Considering Solar Panels for Your Home? Here’s What I Learned

Betsy Teutsch, for the Shuttle

Solar panels have, quite stealthily, gone mainstream. While the present administration is turning the clock back to maximize fossil fuel consumption and pollution, many countries, as well as lots of states and municipalities, are thankfully doing the opposite. This has driven demand, and solar prices have dropped. The great news is that over the years, solar panel efficiency has soared. Hence, those going solar generate more electricity at reduced costs per panel.

I have been pining for solar panels since Ronald Reagan took Jimmy Carter’s off the White House, but it was never economically sensible. However, I am delighted to say that on October 7, a solar array, expedited through Solarize Philly, will go up on our roof.

Next month I will describe the actual process. In the meantime, here are some FAQs.

If solar panels keep dropping in price, shouldn’t we wait a few more years?

There are a few answers to this excellent question:

  • Labor is the biggest component of a solar array installation, and while the cost of the panels themselves are dropping, labor costs are not.
  • There is a federal 30 percent Solar Investment Tax Credit, for 2019 solar purchases. This credit drops in each subsequent year by a few percentage points, until it is phased out in 2022. There may be a drop in solar panel prices, as well as increases in efficiency, but they are unlikely to offset the loss of the tax credits.
  • Climate change mitigation requires big changes from all of us ASAP.

Is purchasing a solar array a good investment?

This depends on variables that are impossible to accurately predict. The solar energy industry makes a good case for its product being an excellent investment, but it’s hard to prove. Here are some points to consider:

  • Solar installers can estimate how much electricity your system will generate. Through net metering, PECO pays you for what you produce beyond what you consume. Your payback number of years will depend on your financing situation; eventually you will own your system and then you will consume lots of free electricity every year.
  • The opportunity loss or gain of purchasing a solar array instead of another investment is impossible to quantify.
  • Electricity rates keep increasing, but it’s impossible to know by how much. As charges increase, so does the value of your system’s output.
  • The value of RECs, renewable energy credits, is going up. They add extra cash to your pocket, but again it is impossible to know their future value.
  • Data show that solar panels raise your home’s value beyond the cost of installation.
  • As an investment in our planet, adding renewable energy capacity that replaces fossil fuel consumption, is a wonderful way to allocate your resources.

What does Solarize Philly do? helps locals switch to solar in the following ways:

  • It works with vetted contractors and matches them with customers, streamlining the process.
  • They buy solar panels in bulk, taking advantage of quantity discounts, and pass the savings on to consumers.
  • They manage the paperwork with PECO and the City of Philadelphia, expediting the process and making it manageable for contractors. Before this, few contractors were willing to work in Philly proper.
  • They are working with the city on its program to give a rebate to all new solar purchasers, up to $500,000. Rebates will average around $1,000. (This is in addition to the federal SITC.)
  • They help train Philadelphia school students to become solar technicians and help match them with the jobs created by these incentives.

All signs point to a climate crisis in the not too distant future. Here is an option that might work for your family and for the planet, too.