waiting to go solar because the technology is continually improving. This is partly true. Technology is always improving and new advances are constantly being made. But the reality is that solar panels haven’t changed much over the years.
There are billions of dollars in the solar industry for technological improvements, but this money is going into the research and development for the battery storage to make homes self sufficient. Batteries are the next big thing.
If improvements in technology is what you’re waiting for to go solar, you will always be waiting because there are always going to be improvements being made. By waiting, you continue to be at the mercy of the utilities and their rate increases. Every year you wait to going solar is another year worth of saving you could have accumulated.
Please share with us your thoughts about it.
Kevin / Ivan