All posts by Chelsea Hendrickson
Electric ConsumptionKnowing how much electricity you use, when you use it, and how your utility’s net metering program works are all factors that are important. Putting solar panels on every square inch of viable roof space is great for the environment, but it might not be the most financially optimal. Let’s look into how the solar credits work under the Rocky Mountain Power net metering program:
- Power is generated from your panels and gets used by your house’s consumption first.
- Excess generation flows back into the grid and generates a credit. To put this in terms everyone understands, these are your “rollover minutes”.
- Your rollover minutes are used when your production doesn’t meet your usage, and you need to pull from the grid.
Graduating Tiered RatesUnderstanding how you are being charged by Rocky Mountain Power, or other utilities, is also a factor that can help you know how many panels you should put on the roof. Rocky Mountain Power charges residences in blocks, or tiers. As of September 1, 2014, the summer rates go as follows: First 400 kwh – 8.8498 cents/kwh Next 600 kwh – 11.5429 cents/kwh All additional kwh – 14.4508 cents/kwh Basically, the more you use, the higher the price goes. With regards to solar, it means that the first panels you install take away the most expensive energy first, and the last panels you install take away the least expensive energy. So even though you might save money getting down to zero usage and no utility bill, you can see that your ROI goes down as you take away the 14 cent tier, then the 11 cent tier, and finally the 8 cent tier. Curtis remarks, “If breakeven and ROI analysis are important factors for you with solar, then tier shaving will be as well. Solaroo can work the numbers to determine exactly what number of panels will give you the best bang for your buck.”
Production vs. Consumption“A kilowatt-hour saved is a kilowatt-hour earned.” Ben Franklin didn’t say it like that exactly, but he might as well have. Improvements such as LED lights, Solar Attic Fans, Radiant Barrier, and having energy efficient appliances all have a cost associated with them and a corresponding savings they will produce. Any amount by which you can reduce your consumption means that you will need that much less production. Curtis explains, “A solar attic fan, or radiant barrier might save you what 2 or 3 solar panels would produce for you, but at a lower cost. Any effective and thorough solar plan should incorporate improvements that will reduce consumption as well.” Knowing all of this, it might be most important to have a good solar energy consultant who can provide you with the analysis to clearly see what size of a solar array makes the most sense for your house. Contact us for more details: 801-826-4888.
String Inverter vs. Micro InverterAt a basic level, the difference between a string inverter and a micro inverter can be compared to old fashioned Christmas lights. A string inverter ties a group of panels together on a string, then connects to the string inverter, making it similar to a string of Christmas lights with regards to shading. When one panel is shaded, then all panels on the string act as if they were shaded in the same manner as Christmas lights – when one light goes out, the whole string is out. Micro inverters, however, are smaller inverters that are mounted to the back of each panel. They make each panel independent from each other with regards to shading. When one panel is shaded, the others are still producing. So you might ask, “Why use string inverters at all?” Curtis explains, “Even though micro inverters are more efficient when it comes to production, we still have about 30 – 40 percent of our customers that prefer string inverters because of the emergency power options. It almost comes down to personal preference.” Curtis gives us three tips when considering which inverter will help you meet your solar goals.
Emergency PowerIf emergency power is a concern to you, then a string inverter may be the way to go. Solaroo Energy can install a string inverter that has daytime emergency power, at virtually no additional cost to the customer. In this case, a transfer switch is installed, and an outlet box that has roughly 1 5 amps of emergency power, when it is sunny and the system is producing. This stops short of installing expensive batteries, but at least provides a little emergency power, similar to a small generator. Many clients will forgo producing an extra 4-5 percent of power on an annual basis to have this option.
ShadingShading is important when deciding which inverter is best. Even a roof with no obvious obstacles will have some shading when the day begins, ends, and as clouds roll through the sky. Curtis recommends that you only consider a string inverter with an unobstructed roof. If there is some shading from trees, a neighbor’s house, or other obstacles, the drop in production with a string inverter might not make sense. There are hybrid string inverters that offer options to put power optimizers that act as mini micro inverters on the back of each panel, which will make each panel independent with regards to shading, but will limit your emergency power options.
WarrantyThe main manufacturer of micro inverters, Enphase, will warranty their micro inverters for 25 years, whereas string inverters can range from 10 years up to 25 years. Curtis remarks, “Some clients have a generator for emergency power, or they aren’t too concerned about grid failure. Others will easily sacrifice a little production for having access to their solar in the case of an emergency.” Whatever your preference, having an experienced solar consultant can make all the difference.
Federal Tax CreditThe federal tax credit is the biggest incentive for going solar. It will give you a tax credit of 30 percent of the total cost of your system — including labor, permitting, and engineering — as long as you have a tax liability that can be offset. But, if you can’t use all of the credit this year because your tax liability isn’t big enough, you can carry it over to next year. The 30 percent tax credit is good through the end of 2016, and pending further legislation, will step down to 10 percent in 2017. Currently, systems will have to be completed by the end of 2016, not just started in order to qualify. The federal tax credit does allow you to start your solar system, and add on to it later. Kelly Curtis, director of operations of Solaroo Energy observed, “the federal tax credit is not capped, so you could start with a modest solar array, add on to it in 2015, and even add on to it again in 2016, and get a 30% credit each time.”
State of Utah Tax CreditThe state of Utah tax credit works a little differently than the federal tax credit. The state of Utah will give a credit of 25 percent up to $2,000, again, as long as you have a tax liability that can be offset. The state of Utah will allow you to carry the credit forward for four years. The 25 percent is capped at $2,000, so once you use it, it’s exhausted and can’t be used for adding to an existing system. But they sure add up. Curtis notes, “With just the federal and state tax credits, you could have up to 55 percent of your system paid for you. That definitely makes solar a lot easier decision.”
Rocky Mountain Power RebateThe Rocky Mountain Power rebate is probably the most confusing and misunderstood of all the incentives for going solar in Utah. The incentive itself is fairly high — scheduled for $1.20 per watt in 2015 — but there is only a limited amount of incentives awarded each year. The incentive is awarded on a lottery system, to those who apply after January 15th of the program year. Curtis comments, “last year, estimates of the odds for winning the incentive lottery was roughly one out of 11. This year, many more people are going solar, and could be one in 20 or 25.” Curtis continued, “Be careful not to use this incentive amount in your savings numbers, or in your decision to do solar, since it is unlikely that you’ll draw it. But you will save money on solar even without it, so if you get it, its just gravy.” Thoroughly confused? Not to worry, click here for all rebate and tax credit information, including direct links to tax forms and applications for incentives.
BenefitsSolar pool heating systems generally have a better payback than PV rooftop solar mainly because the systems are more affordable to install. For the same square footage of roof space, your savings for PV solar or solar pool heating might be similar. However, solar pool heating systems can be installed at costs that are 20-30 percent less than PV rooftop solar, even after incentives. Randy Tolbert, Director of Installation for Solaroo Energy notes, “An average payback period of solar pool heating can run between three to seven years, whereas PV rooftop solar will average more in the eight to 10 year period. You’ll save money with both systems, but the solar pool heating is probably the best savings in solar.” In addition to savings, another benefit for pool owners is the ability to extend the pool season. A standard system can extend the pool season to six weeks earlier and later in the year. Upgrades to the system can almost run your 84 degree pool year round. Kelly Curtis, Director of Operations for Solaroo Energy comments, “Our solar pool clients love not only the ability to save money, but they can have a nice warm pool in March, October and November even. They get more use out of their pools thanks to the solar thermal energy.”
How does it work?With a solar pool heating system, water is directed, using your existing pool pump, to collector thermal panels on your roof. Water enters the collectors at the bottom, and rises through the individual tubes of the collectors. The tubes are heated by the radiant heat of the sun as the water rises through the collectors, and the heated water is returned to the pool to repeat the cycle. Tolbert explains, “Since there are no welds or seams, no moving parts outside of your existing pool system, solar pool heating is very maintenance free and will heat your pool for a very long time.”
RebatesSolar pool heating systems also qualify for the Utah State Renewable Energy tax credit, which can contribute up to $2,000 to your system. In addition, Questar Gas will award a $750 rebate for solar pool heating systems. This helps bring down the cost of the system and the payback period. If you would like more information on solar pool heating, PV rooftop solar, or to see how much you would save, click here.
1. Save moneyDue to rising electricity prices in the last seven years, solar has become a cheaper power option in many utility territories, including in Utah. There is a hefty upfront price tag associated with solar, but solar financing has diminished that obstacle for most people in the same way low mortgage rates helped many get into homes. Kelly Curtis, Director of Operations for Solaroo Energy, a local SunEdison dealer, explained, “With the right financing, and depending on your roof, most people can have solar installed for no money out of pocket, and their payment is about equal to the money they save on their electric bill.” Curtis continued, “The difference is that electric prices will go up, your solar payment won’t, and your solar payment you only have for seven to 12 years and then it’s done. That makes sense to a lot of people. They end up saving tens of thousands over the life of the system.” There is also an advantage to fixing in your electricity payment so it can’t rise with electric prices. Curtis mentioned, “We had a couple nearing retirement have the foresight to go solar just to avoid having an increasing electric bill when they would be on a fixed income.”
2. Emergency powerFrom power outages to earthquakes to zombies, everyone at one time has probably thought, “what if the power went out for a long period of time?” Historically, solar provided few options for addressing the problem of emergency power. You either had to be off grid, or on grid. There was no in between. Now, inverter technology has improved to leave grid tied customers emergency power outlets that are live when your panels are producing, and can be used to charge solar generators and other storage devices. You can even install a full grid tied battery backup system that can run your house. These options allow people to save money by putting electricity back into the grid, and utilize their power generation in the case of emergency.
3. Rebates and incentivesTax rebates and utility incentives also have helped many decide to go solar. The federal tax credit will pay for 30 percent of a qualifying solar system, and the state of Utah will chip in 25 percent, up to $2,000. Rocky Mountain Power has a generous incentive of up to $1.15 per watt — if you are lucky enough to draw out the lottery based award. However, the incentives won’t likely last forever, and that’s enough to get a lot of people to buy. Click here for comprehensive information on rebates and incentives. “The current solar tax incentive at the federal level is set to step down from 30 percent to 10 percent at the end of 2016, which is helping a lot of customers make their decision. Currently, you can have half, even more than half of your solar system paid for. If you plan on staying in your house, it almost makes the decision a no-brainer,” Curtis explains.
4. WarrantyTechnology has come a long way in solar. Quality has improved to the point that systems are now warrantied out to 25 years. Panel degradation (how much the production capacity diminishes year to year) keeps improving and now is warrantied to under one percent year over year by many manufacturers. “Warranties are very generous these days in solar. You just have to make sure the solar manufacturer is large, stable, and able to make good on their warranty years and years from now,” Curtis notes.
5. The EnvironmentEven though most people jump into solar for the financial benefit, helping the environment is still a good reason to go solar, and many who are conscious of the environment love solar and its benefits. Curtis notes, “Some monitoring software lets you not only monitor your energy production, but it helps calculate the environmental impact of your solar decision, which tries to quantify that feel-good feeling you have when you go solar.”
Solar GeneratorsSolar generators have made huge strides in effectiveness, and can be the entry point into storing solar power. Solar generators are portable, and the panels can be mounted just about anywhere—giving you flexibility to move to where the sun is shining. Sami Church, an associate at Solaroo Energy explains, “For most people who are worried about a power outage or a short grid interruption, a solar generator is a great way to go. They are affordable, and will keep the essentials running for a short period of time while the power is out.” Church continues, “Saving a freezer full of food during a power outage can save a lot of money. And having a microwave to cook is also handy. Most solar generators can handle the modest use of both.”
Rooftop solar, grid tiedOne option that is not often explored, is the emergency power that a grid tied solar system can produce when the grid is down. Special inverters offered by Solaroo can now be installed with an emergency outlet that is live in the case that the grid is down. This allows you access to a lot more power than the generator, since rooftop systems usually have more panels producing power. It does, however, only produce power while the sun is shining. Even though you don’t have a bank of batteries, like a battery back-up system, you can use that live outlet to charge a battery—including your solar generator. “With a live outlet on your rooftop solar system, and a solar generator to store power, you can use power while the sun is shining with your live outlet, and at night or on cloudy days use your charged generator,” Church continues, “Grid tied systems save you money on your bill, AND can be designed to give you options for emergencies.”
Rooftop solar, battery back-upFor those who don’t want to just survive during an emergency, but thrive—a complete battery back-up system will be the choice. Battery back-up systems use a bank of batteries similar to what you would find in a car or truck, just bigger. The solar power is generated from your rooftop panels, and is stored in your battery bank. These types of systems can be also tied into the grid, so that you only use the battery power in case of emergencies. This “hybrid” system also reduces your utility bill, and prolongs the life of your batteries, since you aren’t drawing the power down frequently. They can also be designed to function completely “off grid”, which is often times the only option for cabins and remote properties. Both the Hybrid and Off Grid systems will provide you with completely renewable energy for years and years (warrantied up to 25 years). The downside to these systems is that the batteries will need to be replaced after 8-12 years, depending on how much they’re used, and the cost of battery back-up is prohibitive to many—it can add 50% or more to the cost of an average rooftop solar system. Church says, “Whatever your appetite for emergency preparedness is, solar is the only reliable way to generate power over a long period of time, at an affordable cost.” So whether it’s power outages you worry about, or the zombie apocalypse, it’s time to give solar some thought.
Roof OrientationThe order of the best producing directions for your solar panels to face is as follows: First choice – south South is the highest producing because the sun shines in the southern sky for the majority of the year. More sun equals more production. Second choice – east Really? East? There are a couple variables, but yes, the East region might be inferior to the West in the NBA, but not with solar in our climate. One common misconception is, “the west side of my house gets so hot, it has to produce more than the east.” But, heat does not equal production, sunshine does. In fact, most solar panels operate more efficiently in cooler temperatures than in hotter temps. West will also have more clouds on average than east, mainly for the fact that afternoon thundershowers in the summer are more prevalent. Therefore the east (morning) is generally more productive than the west (afternoon). Third choice – west OK, it’s time to stick up for west a little as it is not far behind East after all and can very easily move into second place if you live on the east bench next to the mountains. East is not very productive when the sun is stuck behind the Wasatch Mountains until 10:00 a.m. Last choice – north We should almost say “No Place”, because north-facing roofs won’t even qualify for the tax rebates. Other factors can play into which sections of roof are the best to install panels, such as: trees, chimneys, roof vents, and other shading issues.
Roof tilts and anglesThe tilt or pitch of your roof will determine how much summer sun (directly above you) you will get, and how much winter sun (low at an angle) you will get. The most efficient angle in the dead of the summer for where the path of the sun is over Salt Lake City, is roughly 16 degrees, which is between 3/12 and 4/12 pitch. The most efficient angle for the dead of the winter is roughly 64 degrees, which is really steep (roughly 24/12 pitch). If you average each month of the year, and weight the summer heavier since we have more sunlight in the summer, a good angle would be between 28- 35 degrees (roughly a 6 or 7/12 pitch). If you are steeper or flatter than this, it does not mean solar won’t make sense, it just means you’ll be more efficient at different times of the year.
Shingle type and ageWhen talking about shingle type, the concern isn’t really about production — it’s about installation. Asphalt and aluminum shingles work well with solar panel installation. Tile shingles and corrugated metal roofing are more difficult. But production won’t be materially different based on your type of roofing. Age brings up two concerns: First, if you need a new roof next year, you’ll probably want to do that roof first, then install solar. It is expensive to remove a system and reinstall. Second, If your home is older and doesn’t have trusses, there could be some structural braces that will need to be installed to your rafters to be able to support the weight of your system. Most of the time those structural modifications aren’t expensive, but they will need to be made.
Solar energy is a resource with many benefits. It’s sustainable for energy consumption and continuously renewable. Not only can solar power be used to generate electricity, it can also be used to heat water. You may have already known these tidbits of information, but here are five additional facts that may surprise you about electricity and solar energy in Utah.
Utah’s residential electricity is expensive
If you were to research energy costs by state, Utah would appear to be one of the cheapest states. While this may be true in general, there is a big variance between commercial and residential cost per kilowatt hour.Residential rates average between 9 – 12 cents per kilowatt hour for the average home, and even more for larger homes. Summer costs can get even more expensive, with even higher rates charged to those who use over 1,000 kilowatt hours per month.
Kelly Curtis, Director of Operations at Solaroo Energy, a Utah based solar energy supplier, touched briefly on how the costs of residential electricity can add up quickly.”When it comes to commercial energy, the general rates for an average business are at three to four cents per kilowatt hour. Although that may be cheap, compare it to residential electricity. A house that is 4,000 square feet or more can be charged as much as 14.5 cents per kilowatt hour.”
Solar energy rates are fixed
According to the State of Utah Public Service Commission, one Utah power company has averaged 4.44 percent increases since 2000. In the last seven years alone, the rates have gone up 50 percent. The latest rate increase was levied just last month. “Utility rates have a history of going up, and they are projected to increase even more, whereas solar energy is fixed. You pay for it up front, but the cost of producing energy is fixed over the life of the system, and results in huge savings,” Curtis says. “Solar gives you the opportunity to control your rates, and control your power.” With solar energy, you are purchasing your own electricity generation at a fixed cost, allowing you to maintain the same energy rates for 25 years or longer. The best part is that the longer your solar panels produce energy, the cheaper your energy will be.
Solar system guarantee
You can now have a warranty on your solar system (not the one made up by planets orbiting the sun) that will guarantee how much energy you will produce over the next 25 years. While many companies offer leases for their solar panels, keep an eye out for a good warranty and production guarantee.
Technology has improved
Advancement in technology is the main reason why U.S.-based manufacturers are now willing to warranty entire systems and components for 25 years. Curtis also mentioned how using specially designed solar panels from SunEdison, a Fortune 1000 company and a global leader in solar technology, can make all the difference when switching to solar energy. “Many solar energy companies continue to purchase their solar panels from China because they are really inexpensive, but they are also poorly made. These solar panels lose their effectiveness only after a few short years,” say Curtis. “SunEdison guarantees that your panels will produce the energy we say they will over 25 years.”
Solar system costs have come down in Utah
The cost of installing efficient, reliable, and maintenance-free solar systems in Utah is much more affordable compared to other states, according to Solaroo Energy. For example, systems in California can cost up to $7 per kilowatt, whereas in Utah, systems will cost as little as $4 or less per kilowatt. The cost of solar energy has decreased over the last few years. With the ever-increasing electric rates, the time has never been better for installing solar systems in Utah.