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5 East Coast cities with the most solar power

Solar panels with the New York City skyline in the background
Solar panels with the New York City skyline in the background (Credit: zhu difeng/Shutterstock)

By Mirela Niculae

Across the United States, solar energy is exponentially growing in popularity as both homeowners and companies become more interested in using clean energy. However, the rate of adoption varies greatly from state to state. California usually receives a lot of hype for being the state with the highest rate of solar adoption in the country, but that doesn’t mean the solar industry is only an option on the West Coast.

A number of East Coast cities are seeing exponential growth in solar technology – many of them located in New York state, which offers additional tax benefits on top of the federal solar tax credit.

SolarStory has aggregated and analyzed thousands of data points pertaining to residential solar energy across the U.S., from average installation costs to the number of installations in each city. According to this data, here are top five cities on the East Coast by solar adoption rate.

The New York State Legislature building in Albany, N.Y.
Albany, New York, has the highest rate of solar energy adoption on the East Coast (Credit: Harold Stiver/Shutterstock)

#1. Albany, NY (2.5% solar adoption)

The residents of Albany interested in going solar benefit from strong government support and financial incentives. In addition to the 30-percent tax incentive offered by the federal government, New York offers a tax credit that can reduce the state tax payment with up to $5,000 or 25 percent off solar energy expenses.

Besides this, Albany also benefits from the New Work net metering policy, which allows solar system owners to use the national grid as an energy bank (they can send solar energy into the grid when they have too much, and draw energy from the grid when the solar energy is low).

The New York City skyline on a sunny day
New York City has a lot of potential for solar energy (Credit: dibrova)

#2. New York City, NY (0.8% solar adoption)

New York City has a lot of potential for solar, especially in the residential areas. And, just like in Albany, the net metering policy works to help homeowners who have solar panels but don’t use batteries to store it.

Another incentive that works for the entire state is the NY-Sun Initiative, a bigger program that comes with several support mechanisms for solar power. One of these mechanisms is the Megawatt Block Inventive Structure that provides upfront rebates (dollars per watt) for both residential and commercial solar systems.

View of Syracuse, N.Y., in summer
The “Solarize” campaign sparked a wave of solar energy adoption in Syracuse, NY (Credit: debra millet/Shutterstock)

#3. Syracuse, NY (0.7% solar adoption)

In Syracuse, the wave of solar adoption started in between 2014 to 2016, when the Central New York region took part in a “Solarize” campaign led by Chris Carrick of the Central New York (CNY) Regional Planning Board.

Kevin Nickels, the Vice President of Nickels Energy Solutions, LLC praises the Solarize CNY campaign as the primary catalyst for Syracuse’s push toward solar. “I know for a fact that the Solarize CNY campaign resulted in a jolt of solar installs and activity,” he said. “The more people see it, the more they become interested in it. The more people that have solar, the more they talk about it with neighbors, coworkers, friends, family, etc. Solarize provided that initial base of homeowners, which eased the concerns of prospective buyers.”

According to Nickels, the constant drop in the price of solar systems is also boosting interest in solar in the area.

View of Rochester, N.Y
The cost of solar panels in Rochester, N.Y., are often lower than they are in other parts of the state (Credit: TarnPisessith/Shutterstock)

#4. Rochester, NY (0.5% solar adoption)

The same initiatives that primed the state of New York for a solar boom attract a series of commercial solar farms in (and around) Rochester. According to local sources, several companies have solar projects in play in this area, and the collected energy will be directed towards the local energy grid.

Furthermore, Rochester residents benefit from low prices on solar panels that even compete with the rest of New York state (where prices have dropped by over 64 percent in the last five years).

The Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland
Baltimore residents benefit from Maryland’s promotion of solar energy as a mainstream resource (Credit: Stefan Ugljevarevic/Shutterstock)

#5. Baltimore, MD (0.4% solar adoption)

Maryland is also oriented towards promoting solar energy as a mainstream resource, which explains how Baltimore became the fifth city on this list. Due to incentives promoted by local authorities, solar panels are affordable for most homeowners. For instance, the state-funded Residential Clean Energy Grant guarantees a $1,000 payment to homeowners who install a system smaller than 20kW.

There is also the Property Tax Exemption for Solar and Wind Energy Systems, where homeowners don’t have to pay extra taxes for the increased home value brought on by a solar system. This coupled with the Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Renewable Energy Equipment that removes the sales tax when you purchase a new solar energy system, significantly lowers the total cost of the installation.

Finally, Maryland’s goal is to have renewable resources provide 20 percent of the state’s electricity by 2022, which is why people who install solar panels get paid in Maryland Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SREC) for each megawatt hour (mWh) produced by the panels. These certificates can be sold in the market, and their price is at about $150 and higher.

Should you buy a house with a solar lease?

A home with a red roof and solar panels
Before buying a home with a solar lease, find out how the solar system has affected the energy bill over the last year (Credit: anweber/Shutterstock)

By Mandy Ellis

As residential solar installations continue to grow, homeowners could find themselves touring more than a few homes with leased solar systems. To help you understand if buying a home with a solar lease is right for you, here is some advice on the process from real estate and solar experts.

Solar panels on a roof at sunset
Before you buy a house with a solar lease, be sure you understand the pros and cons (Credit: vchal/Shutterstock)

What to know going in

“Understand the lease terms and conditions, including if there’s a buyout or purchase clause, and know if there are demonstrated savings,” explained Rob Madden, broker at Phoenix, Ariz.’s Green Leaf Realty, certified Eco-Broker and holder of the National Association of REALTORS’ (NAR) Green designation.

Experts recommend also asking these questions at the beginning of the process:

  • What are the homeowner obligations?
  • Did the seller make an upfront lease payment?
  • Is there an escalator clause increasing the payments?
  • How much contract time remains?
  • How has the system impacted the electric bill over the past 12 months?
  • What is the cost compared to the utility’s rate?
  • Is there a production guarantee or a clause explaining reimbursement for production loss?
  • Who last installed or evaluated the system? Are they still in business and what are their reviews?
A home with a red roof and solar panels
Before buying a home with a solar lease, find out how the solar system has affected the energy bill over the last year (Credit: anweber/Shutterstock)

Connecting with a qualified real estate agent

Shawn Kunkler, Realtor at Compass Real Estate in San Francisco, Calif., said, “If solar panels are a really important feature to you, ask during initial consultations and interview at least three agents.”

Choosing an agent with green certifications, like an Eco-Broker or the Green designation from NAR, or a track record of solar home transactions is critical, explains Madden. Your broker should be able to explain the system, understand utility bills and advise you based on their knowledge and experience.

Pros of purchasing a home with a solar lease

The most attractive plusses are the solar system’s already running, there’s clear information on savings and payments, previous issues are documented and the home reduces your carbon footprint. Homes with solar leases also pay less per kilowatt-hour for electricity, save money even with monthly payments and most contracts have routine maintenance plans where the installer regularly evaluates system functionality and performance.

Cons of homes with solar leases

Because it’s a lease, the system doesn’t add extra value to your property, and the buyer inherits the 15 to 25-year contract, making them responsible for the system for whatever amount of time remains. Plus, if the seller overpaid for the system originally, the buyer ends up paying more overall and the buyer could acquire a dated system.

“If the system was installed three to six years ago, it can look dated and be less efficient than today’s sexier-looking panels, which put more power in smaller spaces,” explained Ruben Ugarte, business development director at Horizon Solar Power in Temecula, Calif.

 

A blue home with solar panels on the roof
Homes with solar leases pay less per kilowatt-hour for electricity (Credit: CL Shebley/Shutterstock)

Should you purchase a home with a solar lease?

If you understand the lease’s terms, reviewed the pros and cons for your specific situation and there are clear cost benefits, experts give the purchase a green light. Always evaluate panel age and efficiency, advised Kunkler, and “do your due diligence; don’t make a blanket statement that if the home has solar, you’ll make an offer,” he explained.

Purchasing a home with a solar lease also means completing the lease transfer, which usually includes a transfer form, a review of system functionality by the installer and, in some instances, completing credit checks, paying application fees and filing documents with the county.

If the buyer doesn’t qualify for the transfer, ask the lease company about any other available eligibility avenues. In the event the buyer still isn’t able to acquire the lease transfer, they should consider waiting to purchase the home until they’re financially healthy or looking at properties with owned solar systems instead.

Are you getting the most from your solar panels

Solar panels on a house under a blue sky
(Credit: Alessandro28/Shutterstock)

By Jennifer Lubell

You’ve made the big purchase – the next task is to get the most from your investment. Herve Billiet, CEO of Ipsun Power, a developer of residential and commercial solar systems in Washington D.C.’s metropolitan area offers some valuable tips on tracking the efficiency of your solar panels to ensure they’re producing as much energy as possible.

A solar panel installation is a high-tech construction job. First, it’s important to make sure that all system parts are working. “I’ve seen some instances in which the system had never been connected and never produced any power,” Billiet said. This is why it’s imperative that consumers use a monitoring system to ensure optimal use of their panels.

Monitor your system with an app

Most, if not all solar systems come with their own app monitor. Consumers can download the app to their cell phones to track the efficiency of their panels, Billiet said. Some apps will allow you to monitor each individual panel.

One thing consumers observe right away is that some panels produce more power than others. “They might call us and say, one of my panels is performing differently than another one.” In most cases, this is normal. A system of 20 panels is not going to produce the exact same power from panel to panel. Fluctuations arise from different factors: the panel itself, the optimizer, discrepancies and inefficiencies in the panel, and the degrees of light and shade on the house throughout the day.

However, if it’s clear that one panel is under-performing, or your system shows that you’re at zero power, that’s the time to contact the installer and fix it, Billiet said.

An electricity bill with a pair of glasses, a pen and a calculator
Your energy bill will give you an idea of how much of the solar energy you produce is going back into the grid (Credit: tommaso79/Shutterstock)

Look at your electrical bill

Some utilities companies offer specifics on which power sources gave you a bang for your buck in a particular month. Consumers should educate themselves on reading these bills, to determine how much solar energy their home produces versus how much energy they actually used.

“Let’s say that your home produced 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) but consumed only 600 kWh of that. Your utility bill won’t show that you produced 1,000 kWh, just that you put 400 kWh back on the grid,” Billiet explained.

Bottom line: Instead of having to pay the utility company for 1,000 kWh, you’ll get a bill charging you for 400 kWh. “So the customer’s bill will be 60 percent lower than before,” he added.

Work with an experienced installer

Choose your installer wisely. This doesn’t just apply to monitoring of the panels, but for the entire solar system. You wouldn’t choose a physician just because they offer the cheapest rates. It’s the same for choosing a solar system.

You want a licensed installer that offers quality materials, Billiet said. “If you want everything done right, you pay the right price for it. If you have a cheap system, you’ll have problems and complications you don’t want.”

What’s included in my solar system?

A man installing solar panels on a roof
(Credit: Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock)

By Mirela Niculae

For many homeowners who want to lower their carbon footprint, switching to solar energy is a no-brainer. But while some people are familiar with how solar panels work, many are not aware of the roles played by supporting pieces of the solar system.

Below is a breakdown of a standard solar system and how each piece works to create energy for your home.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels

Everything starts with the solar panels. Each panel is comprised of silicon solar cells, interconnected with each other using conductors at their positive and negative poles. When photons from sunlight are absorbed by the solar cells, the electrons will be knocked loose from their atoms and then conducted (using the solar cell structure) through the panel, generating electricity.

Solar panels should be placed in an area where they will receive the maximum amount of sunlight, which is why the roof is the ideal place for them. However, not all roofs are oriented for solar energy, which is why you may need to purchase a rack that allows the panels to move according to the sun’s position. If your roof receives a lot of direct sunlight, you’ll only have to buy a fixed mount, which will save some money. If the roof is not a good option, you may have to sacrifice a piece of your property so the panels can be installed on the ground.

A man installs solar panels with a fixed mount on a roof
Depending on where you place your solar panels, you will need either a fixed mount or a tracking mount (Credit: zstock/Shutterstock)

Mounting Racks

Proper mounting racks can make the difference between a highly efficient solar system and one that’s less productive. Racks are also important for the safety of your panels.

First, a mounting rack must be solid and stable so it can support the solar module or array all year long. This means protecting the panels against the wind, rain, snow or even earthquakes.

Homeowners have the choice between fixed mounts, which are generally used on roofs. Fixed racks secure the solar panels to the roof, not allowing them to move. The other option is a tracking mount; primarily used for ground panels, tracking mounts automatically adjust your solar panel to the optimum angle for sunlight absorbtion.

In terms of material, producers tend to use several options such as aluminum, stainless steel, wood, plastic or iron. Aluminum and stainless steel are often the best options because they’re lightweight, corrosion-resistant and strong, but this may vary depending on the project.

DC to AC power inverter

The inverter is an essential part of the solar system. Its role is to transform the direct current (DC) produced by your solar panels into the alternative current (AC) that powers your home.

Standard inverters, known as string inverters or centralized inverters, service an entire string of panels, meaning your solar system is only as powerful as its lowest-performing panel.

Alternatively, a more efficient – albeit more expensive – option is the Module-Level Power Electronics (MLPEs), also known as a centralized inverter or micro-inverters. With this type of system, each panel has its own inverter. As a result, the array of panels can work at optimum capacity even when one of the panels doesn’t work at full power. With a string inverter, if one panel is in the shade or the surface is dirty, the entire production of energy suffers. With micro-inverters, the problem panels will produce less energy, but the rest will work as expected.

close-up of an electricity meter
Your net meter will help you keep track of how much energy your solar system is producing (Credit: Alex Yeung/Shutterstock)

Net Meter

If your solar system is connected to the local energy grid, the excess solar energy your system produces will go into the grid. In exchange, you will receive a credit on your utility bill.

Your net meter is used to measure how much energy your system is producing and how much energy is being sent to the grid. If your system is powerful enough to sustain the house all year round, you won’t have to worry about paying any electricity bills, but if you do need the grid, your bills will still be significantly lower than if you didn’t use solar.

The Battery

If your solar system is not connected to the energy grid, a battery will act as a backup power source should your system produce less energy than expected. With this system, the energy stored in the batteries during the day can be used at nighttime. However, batteries are still quite expensive and require storage space themselves.

As you can see, a solar system is not extremely complex and each piece has its logical place in the hierarchy. As long as it is properly installed and the panels have enough sunlight, this is a highly rewarding investment, both environmentally and financially.

7 ways to save on solar panel installation

Solar panels on a red roof on a sunny day
When evaluating the cost of solar panels, consider warranty, panel quality, lifespan and efficiency (Credit: U.J. Alexander/Shutterstock)

By Mandy Ellis

Even though the federal tax credit decreases the price of a solar system, reviewing aspects of the installation process can also help you save money on the overall cost of going solar. Because prices vary for installation and solar modules, here are a few ways to save money on solar and how to tell if you’re getting overcharged on installation.

A technician installs solar panels on a roof
Prices vary for solar panels and installation, but there are several ways to ensure you get the best price (Credit: zstock/Shutterstock)

7 Ways to save on solar panel installation

  1. Compare quotes

Evaluating multiple quotes from different installers, either from in-person meetings or through a third-party like SolarStory, is the top way to save money. “Get at least three quotes from different-sized installation companies if you want the best deal because each has various programs and equipment,” said Austin Matson, marketing manager at Solar Solution AZ in Tucson, Ariz., “Plus, installers get competitive when you’re reviewing multiple quotes.”

  1. Do your research

Take advantage of the surplus of reviews on solar installers and solar equipment on the web. Apply your own research against what installers have said to verify facts and pricing on panels, see if you’re getting overcharged, receiving the equipment you need and working with a reputable installer.

  1. Ask neighbors, family or friends

“Check with your neighbors, and it’s likely if they had a seamless experience, you will, too,” said Omar Nasser, CEO of Treepublic in Bel Air and Sherwood Forest, Calif. Ask family, friends and neighbors how many quotes they got, whether they enjoyed the experience, whether they would recommend the installer, and whether their pricing felt accurate? The answers can help point you to a top installer and illuminate the best value.

Solar panels on the roof of a home with a pool
SolarStory can help connect you with the right solar panel installer for your needs (Credit: zstock/Shutterstock)
  1. Find the right installer

“Choose an installer who communicates effectively, and if something isn’t clear, don’t sign with anyone even if it sounds like a good deal,” advised John Sertich, president of Clean Energy USA in Rehoboth Beach, Del. “Understand and feel comfortable with what you’re buying because you’ll be in business with that installer for a long time due to the extended life of the product and warranties.”

Don’t let one pushy salesman ruin your solar experience. By speaking with local companies who know your area better over national corporations, Matson says you may be pleasantly surprised with the excellent experience and pricing they provide once given a shot.

  1. Work in add-ons

If you plan on purchasing something like an electric car, ask the installer about expanding the solar system to support an EV charger and if they’ll reduce the system pricing or EV charger pricing to lower your overall expense.

  1. Check for incentives

“Manufacturers and installers may offer incentives for their services or products, or there are great deals online,” said Nasser. “Ask if there’s a referral program, like putting up a yard sign gives you credit towards your system.” Price reductions from installers and/or manufacturers can help bring down cost, especially when added to any federal or local incentives.

  1. Don’t over-complicate it

“Don’t go for extras like batteries because they’re not something most consumers need,” explained Sertich, “In most states where solar is overproducing, the excess gets fed back into the grid, your meter spins backwards and you don’t need add-ons that reside in the periphery of what you’re trying to accomplish with solar.”

A man installs solar panels on a roof
Some solar panel installers may offer incentives or referral programs (Credit: Federico Rostagno/Shutterstock)

How to know when you’re getting overcharged

“The rule of thumb is $2.75 to $4 per watt, where the top is high-end panels,” said Nasser. “If it’s Chinese knock-off panels with 10-year warranties instead of 25-year warranties and a simple system coming in near $4 per watt, you’re overpaying.”

A pushy sales approach, an outlier in your quotes or an installer who doesn’t allow you to take a quote home with you are red flags that you may be getting overcharged. If the quote seems high, see if they’ve added value through a large warranty package or an equipment upgrade. Homeowners can also use the SolarStory database to verify correct pricing.

“If the price is higher, that might be a sign there’s stuff you don’t need,” explained Sertich, “Conversely, if a quote is low, there may be a reason the price is too good to be true, like the installer doesn’t have or won’t provide referrals, or they haven’t done many installations.”

How has Trump’s new tariff affected the solar industry?

Workers walk through a commercial solar energy field
President Donald Trump recently imposed a new tariff on solar technology.

By Mandy Ellis

After President Donald Trump imposed a new tariff on imported solar cells and modules, consumers may be wondering how it has affected the solar industry at large as well as residential solar installations. To shed some light on the situation, here is an explanation of the tariff plus small-scale and large-scale impacts on solar energy.

What is the tariff?

President Trump’s tariff, effective February 7, 2018, applies a 30 percent cost increase, after the first 2.5 gigawatts of solar materials, to all imported silicon-based solar cells and modules. The tariff begins at 30 percent in year one, and drops by 5 percent until 2022 when it reaches 15 percent. Because the United States imports more than 90 percent of its solar technology, almost every solar panel and solar cell is affected.

Workers walk through a commercial solar energy field
President Donald Trump recently imposed a new tariff on imported solar technology (Credit: Mark Agnor/Shutterstock)

What small-scale impacts is the tariff making?

Residential solar will see less of an impact than commercial solar. Although homeowners may see a cost bump of $500 to $1,000 on solar installations, a chart from The Los Angeles Times with data from PVinsights says solar panel prices initially climbed to about 36 to 37 cents per watt, but have now dropped back to summer 2017 prices at 34 cents per watt.

“Unfortunately, this tariff will raise the cost for residential solar because the biggest hardware cost is the module,” said Bill Ellard, CEO of Energy Solutions Partners, LLC in Boulder, Colo., and energy economist for the American Solar Energy Society (ASES), “I think we’ll see this short-term negative in the market with the tariffs implemented against solar modules and solar cells.”

Despite the tariff’s temporary pricing impacts, residential solar will continue to decrease in price, with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) stating solar installation average costs have fallen 70 percent since 2010, from $7.50 per watt to $1.50 per watt.

“The tariff isn’t going to destroy the residential market,” said Joy Seitz, CEO of American Solar and Roofing in Tempe, Ariz., “What consumers should pay attention to is: it’s one more variable that will continually impact their return on investment.” Even with the tariff implementation, Seitz’s company has maintained the same installation prices.

Unfinished solar panels on a conveyor belt
The United States imports more than 90 percent of its solar technology (Credit: asharkyu/Shutterstock)

What large-scale impacts have occurred?

SEIA estimates the tariff could eliminate 23,000 jobs and cancel or delay billions of solar investment dollars, and Reuters reports U.S. companies have canceled or frozen investments of more than $2.5 billion in large utility-scale projects.

For example, from November 2017 to mid-2018 due to the tariff:

  • McCarthy Building Companies put a $100 million solar farm on hold along with cancellations of $400 million of their national solar projects
  • Cypress Creek Renewables LLC cancelled or froze $1.5 billion in solar projects
  • Southern Current cancelled or froze $1 billion in solar projects
  • SunPower announced postponement of their $20 million U.S. factory expansion

Additionally, a forecast from GTM Research shows the U.S. solar market will see an 11-percent reduction in installations, with utility scale solar accounting for 65 percent of the decline. And manufacturing job growth could flounder because the majority of U.S. solar employment opportunities are in installation, maintenance, and electrical and mechanical engineering.

A row of houses with solar panels
Experts say that President Trump’s tariff will have a larger impact on commercial solar than residential solar (Credit: esbobeldijk/Shutterstock)

Outlook on the effects of the tariff on solar

“An impact to keep in mind is with the tariffs, the Chinese currency has been decreasing in value versus the U.S. dollar,” said Ellard. “That means it’ll lower the price of solar modules coming into the U.S. and the tariff could end up being a wash.”

Solar panels are still only about 34 percent of the total installation cost, states research from HomeAdvisor, and even if installer prices increase, the change would be minimal and temporary. In fact, EnergySage states in year one, only a 3- to 4-percent increase in cost is likely, while by year four, it’s less than a two percent increase.

To help with pricing, solar experts recommend working with well-reviewed, reputable local contractors in your area. Understand residential solar arrays are typically 5- to 10-kilowatt systems that shouldn’t cost more than $3 per watt, or $15,000 for a 5-kilowatt system, explains Ellard.

“We feel like solar has made it’s mark, consumers should be investing in it, and there’s always a good time to go with solar. You’ll see noise in the field because solar’s path mirrors moving from horse and buggy to an automobile,” said Seitz. “Because we’re creating a new way of providing energy, tariffs, rate changes, legislation, policies and debates will continue to happen. But I won’t be surprised if solar becomes a mainstay with an assumption like, ‘Of course, you have solar; why wouldn’t you?’”

What’s the difference between a solar lease and a power purchase agreement?

Close-up of a man signing a contract
Before you choose a solar lease or a PPA, make sure you understand the difference between the two (Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock)

By Mandy Ellis

There are a number of financing options available for those interested in switching to solar energy. While experts recommend opting for a solar loan if up-front payment isn’t an option, there’s also the choice to lease a solar system or purchase solar power from a third party.

Although the terms may be used interchangeably, solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs) are two different things. Before signing a contract, consider how they work, how they differ and how they would impact you.

Solar panels on a house with a red roof
Solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs) are two options for homeowners who prefer not to purchase a solar system of their own (Credit: Smileus/Shutterstock)

What are solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs)?

Solar leases and PPAs are lease agreements with monthly payments that homeowners have with installers, developers or investors also known as third-party owners (TPOs). Many contracts are zero money down and provide 20 percent energy bill savings, and maintenance, repairs and system monitoring are left to the TPO.

“Think about it as taking an Uber is like a PPA, leasing a car is like a solar lease, financing a car is like financing a solar system, and buying a solar system is like buying anything else where you pay upfront and never pay again,” explained Barklie Estes, president of Nova Solar Inc. in Falls Church, Va.

With certain PPAs and solar leases, monthly payments increase 1 to 3 percent as part of annual escalation while other contracts may offer waived rate increases. Additionally, both usually have buyout periods that allow you an opportunity to purchase the system for market value.

However, with PPAs and solar leases homeowners don’t own the system, which means they forfeit the 30 percent federal tax credit and local incentives like solar renewable energy credits (SRECs). These agreements also last 20 to 25 years, with higher payments than solar loans that continue until you purchase the system or until the system is no longer in use. If you sell your home, a buyer must accept the lease transfer as part of the sale.

Close-up of a man signing a contract
Before you choose a solar lease or a PPA, make sure you understand the difference between the two (Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock)

What’s the difference between a solar lease and a PPA?

With solar leases, homeowners have fixed monthly payments calculated by using the estimated amount of lifetime electricity the solar panels will produce, then breaking that up into equal monthly payments. PPAs, which work similarly to utility bills, are paid every month for the system’s generated power at specific per-kilowatt prices, which are lower than typical electricity rates.

“PPAs are buying all the energy produced, meaning your monthly payment varies because the system production is different each season,” said David Yoo, founder and CEO of Pingo Solar in Buena Park, Calif., “With solar leases, your monthly payment is stable because it levels the total amount and breaks it out into even monthly payments.”

With a solar lease, if the system doesn’t produce as simulated, you’re out of luck, but with a PPA, if the system breaks, you don’t pay because you only pay for what it produces, explains Estes.

A construction worker installs solar panels on a roof
Experts advise purchasing a system of your own to take advantage of federal tax credits (Credit: Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock)

Which one is right for you?

If you like a monthly payment that’s based on usage and don’t mind seasonal price changes, then a PPA might work for you. If you prefer a predictable monthly payment with the option at the lease term’s end to renew the contract or buy the system for market value, a solar lease may be best.

But with the explosion of solar loans, solar experts agree financing or cash are the top purchasing options. “If you have capital to buy the system that’s best because you take advantage of tax and local incentives, and don’t have to factor in the cost of borrowing money, which can be extreme,” explained Ryan Nicholson, sales manager for Sustainable Energy Systems in Frederick, Md., “If not, financing a system with a solar loan is the next best, especially if you can do it through a home equity loan.”

Is solar energy really good for the environment?

A man installs solar panels on a roof
Energy experts say that switching to solar energy will offset your carbon footprint (Credit: Tom Wang/Shutterstock)

By Mirela Niculae

Solar energy is considered to be one of the best clean alternatives to fossil fuels nowadays, but is it really the friendliest option as far as the environment is concerned?

Energy experts say that using solar power decreases our carbon footprint, the mark each of us leaves on the environment through actions that require the use of fossil fuels, such as driving a gas-powered vehicle.

When we rely on electricity from the energy grid, which is powered by fossil fuels, we deepen our mark on the environment by polluting the air and accelerating global warming. Because solar energy harnesses the power of the sun, homes that run on solar energy do not have as large of an environmental impact.

How does solar energy help the planet?

What if the whole world went solar? What would that mean for the environment?

According to the US Department of Energy, the world consumption of energy is projected to reach 678 quadrillion Btu (or 715 exajoules) by 2030. The good news is that the sun can generate a lot more energy than that. Furthermore, according to calculations done by the Land Art Generator Initiative in 2009, a solar farm about the size of Spain would be enough to power up the entire world.

Converting the entire world to solar energy would lower the global temperature by roughly 0.04 degrees, as the panels would absorb more of the sun’s heat than the Earth itself. This could help reverse climate change.

Rows of solar panels on a solar farm
A solar farm the size of Spain could power the entire planet (Credit: pedrosala/Shutterstock)

Sadly, the cost of the whole world going solar would be enormous, and at the current state of technology, we can’t store large amounts of the obtained energy. But, as the technology moves forward, we may be a lot closer to this goal.

Does producing solar panels harm the environment?

The process of producing solar panels still has a way to go before it is as environmentally friendly as the energy the panels produce.

Solar panels are produced using quartz, silver, aluminum and copper, all of which need to be mined. Some of these materials can be obtained from recycled sources, but given the fast development of the photovoltaic industry in the last decade, new materials will have to be mined to keep up with demand.

Next, the raw materials are processed into electronic-grade silicone, which means heating them in a furnace and treating them with various chemicals. Once obtained, the silicone is further processed to obtain the solar cells, which will be fit into panel frames. In most cases, all these steps are powered by fossil fuel energy, which is why many people worry that panels are not as green as they’d like them to be.

But while panels require a lot of energy even before they can produce anything, but they have a very short energy payback time. For instance, poly-crystalline panels pay back the energy used to make them in as little as two years.

Close-up of a blue solar panel
Although solar panels require a lot of energy to reduce, they can offset that energy in as little as two years (Credit: kkays2/Shutterstock)

Yes, solar energy is good for the environment

So, after taking a look at fossil fuel energy production and the crystalline silicon photovoltaic industry, the main conclusion is that both produce pollutants and greenhouse gasses. However, solar panels are significantly less damaging to the environment in the long run, and if we continue developing it, the positive impact would be visible in as little as a few decades.

Q&A: How Roberto Casso uses solar energy to extract oil

Switching his oil business to solar energy saved Casso lots of money
By switching to solar energy, Casso was able to slash the cost of setting up and operating oil wells (Credit: Roberto Casso)

By Mandy Ellis

Roberto Casso, CEO of Talco Holdings, LLC, in Houston, Texas, has worked in the oil and gas industry for most of his life, with more than 35 years of experience. In 2017, he made the switch to solar energy, and recently spoke with SolarStory about how he’s now using solar power in Milam County to extract oil, reduce costs and help the environment.

Roberto Casso uses solar energy to power his oil business
Roberto Casso uses solar energy to power his Texas-based oil business, Talco Holdings, LLC (Credit: Roberto Casso)

Q: Why did you decide to switch to solar energy?

The biggest thing about the oil business is it’s about how much you spend, and every dollar I save is a dollar earned. When I drill an oil well, I spend money on a rig, the casing, perforating gun, a pump and tubing.

Up to a certain point in drilling the well, the costs are a wash. But once I put in the tubing and pump, working with solar is different. In my 2,000-foot well, if I use traditional 2.5-inch tubing, I need a big, expensive rig that can cost me $10,000 a day. With a solar installation, I use lighter one-inch tubing so I don’t need that costly rig.

I have two solar panels in my solar system, and they power the pump at the bottom of the well. I have cable going from the solar panels to the boxes and down 1,800ft into the well to the pump, and powering the pump that forces the oil of the well.

The savings on solar and the lack of maintenance are considerable

With solar oil wells, I save about $8,000 on tubing, $7,500 by using a pull truck over a big rig, $10,000 by not having to swab the well, $10,000 by avoiding renting a jack pump and $5,000 on polishing rods, sucker rods and maintenance. That’s $35,000 to $40,000 saved per well just by using solar. That’s why I started looking at solar where I could avoid costly steps and maintenance, and get a good monitoring system ($60 per month).

The traditional wells also need electricity run to them, which could cost $10,000, but I don’t have to do that with solar. And it’s best to run the well pumps on a timer where they’re pumping for a few hours then stopping to let oil come back in, but that’s a natural byproduct with solar because we’re only pumping during sunlight hours.

The savings on solar and the lack of maintenance are considerable, from completing the well to the ongoing operations. Once I pay off the pump and everything else, costs go down to almost zero.

Switching his oil business to solar energy saved Casso lots of money
By switching to solar energy, Casso was able to slash the cost of setting up and operating oil wells (Credit: Roberto Casso)

Q: What are the benefits to using renewable energy to extract fossil fuels?

If it’s a shallow well, that means I could put a well anywhere. I could go to a ranch with no power and put a well in that remote location and still monitor it. When I put the pump in, I place sensors at the bottom of the hole so I can monitor telemetry, temperature, pressure, motor speed and flow rate from my desk in Houston and see how my solar wells are doing.

If I run 2 miles of power lines for one well that does eight barrels per day, it’s not cost-effective. Solar saves me money everywhere, and lets me do wells that I wouldn’t have been able to do before because I didn’t have power lines.

Q: Why do you feel it’s important to make use of renewable energy?

It was mostly about cost for me, and just like any business, you try to get your costs down. Solar gives me an opportunity to operate certain wells, which will go for 10 to 20 years, lowers my operation costs and allows me to monitor from my Houston office; it just makes sense. When it made economic sense and was good for the environment, it was a win-win.

Plus, the land I’m on, the owner prefers the quieter solar well so it doesn’t upset his cows.

Before switching to solar energy, Casso was limited in where he could establish new oil wells
Before switching to solar energy, Casso was limited in where he could establish new oil wells as he had to remain close to the grid (Credit: Roberto Casso)

Q: What have the benefits been for your company and what other solar applications do you see?

Mostly cost reduction, it’s easier and less maintenance. It also means I can put wells anywhere without running electricity out, which is expensive. Plus the installation is simpler, and only took a day. I got a turnkey solar system, and it was a matter of connecting the solar system to the flow lines, and I think a traditional installation with a jack pump is much harder. Next time, I’ll do the entire installation myself; it was that easy.

When it made economic sense and was good for the environment, it was a win-win

A lot of people are starting to use solar panels in the oil industry for monitoring and I think there’s more to come. Now that I see I can do solar, one thing we can do in ranching, for example, is put a solar-powered pumping system in rather than windmills to fill water tanks for cows in remote areas.