Do these systems work in Wisconsin? Isn't it too cloudy?
Solar works well in every state in the US! The solar market is currently exploding in New England, where panels perform about the same as they do in Wisconsin, and growing exponentially in the state of Oregon, where systems produce about 13% less energy. Solar systems produce about 20% more electricity in sunny California, but with falling prices and increased panel efficiency, solar makes sense in every state, including Wisconsin.
The reason you don't see solar panels on every roof in Wisconsin has more to do with our laws, policies, and utilities than with our weather. Wisconsin currently prohibits third-party financing, barring solar companies from financing loans on behalf of their customers. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has also allowed our utilities to set rates and create rules that discourage energy conservation and renewable energy production, including raising the minimum monthly utility fees and charges for every customer, including those using close to 100% solar energy.
Do not let cloudy weather or discouraging policies discourage you. Going solar will save you a lot of money, reduce your environmental footprint, and increase the value of your home no matter what the weather or current policies are.
will there be a technology breakthrough soon, making panels more efficient?
Much like computers over the past 20 years, solar panels have become incrementally more efficient but substantially less expensive, making it possible to get a lot more energy production for your dollar. There are a lot of 'breakthrough' messages in technology magazines and popular TV shows, but the truth is that there hasn't been a technology breakthrough with PV panels for decades and there does not look to be a 'breakthrough' in the foreseeable future. Solar panels will continue to get a little bit more efficient every year, but there is no reason to wait to switch to cleaner, more affordable energy now.
Has the cost of installing solar changed significantly in recent years?
Yes, an increase in solar panel manufacturing has driven down the cost of going solar. In the past ten years, the price of solar panels has dropped 80%. Since panels make up about a quarter to a third of the total system cost, the cost of installing a solar energy system has significantly decreased, a savings we are committed to passing along to our customers.
What direction and tilt are best for solar panels?
It's a common misconception that solar panels should only face south. While true that they will produce a bit more facing due south, solar is still a good economical choice even if they face due east or west, although the Focus on Energy rebate is only available for arrays that face SW, S, and SE. Almost all houses that aren't covered in shade or have broken roof planes have at least one great spot to install solar panels. Regarding the tilt of the array, it's best to install the panels at the same pitch as the roof. If the panels are mounted on a flat roof or on the ground, a tilt of about 30-40 degrees is the best, but anything between 15 and 50 will work great.
How long do these systems last?
In general, your solar system will last at least 30 to 40 years. All of the panels we use are warrantied for 20-25 years, but are expected to last much longer. Most solar owners will have to replace the power inverter, an easily replaceable part of the system, after 15 to 20 years. Our calculations include the cost of replacing the inverter ($1,500) after the first 15 years with the solar system to give you an accurate picture of the costs over the lifetime of your system. For more information on the lifespan of solar panels, check out this article at http://energyinformative.org/lifespan-solar-panels.
I've heard of solar leases, ppa's and loans*. Are any of those available to me?
No, No, and Kinda. We can thank the great success of solar leases and PPA's for the near-unbelievable growth in the solar sector in the last 10 years. They allow solar contractors to offer an amazing deal to their customers: they get the solar system for free, and just pay the contractor a monthly fee for the electric production. And the truly amazing part is that the monthly fee is less than what the customer has been paying on their monthly utility bill. For the average customer with a $100 monthly electric bill, after getting free solar panels on their house, they might end up paying $20 to their utility and $60 to their solar contractor on a monthly basis. Free solar panels and a lower utility bill - who wouldn't want that? Unfortunately our utilities and government in Wisconsin don't want that, so these financial agreements are not generally available here. To date, they are widely available in VT, NH, RI, PA, NY, MA, CT, NJ, DE, MD, DC, SC, CO, TX, NM, AZ, CA, WA, OR and HI. If you would like to finance a solar installation in Wisconsin, we recommend speaking to a bank about a loan. Many banks will give loans for solar arrays and based on your credit score and a number of other variables you should expect an interest rate in the ballpark of 5%-10%.
Will solar increase the selling price of my home?
The general consensus is yes - installing solar on your home will increase the sale price. The most recent research suggests that a solar energy system will add about $4/watt ($25,000 for typical system) to the selling price of your home and increase the speed of finding a buyer. This is great news if you are concerned about moving out of your home in the next few years. The money you invest in solar will bring you energy savings now and increase the value of your home for later. Plus, we are committed to installing elegant, well-designed solar energy systems that add to the curb-appeal of your home. See the most recent report on home prices at http://phys.org/news/2015-01-largest-ever-quantifies-rooftop-photovoltaics.html
I don't want this system to raise my home assessment. It won't, correct?
That is true - the value added to your home by a solar energy system, per Wisconsin law, cannot increase your property taxes.
What does "kWh" mean?
Also known as "kWhr", this is a standard unit of electricity, the equivalent of how a gallon is a standard unit for gasoline. The gas station charges you per gallon, and the utilities charge you per kilo-watt-hour (kWh). One kWh is the same as using 1,000 watts for an entire hour. The utility meter at your house measures how many kWh's you use every month.
Isn't it too cold in Wisconsin for solar panels?
Actually, cold weather is great for solar panels! Solar panels will produce about 5% more energy for every 10 degrees their temperature drops below 77 degrees F. A freezing sunny day is an excellent solar day. In Wisconsin, our cold weather will increase the efficiency of your solar panels, helping make up for our shorter winter days.
Won't cheap oil and natural gas drive down our electricity prices?
17% of the state's electricity comes from nuclear plants, 63% from coal, and 12% from natural gas. Due to fracking, natural gas is now cheaper than it has been in the past, but since it is only a small component of our state's fuel source, rates haven't been affected significantly - they only continue to go up. Ultimately, when fuel costs flatline or decrease, we might see utilities freeze their rates for a year or two, but they never go down.
I was thinking about re-roofing my home in the next couple years. Should I do that before I install solar panels?
Yes, you should. And in fact, if you would like to replace your roofing material in the next 5 years, you should do this before you install solar panels. When this is a cause for concern, many solar customers go ahead and simply re-roof the area where the solar panels will be installed, and leave the remainder of the roof to be replaced years down the road. Most deterioration of roofing materials is caused by UV radiation, and while solar panels will certainly significantly slow this process by shading your roof from the sun, keep in mind that the panels will be on the rooftop for at least 30 to 40 years.
Do I have any legal rights if my neighbor plants a tree or erects a building that will shade my system?
Yes you would. According to Wis. Statute 700.41, you are eligible for compensation from the owner of a tree or structure that was planted or erected after the installation of your solar array and shades your array between 9am and 3pm.
Why do solar electric systems seem to be more popular than solar hot water systems?
The popularity of solar hot water systems has plummeted in the past several years while the number of solar electric systems being installed has skyrocketed. There are a few reasons why this has occurred. In the mid-2000's the price of copper quickly rose to levels quite higher than we've ever seen before, making copper-intensive hot water systems more expensive. Adding to this situation was a drop in natural gas prices, which made the energy offset overall less economically attractive. In the meantime, large solar electric installation companies were able to create 3rd party and PPA financing products across the globe that produced a huge demand for solar electric panels. Manufacturers responded with building large factories and lowering the prices of their products, and combined with ever-increasing utility electric prices created a great market for solar electric systems.
It makes sense to wait, right?
We get that question all the time. And in all honestly, that used to be the case - but not anymore. Solar panel prices started leveling off a few years ago, and since, prices have been fairly steady, sometimes even going up. You might save $300 by waiting another few years, but when the average customer saves $800-$1,100 per year when they go solar, waiting no longer makes sense.
* Solar leases and PPA's are financial agreements between a financial entity (typically a bank and/or solar panel installer) and a customer. The financier retains ownership of the solar panel system for a term (generally 20 years) and the customer buys the energy produced by the solar panel system. With leases, the customer pays a flat fee to the financier independent of the amount of electricity the system produces (but a minimum amount of electricity is guaranteed), and with PPA's (power purchase agreement), the customer pays the financier a "per kWh" rate for the solar production, similar to how you might pay $0.14 per kWh to your local utility. The downsides to these types of agreements are that the customer doesn't own the system nor receive the government incentives. But the main upsides are that the customer receives the solar panel installation for free, and the financier sells electricity to the customer at prices below what the local utility is charging. The two primary requirements for customer eligibility for these programs are that the customer must own the property and have a credit score of at least 670-700. If you think that leases and PPA's would help boost the adoption of solar in Wisconsin, consider reaching out to your state representatives.