Atlanta area solar panel expert extols virtues of green living

Atlanta area solar panel expert extols virtues of green living

After more than 20 years selling energy recovery units, Roger Cone made the move to renewable energy, starting Soenso Energy in 2004. A few years later, his brother, Charles, joined the business. The two not only perform residential and commercial installations, but they encourage energy conservation. We're in the business to sell and install solar, but the first thing we tell a homeowner is that they need to conserve energy," Charles says. "We advise them to use energy-efficient appliances before installing renewable energy."

What's the benefit of using solar panels?

"It's clean energy that cuts down on carbon emissions. In Georgia, utility companies make electricity from coal, which is a heavy polluter, and most of it is removed from mountaintops in a way that's damaging to the environment. We think solar helps increase property value. People are putting more attention and emphasis on renewable [energy sources]. We get inquiries from developers who are interested in doing solar on new homes. If you do that, you can roll the expense into your mortgage. Right now, there are federal and state income tax incentives in place. The federal credit is 30 percent of the installed cost, and in Georgia, it's 35 percent. You can also check with your local utility company to see if there are additional incentives."

How does the installation process work?

"There are two kinds of solar technologies homeowners use: solar photovoltaic (PV), which generates electricity, and solar thermal, which is for water heating. We install both. Solar thermal is generally a better return on your investment. It doesn't eliminate conventional water heating, but it can reduce energy consumption by 75 to 80 percent. The panels should face south. There shouldn't be any trees, a chimney or other structures shading that segment of the roof. Most of Georgia is considered very good for solar installation — we're pretty much on par with most of Florida as far as sun radiation. A very rough estimate for a thermal system would be about $10,000. A PV system might be $20,000 for a 2-kilowatt system or $30,000 for a 3-kilowatt system. Installation could take about two days. We can install on virtually any kind of roof."

How durable are solar panels?

"They're made with tempered glass and metal frames — they can withstand hailstorms and things like that. The PV system has a [25-year limited] warranty. Solar thermal systems have a five-year warranty, including parts and labor, on the entire system."

Have you seen a rise in their popularity?

"When the Georgia tax credit went into effect in 2008, interest spiked. Right after that, the economy tanked. We think that as the economy improves, renewable energy is going to be one of the fastest things to recover."

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