Knowledge is (Solar) Power


A YEAR AFTER announced its decision to acquire clean energy company SolarCity, the results of the move are clear. A massive Tesla solar farm now powers the entire island of Ta’u in American Samoa, with similar projects planned for Hawaii. The company’s solar roof, unveiled in May, came with a price tag lower than the average installation of several solar panels on a single roof, and offered a 30-year warranty. The product also sold out quickly, and the market won’t see its return until well into 2018, with Tesla moving production to a new factory to keep up with demand.

Keep in mind that even if you’re able to order next year, it may be an additional year before the company can install the roof. One thing Tesla has over traditional panels: Its entire-roof concept comes in the form of glass shingles that appear as a standard roof from the street. Companies such as Suntegra and CertainTeed offer similar products, but not at as competitive a rate. The process of outfitting a house with solar power may seem daunting, but it’s not all that different from any other home project: It requires a few calculations and patience. Last year saw a 97 percent jump in solar power installation across the United States, and this year appears to be headed for another record. Here’s what you need to know before going solar.



First, solar panels are not priced by square footage, like most renovations in your home. Instead, they’re priced by wattage. Most homeowners across the country are paying somewhere between $2.87 and $3.85 per watt, according to the online solar marketplace EnergySage. The average system size, at five kilowatts (or 5,000 watts), would cost a homeowner somewhere between $10,000 and $13,500 to install. That’s down nearly 10 percent from 2016. North Carolina falls within the upper range of the nationwide average.

The federal solar tax credit is another reason why residential homeowners should consider a move to solar within the next couple of years. At 30 percent, the credit is at a high that will continue into 2019. Then, the credit will fall each year until 2022, when no federal credit is planned for residential systems. North Carolina also offers low-interest loans for solar panels, with an interest rate cap of 8 percent.



Of course, the five kilowatt number is an average. In reality, the required system depends on two factors: How much energy a household uses each month, according to an electric bill, and how much a family is willing to scale back on using electricity. To see what you need, you can plug your energy usage (wattage) into one of several calculators online, along with the percentage of home to be powered, and “peak sun hours.” (This is the amount of sun your house gets every day. A solar map helps to determine this number.)



The United States Department of Energy recommends that you use a professional solar contractor to install your system. Consulting a professional makes sense, from the planning stages of the project through its completion. Aside from determining your peak sun hours, how big your system needs to be, the roof area needed for the panels, and where to put your system, a professional can check the system once it’s installed to make sure it’s wired correctly and safe to power your home. Professionals can also calculate the effect the winter months might have on energy creation. This minimizes a guessing game that could result in an inadequate or wasteful system.



Charlotte-area solar energy equipment suppliers include Renu Energy Solutions, Renewable Energy Design Group, and Accelerate Solar. Like all utility-related endeavors, it’s recommended that you get multiple quotes for outfitting your roof before going all-in.