Solar

Let the Sun Power Your Home!

Solar panels have become very popular home in Concord and elsewhere over the past five years. Just look up and you can see them in practically every neighborhood, and in many cases, on several homes in a single neighborhood. As of May 2017, 275 homeowners had installed photovoltaic systems that generate well over 2,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWhs) of electricity every year.

Photovoltaic panels installed on a Concord residence

 

Here’s why solar is so popular. Solar panel prices have dramatically decreased over the past few years and incentives have remained high, a combination that makes solar a “no-brainer” as an investment. Systems on homes with good sunlight can generate investment returns of greater than 15% with payback periods of 4 to 6 years. After that it’s all positive cash flow as the panels generate power for 25 years or more. Also, many homeowners like the idea of generating their own power, contributing clean energy to the electric grid, and reducing their CO2emissions. This power can be used to help them transition away from burning oil and natural gas by recharging their electric cars and installing high-efficiency heat pumps for home heating and cooling. On top of all that, solar panels  increase the value of your home.

Some folks are looking forward to the time (coming soon) when they can connect batteries to store their own power and operate “off the grid”. Though until that time, if there is a power cut, solar generation is automatically shut down for the safety of emergency personnel.

Recommended Actions 

  1. We strongly recommend that you consider going solar in 2017. The current State SREC incentive program (see Financial Considerations below for a description of SRECs) will be eliminated in March 2018, which means that your system must be installed and operating by then in order to qualify for the current program. Concord residents will not be eligible for the State’s new solar incentive system which will take effect after March 2018.
  2. Consult a Solar Coach.   A number of experienced Concord residents have volunteered to serve as coaches to help fellow residents understand and get through the process of installing solar PV, as well as how to read your CMLP bill once you are generating your own power.
  3. Contact installers and ask them to estimate the expected efficiency of and payback period for solar panels at your site. Get quotes, choose an installer with the right price and track record who can get your system in pronto, and enjoy the Power of the Sun and lots of savings this year and for many years to come. Here you can find a list of installers, along with some useful information, that have installed these systems on local Concord homes.

Financial Considerations

Here are the solar financial incentives currently available in Concord:

  • A federal tax credit of 30% of the cost of the system. There is no $ limit on the credit and the cost of roof repair/replacement under the new panels may be eligible for the tax credit.
  • A State of MA tax credit of 15%, up to $1,000
  • Concord’s Municipal Light Plant (CMLP) provides a generous rebate of 62.5 cents per watt up to $3,125 and will buy the power generated that is not immediately used in the home through a net metering system.
  • Massachusetts has an incentive program that uses Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) to pay owners of solar systems for all the power they generate (even if it’s used in the home) for a period of 10 years. Under the current program, one SREC is “earned” for every 1,200 kilowatt-hours generated. While the amount of electricity produced varies with sun exposure, a 5-kilowatt system can earn 5 SRECs each year. SREC values vary; in the past year they have sold in the range of $280 – $420 each.
  • Massachusetts State Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has announced it will eliminate the current SREC system and replace it with another incentive structure (SMART) in March 2018. Concord residents will NOT be eligible for this program. Given what we know now, 2017 may be the last best year to install solar in Concord. 
  • The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) offers low interest loan options that make solar panels affordable for low and moderate income residents. No-money-down loan options exist to make solar affordable to homeowners with moderate income.

Environmental Benefits

Every kWh generated by a solar system means one less kWh produced by burning coal, oil or natural gas. That’s a really good thing for the planet. Solar power avoids 1 lb. of CO2 emissions for every kWh produced so a 5 kW system avoids 5,000 lbs. of CO2 emissions every year. Not only does solar power decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and help keep the Earth cooler; it also makes cleaner air for us to breathe by avoiding nasty pollutants such as fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and ozone. Let’s have more solar and breathe easier!

FAQs:

Q: How does solar power work? A: Solar electric systems, also known as solar photovoltaics or solar PV, convert sunlight into electrical energy through an array of solar panels that connect to a building’s electrical system or directly to the electrical grid. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) has some good background information on this.

Q: How do I know if my home is good for solar?  A: You can view your roof on Google Maps (click on the Earth box and enter your address) to get a sense for its orientation and potential shading from trees. South-facing roofs with little shade are best, but east and west-facing roofs work well too as long as there is little shade. Ideal roofs have long expanses of open areas but panels can be placed on smaller areas as well.

Q: What if my roof is old? Should I replace it before installing solar panels?   A: Fifteen years is about the dividing line between installing panels on the current roof and replacing the roof and then installing panels. If you install the panels on the existing roof, the panels will protect the part of the roof on which they are installed. You can have the panels taken off and reinstalled when you decide to re-roof. If you decide to re-roof before installing panels, you may be able to claim the 30% federal tax credit for the cost of the new roof under the panels.

Q: Do I have to maintain my solar system?  A: Generally the panels will sit up on the roof out of sight and out of mind, powering your home, even on cloudy days. There are no maintenance contracts to buy and New England weather will keep the panels pretty clean.

Q: What happens when it snows? A: Snow will pile up on solar panels, but the sun’s energy soon melts the bottom layer next to the panels and the snow will come sliding down quickly with a big whump. Snow guards are available to protect people and plants under the panels, and if squirrels chew your system’s wires, you can have critter guards installed.

Q: How do I get paid for the electricity my system sends to the electric grid? A: Each month CMLP will record the total amount of kWhs (kilowatt-hours) your system has sent to the grid and the total amount you have used in your home. If you have used more than you have sent, you will pay for the excess used kWhs at the full residential electricity rate (roughly 16 cents/kWh). If you have sent more kWhs than you have used, CMLP pays you for the excess that you’ve sent at a reduced rate (roughly 3 cents/kWh). Also, all solar owners pay an added flat monthly fee based on system size. See CMLP’s Net Metering Policy Acknowledgement for more information.

Q: How big should my solar system be? A: Since you are not paid well for the excess power that your system produces, it makes sense to have a system that is properly “sized” just to cover your electric bill. However, you may decide to install a bigger solar system and switch to air-source heat pumps for heating and cooling and/or buy an electric car, using the power of the sun instead of burning oil and gasoline and saving a lot of money.

Q: What is the process of going solar? A: Generally a solar installer will ask for a copy of your electric bill and will prepare a proposed layout and financial estimate based on that and your roof space. Some parts of your roof may get more sun than others; you can change the layout to meet your needs. Once you have approved the design and signed off on the financials, the solar installer will handle the installation, checking roof structural support, pulling permits, obtaining equipment and scheduling the work. It may be a month or two until installation. Actual installation usually takes 2 days – electrical work and roof racking on day 1 and panel installation on day 2. After building and electrical inspections, CMLP will install a new meter and give you approval to power up your system!

Resources/Links:

  1. CMLP Solar rebate information
  2. Federal Photovoltaic Tax Rebate information
  3. List of Solar Installers