The basics of rooftop solar

March 12, 2019

When it comes to solar panels on homes, a lot of us might categorize ourselves as “curious but clueless”. We know the basic idea—that solar can create electricity for your home and reduce your utility bill—but beyond that? The whole matter quickly starts feeling a bit mysterious, a bit like uncharted territory.

Here are two reasons not to worry: first, more than 1.5 million other households have “gone solar” before you and figured it out; second, this blog post is here to give you an overview of the basics. So here we go.

What are the upfront considerations?

Before diving into the details about rooftop solar, there are a handful of considerations to think about right off the bat. The first few involve the characteristics of your home.

For starters, it’s a good idea to examine how efficient your home’s energy use is currently so that you end up with an appropriately-sized solar system. If there are some smart improvements you can make to improve your home’s energy efficiency (here is a handy checklist), it makes sense to do them sooner rather than later.

To know for sure whether your home is a good candidate for solar panels, a local solar company can provide an evaluation (usually for free). They’ll look at things like the age of your roof, its angle of incline, and the direct sun or shading it gets. A younger roof that’s southern facing with little to no shade from trees or structures is ideal.

A rooftop solar system will be able to generate more electricity (and thus more savings) under this scenario. But according to Google’s Project Sunroof, four out of five U.S. homes have solar power potential, meaning that they have enough unshaded area for solar panels. Even before contacting an installer, you can use Google’s estimator to help map your roof’s solar savings potential.

It’s also worth confirming whether you live in a state that has “net metering” laws. Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed electricity they don’t use back into the grid, and to receive payment (in the form of credit) for it. Fortunately, net metering laws exist in 41 states and in the District of Columbia, so odds are good that you’re in one of those areas.

What does a rooftop solar system cost?

In 2019, an average size solar system costs $12,810 after tax credits. There are three different ways to go about purchasing a rooftop solar system today: cash purchase, loan/financing, and power purchase agreements. While a cash purchase is pretty self-explanatory, the other two routes could use some brief explanation:

  • Solar loan: Just like other types of personal loans, a solar loan lets you finance your purchase while paying for the system over time. Most solar loans have little-to-no upfront costs, making solar an affordable investment on almost any budget. While there are several different options for these loans, most solar companies will help find the one that works best for you. In general, these companies work with third-party providers as well as government programs that specifically grant solar panel loans. The bottom line, though, is that many homeowners can effectively swap out their current electric bill with a solar loan payment that’s lower than their electric bill—all while switching your home to sunshine power.
  • Power purchase agreement (PPA) and solar leasing: PPAs are another popular option that require no upfront cost. Under a PPA, you don’t pay for the panels at all—the utility owns and maintains the system on your roof; you simply commit to purchasing the solar energy that’s produced. While you don’t own the panels and therefore can’t benefit from net metering, you can still power your home with sunshine and reduce your electricity costs via a lower rate. A solar lease is nearly identical to a PPA except that you’re technically paying to rent the equipment itself, not paying for the energy that it generates. Over half of states permit PPAs and/or solar leases, so there’s a good chance that zero-percent-down solar is available where you live.

How much will you save?

While everyone generally knows that solar panels will reduce your electricity bill, the numbers can quickly start to feel a little complicated. A common way to gauge how much solar will save you is to determine the “payback period,” which answers the question: How long will it take to make my money back?

The answer, on average, is seven years, but that’s not necessarily the best way to look at things. “In many ways, your solar power system is a financial product—one that is capable of generating annual returns ranging anywhere from 10 percent to more than 30 percent,” notes Energysage. Your solar system begins generating a return (in the form of reduced or nonexistent electricity bills) immediately, and can generate between $10,000 and $30,000 over the system’s lifespan of 25 years or more.

Can rooftop solar increase your home’s value?

While it’s great that solar panels last for 25-plus years, most of us aren’t staying in the same home for that long. So, what happens if you’re not around to reap the ongoing savings? Will your investment be reflected in your home’s value? Thankfully, this has been studied: on average, solar panels increase a home’s value by $14,329. That, combined with the guaranteed, ongoing monthly electric bill savings, is a one-two punch that a bathroom remodel can’t replicate.

There’s plenty more to learn about rooftop solar, but with these basics in your back pocket, you’re now ready to impress a neighbor, a coworker, or maybe even a solar installer. You’re also ready to check out Generation180’s Energy Challenge: there’s a “Home” challenge category that can help you take the next step in investigating actions like going solar.

Most importantly, you’re one step closer to generating renewable, local energy and taking part in our transition to a clean energy future.


Ten tips to help you conquer the Energy Challenge

March 6, 2019

More than ever before, individuals like us can help drive forward our transition to clean energy. We have the power to stand up, speak up, and make smart choices—in how we power our homes, cars, schools, cities—and so much more. We’ve just launched our Energy Challenge to make it simpler and easier to take everyday action in your own life.

Here are ten strategies to help you get started with the Energy Challenge, maximize the power of this tool, and take action on clean energy.

1. Set a challenge period that’s right for you

The duration of your challenge matters. Spend some time thinking about the length of your ideal challenge before you get going. With a shorter challenge period (~1 month), you can aim for rapid change by making a strong push in a relatively small amount of time. Alternatively, longer challenge periods (~3 months) allow you to go at a slower pace and can be helpful in taking on deeper lifestyle changes and planning for some of the actions that take more time and attention, like rooftop solar. Assess your goals for the Energy Challenge and choose a challenge period that helps you achieve them.

2. Form a team

We’re all in this together! Inspire and empower your inner circle to take part in the clean energy transition, and help them realize their carbon and financial savings in the process. Collectively, individuals account for approximately one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions through their personal vehicles and home energy use, so the collective savings of your team could be huge. Besides, energy action is more fun with friends, family, and colleagues, so create your own team or join an existing team today!

3. Challenge other teams (and your own)

There’s no better motivator than a little healthy competition. In the Energy Challenge, you earn points for all the actions you take, and you can compete with other teams and within your own team to see who can earn the most! Use the built-in feature that allows teams to challenge other teams head-to-head; check out the overall leaderboard to see how your team stacks up to others in the platform; or track your progress internally through your personal team leaderboard.

4. Choose the right actions

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After registering, choose the actions you want to take

Take some time to browse through the list of actions. The actions span different levels of difficulty, and there are options in nearly every aspect of your daily life, whether it’s home energy use, transportation, or even food choices. Start with the ones that best fit your current lifestyle. Then, think outside the box. Challenge yourself to take action in ways you would have never thought possible. Be the spark—disrupt the norm around how we think about and use energy in our everyday lives, and then inspire others to do the same.

5. Set a few reminders

Shifting the status quo can take some work. Set some reminders on your phone, calendar, agenda, etc. to remind you of the everyday actions you’re going to take. The platform will even send you a few automated reminders and tips to help you along. People say that it takes three weeks for an action to become a habit, so until that point, it can’t hurt to set a few reminders to prompt you toward clean energy action.

6. Take it step-by-step

Some of these actions require a big commitment, and can’t all be done at once. Set clear, reasonable, actionable, and time-constrained goals to pave the way toward completing the highest-impact actions (and consequently, racking up a ton of points for the Challenge). For example, there are a few different actions you can take toward getting solar or an electric vehicle, and each of them will earn you points. Careful and thoughtful planning is sure to result in a successful and impactful challenge, so get started and plan it out today.

7. Find something you’re passionate about—and share it!

Empowerment is contagious, so make sure to share the progress you’re making in the Energy Challenge. The platform allows you to post to a discussion feed to show other participants how you’re taking action and to inspire them to take their own, or you can even ask for help in solving a problem you encounter on your own. Sharing a real experience or obstacle can catalyze widespread action and give you the support you need to keep making progress in the Energy Challenge.

8. Celebrate your savings

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See the cumulative impact you, your team, and the entire community have had

For some of the actions, the Energy Challenge provides calculations of the average financial and greenhouse gas savings attributed to those actions to help participants visualize how much of an impact they’re making. Each individual situation is unique. Take a look at how much you’re saving on your grocery bill by adopting a plant-rich diet, or see how much carbon-free clean electricity rooftop solar panels could produce.

9. Make it YOUR challenge

Gain points by customizing your profile, interacting with others, and making the challenge a part of your life. Fully embracing the challenge’s customization capabilities and choosing actions that speak to you will enable you to get the most out of the Challenge. Dive into the settings page and distinguish yourself (and your impact) from others’ to make your efforts known.

10. Spread the word

We all need to rise to the challenge in order to make the collective impact we need. That’s why we’re working closely with organizations and groups to bring them on board the Energy Challenge en masse. So, if you are part of a larger company, volunteer group, or any other community that wants to expand its social impact, we can help. The Energy Challenge provides a simple, measurable, and fun way for large groups to take action toward a clean energy future together, building a collaborative and sustainable culture among participants. Please reach out to us to learn more.

You’re now fully-equipped to tackle The Energy Challenge. See you on the platform!