Couple adds solar panels to green improvements
solar panels on barn
Bruce Pfeffer and Amy Beth Kressel are both self-described environmentalists who have made a number of energy efficient improvements to their Indianapolis home over the past five years.
After the married couple had a home energy audit to help them determine how they could make improvements, they added insulation, replaced their heating and cooling system with a high-efficiency furnace and heat pump, caulked drafty windows and switched to lower-wattage light bulbs.
Despite their efforts, the couple still wanted to do more. They went big, adding 32 solar panels last August to the roof of their home. The photovoltaic solar system converts sunlight directly into electricity.
“I don’t like the idea of using oil, gas and coal,” Pfeffer says. “We figured if we could do our little bit to help, why not?”
The growth of solar panel installations at the residential level has been slow in Indiana, but some recent incentives are making photovoltaic solar panels a wise investment, says Michael Greven, of EcoSource Inc., a solar technologies company based in Columbus, Ind. Qualifying panels are eligible for a federal tax credit of 30 percent of the cost until 2016 with no limit. Many utility companies offer rebates and incentives for their customers to add solar panels — Indianapolis Power & Light, for example, offers a $4,000 rebate — and the price on solar panels has come down significantly.
“The price has dropped like a rock,” Greven says. “It’s 50 percent of the price it was a year-and-a-half or two ago on the panels themselves. It’s really been phenomenal. There’s a good supply. There’s a good product and there are lots of good reasons to do it.”
Though growth in the sector is slow, it is trending upward. The residential photovoltaic market grew 109 percent in 2011, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Thirty percent of Angie’s List members who took a recent nationwide poll say they’re considering solar panels.
Photovoltaic prices are determined by watts, with the national average about $6 a watt and shrinking. The number of panels a homeowner needs depends on their energy consumption and solar insolation — the amount of daylight the home receives. The typical photovoltaic system between 1 and 5 kilowatts should meet the electricity needs of most homes and cost between $6,000 and $32,000, before credits, rebates or other incentives. Pfeffer and Kressel spent about $36,000 for 32 panels — which offset almost all of their electrical use — but recouped nearly half of that through credits and rebates.
In Indiana, as well as most other states, homeowners with solar photovoltaic systems can sell back extra energy to their local utility companies. Called ‘net metering,’ customers earn credits for excess solar energy sent to the utility provider’s electrical grid from their house.
“I would say the return on the investment at this point is probably somewhere in the seven- to eight-year range,” Greven says. “For any new home being built, (solar panels) should be put on it. If you roll it into your mortgage, the economic sense behind it is stunning.”
Panels require little to no maintenance, except an annual cleaning. Most panels have 25-year warranties and are designed to last at least that long, so it’s important they be installed on a roof that’s in good condition. Installation typically takes about two days. Houses with a south-facing roof in an unshaded area are ideal for solar panels. Though solar panel installers are not required to be licensed, they should have the training and experience necessary to do the job correctly. Check out the company’s history and ask for references from other solar panel installation jobs they’ve done. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners offers an accreditation program in which providers must pass an exam and agree to follow a code of ethics. A licensed electrician should be hired upon installation to connect the system to the electrical grid.
Pfeffer and Kressel say they’ve been happy with the results they’ve seen since adding their solar panels. Pfeffer says the couple’s energy bills have averaged about $20 a month this spring and summer and in April they actually produced more energy than they consumed.
“We’re thrilled with the solar panels,” Kressel says. “We have no buyer’s regret. I don’t know that we’ve gotten a complete return on our investment yet, but I also don’t know what gas prices are going to do or what energy rates are going to do in the future.”
- To learn about tax credits available for solar panels, visit www.energystar.gov.
- You can find a list of available tax incentives and rebates for solar panels by visiting the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at dsireusa.org.
- Curious how much a solar panel system will cost? Check out the solar calculator at findsolar.com for a rough estimate, including any federal or local credits, incentives or rebates.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 21, 2012.