By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Energy Writer
Solar energy installations have skyrocketed in recent years; it’s likely there are some in your neighborhood. One of the reasons solar power has become so popular is the cost of solar systems has plummeted in the last decade or two. As a result, many more households can afford to install solar.
But just how much will a solar system cost? Many homeowners want to get a sense of the cost before having a solar company inspect their property or giving away their personal information online.
Ballpark Solar System Cost
According to Energy Sage, the average solar system costs about $2.77 per watt installed. This price covers labor, permitting, solar panels, the inverter, and other solar equipment, but prices may vary by the installer, solar panel location, and equipment.
The size of your solar energy system will be determined by your total electricity usage, available space for installing solar panels, and budget. To determine how much electricity you use, review your electric bills for the past year or more.
The average home needs about a 6 kilowatt (kW) solar system, which costs roughly $17,000 before incentives. If you can take advantage of the federal solar tax credit in 2022, you can receive a tax credit for 26% of the total system cost. If you install your system in 2023, then the solar tax credit is 22% of the total cost. Speak with a tax expert to ensure you can take advantage of the tax credit.
Estimates based on a 6 kW solar system minus tax credit by year:
Factors Affecting a Solar System’s Cost
There are several factors that impact the cost of your solar panel system. Let’s explore them so you know what to expect.
Solar System Size
If your home doesn’t consume a lot of electricity, you might be able to install a solar system that will cover 100% of your needs. Some homeowners install an extra couple of solar panels specifically for charging an electric vehicle.
Image Credit: Vivint Solar
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Energy Copywriter
California leads the way in photovoltaic installations with over 32 MW of installed capacity, enough to power 9.6 million homes. The Golden State is serious about transitioning to renewable energy to phase out fossil fuel consumption and reduce carbon emissions. In fact, the Golden State has numerous laws to make this happen, enabling unprecedented growth in the solar energy industry.
Because California has many building codes regarding solar energy, PV contracts need to be aware of these when conducting business in the state. Being knowledgeable about how these laws impact energy codes is critical for advising clients.
What Is The California Solar Mandate?
In 2018, California created a mandate that new single-family homes and multi-family dwellings up to three stories high must install solar panels. The California solar mandate took effect on January 1, 2020, and is part of California’s building codes. The mandate was created by the California Energy Commission (CEC), was unanimously approved 5 to 0 and is the first such mandate in the United States.
Solar systems on new construction projects must have the capacity to provide all of the power needs on an annual basis. Because these properties haven’t been inhabited in the past, builders estimate the electricity needs of the home based on the climate zone and square footage.
However, if the solar system includes battery storage systems, such as the Tesla Powerwall, Enphase Enpower, or LG Chem RESU, builders can reduce the size requirement of the solar system by up to 25%. In addition, when incorporating other energy-efficiency initiatives and demand-response measures, builders can reduce the size of the solar power system by 40% or more.
Last year, the CEC also unanimously approved a change to the building codes to require many new commercial buildings to have solar panels and battery storage. This new commercial mandate will likely take effect on January 1, 2023. The commercial buildings included in this change include high-rise residential projects, hotels, offices, medical offices, health clinics, retailers, grocery stores, restaurants, schools and civic spaces.
The residential and commercial mandates will increase demand for rooftop solar and battery installations throughout the state, creating excellent opportunities for solar contractors.
How Does The California Solar Mandate Impact Homeowners And Businesses?
The solar mandate will affect solar installers and PV contractors. If conducting business in California, it is critical to understand what impact this will have on your customers.
Residential Solar Clients
The California Solar Mandate is already in effect for residential solar clients in single-family homes and multi-family housing three stories or less. Although residential new construction projects must have solar panels, existing homes are not usually required unless they are undergoing extensive updates. In the future, new homes will be required to have wiring that enables an easy transition from gas appliances and heating to all-electric and to be “solar-ready” to easily add solar storage capacity.
By Sarah Lozanova, Clean Energy Writer
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the solar energy industry has been remarkably resilient. Rapid technology improvements, government incentives for solar panels, and the increasing competitiveness of solar energy storage batteries have helped boost clean energy deployment.
Although 2022 does seem like a very promising year for solar energy installations, there are some potential hurdles along the way. So, what should you expect for 2022, and how can you prepare? Identifying upcoming trends can help your company be adaptive to the changing business climate in 2022 and beyond.
Solar Technology Will Continue To Improve
Solar panels continue to become more efficient, enabling homes and businesses to produce more electricity in a limited space. Increasingly, solar PV panels are lighter weight, have a sleeker appearance and thinner profile, making them more visually appealing. In addition, solar shingles are becoming more widespread, and there are more available products than ever before. Despite these improvements, solar energy costs seem to be remaining relatively stable.
In addition, many solar panel manufacturers are offering longer warranties than ever before, making solar a safer investment. Even liquid solar panels are being developed and show promise. Likewise, solar inverters are also advancing, helping to boost total solar system efficiency.
These advancements are good news for solar contractors, and they are helpful to understand so you can explain them to potential customers.
Additional Solar Applications Will Gain Popularity
As solar energy technology advances, its use in a variety of products is becoming more widespread and affordable. For example, solar-powered LED streetlights cut energy bills and carbon emissions in many urban areas while protecting public safety and promoting energy efficiency. PV noise barriers along highways make nearby communities more livable while generating renewable energy. In addition, EV chargers are increasingly powered by solar panels.
Expect to see photovoltaic solar applications expanding as new uses are found for solar power. Keeping current on these trends could potentially open up opportunities for new service offerings for your solar energy company.
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Energy Writer
As solar energy deployment increases, solar farms are becoming bigger than ever before. Large-scale solar farms have ground-mounted solar panels. Therefore, the way developers plan and manage those impacts wildlife and local ecosystems. How can solar professionals minimize the ecological impacts of solar farms?
It is essential to examine this question throughout all phases of solar farm development, from the initial planning phase to decommissioning.
Alternatives to Mowing
It is critical to minimize or eliminate shading on solar panels to boost electricity production. Therefore, many solar farm managers mow around the solar panels with gas-powered mowers and use herbicides. Unfortunately, these produce carbon emissions, burn fossil fuels, and contaminate air quality and water quality.
Using sheep to graze around the solar panels reduces or eliminates the need to mow and apply herbicides. Sheep are excellent at removing vegetation, even between solar panels. This prevents shading without chemicals or gas-powered equipment.
Often, solar farms contain non-native plants or even gravel around the solar panels. This groundcover provides little value to wildlife, especially pollinators. Planting native wildflowers can help reduce the need to irrigate the groundcover, conserving water. Likewise, it gives fodder to pollinators. Once established, this landscape can reduce maintenance, saving money. Also, pollinators can provide a lot of value to farmers. If there are agricultural farms located nearby, native plants can help maintain pollinator populations, which can sometimes help protect crop yields.
Promoting Soil Health
Grazing sheep, cultivating native plants, and not apply herbicides all help maintain soil quality. In fact, soil health is critical for healthy ecosystems and productive farms. Solar farms may become cropland or wilderness areas after the solar farm is decommissioned. Thus, promoting soil health can help promote productive use of the property several decades from now.
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Writer
The United States now has enough installed solar energy capacity to power 17.7 million homes. Although this is fantastic for air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, it means there is a looming e-waste issue on the horizon. At some point, the photovoltaic panels will no longer generate enough energy. Is it possible to recycle solar panels when they have reached their end of life?
The design life of solar panels is 25 to 30 years. Over time, solar modules become less efficient in converting sunlight to electricity due to degradation. Most of the solar panels in the U.S. were installed in the last decade. The efficiency of the panels will decrease and need to be replaced. Broken solar panels are good candidates for a refurbishing program.
Currently, only a small fraction of solar panels are recycled. The lack of governmental policies, infrastructure, and foresight in the module design process makes solar panel recycling expensive and arduous. For solar energy to truly produce clean energy, we must recycle solar panels effectively.
What materials are in solar panels?
When exploring recyclability, it is helpful to consider the components that make up a solar photovoltaic (PV) panel. Silicon-based modules are comprised of glass, plastic, aluminum, and silicon. Unfortunately, they also contain trace toxic compounds, such as lead, which can leach into groundwater if not properly disposed of. Cadmium telluride (CdTe) is found in thin-film solar and is toxic and a carcinogen. Because thin-film currently constitutes less than 5% of the global module market, it is a smaller-scale concern.
How are solar panels recycled?
To recycle the modules, they must be disassembled to remove the glass and the metal components in the frames and junction boxes. Unfortunately, the remaining materials make a low-value product that is largely downcycled into low-value products. As a result, material recovery rates are often around 85%, and the demand for the recycled materials is low.
How can we improve solar panel recycling?
Extending the life of decommissioned solar modules through refurbishing is an appealing option when possible. Such initiatives create a secondary market for solar PV materials that can help keep prices down while reducing waste.
To achieve dramatic advancement in recycling initiatives’ value and recovery rates would require the direct reuse of materials in the frame, glass, tabbing, and solar cells. The copper, silver, and silicon also provide a valuable opportunity if they can be effectively recovered. For example, silicon could be recycled back into solar panels or the anodes of lithium-ion batteries.
If achieved, this could reduce waste while conserving energy and resources.
Where can I recycle solar panels?
Although the U.S. lacks a national network for solar panel recycling, there is a patchwork of recycling options. The Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA’s) National PV Recycling Program has designated Preferred Recycling Partners that meet certain standards. Two solar manufacturers lead the way in their recycling efforts: First Solar and SunPower.
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar PV Writer
U.S. solar generation capacity is soaring. Construction began recently on the Samson Solar Energy Center, the largest planned solar energy farm in the United States. When completed, the solar farm will have 1,013 megawatts of generating capacity. This solar farm will be considerably larger than the 690 MW Gemini solar project with battery storage under construction outside of Las Vegas, which had been the largest project in the U.S.
Invenergy is developing the Samson solar farm, which will span three counties in Northeast Texas near the Oklahoma border. The project will create an estimated 600 construction jobs and $450 million in tax revenue and landowner lease payments. Developers are planning construction in five phases, with a 2023 expected completion date.
Texas is a leader in renewable energy production in the U.S. due to its excellent solar and wind energy resources. It leads in the nation in installed wind energy capacity and trails California for installed solar energy capacity.
Who will purchase the solar energy?
Corporations have already signed virtual Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for Samson’s solar electricity. “The Samson Solar Energy Center is the latest example of what can be achieved when companies and utilities seek an innovative partner to meet their sustainability goals and invest in a clean energy future,” said Ted Romaine, senior vice president of origination at Invenergy.
The largest share, 500 MW, will go to AT&T, which says it will be the biggest corporate U.S. solar deal to date. This agreement is a big step forward in AT&T’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2035. The corporation’s multi-facet plan includes transitioning to a low-emissions fleet, increasing energy efficiency, and purchasing carbon offsets.
In addition, Honda has an agreement for 200 MW, McDonald’s for 160 MW, and Google for 100 MW. AT&T, Google, and Honda have already been leaders in renewable energy use. According to the Renewable Energy Buyer’s Alliance Top U.S. Energy Buyers of 2019, Google ranks second, AT&T third, McDonald’s ninth, and Honda tenth.
Tech giants have helped lead the way with sourcing renewable energy, due in part to consumer and investor concern over dirty energy powering data centers.
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Energy Writer
Many homeowners want to install a solar electric system but don’t know if their roof gets enough sunshine. The return on investment from the solar panels and the positive environmental benefits are highly dependent on the energy production.
Here’s the essential information to determine if a house has ample solar potential.
Solar energy systems generate the most electricity when the panels are pointed south. If the orientation of the roof is slightly off from due south, it won’t have a dramatic impact on the total energy production.
If the solar panels face east, they will generate more energy in the morning. Conversely, if the panels face west, the system will have excellent afternoon production but little in the morning. It is not recommended to install panels on a north-facing roof (in the northern hemisphere).
To determine the energy loss due to orientation, go to the PVWatts website and edit the azimuth field.
Shade from Trees and Buildings
Although trees are wonderful, they can have a negative impact on solar production. Buildings and trees located east, west, and especially south can hinder electricity output. The most crucial window is the mid-day hours, between 9 am and 3 pm. Thus, obstructions on the south side of the home can have the biggest impact. If trees are an issue, trimming certain branches might be highly beneficial.
Evergreen trees can have the biggest impact on solar panels because they create shading throughout the year. Deciduous trees tend to not have leaves when the sun is lower in the sky during the cold weather months. When planting new trees, select shorter varieties or plant them on the north side of the home.
Image Credit: Sundog Solar
Do solar panels work on shaded roofs?
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Energy Writer
A big concern with large-scale solar farms is the impact on land use. Solar developers often site projects on agricultural land that is taken out of production. Also, the vegetation around solar panels needs to be maintained to prevent shading. In some cases, herbicides are used, contaminating waterways, and mowing generates pollution. If the developer applies gravel or plants turfgrass, the land has little wildlife value.
As the local food movement gains steam, isn’t it counterproductive to turn productive cropland into an energy plant? How can the solar energy industry embrace biodiversity while producing clean energy? Is dual use of a solar site possible?
Solar farms can be managed to increase pollinator habitat, improve soil quality, and even for livestock grazing. Innovative land management approaches enable solar projects to serve multiple purposes, benefitting the local economy. Keeping honeybees, grazing sheep, and even cultivating mushrooms can all complement a solar energy project.
Native Wildflowers Boost Pollinator Habitat
Researchers with the Argonne National Laboratory are examining the economic benefits of establishing native vegetation, including wildflowers and prairie grasses, on nearby cropland. Native vegetation attracts crucial critters like bees, flies, bats, birds, wasps, moths, and butterflies, which can be beneficial to crop yields.
Researchers with the Argonne National Laboratory are examining the economic benefits of establishing native vegetation on nearby cropland, including wildflowers and prairie grasses. A diverse array of native plants benefits wildlife diversity, especially pollinators. These crucial critters include bees, flies, bats, birds, wasps, moths, and butterflies, and can be beneficial to crop yields.
Image Credit: Danny Piper of Sundog Solar
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar PV Writer
There is now enough installed solar energy capacity in the U.S. to power 13.5 million homes, and this amount is expected to double in the next five years. The solar energy industry is part of a very dynamic market. Many factors — including government policies, fossil fuel costs, solar energy technology advances, commodity prices, and even public awareness of the climate crisis — impact solar energy deployment across the globe.
What’s in store for the year ahead? Let’s explore some trends in solar energy to better understand what is on tap for 2020.
Solar Battery Prices Are Falling
Solar energy is an intermittent energy source. This means that solar panels produce power when the sun is shining and not when it isn’t. Energy storage allows the solar system to supply power when the sun has set or in cloudy weather, expanding the capabilities of solar energy systems.
There are two main types of solar batteries: lead-acid batteries (like you have in your car) and lithium-ion batteries. The latter is far more advanced, longer-lasting, and requires less maintenance. Not surprising, lithium-ion batteries have a higher upfront cost, but the price has been decreasing significantly in recent years. The cost of lithium-ion battery storage fell 35 percent from the first half of 2018 to now (December 2019) and 76 percent since 2012. This downward price trend is good news for renewable solar energy in 2020 — and it’s likely to continue.
Natural gas plants are often used to meet peak energy loads because they can more easily be turned on and off than coal or nuclear power plants. Lower costs make it easier for intermittent renewable energy sources — such as wind and solar — to be cost-competitive with dispatchable fossil-fired power plants. Price decreases in utility-scale battery banks now make solar plus energy storage competitive in many areas on price alone. Battery banks can make it unnecessary to fire up power plants during times of peak demand, reducing fossil fuel consumption. The greater the capabilities of solar, the less attractive and financially viable these peaker power plants become.
On the residential side, more homeowners are relying on solar systems with battery storage for emergency power during grid outages than ever before. This is an especially attractive option in areas prone to extended power outages due to natural disasters or with inadequate utility infrastructure, like Puerto Rico.
Image Credit: Sundog Solar
Trends in Solar Energy - Clean Energy Writer
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Panel Writer
The U.S. has more than 2 million solar installations. This means there are tens of millions of solar panels on roofs and racking systems. Solar energy is fantastic for reducing carbon emissions and promoting energy independence, but what happens at the end of the panel’s 30-year lifespan?
There is a looming waste management issue as solar systems age and will eventually be decommissioned. Is the U.S. prepared for large-scale solar panel recycling?
“Installations two decades ago are nearing their end of life, and that becomes a challenge for the waste industry,” says Garvin Heath, a senior scientist in the Strategic Energy Analysis Center of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “Because it takes a long time to develop technology and policy and solutions to dealing with end-of-life products, this is something we need to start to address today.”
According to Heath, solar panels could comprise more than 10 percent of global electronic waste by 2050.
Solar panel recycling presents an economic opportunity and can spawn new industries. A study by the International Renewable Agency (IRENA) estimates that by 2050, $15 billion could be recovered from recycling solar panels. There are also repair and reuse opportunities for solar panels that fail prematurely. These repaired solar panels are often sold at a discount, creating opportunities in new markets where affordability is an issue.
What Parts of the Solar Panel Can Be Recycled?
Glass, plastic, aluminum, and silicon comprise 99 percent of the silicon-based solar panels.
Image Credit: Nichole McClure