“Solar PV”, or photovoltaic technology, has advanced to make solar arrays affordable for the average homeowner in Newton. This is because over the last 20 years the cost of the system components have come way down and the government has recognized the value of the emerging market and subsidized it through tax and other incentives. In Massachusetts the State Dept of Energy and MassCEC (Mass Clean Energy Center) created the “Solarize Mass” program to help promote residential solar installations in participating communities. Green Decade partnered with the City of Newton and received a Solarize grant in 2012. The six month program included 63 homes and yielded over 300KW of electricity produced by the sun annually. In 2013 we rolled out Energy Smart Newton, modeled after the Solarize program. Today there are over 150 Newton homes generating their electricity with solar arrays. We are currently in the midst of the third program to promote residential solar, the Newton Solar Challenge with a goal of auditioning another 100 solar homes in Newton by June 2015.
Why solar now? There are a couple of compelling reasons: The first is that the numbers work. With system discounts of 20% +/- available through the Newton Solar Challenge coupled with the 30% federal tax credit and a $1,000 state tax credit, the initial cost of the systems have never been lower. Then there are “SRECs” (Solar Renewable Energy Certificates), income from state incentive payments for solar production. Currently, an SREC credit is worth approximately $0.28 per kilowatt hour. A typical system in Newton of 6 KW capacity will provide approximately $2,000 annually, for a minimum of ten years for the homeowner.
In addition the Solar Challenge has partnered with Village Bank to offer a 5.5% loan with a ten year term for solar installations. Depending upon your system specifications and the amount of electricity you consume, using the loan could make the purchase cash positive the first year of the installation. Take a look at the easy to use financial model on the Newton Solar Challenge website to calculate your potential costs at www.newtonsolarchallenge.com
Another key point is the value of creating you own clean solar energy right on your house. While you will still be fully connected to NSTAR, you will be producing most, if not all your electricity from your rooftop solar array. This is a huge hedge against the cost of electricity. Given that NSTAR’s rates will increase by 30% in 2015 alone , solar comes out way ahead. It offers a five year payback on a cash investment or a ten year payback with The Village Bank loan. That means your electricity will becomes free after your payback period. In short, economics of residential solar today make it a no-brainer when you do the math.
This is important because in the United States we are becoming increasingly dependent upon electricity. As we move away from fossil fuels our cars, home heating and cooling as well as our growing dependence upon electronics will require more and more electricity. Even in the most conscientious households with the latest efficient lighting and appliances, electricity consumption will be going up. This trend is only going to make a solar array more valuable.
All this and we haven’t even touched upon the environmental reasons. Of course the reduction in carbon by producing electricity from the sun, carbon free is obvious. But perhaps more importantly independent residential solar arrays help decentralize our energy production. By producing electricity where it is used the model of dependence on huge regional utilities changes and empowers the consumer. The colossal waste through line loss is largely eliminated. The limitations of our aging grid are less critical and the demand for more and greater power production will be lessened.
However the ‘now’ must be emphasized. Make no mistake about it, the rosy economics are largely due to the incentives currently available through the government. A rebate program through the Massachusetts CEC has already expired and the 30% federal tax credit, unless renewed runs out in 2016. With a Congress full of climate change doubters and a new state administration whose main priority is the budget, the future of these incentives is in doubt. It is clear that the most pertinent question for homeowners becomes, why wait?