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Does PV make sense for you?

Rules-of-thumb when considering a solar PV installation

Is your typical monthly single-family residential utility bill over $100?  Check out PV.

In the detailed Electrical Charges section of your bill, do you see only the phrase “Baseline Usage?”  Probably not worth your while to pursue this further.

Do you see the two phrases, “Baseline Usage”  and “101 – 130% of Baseline”?  A PV system may or may not pay.  This will have to be evaluated based on your circumstances.

Do you see the phrase “131 – 200 % of Baseline” (or larger percentages)?  You should certainly be checking out PV as a money-saving opportunity.

One size does not fit all, so the above observations are made as general guidelines or “Rules of Thumb”.  Type of roof structure, type of roof surface, trees and other shade-producing objects, and other factors can all affect your cost and the resulting amount of benefit.

The decision to install a rooftop Photovoltaic (PV) system can seem a bit overwhelming and confusing.  It isn’t, and the economic benefits can be significant.  But there continues to be a lot of misinformation and outdated-information in the public mind.  We have encountered this too often when discussing PV benefits with homeowners at a variety of public events.

There are many websites by installers and others that will direct a consumer to a regional or local installer.  (See for example   CaliforniaSolar DOES NOT connect you to anyone.  We are not seeking revenue from a consumer’s decision.  Our intent is to provide guidance and reduce misinformation.

If you are seriously considering a solar PV installation, then most contractors will provide a free site-specific analysis.  But obtain AT LEAST 2 estimates.  We have heard of door-to-door salesmen offering special bargains (“We’re in the neighborhood”  or “We have an oversupply of panels”) where-in the price is as much as twice what it should be.  Not all of these are scams, but a second estimate will tell you whether you’re getting a truly good deal or not.


Related Resources:

  • SEIA Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power  – A free online guide for residential consumers from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) about the basics of solar energy and ownership options. The guide explains the financing options available, and includes key questions to ask solar installers before entering a transaction, contracting terms to be aware of, and other useful tips for potential solar customers.

Sunshot Resource Center

If a user selects any one of the 12 topic areas, they will go to a page that includes a list of topics (the same dozen topics) and the ability to narrow the search to state-specific information.  For this, scroll to below the dropdown menus on the left after Topic, Audience and Resource Type, to where a State can be designated.  Unfortunately updates to this information appear to be about 2 years out of date.

Electric Power Monthly

The Electric Power Monthly report provides generation data by region and state.  Note specifically Table 1.1A which provides monthly and annual generation data on solar and other renewable resources nationwide.  Table 1.20.A. provides generation data for Solar by State and Sector (Utility, Independent Power Producers, and others) for two years on a year to date (YTD) basis.

Daily Renewables Watch

The daily Renewables Watch provides information about actual renewable production within the ISO grid as California moves towards a 33 percent renewable generation portfolio. The information provided is unverified raw data and the user is cautioned that it is not intended to be used as the basis for operational or financial decisions.  Tables allow the user to obtain at least three years of past daily production data.

Database for Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

DSIRE is a comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States. DSIRE is maintained by the North Carolina Solar Center at North Carolina. State University, with support from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc (IREC); DSIRE is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The California listing is divided into two major groups of listings: “Financial Incentives” and “Rules, Regulations & Policy.”  The Financial Incentives listings identify approximately 160 state, county, city and utility-based programs providing incentives, grants, loans, rebates and financing assistance related to solar installations and energy efficiency actions.  These are divided into approximately 15 program categories.  The Rules, Regulations & Policy listings include 44 specific codes, standards and policies grouped into 13 categories.    (select State of California on the map)

Open PV Project

The Open PV Project provides the real-time status of the solar photovoltaic market in the U.S.  It is a database by state including the number of installations, cost and capacity, and these same details on each individual installation.

Solar Decathlon

The US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon will be held at Orange County Great Park, Irvine, California, from October 8 – 18, 2015.  Open to the public free of charge Thursday – Sunday each weekend, the Solar Decathlon gives visitors the opportunity to tour solar-powered houses, gather ideas to use in their own homes, and learn how energy-saving features can help them save money today. This competition challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

State Profiles and Energy Estimates

The State Profiles and Energy Estimates website provides a query able database.  Select the state (California) on the map; this will take you to a series of tabs, landing on “Overview”.  Clicking the “Find” tab to the right should lead to a page of filters where-in topics and subjects can be identified and information from other EIA reports obtained.

State Energy Data System (SEDS)

The State Energy Data System (SEDS) report provides energy consumption, price, and expenditure estimates by energy source.   The 2013 Updates is the most recent.   (see “Noncombustible Renewable Energy” tab)

Monthly Energy Review (MER)

The Monthly Energy Review (MER) is the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) primary report of recent and historical energy statistics. The report statistics on total energy production, consumption, trade, and energy prices; overviews of petroleum, natural gas, coal, electricity, nuclear energy, renewable energy, and international petroleum; carbon dioxide emissions; and data unit conversions. This monthly report provides nationwide production and consumption data, and Consumption data by sector.  No State level information is provided.