Though “going solar” has the reputation of an option just for wealthy do-gooders, the good news is today’s drastically lower solar prices and financial incentives mean that solar is a viable option for many in Baltimore to create renewable and emission-free electricity.
Solar energy is when the sun’s energy hits a photovoltaic panel and is converted into electricity that can power homes. Solar panels produce power during sunlight hours, and at night, the building uses electricity from the utility, a hybrid model. Since no fossil fuels are burned, solar energy is both renewable and emits no greenhouse gases. The overall solar strategy is to lower a home’s electricity use to a minimum and use solar to power a good chunk of the home’s electricity.
While it’s true that the sun shines stronger in Phoenix, Maryland also gets plenty of sunshine to produce solar energy. Maryland is even 50 percent sunnier than Germany, the world’s solar leader.
Three factors together now make solar affordable. The first is solar panel prices have plummeted 60 percent in just a few years. Second, the U.S. government offers a 30 percent rebate on a solar installations. Thirdly, Maryland requires the state’s solar output to hit two percent by 2020 and now offers solar producers (including homeowners) Solar Renewable Energy Credits payments (SRECs) as an incentive to produce solar power. This can all seem confusing, but solar is a lot like buying a big appliance with lots of coupons from different parties.
Will solar work for my home?
- Do you own your home? Solar installations are long-term investments for single-family homeowners. If you rent or own a condo, solar isn’t an option for your dwelling, but one idea is to consider switching your home’s electricity supplier to a green electricity.
- Is your roof solar-friendly? Assuming you own your home, solar panels require unshaded rooftops that face the sun for most of the day; east, west or south are best. Also, the size of the roof dictates how many panels can be installed. In the Baltimore area, the average solar installation is six KW (about 24 panels) which in one year’s time generates roughly 7,200 kwH electricity.
- Can you afford solar? Surprisingly, yes. The question today is buy versus lease.
- Ball-park math, what would an average solar system cost to buy? There are many variables to consider (years in home and your cash flow), but here’s back-of-the-envelope math for a Baltimore home assuming it has a sunny roof that’s large enough. An average house uses about 12,000 kWh electricity each year and a six KW solar system would generate about 7,200 kWh per year. The system’s price could start around $20,000 to $25,000. Then apply the 30 percent Uncle Sam rebate, a $1,000 Maryland rebate and add yearly REC payments and this “average” system investment of $14,000 out of pocket pays itself off in six to eight years. The best part is this average Baltimore solar system would be generating zero-emission, no-cost electricity for another 15 or so more years.
- What’s solar leasing? Another factor driving solar growth (Maryland has the eighth highest solar installations in the U.S.) is that larger and capitalized firms are leasing solar systems to homeowners and corporations – in essence, renting a roof and placing solar on top. For no cost, a homeowner with great credit can pay no money down for a reputable solar firm to install a system on their roof. In return, the homeowner buys the electricity created on their roof for a reduced price and locks in a stable price. If electricity rates (don’t forget to add BGE’s distribution fee) increase, homeowners keep low prices for the long term and also help the environment.
In two to three years, solar’s game changer is power storage systems (batteries) that store a solar system’s extra electricity for nighttime use.
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Laurel Peltier is a freelance writer. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.