Community Solar: the truth about this option?

community solar

What is the truth about community solar?

(July 21, 2018) The concept was great. For those who found solar unattainable, community solar offered a way to buy into a larger community solar energy system. If a property is surrounded by trees making solar impractical, the home or business owner could purchase solar panels, as part of a community system, equal to the number of panels needed to offset their electrical usage. If that person’s solar panels represented 5% of the solar panels in the community system, they would receive 5% of the system’s electrical production to offset their electric bills.

They also received all the benefits of private-solar-energy-system ownership, including tax credits and state incentives without needing to maintain the system or provide space for the system. But, community solar has taken an unforeseen turn since the concept was introduced. Rather than marketing community solar for joint ownership, developers have pushed the systems to electrical consumers on a leased basis. Instead of selling panels, the developers are selling subscriptions to access the large energy systems.

By leasing, the developers retain ownership of the systems. They also receive all of the incentives, including federal tax credits and State Renewable Energy Credits (SREC). In return, all the lessee receives is the power equivalent of their needs at a discounted rate. That discounted rate usually works out to a reduction of 20% compared to what they normally paid.

The only advantage for the subscriber is that they avoid the initial investment to buy into the community solar system. That’s it.

Leasing solar energy may seem like a great deal but you may want to take a closer look before signing a customary 20-year contract. That’s two decades where the subscriber won’t have the advantage of federal tax credits, SRECs or writing the system off on their taxes.

When purchasing a solar energy system, once the cost of the system is recouped, the owner of the system is essentially reaping the benefits of free electricity delivered by an indiscriminate sun. The same is true when someone purchases panels in a community solar system. But, with a lease, the developer enjoys the post-installation-cost advantages.

The way to see community solar, as applied by developers today, is to Think Timeshare. There are commercials offering ways to defer a timeshare owner’s loss when they want out. In the future, the same commercials may run for those stuck in community solar leases that sounded a lot better when the subscriber first signed up.

Sincerely,

Paul A. LaBarbera

President / CEO

Magitek Energy Solutions, Inc.

With net metering, solar panels can turn your electric meter to run backward

net metering

Can you imagine your electric meter running backward? With net metering and a PV system on the roof, you could see your electric meter running the other way.

When a PV (Photovoltaic solar energy) system is installed on the roof of a home or business, it is tied into the electrical grid and monitored. The process of monitoring how much electricity is generated is called net metering. The amount generated is compared to the amount of electricity used by a home or office. If the solar panels produce less electricity than is used, the consumer is charged for the difference by the utility company. However, the PV panels can also produce more energy than is used.

Extra electricity contributed to the grid is tracked so that the customer with the solar panels can draw on those energy credits, as if from a bank, on days when their solar energy system is producing less electricity. For instance, on a stormy day, heavy cloud cover may obscure the sun and reduce the amount of energy captured by the panels.

Utility consumers will usually draw on their electric credits at night, too. When the sun goes down their PV panels idly wait for the sun to come back up in the morning. However, in the night time when the solar panels are not generating electricity, the demand for electricity from the grid is usually down and the hourly rate for electricity also falls. In other words, the PV panels generally produce electricity during the peak hours of demand potentially saving consumers from the most expensive hours of electrical usage.

Solar panels also benefit the grid

There are scorching-hot days in the summer when everyone has their air conditioning running full blast. The strain on the electric grid is intense. The demand can even tax the grid beyond its capacity. In response, the utility companies may implement rolling blackouts in an effort to keep up.

Solar energy systems help. Each solar array is contributing to the grid and enhancing the grid’s ability to keep pace. Additionally, the PV systems are reducing demand, which can help keep the cost down for all consumers.

On the roof or on the ground: where should you mount your solar panel array?

solar panels on the ground

If your roof doesn’t offer an optimal position for a solar array, you can have your solar panels installed on the ground.

You’ve decided to install a solar panel array at your home or office. That’s a wise decision. You’ve taken a big step that will help you to virtually disconnect from the utility grid. Those big electric bills will begin to vanish as though evaporated by the sun. But, making the decision to go solar is only the first related decision you’ll need to make. And, along the way, you’ll need to decide whether to mount your solar energy system on the roof or on the ground.

Once you’ve decided to go solar, you’ll need to choose an installer and a solar panel system to install. If you choose the prior wisely, they’ll help you to make the latter decision wisely. They’ll also help you to make the right decision about whether to mount your solar panels on the roof or on the ground. However, here is a short overview of the questions to consider in making this decision:

Cost: Generally, a roof-mounted solar panel system is less expensive since the substructure is already available – your roof. Often, with a ground-mounted solar panel array, the installer has to build a substructure where they can mount the solar panels. It’s likely that they’ll have to pour concrete footings that are sturdy enough to hold the solar panels, and strong enough that they won’t blow away in a storm.

Appearance: Roof-mounted solar panels are generally less noticeable. They sit up on the roof where people simply don’t often bother to look. Of course, this depends on the position of your home and which side of the roof your solar panels are mounted on. If, for instance, the front of your home has a Southern exposure, your solar panels will sit on the roof above the front door and visible to traffic at the front curb. But, the appearance of a ground-mounted solar array also depends on where you mount the system.

Assuming you want the solar panels to soak up the sun’s energy obscurely – working quietly out of sight – the question is whether you have an out-of-the-way spot on your property where you can have a solar energy system installed. Keep in mind, it needs to be an area where the panels are directly accessible to the sun.

Positioning: How you position your solar panels on your roof depends on how your home is situated and which way the slopes of the roof face. Here in the Northern Hemisphere of Illinois and Wisconsin, a roof with a Southern exposure is ideal. If your home doesn’t offer that exposure, a Southwestern exposure is next best followed by Western and Southeastern. But, if you don’t have the ideal Southern exposure, you’ll probably need additional panels to make up the difference.

On the ground, you can generally point the solar panels towards the South as long as you have room and there aren’t any obstructions. This brings up the next point to consider …

Space: Usually, the square footage of a home is reflected, to some degree, in the amount of roof space you have. In other words, your roof will probably have enough space for your solar panel system, assuming the positioning works. But, on the ground, not only do you need the space for the system, but you’ll also have to be willing to give up that space for your solar panels. In other words, if you have a smaller backyard, would you be willing to use half the yard for your solar panels?

Typically, solar panels are 64” X 44”. Let’s assume that you’ll require 28 solar panels. With four rows of seven panels, the outside dimensions are 21’ 8” X 22’ 9”. That’s close to a 500-square-foot area.

Maintenance: Cleaning your solar panels is not a major concern. The rain will generally do a good enough job and there is a self-cleaning film on the panels. A solar energy system is also a low- to no-maintenance system. However, should your panels require maintenance, you’ll probably find it easier to maintain them if they’re mounted on the ground.

Is my home a good candidate for solar?

Good candidate for solar

The tree next to this home may block the sun but the tree is on the North side of the home. This home is a good candidate for solar.

Is your home a good candidate for solar? The quick answer is most likely yes. However, a search of the internet will provide point-by-point articles to help you determine if your home is good for solar.

The points made in these articles are valid though hardly insurmountable. Consider the following points you should consider when you consider adding solar power to your home:

What kind of roof do you have? Do you have asphalt shingles on your roof? Maybe you have a wood shake, slate tile, or clay roof. You may have a flat roof. These are all reasonable considerations when determining if your home is a good candidate for solar. The type of mounting hardware may change depending on which type of roof you have. However, whatever type of roof you have, there is always a way for a qualified solar energy installer to place solar panels on your roof. And, if that’s not feasible, they can always mount your solar panels on the ground.

How much sunlight does your roof receive? This is a question affected by two questions: the orientation of your home and the proximity of obstructions. If you have a one-story home that sits in the Northern shadow of a high-rise building, you may be an exception to premise that most homes are candidates for solar power. Otherwise, it’s a question of optimal conditions. If one pitch of your roof has a Southern exposure, that’s great. If not, you may have to install additional panels to make up the difference. Otherwise, if there are trees blocking the roof from the sun, it’s a question of pruning or taking down a tree or two, or of putting the solar panels on the ground.

Another question is climate – does the climate in your area make a solar energy system cost effective? Once again, the answer is almost assuredly yes. Here in the Midwest, solar energy systems are nearly as effective as they are on homes in an Arizona desert.

What is the condition of your roof? This is a very good question. The solar panels will protect your roof from some of the elements. However, it’s still essential that your roof is in good condition before you install your solar panels. You don’t want to find yourself, five- or ten-years after installing your solar panels, needing to pull the panels up to get at the roof again.

How much do you give to the utility companies each month? This is a great, big question with an answer that’s liable to bring a big smile to your face. Translate the question this way: “How happy would it make you to increasingly disconnect from the utilities and their monthly bills?”

All of these are considerations you need to take into account when deciding if your home is a good candidate for solar.

Can the solar panel array on your roof handle charging your electric car, too?

solar panel electric car

Can a solar panel array handle charging your electric car, too? It depends on a number of factors.

You can virtually disconnect from your local utility company by putting a solar panel system on your roof. As long as you’re making that move, why not take it a step further and disconnect from the gas pump, too? You can, as long as your solar panel system can handle charging your electric car, as well as providing electricity for your home.

If you own a Tesla, Nissan Leaf, or Chevy Bolt, for instance, a solar energy system on your roof can serve as a substitute for the gas pump.

Most people spend about $2,000 per year at the gas pumps purchasing gasoline for their cars. At that rate, with an electric car, it won’t take too many years to recover the cost for the solar panels required to charge their electric cars. And, if gas prices go up, they can cash in on the savings even faster.

Of course, this also depends on whether someone is purchasing a system for their home that will also provide electricity to recharge the batteries in their electric car or whether they’re adding on to an existing solar array for an electric car. It’s important to note that Illinois solar incentive programs do not apply when adding on to an existing system – they apply to new systems only.

The question is how many solar panels you will need to charge your electric car and will you have enough left over to provide energy for the home or office.

Assuming you have an optimal location for your solar panels – a Southern exposure without obstructions – six to eight panels (in addition to the panels providing solar energy for your home or office), producing 300 watts each, is generally considered enough to recharge your electric car when its battery is low. If your home has an East-West exposure, you may need additional solar panels to make up the difference in lower output per panel.

These numbers assume that, like most people, you drive about 1,000 miles per month. If you drive more than that you may need more electricity to operate your car; you may need more panels to keep up. The same is true if you’re prone to jack-rabbit starts. In other words, both the distance you travel and the way you drive your electric car are considerations.

To think that a solar array on your roof could help you to virtually disconnect from the local utility company and the gas pump is a little slice of Nirvana.

GOing Solar presentation at McHenry Public Library turns into interactive discussion

GOing solar energy presentation

Paul LaBarbera, with Magitek Energy Systems, gave a presentation on GOing Solar at the McHenry Public Library April 25.

Enthusiastic audience engages solar expert in ongoing Q&A

The seats were still filling as Paul LaBarbera, the owner of Magitek Energy Solutions, a solar energy systems installer, stepped to the podium and began his presentation Wednesday night at the McHenry Public Library. There was a Question-and-Answer session planned for after but the audience was having no part of waiting. Only minutes into his talk, LaBarbera was interrupted by the first of a welcome barrage of questions.

The audience was engaged, on the edge of their seats: they wanted to know about the potential for solar energy at their homes and offices and LaBarbera is one of the foremost experts in the field. Having installed more than 100 solar energy systems, he has the most difficult certification from Underwriters Laboratory – the only installer in Illinois with that certification.

Instead of a presentation, LaBarbera led an energetic discussion about solar energy and its potential. Instead of a Q&A session, when finished, LaBarbera and his assistant, Jacqueline Stern, sat down one-on-one with those in attendance, who had brought their electric bills along, to provide estimates of the cost and viability of installing one of these systems on their home or office.

LaBarbera had created a slide presentation to accompany the discussion. It was loosely followed as a map for the interactive process that took over. The slide presentation included:

  • How solar systems work
  • Illinois solar market trends
  • Components of a solar panel system
  • Types of solar panels and manufacturers
  • The ins-and-outs of inverters
  • Mounting systems
  • Benefits of going solar
  • Incentive programs
  • Finding a reliable installer
  • Frequently asked questions, including costs, installation time and issues, etc.

LaBarbera put numerous concerns to rest, such as issues related to proper installation of solar panel systems and the risks of roof leaks following installation of a system. While he admitted that he’s had to fix systems installed by other suppliers that caused leaks, he added that “Of all the systems I’ve done, we’ve never had a leak.”

He indicated that these systems have improved in quality over the years and will provide electricity at virtually the same level for years to come, where older systems lost their mojo over time. In the process, he said the value of solar panel systems will only increase.

“What’s the one thing I can tell you – electricity prices will go up. If you install a solar system that won’t be your concern.”

Illinois has great potential for solar energy systems

Illinois great for solar energy

Actually, Illinois is about as great a place for solar panels as any of the Southern States.

You don’t have to be an expert on solar panels to know that Illinois is not the optimal place to install a solar panel system on your home, right? Think about it; with all that winter, certainly, you’re wasting half the year on days when the temperature is hardly conducive to solar energy production. Wrong!

Actually, Illinois is a great place for a solar panel system

How can that make sense? Winter in Northern Illinois generally lasts from early to mid-November through March and into April. Approximately, five months out of each year, in these parts, is under the blanket of winter. What good is a solar panel system in the middle of winter?

If the temperature had anything to do with the production of solar energy, you would have a point thinking that Northern Illinois is not in the optimal hemisphere for production of solar energy. But, the temperature actually has nothing to do with it.

In the winter, there is less sunlight and sunlight is the crucial factor for producing solar energy. But, there is still enough sunlight to make solar panels viable in Northern Illinois – plenty of sunlight. Even on a cloudy day, solar panels are producing solar energy – have you ever gotten a sunburn on a cloudy day? It’s the same principle. Even on cloudy days, solar panels can capture solar energy.

Look at it this way: you could even install a solar panel system on the North Pole. Granted, during that long night, from Dec. 21 until early March, there is no sunlight and your solar panels will generally stand by idle waiting for the sun to come back. But, you’d make up for it in summer when daylight lasts almost the entire season.temperature has nothing to do with solar energy

In Northern Illinois, we don’t have a night that lasts for several months. Then again, we also don’t have a day that lasts almost an equal period. Instead, we have 365 days out of the year that a solar panel system can create solar energy, assuming it’s properly installed. And, if optimally installed, we’re talking about a solar panel system that will take a big bite out of your electric bill, if not eliminating your electric bill altogether.

Statistics show that the Midwest is virtually on par with southwestern cities in the average solar resources available. This makes Northern Illinois an excellent location for adding a solar panel system to your home or office.