Rooftop solar power will play a crucial role in the electrified home of the future. Not every homeowner needs (or is able) to put solar panels on the roof. But for those who can, the ability to generate their own power, when coupled with battery storage, could help ease demand on overtaxed utility grids and render their home more resilient in the face of increasingly extreme weather.
Unfortunately, installing solar is still an expensive and harrowing process. Where should a first-time customer making one of the biggest purchases of their life even begin? For a useful overview, check out Canary Media’s handy guide on important questions to consider. Looking for more specific advice? Here are some companies and organizations working to make going solar a bit easier on the customer’s brain and bank account.
One way to alleviate the burden of all the decision-making is to enlist the help of an online solar adviser. These entities take on the daunting task of assessing your home’s roof, estimating a project cost and finding reputable installers.
- EnergySage connects customers with its network of prescreened solar installers. The company collects multiple solar quotes, calculates the financial merits of each and presents them in an understandable format. EnergySage says its mission is to make going solar “as easy as booking an airline flight online.”
- Solar Estimator allows consumers to appropriately size a solar system for their home and survey the prices of local solar companies online.
- Solar Concierge acts as a guide for the homeowner through each stage in the complex process of installing solar.
- SolarReviews aims to be the Yelp of solar, providing reviews of solar installers and equipment manufacturers.
There’s strength in numbers for solar consumers when they form cooperatives and pool their purchasing power. Solar installers and their suppliers are compelled to compete for business when scores of customers are bundled into a single cooperative bid. This results in cheaper costs for customers and economies of scale for the supplier.
Solar United Neighbors (SUN) brings homeowners together in a cooperative to learn the fundamentals of residential solar and aggregate their buying power. (The nonprofit has even produced a guide to help farmers and rural small-business owners apply for federal grants and loans and make it easier to install solar energy on their land.) SUN-supported co-ops have launched across the U.S., including Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and even Puerto Rico.
The Solarize program also pools solar procurement through local-government-backed programs rolled out in cities including Boston, Houston, Minneapolis and Orlando, with 20 megawatts of co-op installations in New York state alone.
What if you, like the majority of American households, can’t install solar because you’re renting, or it costs too much, or your house is in the shade? Community solar allows this pool of citizens (and some organizations) to jointly own or subscribe to a solar project.
Canary’s Alison Takemura breaks down the ins and outs of community solar in this helpful explainer and also suggests some good first steps for the community-solar-curious:
First, find an open project near you. You can comparison-shop in your ZIP code on the EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace, where developers pay to list their projects, or you can check the websites of individual providers, such as Arcadia, Nexamp, PowerMarket and SunShare. Searching “community solar near me” could turn up more under-the-radar projects.
While the majority of U.S. states have some form of community solar available, the market is concentrated in Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York.
As an enticement for developers to build more community solar, the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in August, offers additional tax credits of up to 20 percent tax credit for community solar installations that benefit low- and moderate-income communities. That’s on top of the 30 percent tax credit that’s already in place for solar projects.
Solar for low- and moderate-income households
Although it’s mostly affluent homeowners who put solar on their roofs, low- and moderate-income households stand to gain the most from the low-cost energy of rooftop solar because a higher percentage of their income goes to energy costs. These households now make up an increasing share of the solar market, according to a November 2022 report by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and various entities and organizations are working to accelerate this trend.
PosiGen provides solar power and efficiency upgrades for low- to moderate-income households in Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Jersey, focusing on customers that most residential solar companies would not consider as potential sales targets.
A number of new initiatives have been launched to lower the energy costs of low- and moderate-income homeowners by installing rooftop solar. Over a dozen states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, have initiated pilots and programs to offer affordable leases, third-party ownership or grants for solar equipment. The economic viability of these programs is often bolstered by new environmental justice tax credit adders included in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Side note: Don’t forget the HVAC and insulation
The U.S. has some of the world’s most expensive home solar due to permitting, labor and tariff-induced module costs — so there’s still plenty of cost that can be trimmed and improvements to be made. Dependable, ongoing price drops and efficiency gains mean that solar’s inclusion in the home of the future remains compelling.
Residential solar faces challenges ahead in interconnection, net-metering policy and workforce issues, but solar panels are still the shiny object on the decarbonization and electrification stage, despite the siren’s song of attention-seeking heat pumps. Both of these energy stars perform best when coupled with improvements in HVAC, appliances, windows, insulation and lighting.
Consumers need better tools to make their homes more efficient and to foster electrification. Sense technology is built on a simple, proven premise: Customers need real-time information to engage. With the first-of-its-kind Sense app, consumers can see exactly where and how to save energy in their homes. Sense works for utilities, for consumers and for the grid. Leading meter manufacturers are partnering with Sense to create consumer-ready smart meters that take home-energy management to the next level. Learn more.
Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.