We’d like everyone in our service area of Virginia, from Blacksburg to Harrisonburg, from Roanoke to Lynchburg, and everyplace in between, to go solar in 2018. But the truth is that some homes and businesses are better suited than others to host solar panels.
And unfortunately, in some locations, solar just doesn’t work at all. For example, if you live in an apartment or you don’t own your property.
But if solar will work for you, next year might finally be your time to realize your solar dreams. Here I’ll focus on people in Virginia who own their own homes. Some are good candidates for solar, some aren’t, and some could be if they made a change or two.
Why 2018 Will Be So Great for Solar
If your home qualifies for a solar energy system, 2018 will be a great year to go solar for a couple of reasons.
First, the main government incentive for solar in Virginia, the 30% federal tax credit, will still be available at its full strength. In just a couple years, the tax credit is scheduled to decline in value for both homeowners and businesses and then to disappear entirely for homes, remaining only for businesses, but at the much lower rate 10%.
The second reason why 2018 will be an exceptional year to go solar is that prices for solar installations should remain at historic lows — but for how long, nobody can say.
Over the last few years, the cost of solar installations has come down because solar panels and other equipment have seen big declines in price. Most experts predict that this fast rate of price decline will not continue into the future. In the last couple years we’ve already seen solar panel prices level off. For a variety of reasons, it’s even possible that the cost of solar panels could start going the other way, and actually increase in the future.
So, if you want to lock in today’s low prices for solar panels and get the lowest price on a solar installation, then 2018 may be the time to do that.
Who Should Go Solar
Whether you can go solar or not is really all about location-location-location. The very same building in one place may be an excellent candidate to host solar panels but, if placed in another location, the solar potential may be poor.
Here are the three main things that make a home in Virginia an excellent prospect for solar power.
- Big Enough Electric Bill. You need to use enough electricity to make the money savings from solar worth the investment. Your electric bill should be at least $50 per month on average over the course of the year. If your use of electricity goes beyond the usual lights and appliances to include heating or some special use — such as power tools — then you’re an even better candidate for the money savings on your electric bill that solar can provide.
- A Suitable Roof or Space in Your Yard. Once you’ve determined that you can benefit from the power savings that solar will provide, then you need to have a place to put the panels. For most homes, that means the roof. To work for solar, your roof must be in good shape and relatively new. You don’t want to have to replace your roof right away after you put solar panels on it. If the roof won’t do, another option is to place a ground-mounted solar system in your back yard or out in a field next to your house. That can be a little more expensive, so it’s best to try to make the roof work first.
- A Space that’s Sunny and Big Enough. Either way, the roof or ground location needs to have unshaded direct sunlight throughout the day and throughout the year to maximize production from your solar system. The space also needs to be large enough to host enough solar panels to make a system worthwhile.
Other factors can make your home a good candidate for on-site solar panels, but these are the main ones. Now, let’s look at the factors that would make solar less appealing at any location.
Who Shouldn’t Go Solar
We don’t like to tell people that their location just won’t work for solar, but it’s our responsibility to help Virginia homeowners make the best decisions about solar power at home. Here are the main signs that solar may not work well at your place:
- Electric Bill is Too Low. Congratulations! This is a great problem to have. If your home uses less than $50 per month in kilowatt hours on average over the year from the power company, then you must be a real conservationist. In that case, the investment in solar may not save you enough money to make it worthwhile. However, if your power bill is so low because your heating comes from natural gas, propane or even (yikes!) heating oil, then you may want to consider switching those over to electricity, which can be more efficient. Of course, this will increase your demand for electric power, possibly to the level where solar would make sense. And, if you do use solar to cover that demand, then your power costs will be more predictable in the future than if you’re still dependent on gas, propane or heating oil, whose prices can go up and down, sometimes in big swings.
- Roof Needs Replacing. It’s not wise to put solar panels up on a roof you’ll have to get done in the next few years. But if your roof needs to be changed soon, you might consider financing it together with a solar installation. If you bundle the two investments, then you might also be able to apply the 30% solar federal tax credit to both expenses, the roof replacement and the solar installation. That can be a great way to get that new roof now that you’ve been putting off.
- Too Much Shade, Too Little Space. If your roof is shaded or just not big enough to hold enough solar panels, then solar may not be worth the investment at your location. Unfortunately, some solar installers don’t pay enough attention to shading in particular, and may actually try to install more solar panels than your location can make use of. A reputable installer will never install solar panels in shade, but they might be able to help you reduce the shading. If you really want to go solar, to create more unshaded sunny space, you can cut down trees or even just trim branches in some cases.
The One Factor that Can Make Almost Any Location Work for Solar
If going green, helping the environment and using clean energy are important values for you, that can override everything above. As long as financial return is less important to you than joining the clean energy revolution, then in most cases you can get some solar even if your location is not optimal.
For example, some of our customers who care about the environment have already cut their energy usage greatly, just because they’re committed to energy conservation. Yet, even though their electric bills are low, they still want to get solar at home because they want to do more to go green. In that case, as long as the customer understands their goals with solar, we are happy to help.
Whichever type of green you care about — whether it’s helping the environment or saving money on your electric bills — if you think 2018 might be your year to go solar then Main Street Solar is ready to come by your place and let you know what it would take for you to get your own solar energy system. Just ask us for a free quote and we can get started.
— Andrew Brenner, Main Street Solar