Payback Happens: The Value of Residential Rooftop Solar

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Former The Climate Center employee goes solar. His advice? Get a bid and do it!

April 17, 2015 by Woody Hastings

Recently I visited Brad Heavner, former The Climate Center Development Director and current Policy Director for the California Solar Energy Industries Association, at his home with a dozen new solar panels. We talked about why he did it, his experience, and his expectations.

Brad Heavner in front of his newly installed solar array at his home in Santa Rosa

The “ takeaway” from the visit is a reinforcement of the compelling reminder about the long-known phenomenon regarding rooftop solar: it significantly increases home resale value immediately. So those concerned with the financial side of solar can take comfort in knowing – payback happens!

Along these lines, Brad reminded me of a report from earlier this year by a team of researchers led by Lawrence Berkeley National Labs that found that “home buyers consistently have been willing to pay more for homes with [solar] energy systems — averaging about $4 per watt of PV installed —across various states, housing and PV markets, and home types.” What this means is that a typical system adds about $15,000 in resale value to a home with solar.

Brad and his family do not use a large amount of electricity, so the economics that work well for larger electricity users was not the primary driver in their decision. They were mainly motivated to reduce their carbon footprint in response to the climate crisis. Nonetheless, their solar system will produce a positive cash flow after nine years, and then deliver free electricity for about another 15 years or more.

Overall, Brad says installing solar was a good experience. Synergy Solar took care of all the permitting and interaction with PG&E. The installation itself took only one day. Brad and family are proud customers of Sonoma Clean Power for the power they use that is not provided in real time by their solar array.

Brad’s system uses Enphase microinverters, where a small inverter is attached to each panel. The system features Enphase Enlighten, an easy to use interface that provides real-time monitoring of performance of each panel at the click of a mouse or tap on a smartphone. No more blind guessing about system performance.

A screenshot of the Enphase App on a laptop

Brad says that he would have liked to completely cover his roof with solar panels. Even though Sonoma Clean Power offers a better net metering program than PG&E, the overall rules still don’t favor rooftop installations enough to make it worthwhile to cover the roof completely. “It’s a lost opportunity,” says Brad. In his role at CALSEIA, these are the kinds of rules they are trying to change.

One final set of drivers are two impending changes coming up: the expiration of federal tax credits in 2016 that can pay for up to 30% of the cost of a system, and the sunsetting of the current net metering program at the state level, with great uncertainty about what will come next. So, Brad’s advice: “There’s never been a better time to go solar… get a bid!”

Woody Hastings is the Renewable Energy Implementation Manager at The Climate Center. He can be reached at woody@theclimatecenter.org

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