This guide will teach you everything you need to know about Solar Energy. It’ll answer many of the questions you’ve been wondering about solar panels, installation, and rebates or tax breaks. Best of all…it’ll explain how you can save money on your electric bill. Let’s get started.
Chapter One: What is Solar Energy?
The sun is the ultimate source of energy for all life on Earth, and has been for the entire history of the earth.
Even our most distant ancestors used direct solar radiation to distill water, dry foods and ferment alcohol.
Greek polymath Archimedes is rumored to have used solar energy as a weapon during the Siege of Syracuse in 212 BC.
Universal use of solar energy, however, hasn’t been possibly until relatively recently.
Although pholtovaic (solar panel) technology has been around since the 1970s, it is only now experiencing a renaissance as homeowners become increasingly aware that solar panels save money.
Solar energy offers a few key benefits when compared to wood, coal and petroleum:
- Solar power is the most abundant energy source on Earth.
- Once installed, solar panels require little to no maintenance.
- Solar energy does not produce air pollutants or carbon dioxide.
- Solar panels on buildings have minimal impact on the surrounding environment.
Unlike nearly every other energy source, solar energy is a fuel you can harness yourself, right on your property.
Every kilowatt you get from your roof-mounted solar panels is one you didn’t have to pay for through the municipal energy grid – and those kilowatts add up quickly.
Do you pay more for electricity now than you did 10 years ago?
Almost certainly. What about 20 years ago? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Missouri homeowners paid almost $0.02 more per kilowatt-hour in 2015 than you did in 1999, and that’s inflation-adjusted.
The average home measures its monthly kilowatt usage in the tens of thousands – that’s hundreds of dollars per month.
So how much do you think you’ll be paying 20 years from now?
Consider the facts: The average price of electricity in Missouri has increased by 39% since the year 2000 and average state-wide residential consumption increasingly surpasses the national average every year.
You could be paying a lot for your electricity in the future.
But what if you could do something about that now?
Something that ensures you enjoy a low electric bill for decades to come?
That is the promise of solar energy.
Below, we’re going to cover exactly how much solar panels can save for you, how much you can expect to pay up-front for installation.
Hint: it could be $0.
And all the solar energy information you need to know to enjoy those savings.
If you’re looking for easy ways to save, solar energy might just be the answer you’re looking for.
Chapter Two: Solar Panels 101
There are two major options when it comes to harnessing solar energy at home:
- Off-grid systems are stand-alone systems. They operate independently of your local grid.
- On-grid systems are tied into the municipal energy grid, offsetting the amount of power you use on a daily basis.
Of these two, on-grid systems are vastly superior and generally recommended for Missouri homeowners. Going “off the grid” requires hardy lifestyle compromises for most people. It is also much more expensive and unreliable, compared to a grid-tied system. For a typical house to go off-grid, you would need a large room full of expensive batteries. Current battery technology is not cost-effective for most people, and the longevity of the batteries isn’t on par with the rest of the solar equipment.
A grid-tied system simply draws power from your solar panels before consuming energy from the grid. This reduces the amount of energy you draw from the grid, lowering your monthly energy bill considerably in the process. With this approach, it’s like you’re using the grid as your battery. The difference is you save thousands by not having to purchase batteries and the grid is much more reliable.
Considering that most electricity in Missouri is primarily produced by coal imported by train from Wisconsin, it only makes sense that supplementing the grid with solar power will save homeowners money.
Not All Solar Panels Are the Same
There are three major types of solar panel technologies available on the market:
- Monocrystalline silicon
- Polycrystalline silicon
- Thin-film solar cells
Each of these solar panel types offers its own advantages and disadvantages.
The right choice offers optimal installation cost and solar panel efficiency for the amount of space you have at your disposal.
Monocrystalline panels are offer the highest power output per square meter, and are thus the most space-efficient. They also tend to be the most durable, but they are expensive.
Polycrystalline silicon panels are cheaper to manufacture, but offer slightly lower space-efficiency. Advancements in polycrystalline manufacturing have made them almost as efficient as monocrystalline, at a lower price point. This makes them fall into a sweet spot for most homeowners looking to go solar.
Thin-film solar cells are among the cheapest, but they require too much space for most residential applications and are not practical for most homeowners. Most homeowners get the best results from using some form of crystalline silicon panel. There are many variants of monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels, however. Having your home professionally assessed for solar will determine the best option for your particular property.
Optimizing Solar Panel Tilt
Since the sun’s position in the sky changes over the course of the year, the position and tilt of your solar panels will affect how much money you save by using them. In order to maximize how much you can save with solar panels, placing the panels on a south-facing roof is the best. However, east and west-facing roofs can also achieve significant savings. The charts below show the effect of tilt angle on solar production in Springfield, MO.
The ideal tilt angle to maximize production year-round is about 37 degrees. However, a different tilt angle doesn’t have a drastic effect on power production overall. No matter what your roof angle is, you’ll be able to produce power with solar.
Chapter Three: How Much Money Can I Save With Solar Panels?
The short answer is: it depends. To get a ballpark idea of how much solar panels can save you each year, use the online calculator developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). It compiles weather data along with typical consumption rates to offer a savings estimate. Here’s an example of one such calculation, using rough averages for installation, consumption and weather data for the Springfield, Missouri area:
Roughly $50 per month may not sound like a huge or exciting improvement. But considering that solar panels typically produce electricity consistently for up to 25 years, you’re looking at whole-of-life savings in the tens of thousands of dollars. As a side note, the system shown in this example is a small one. An average home in Missouri will save even more than this. Furthermore, professional solar panel installation can optimize your savings. The long answer to the question, “How much do you save with solar panels?” outlines ways to optimize your installation and generate deep savings out of it.
Important factors that affect the amount of money solar panels save on electricity include:
- How much surface area you can dedicate to solar power generation
- The type of photovoltaic cells installed
- The tilt of the solar panels
- Your power consumption behavior throughout the year
More Solar Panels Means More Energy
The size of your property is a major factor in determining how much solar panels can save for you in the long run. Solar panels in Springfield, MO typically produce between 4.5 and 5.0 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day, according to NREL. This is actually better than that of leading solar energy consumers, such as Germany.
Chapter Four: Reduce Installation Costs to Drive Savings Even Further
Knowing that you can enjoy long-term energy savings in the ten-thousand dollar range by installing solar panels on your home, it’s time to determine the best way to cut down on installation costs. There are two major ways you can reduce solar installation costs in Missouri:
- Federal Investment Tax Credit (FITC)
- Utility Provider Rebate
These two incentives can absorb a significant amount of your up-front installation costs. Better yet, they can also be combined with one another for maximum savings.
Apply For the Federal Investment Tax Credit
By far the greatest incentive to go solar, the FITC covers 26% of your installation cost as a tax credit. All you need to do is pay for the installation upfront and then claim the credit using a simple two-page IRS form. Because this is a tax credit and not a tax deduction, it is as good as money. If you don’t owe 26% of your solar panel installation’s cost in taxes right away, the credit rolls over multiple years. This ensures that you receive the benefit even if you don’t have large tax liabilities. All you need to do to benefit from this tax credit is pay for solar panel installation. Whether you pay using cash or through a loan, you are eligible to subtract 26 percent of the cost from your taxes. Want more info? Check our our in depth post explaining the Federal Solar Tax Credit here!
Empire District Electric Rebate
Is Empire District Electric your utility provider? If the answer is yes, you can benefit from a solar rebate of $0.50 per watt produced, up to a maximum of $12,500. Since this incentive rewards bigger, higher-output solar installations, you can expect to get the most out of it by maximizing your energy production. Consider the average energy generation statistics listed above. Empire customers can take off a few thousand dollars from their solar installation costs. Best of all, Empire will cut the check immediately after installation, so you’re saving right off the bat. If you’re an Empire customer who wishes to take advantage of this rebate, you’ll have to act soon. The rebate is part of a 5-year program that began in 2015. It originally paid back $2.00 per watt, but is scaled to only pay back $0.25 per watt in 2019. You’ve already missed out on the best savings. So act quickly to catch the deal you have now!
Chapter Five: Financing and Loan Options
Considering that solar panel installation saves money over time, you might be able to finance installation for less than the average monthly savings it generates. Since solar energy is a long-term investment covering at least 25 years, installation can usually be covered through the savings it generates.
Ways to enjoy zero cash-down financing for solar panel installation:
- Solar loan
- PACE program
One of the most common and effective ways to finance solar energy projects, solar loans can finance all or part of your installation costs. One of the main benefits to this approach is that favorable loan terms are available to most homeowners: Any loan payment lower than the equivalent electric bill is immediate savings. In many cases, you can:
- Get an unsecured loan
- Pay no upfront costs for installation
- Take advantage of the FITC tax credit
- Enjoy an immediate reduction in your monthly energy bill.
In the long run, the savings increase over time as your fixed-rate loan remains the same but energy prices rise. Keeping long-term savings in mind, your solar energy system can end up paying for itself well before the 25-year loan term runs its course. As an additional benefit, once the loan is paid off you will be producing free electricity for your home for the foreseeable future. Photovoltaic cells typically don’t have a shelf life – they gradually degrade over the course of decades. So you’ll still be seeing savings well beyond the terms of your loan.
The PACE Program
PACE stands for Property Assessed Clean Energy. The PACE Program is a government program that incentivizes solar installation costs through property taxes. After you get solar panels installed through the PACE program, your property taxes are slightly increased over the course of the next 20 years to cover the cost. Typically, this cost is offset by the energy savings that the solar panels provide.
Benefits to the PACE Program:
- Get approved regardless of your credit score.
- Program benefits don’t depend on your income.
- Remaining payments may be transferred to a new homeowner in the future.
We are certified PACE Program contractors. So if you’re interested in applying for PACE program benefits, simply let us know.We’ll take care of financing your solar project from there.
Chapter Six: Solar Energy in Practice
Now you know how much solar panels can save on your monthly electricity bill and how you can finance the installation to maximize your savings. But what is living in a solar home actually like? You probably have questions about the specifics of using solar energy. We’ll cover some of the most common ones below:
Solar Cells Don’t Work at Night or On Cloudy Days, Do They?
Solar panels can’t collect energy at night. But on-grid solar energy systems do store energy. Your system can store energy on the grid and then draw from that source when the panels aren’t generating electricity. On cloudy days, solar panels do generate electricity – just less than usual. Southwest Missouri enjoys more than 200 days of sunshine a year, so you can rely on significant energy benefits in the long run.
Can I Eliminate My Electric Bill Entirely With Solar Power?
Although you could offset your entire electric consumption through solar power if you have enough room, you will still get an electric bill every month. Missouri utilities companies charge a connection fee to every property connected to the electric grid. You’ll have to pay that regardless of whether you use grid electricity or not. That might sound like bad news. But it is in fact cheaper than buying, maintaining, and replacing the system of batteries you would need to store roughly 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy every month. The grid is a good thing, and that’s why 99% of U.S. solar energy systems are on-grid.
Do Solar Energy Systems Make Good Emergency Blackout Backups?
Because your solar energy system is connected to the municipal power grid, it must automatically shut off when there is a blackout. This is to protect the electricians who are working on resolving the blackout. If you’re on-grid system were generating electricity, it could cause serious injury to anyone attempting to repair the grid. The expense and technical complexity of maintaining an off-grid solar panel system makes solar energy makes a poor source of emergency backup power. For backup power, there is no comparison to the simplicity and accessibility of a generic fossil fuel generator.
Chapter Seven: Infrastructure and Installation?
All infrastructure concerns are included in your NABCEB-certified appraisal and quote. Some home electrical grids are easier to add a solar energy system to. Others are more challenging. All grid-enabled residential properties can benefit from solar power, however. Most residential roofs can easily handle the weight of a solar power system. This means that you will most likely be able to have panels installed on your roof as-is. If you plan on replacing your roofing material at some point in the next 25 years, it might be wise to do it before solar is installed. Solar panels can always be removed and replaced in the event that your roof needs to be replaced. But it’s easier to handle it before the panels go up.
Chapter Eight: Learn More on How To Save with Solar Energy
Simple Solar is exactly what its name promises: A no-nonsense solar energy company dedicated to helping as many people obtain long-term savings as possible. Our team of energy experts is happy to walk you through the process of installing solar panels on your property, and we even offer free consultation services for that purpose. Is solar the right for you? Take our quiz to find out.
We design complete solar energy solutions based on your most recent electric bills and satellite photo imagery of your property. All you need to do is contact us and let us know that you’re interested – write a message to Simple Solar and we’ll get the process started