Interest in solar is growing. In 2016 in the United States, 39 percent of all new electricity generation capacity in the country came from solar. This was more than any other source and ahead of natural gas.4 And it’s no wonder why — solar provides both a cleaner energy option as well as financial benefits. In light of this growing interest, you may be wondering whether solar energy is right for your building. Solar energy offers a clean way to power a property, but there are some important factors to consider before making your decision.
Installing solar panels as an energy source for your building has obvious benefits for the environment. Solar power does not lead to the harmful emissions as fossil fuels do. But going solar has direct benefits for property owners and their buildings as well.
A fixed price. Using fossil fuels as the primary energy source leads to frequent price fluctuations in monthly bills. Solar energy, however, offers a fixed price. This allows property managers to better plan for and predict cash flow.
Tax rebates and financial incentives. Many states offer tax credits for those who choose to use solar power. There is also a federal investment tax credit (ITC) of 30 percent for any qualifying residential or commercial solar system.
Reduced operating costs. Using solar can also reduce your monthly energy cost overall. Most solar companies aim to create systems that create as much energy as a building uses. This approach is intended to “zero out” electricity consumption.
Low maintenance requirements. Solar panels have very low maintenance needs. As long as they are checked for dust and debris regularly, they should continue to operate well.
Reduce your carbon footprint. Buildings use a lot of energy, and buildings running on fossil fuels thus release a lot of pollutants into the air. In fact, more than a third of greenhouse gas emission in the United States greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels for residential and commercial electricity usage, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SOURCE). Building owners that choose to go solar are making an important step towards reducing this number, as solar power produces clean, emission-free electricity.
Green branding and LEED credits. Demonstrating a commitment to clean energy by choosing solar power can significantly benefit PR and marketing efforts. Additionally, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) offers credits for buildings who use renewable energy sources like solar power.2
While solar offers many benefits, it’s important to take these factors into consideration before making the decision to switch over to solar power.
Space availability and energy needs. Solar panels need space to be installed. Most are placed on the roofs of buildings, but others are located in a ground location of the property. The amount of energy your building requires in addition to the weather conditions of the area will determine how many solar panels you need to install. Solar companies can help you determine the exact amount of space required for your particular needs.
Age of building and quality of roof. Most buildings built after 1970 should have roofs that are solar-ready. If the building was constructed prior to 1970, however, then the roof system may need to be reconstructed or replaced which could be expensive. Additionally, if rafters are of questionable thickness, you may want to hire a structural engineer to evaluate the roof’s structural limitations.
Cost and financing. There are several options for funding the switch to solar power. The first is to simply purchase the panels yourself. Purchasing allows you to immediately benefit from the savings gained from switching to solar without having to worry about paying back a loan. Purchasing a solar system, however, has a significantly higher upfront cost.
Another option is to obtain a bank loan which would reduce this upfront cost. When using the loan option, building owners are also able to utilize any available solar tax or rebate incentives.
Leasing or signing a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is also a financing possibility. This allows the building owner to rent a solar system from a third-party owner. While it’s the owner of the solar system who benefits from tax credits or other incentives, you as the building owner would see significantly lower upfront costs. Policies about PPAs differ from state to state. For instance, legislation passed in 2015 in Georgia now makes it possible for customers to enter into PPAs with utility companies. Check your local policies to see if a PPA is an option for you.
Property-assessed clean energy (PACE) is also an option. With PACE, a local government covers the upfront costs for the solar system, and the building owner repays it through an assessment on their property tax.
If you decide that solar power is something you’re ready to invest in, the following can help you get started.
Continue to learn about solar power. One of the first steps is to improve your knowledge about solar power. This can help you make informed decisions going forward. Lets Go Solar is a good place to start. They even have a pages with information for each state for more local information.
Define project goals. Determine what your objectives are. Outlining your goals enables the solar provider to tailor their work to your needs.3
Select a solar provider. Search your area for solar providers, and submit RFPs (requests for proposals) to the solar providers that match your requirements. As mentioned above, check out Lets Go Solar for a list of solar panel companies in your state. Once you have a solar provider, they can help you with the rest of the process. They will first conduct a site audit to determine the ideal location, orientation, and size and energy production.
By going solar, you are making an important decision that benefits you and your building as well as our environment. With more buildings choosing to use solar power, we have a bright future ahead of us.
1 – Guide to Commercial Solar Panels
2 – LEED Credits for Renewable Energy Initiatives
3 – Better Buildings US Department of Energy 7 Steps to Selecting a Solar Provider https://betterbuildingssolutioncenter.energy.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/Provider_Selection_Guide_Factsheet.pdf
4 – US Solar Market Grows 95% in 2016, Smashes Records