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Getting Started with Solar for Your Home

Here are some points to consider when you investigate solar for your home:

Site Visits. The average residential system size in Marin is about 4 kW to 5 kW. However, ultimately the system size will depend on how much electricity you use annually and the available room on your roof.  Most contractors can come out and perform a site assessment for free and some can do the assessment remotely using mapping programs. The site assessment and bid will include an estimate of the potential system size that fits your roof and meets your energy usage needs. Their bids will include the estimated cost savings and financial analyses. You should get 2-3 bids if you are considering a solar system.

Costs. System costs can vary based on the scope of the installation but a very general approximation of cost (as of mid-2019) is about $3,500 to $4,500 per installed kilowatt so for a 5 kW system the total installed cost could be about $17,500 to $22,500.

Rebates and Tax Credits. Residents are eligible for a 30% Federal tax credit on the net system cost (the cost after state and local rebates) with no cap. If you don’t have enough federal tax obligations in the first year to use the full credit you are allowed to roll it over to a second year. If batteries are installed as part of the system, then it may be possible to include those costs in the tax credit calculation but be sure to talk to your tax advisor first.

The tax credit declines over time: 26% for systems installed by December 31, 2020 and 22% for systems installed by December 31, 2021.

For the latest information on rebates and incentives, visit www.dsireusa.org.

Energy Efficiency First.  The most cost effective way to reduce utility bills is through energy efficiency first. You may want to consider doing a whole home assessment and upgrade first to ensure that your home operates as efficiently as possible.  This would enable a proposed PV system to cover more of your utility bill and thereby save you more money.  A great place to start on identifying energy efficiency opportunities is via the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN) Home program. The nine Bay Area counties also sponsor the BayREN and have Home Energy Advisors available to assist you as you map out your energy efficiency project. If you choose, a Home Energy Advisor can provide direct one-to-one assistance to inform you about energy efficiency options, help you select an appropriate contractor, and help you navigate project installation and financing processes. You can learn more by calling 1-866-878-6008 or by visiting https://www.bayrenresidential.org/. You can also ask them about for contractors that offer solar plus efficiency measures (like heat pumps) if you are interested in doing a combined project.

The BayREN Home program also offers rebates for energy efficiency measures including heat pumps which can be combined with the County Electrify rebates.

Financing a Solar Electric System.  There are several ways to pay for a solar electric system including straight purchase, financing (including home equity loans and Property Assessed Clean Energy financing), solar leases or Power Purchase Agreements (PPA). Most solar contractors will include example financing alternatives in their bids and we are available to go over the proposals with you.   

If you are considering a PPA or a solar lease, make sure you read the contract clauses closely regarding removal of the systems for reroofing and what happens if/when you sell your home – how is the lease transferred. For more information on the various financing mechanism, please visit: https://www.gosolarcalifornia.org/solar_basics/pricing_financing.php

The County and all Marin cities launched a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program which is another financing option. PACE assessments allows property owners to secure upfront funding for home efficiency and solar projects, which they repay through a 20 year special line item on their property taxes – instead of traditional consumer credit. Some benefits of PACE financing include:

  • PACE assessments are attached to the property
  • When the property is sold the assessment stays with the property (dependent on agreement by mortgage company)
  • Not considered personal debt
  • Varied payback terms – long term payback allows for lower payment to be offset by energy savings
  • PACE assessments do not hinder ability to claim energy tax credits and deductions

Keep in mind that each PACE program does include interest rates on financed funds. These can range from about 6% to 8% depending on the term. Make sure you check that carefully to ensure that you are comfortable with the rate. You can learn more on the County's financing page: www.marincounty.org/energyfinancing.

Solar and PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shut-offs. The County has received many inquiries in recent months for solar in light of the announcements that PG&E will be conducting public safety power shut-offs should the conditions warrant de-energizing their lines for fire safety. Keep in mind that having solar alone on your home will not allow your home to remain energized during these shut-offs. 99% of solar arrays installed in California are interconnected to PG&E’s grid in order to operate most cost effectively. Generally solar arrays produce power when demand in the home is low so the array needs to send that excess power to the grid to be used elsewhere. The homeowner receives a credit for that generation that they can then “cash in” when the sun isn’t shining and their solar array is not producing but they still need power. In this scenario, if the grid needs to be de-energized, the solar array also needs to come offline so that it isn’t sending power out into the grid to cause safety hazards.

If a homeowner wants to use their solar installation to provide power during power safety shut-off periods, then they will need to add battery back up to the system design. Most solar contractors are now offering battery back-up systems as an option. It can significantly increase the cost of the project so be sure to talk to your contractor about the options and costs.

For More Information:

Additional Resources:

•   If you want to investigate energy efficiency first: Contact a Home Energy Advisor and chat with them to explore your options. 1-866-878-6008 or https://www.bayrenresidential.org/

•   If you are ready to consider solar: contact 2-3 solar contractors and ask them to give you written bids to install a system at your house.  When you call a contractor, they will ask for your electricity usage history for the last 12 months. If you have your bills, that works or you can log into PG&E’s system using your account number to create an online account and download your usage history http://www.pge.com/myhome/This system works for both PG&E and MCE customers as PG&E is still your billing and service provider.

The solar contractors will be able to do a detailed site and electricity usage analysis. Once you have the bids you are welcome to contact me and I can help you answer any questions you might have.