It’s easier than ever to predict if a rooftop solar system will lower your electricity bill, and to demonstrate that in a fun way the US solar leader SolarCity has just priced out a rooftop solar system for every candidate running in the Republican and Democratic presidential primary elections. Those of you who know your home state’s solar discounts won’t be surprised to find out who’s in the lead — and who could leapfrog over them if state policies change.
Calculate Your Rooftop Solar Savings
For those of you new to the topic, every state in the US has a different solar policy. Some states, like that of Republican candidate and current New Jersey governor Chris Christie, have a “stellar” solar policy that enables property owners to earn trade-able credits, which can earn them hundreds of dollar every year, and often more than $1,000.
With a combination of high rates and the aforementioned solar policy, New Jersey is prime grounds for solar installation even though it does not get optimal sunlight. Here’s the breakdown from the SolarCity blog:
You’ll notice the frowny faces next to Florida and Virginia, indicating unfavorable solar policies. We’re thinking that with a policy change in her home state of Virginia, Carly Fiorina could vault over Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, all of whom hail from Florida, where solar conditions are good but solar policies are stuck in the mud — at least for now.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton comes out on top. As with New Jersey, Clinton’s home state of New York does not have ideal year-’round sunlight, but it does have high electricity rates and a great solar policy, including a forward-looking energy initiative that motivates utilities to support energy storage as well as distributed solar. Here’s the rundown from the SolarCity blog:
The Clintons have plenty of roof space on their estate in Chappaqua, and can benefit from New York’s terrific solar incentives – including a $600/kilowatt discount on installation (e.g. $3K off for a typical 5 kilowatt rooftop system), a state tax credit up to $5K, and a strong regulatory commitment to net metering. The state is also working hard to extend these benefits beyond upper-class neighborhoods like Chappaqua: low-income New Yorkers qualify for significantly greater solar incentives than wealthy households like the Clintons.
So, one important thing to look at is the availability of discounts, rebates, tax credits and other subsidies in your state, and from your electricity provider.
You also need to take a look at your current electricity bill. The higher your rate per kilowatt hour, the greater the probability that you’d get a lower bill with rooftop solar panels.
As for assessing the amount of solar energy pounding down upon your roof, you can generally get a free preliminary quote over the phone from any reputable installer, which should provide you with enough information to decide whether or not a site visit is worthwhile.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can check out an online rooftop solar calculator developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which factors in your local climate and weather conditions.
In some limited areas you can also avail yourself of new online mapping tools, such as Google Earth’s Project Sunroof and the MIT-sourced Solar System, that can give you more information about your property’s rooftop solar potential.
Rooftop Solar On The Move
According to the SolarCity blog, a new rooftop solar installation goes up every 2.5 minutes in the US, partly thanks to power purchase agreements that enable property owners to acquire rooftop solar panels, and get them installed and hooked up, without paying any money up front.
It’s a great deal but make sure to do your homework first before you dive in.
Another significant factor pushing the rooftop solar market along is the Obama Administration’s focus on lowering the “soft costs” of solar installations, which include the permit process, zoning regulations, labor, and administrative costs.
The Energy Department has been targeting soft costs for improvement, one recent development being the SunShot Catalyst competition.
Catalyst launched last year as a way to motivate startups to tackle soft costs, and this year 19 solar soft cost companies participated. In an interesting twist, many of them are focused on tools that enable community solar and open up access to solar by low income households.
The competition’s milestone “Demo Day” was held just last Friday, and seven of the 19 were selected by a panel of judges for continued Energy Department support:
MySunBuddy—(Boston, Massachusetts) Sharing virtual net metered and community solar system solar production credits
Solar Merchant—(Lake Forest, California) Tapping small commercial rooftop solar potential
Pick My Solar, SolarBook—(Los Angeles, California) Developing a one stop shop for information about residential solar
Hot4Solar—(San Francisco, California) Using peer networks to better target solar marketing
Solar Land Solutions—(Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) Matching landowners and building owners with utility and community solar developers
Livable Analytics—(Berkeley, California) Understanding how energy-saving technologies and building performance impact occupant satisfaction
Kinetic Buildings—(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Developing low-cost automated diagnostics for commercial buildings.
Taking Credit For Rooftop Solar
If it comes down to Christie versus Clinton, let’s note for the record that as a US Senator from New York, Clinton was an active supporter of federal solar policies during the Bush Administration. She’s not a Johnny-come-lately to the solar field and her presidential campaign position on renewable energy reflects a strong build on a solid track record.
Current New Jersey Governor Christie has a record of talking up New Jersey’s solar and wind resources here and there, but his actions tell a different story. The state’s strong renewable energy policies predate his governorship, and far from moving things along the Christie Administration has been monkeywrenching development of its considerable offshore wind energy resources.
Christie’s environmental record in New Jersey also includes summarily canceling the long-planned ARC rail tunnel, pulling the state out of a multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and refusing to join an eight-state zero emission vehicle initiative.
The Christie Administration is also behind a hard-fought battle to build a new natural gas pipeline through the state’s protected Pine Barrens.
With that in mind (and this in mind, too), you won’t find “Energy” listed among his campaign’s top seven issues, but if you go into “Economy” you’ll find his national energy strategy in full:
As Governor Christie stated in Mexico last fall, we are in the midst of a North American Energy Renaissance. The U.S. and its friendly neighbors and close trading partners Canada and Mexico – have a major opportunity to increase the competitiveness of our regional economy in the world, and to improve our strategic and security position at the same time.
The U.S needs to build the necessary infrastructure to get product to markets and ensure the smooth functioning of our energy markets, lift the ban on crude oil exports and allow markets to function as well as rationalize the country’s approach to regulation to make sure it is fair. We can also ensure the U.S can maximize its energy resources in an environmentally sound manner by developing greater technological capabilities.
Yep, that’s it.
All images via SolarCity.
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