Residential solar installations reached a record high of 712 megawatts in the third quarter of 2019 while overall solar photovoltaics installations reached 2.6 gigawatts in the U.S. during that period, according to a report from U.S. Solar Market Insight – Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). That brings the total U.S. solar capacity to 71.3 gigawatts.
Clearly, there are people who believe the time is ripe for ‘going solar.’ No doubt, some of these people are among your neighbors.
The attraction of installing a solar energy system on your home or office is obvious; you’ll save on energy costs while reducing your dependency on the umbilical cord with Big Energy providers. The additional benefit is the sense that, while garnering personal economic benefits, you’re sharing ecological benefits.
Some of the financial benefits are available when you make the decision to install a solar energy system on your home or office. There are state and federal tax incentives grants designed to inspire more and more people to ‘go solar.’
Solar incentives can cover 40- to 70-percent of the cost of installations. With Solar Renewable Energy Credits, you even have the opportunity to earn credits for electricity based on solar energy your panels create but that you don’t use.
The point is that this information isn’t lost on others who have made the leap to ‘solar.’ The same benefits are also available to you.
All summer long, the solar panels on your Vernon Hills roof pumped out electricity as you scoffed at the utility company and its costly electric bills. But now, with winter setting in, they’ll have the last laugh of 2019. After all, solar panels don’t work in winter, right?
Wrong! Solar panels do work in winter.
Common logic goes something like this: the sun is hot and the sun’s heat, therefore, plays a role in solar energy production. This thinking goes further in suggesting that snow will impede energy production up on the roof.
The truth is that only one aspect of winter has the greatest impact on solar energy production – shorter days. In Vernon Hills, winter daylight is just not what it was in summer.
On June 20, 2019, the longest daylight of the year, the sun rose at 5:15 a.m. and set at 8:32 p.m. That means that sun was ‘up’ for 15 hours and 17 minutes. On Dec. 20, 2019, the shortest stretch of sunlight this year, the sun will rise at 7:17 a.m. and set at 4:22 p.m. That’s only 9 hours and 5 minutes of sunlight. The difference is 6 hours and 12 minutes. In the days between, the difference fades.
There’s no question that shorter durations of sunlight will reduce the production of electricity from a solar panel array on the roof. But, during those hours of sunlight, even in winter, the solar energy system is still doing its job.
Do the cold and snow reduce solar energy production?
Surprisingly, a drop in temperature doesn’t negatively effect solar energy production. In fact, colder temperatures can improve solar energy production.
If a solar panel is covered in snow, the snow will largely block solar production. But keep in mind that, as it warms, snow will generally slide off the flat surface of a solar array. And when the solar panels are not covered with snow, surrounding snow reflects the UV rays with the potential to amplify the sun’s effects on a solar energy system.
Not to sugar-coat the situation, yes, solar energy production will drop in the winter. But the drop is not as precipitous as you might expect. Your Vernon Hills solar energy production will continue all year round.
When done right – sized, located and installed properly – a solar energy system is a great way to reduce your reliance on utility companies and, eventually, to achieve energy independence at your home or office. State and federal governments know this and provide incentives to further inspire home and business owners to ‘go solar.’ There are companies and individuals who are abusing the incentives and the customers they’re supposed to serve.
These calculating companies have a focus on selling Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) and or leasing solar PV systems for the sole purpose of profaditing on the government tax credits and state incentives. Paul LaBarbera, the owner of Magitek Energy Solutions, Inc. and one of the leading authorities on solar energy in the Midwest, stated that responsible solar companies focus on ensuring that a home or business owner’s system is optimized to provide the most energy and the greatest return on the investment in the system.
One of the problems is that these deceiving companies are using up incentives offered by state and federal governments to install systems that are not very efficient. In fact, some of their installations constitute outright fraud. This is particularly troublesome when they convince home or business owners to lease solar energy systems or sign a PPA (Power Purchase Agreement). The solar energy company reaps the benefits of all the incentives because they actually own the system.
“These companies are chewing up incentives with poorly conceived system designs,” said LaBarbera. “You’ll see systems they’ve installed that are facing north. North facing systems will produce as much as 50-percent lower output per panel. They’re also installing systems where trees or other structures shade the solar panels and significantly degrade their efficiency and financial practicality. The state and federal governments are paying for these poorly designed systems and the companies are taking advantage of the consumers, too.”
The government provides a certain amount of funds for incentive programs. When the first allocation level of funds is used up, another level is available, but at a lower percentage of incentive to the consumer. Companies abusing the system will slap solar panels randomly on a roof with a focus on collecting the highest amount of incentives rather than designing the system to have the highest efficiency.
“They’re not only taking advantage of the government and the consumer, they’re also taking advantage of other people who would use those incentives properly,” said LaBarbera.
But let’s say you’re still considering a PPA or lease. Why wouldn’t you – after all they’re free, right? Wrong! With strings attached, ‘free’ solar panels are hardly free and hardly a good idea. It sounds so easy. Why shouldn’t you allow that company to come over and install its solar panels on your roof?
There’s an old saying that “there is no free lunch.” Homeowners would do well to keep this in mind when considering the offers of companies that offer ‘free solar panels for their roofs.’
The promise is that you can lease solar panels or purchase the power generated from the solar panels and save the cost of installing solar panels. But a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or leasing solar panels comes with strings attached that homeowners would do well to consider. For instance, companies offering ‘free’ solar panels are quick to point out the state and federal tax incentives and grants available for installing solar panels on your roof. But, if you’re leasing the panels or sign a PPA, who really receives the benefits of the incentives and grants?
The answer is that the companies offering ‘free’ solar panels reap the benefits. It costs that much less for them to put the solar panels on your roof as they become the middlemen in your home’s electrical grid.
If you purchase solar panels yourself, you receive the benefits of tax incentives and grants. They reduce your investment and shorten the amount of time it takes before your savings have paid for your solar energy system. Once you’ve reached that point in the equation, the electricity produced by your solar panels is yours. You don’t owe anyone for it – not the utility and not the middleman who installed so-called ‘free’ solar panels on your roof. But there are other strings.
With a PPA or leased solar panels on your roof, you’re dealing with someone else owning that equipment. It’s as though they’re the landlord with a contract, that covers everything, from the roof down. Keeping in mind that a typical contract is 20 years, it begs the question: what happens when you decide to sell the house and move?
What happens is that you have a landlord who needs to be appeased. That means you have to purchase the solar energy system yourself or convince the new homeowner to: A. purchase the solar energy system from the landlord or, B. sign up for the remainder of the contract. This makes the presence of solar panels on your roof a potential sticking point in negotiations to sell your home.
On the other hand, if you own the solar panels on your roof, your solar energy system increases the value and appeal of your home. Even though they’re paid for, you’re still receiving money back from your investment.
And what about the cost of the lease or PPA? If electrical costs go up, your payments will go up. You may find yourself paying more for the electricity overtime than what you started paying. But if you own the solar panels, you don’t have to pay the increased cost of the utility’s electricity you’re not using.
And what about the quality of the installation of the solar panels. Based on the agreement, these ‘free’ solar panel companies have demonstrated a less than optimal approach to installing solar panels on their tenant’s roofs.
We live in the Northern hemisphere. Where solar panels are concerned, this means that the Southern exposure of the roof is the most efficient placement for solar panels. Eastern and Western exposures can have some value but the Northern exposure is of such low value that it’s not reasonable to place solar panels on that portion of a roof. And yet, the ‘free’ solar panel companies are doing just that. They even place solar panels on roofs where trees and other obstructions will block the sunlight thereby reducing the value of those solar panels to nearly zero.
Many homeowners who purchase solar panels will finance the installation. The payments are generally less than or equal to the leased payments for energy from someone else’s solar panels on their roofs. The financed payments will end. Unless you remember to cancel at the end of your contract, the ‘free’ solar panel payments will go on indefinitely.
It was a full house last Wednesday, April 24, at McHenry Public Library when Paul LaBarbera, a preeminent authority on solar energy and the CEO for Magitek Energy Solutions of Johnsburg, came to the podium to share his expertise on the viability of solar energy systems as solutions for area residents and businesses.
LaBarbera opened with a presentation about the fundamentals of solar energy and the benefits of solar energy systems. The discussion touched on topics ranging from how solar systems work, the components of a solar panel system, types and manufacturers of solar panel systems, governmental incentive programs and the process of finding a reliable installer.
His presentation was followed by a Question-and-Answer session where LaBarbera fielded questions from the audience of approximately 25 area residents and business owners.
Choosing the wrong installer can lead to problems with a new solar energy system. For instance, will the installer size and position the system optimally or will they sell additional solar panels based on what the installer stands to make on the project? Will the installer properly install the system so that it will stand the test of time and the elements, and will they install the system without creating leaks in the roof?
Attendees also had an opportunity to go on the roof of the library to take a first-hand look at the solar energy system LaBarbera installed there.
LaBarbera said that solar energy systems are great ways to reduce reliance on utility companies and can pay for themselves in electrical savings within seven years or fewer.
It was the second year in a row that LaBarbera has given the presentation at the library.
How would you like to learn more about adding value to your home, reducing your home’s carbon footprint and, in the process, virtually eliminating electric bills? That’s what the GOing SOLAR 101: Free Educational Seminar, 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 24, at McHenry Public Library, 409 Front Street, McHenry, is all about.
Guest speaker Paul LaBarbera, owner of Magitek Energy Solutions in Johnsburg, is one in a very small group of UL Certified PV solar energy experts. He has installed more than 150 solar energy systems including the solar energy system on the roof of the library. That system is saving the library, and area taxpayers, substantial funds on electric utility bills.
The presentation is for those who would like to enjoy the same financial benefits on their own home or office. The presentation will help those who want to know if solar energy is a cost-effective alternative for them.
Along with the nuts and bolts of going solar, LaBarbara will also explain about state and local incentive programs.
“Based on those programs, a full return on installing solar energy is possible within five or six years,” he explained.
Attendees can bring their ComEd bill for a no-obligation estimate.
Those interested in attending should register by calling the library at 815-385-0036.
“If you come by in the day time, the library can also give you a tour of their solar energy system on their roof,” said LaBarbera.
Adding a solar energy system to your home is a great way to clip the leash that ties you inexorably to the utility company that sells you electricity. With solar panels on the roof, you’re capturing the UV rays of the sun and converting them to electricity. It’s very much as though you have your own energy plant sitting on the roof of your home or office, or even in the backyard. But there are options in how you’ll reap the financial rewards of your solar energy system.
You can have a solar energy system installed, use the electricity generated by the solar panels and take advantage of NET Metering. NET Metering is where the utility has to provide credits for energy your panels produce but that you don’t use. Then, on days or nights when your panels don’t produce enough electricity, you can take advantage of your credits to cover the cost of electricity you use from the utility’s grid.
Illinois Shines is a program that illuminates another option for financial benefits of solar
It’s called Illinois Shines and it’s an Adjustable Block Program designed to help the state reach its goal of producing 25 percent of its energy through renewable sources by the year 2025. In particular, it reduces the consumer’s costs of installing a solar energy system through payments in exchange for their Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs).
As an incentive to ‘go solar,’ Illinois Shines allows a homeowner to sell their SRECs to the utility company over a 15-year period. The utility is obligated to purchase the SRECs in support of renewable energy.
An approved vendor submits your PV (photovoltaic) system to the Illinois Power Agency for inclusion in the program. The contractor installing your solar energy system is required to provide an Illinois Shines Brochure and a Standard Disclosure Form that includes information about the installation process, estimated costs and potential savings, and contact information related to the Illinois Shines program.
A homeowner can keep their SRECs or sell them to someone else. However, Illinois Shines increases the likelihood that a homeowner will save more money with their solar energy system.
December 21 was the shortest day of the year and, though useful, not the optimal day for solar energy production. As the earth spins, the axis that runs between the poles was furthest at the northern extreme on that day. This makes December 21 the longest day of the year in the Southern hemisphere. But we live in the Northern hemisphere and our shorter days of winter are accompanied by cold temperatures, snow and ice.
The good news is that, from December 21 until June 21, the days are growing longer. Longer days occur as the earth’s axis comes around so the North pole is closer to the sun. As this happens, the weather around here will grow warmer. Summer will arrive and we will have survived another Northern Illinois winter as solar panels are prepared for higher production.
Longer days offer extra helpings of sunlight to feed solar panels
Solar panels collect the UV rays of the sun all year long. But, obviously, shorter days make for fewer UV rays. In translation, the approaching spring and summer promise more of the sun’s energy for solar panels to convert into electricity. That makes this an optimal time of year to have a solar array added to a home or office so that you’ll be ready as the longer days come along.
Through the warmer months of the year, solar panels are likely to absorb more UV rays than you need. That’s not a problem since the utility companies are required to use a tool called ‘Net-Metering’ as an electric savings account for customers who have solar energy systems.
The warmer months, therefore, aren’t just good for an abundance of UV rays providing energy production for use now. The warmer months, with longer days, are also good for building up electricity generation credits for the winter months when the days are shorter.
Doesn’t it seem like a shame to allow all those UV rays go to waste? You don’t have to capture the UV rays for your own uses. You can rely on utility companies to provide your electricity. They’ll pump electricity into the wires of your home day and night and with only occasional power disruptions.
Of course, the utility company will follow up the electricity they send with a monthly invoice. The sun, on the other hand, doesn’t bill us for electricity. The cost comes in setting up the equipment to capture those UV rays. That’s where the difference comes to play.
The utility company will send an invoice each month for the rest of your life. A solar energy system, used to capture the UV rays, only requires payments until the equipment is paid for. From that point forward, the UV rays are as free as sunlight.
With ‘net metering’ the utility company is even required to provide homeowners with solar energy systems with an electric savings account. You’ll receive credits contributed to the electric grid on bright sunny days and you can use those credits for the utility company’s electric on days and nights when the sun isn’t shining.
Another big advantage to capturing UV rays is that it’s pollution free. It also doesn’t create spent nuclear fuel we need to bury in mountains for a 159,200 years or however long it takes until they’re safe. The UV rays will come and it’s only a question of whether you want to catch them. You can almost think of solar energy panels as a modern rain barrel for energy.