Going Solar Track Down Incentives, Decide to Purchase or Lease, Find a Reputable Installer

Are you thinking about going solar at home? With solar incentives still available from the federal government and enough sunshine even in northern states to meet household electricity demands, now just might be the right time to go photovoltaic. Read on to find out whether it makes more sense to lease or buy solar panels, and what state and local regulations — let alone rebates and incentives — could affect your decision…

going solar

What solar incentives are available to someone in my state?

U.S. homeowners can still get a 30% tax credit from the federal government on the costs of installing a solar power system (residential or commercial). But get it while you can, as the credit is phasing down year-by-year and then will be gone completely by 2022.

Otherwise, your state might offer additional incentives to go solar. California, Massachusetts, and others are particularly friendly to solar installations, while a few of the sunniest states — notably Arizona and Florida — are notoriously unfriendly to power from the sun due to entrenched utilities putting their foot down in favor of fossil fuels.

To find out which federal, state and local incentives exist for going solar, check out the free online Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, otherwise known as DSIRE. The most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency across the country, DSIRE is a project of the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University and is funded by our tax dollars (via a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy).

How can I learn more about my purchase/lease options and the process of selecting and working with a solar installer?

Trying to figure out if it’s better to lease or buy your solar panels? You’re not alone, and it’s hard to do the math given the apples/oranges scenario. Luckily, the Solar Energy Industries Association spells it all out clearly — not just whether to lease or buy but also how to get multiple bids to save money and which questions to ask before entering into an agreement with an installer — in it’s recently updated Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power.

How does solar work? Is my home suitable for solar panels? Can I install solar myself? How much power can I generate with solar? Will I save money by going solar? Can I get financing for solar? How will solar impact the resale value of my house? How many solar panels do I need? If you’re looking for answers to questions like these, check out the Homeowner’s Guide to Going Solar from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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How can I find a reputable solar installer in my area?

Given how new the solar industry is, it’s often hard to know whether a given installer is going to be reputable, let alone survive the next economic downturn. Angie’s List offers a great article on How to Hire a Solar Installer which features pearls like how extended warranties may not be worth the paper they are written on, why the cheapest bid may not be the best deal, and how to save yourself death by paperwork.

When you’ve boned up on the basics, time to find an installer. A great place to start the search is via the Find a Certified Professional page on the website of the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), a trade group that offers the “gold standard” professional certification and company accreditation programs to renewable energy professionals across North America.

If you’re a quote-comparing type, you’ll also want to check out Energy Sage, a website that lets you compare quotes from local solar installers for any given address. This free service is maintained by the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, a national effort to support solar energy adoption by making solar energy affordable for all Americans through research and development efforts in collaboration with public and private partners.

If you’ve checked out all these resources and are still stuck, just Ask EarthTalk. We are always looking for new questions to feature in our weekly syndicated EarthTalk Q&A column, so bring it on…