Solar Energy Becoming a Reality for Many Homeowners; Will You be Next?
Mar 31, 2015 03:00PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Although using solar energy to provide power for homes is not a new concept, for many years the technology to do so remained expensive. As a result, solar energy systems were often beyond homeowners’ means. But that is no longer the case. According to GTM Research/Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the cost of residential solar energy systems has decreased more than 50 percent since 2010. It appears
that right now is an ideal time for Maryland homeowners to consider upgrading to solar energy. Thanks to state programs offered by the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), installing solar energy systems is even more affordable. These programs are truly a game changer, and Maryland’s solar energy industry has shown significant growth since the programs were first implemented in 2005.
“Solar energy has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until MEA implemented state programs that it became a more accessible option for homeowners,” says Mark Manthy, manager of business development for Astrum Solar, the leading full-service residential solar provider headquartered in the eastern United States. “These programs really kick-started the solar energy industry in Maryland, and the industry will continue to grow as more and more homeowners go solar.”
Solar Energy 101
There are two types of solar energy systems: solar electric, which is also known as solar photovoltaic (PV), and solar thermal. Solar electric systems convert sunshine into electricity, while solar thermal systems use the sun’s energy to heat water. Both types of systems generate energy through solar panels installed on the roof of the home. These panels capture sunlight and convert it to clean, efficient electrical or thermal energy that provides homeowners energy savings year round. At night, homeowners rely on the local utility companies to provide electricity or heat water.
Both systems offer substantial savings to homeowners: Solar electric systems reduce the electric bill; solar thermal systems reduce the amount of electricity or natural gas necessary to heat water. In addition, any electrical energy generated by solar PV systems that homeowners don’t use returns to the utility grid and creates an electricity “credit” for them.
The size of a solar energy system depends on the amount of roof space available for the installation of solar panels as well as the homeowner’s budget. When determining size, three factors are considered: orientation (which direction the roof faces), shading, and roof structure (flat or angled). Obviously, larger systems generate more solar energy.
In order to help Maryland homeowners invest in solar energy, MEA offers a $1,000 grant per project to a homeowner who purchases a solar electric system and a $500 grant per project for solar thermal systems. And based on the data, these grants are definitely making an impact, and the response of homeowners has been positive. According to Marta Tomic, clean energy program manager for MEA, during the last fiscal year, MEA helped fund more than 1,200 residential solar energy systems (PV and thermal) and awarded $1.1 million in residential solar grants, which supported more than $35 million in economic activity.
“MEA has strong programs to support the installation of solar energy systems, and we want to help residents invest in clean, renewable energy,” Tomic says. “The quantity of applications for the last fiscal year indicates that homeowners want clean energy systems and that solar brings economic benefit to the state. Maryland is also ranked 12th in the nation for cumulative solar capacity per capita. These statistics are especially noteworthy because they indicate that Maryland has successful renewable energy policies that drive investment, and they also highlight how much progress we have made during the past decade.” Indeed, homeowners are definitely interested in going solar and realize it’s a wise investment that not only saves money and increases the value of their home but also benefits the environment. Harnessing the power of the sun provides a clean, safe, renewable, and reliable source of energy. Solar energy is also eco-friendly because it’s generated from the sun—not by burning fossil fuels. Homeowners understand the importance of renewable energy sources and want to do their part to help the environment.
Frank Smith, who lives in Glen Burnie, is just one of many Maryland homeowners who wants to make a difference and help the planet. Smith and his wife upgraded to solar energy in 2010 to reduce their electric bill. “Now that I am more environmentally aware, I feel that minimizing my carbon footprint is a better reason for going solar,” Smith says. “I love solar, and I feel so strongly about climate change and its effect on the future of humanity that I will use any and all motivations to encourage others to adopt solar. For those who deny climate change, I promote the money-savings aspect of solar. For those with children and grandchildren, I promote the benefit of leaving them with a cleaner, healthier planet.”
Apparently, the time has come to go solar. MEA’s programs, coupled with more affordable prices, are providing incentives for homeowners. Like Smith, many homeowners are investing in solar energy, and the increase in the number of installations is impressive. According to MEA, in 2007, only 77 residential solar energy systems were installed in Maryland. By the end of 2014, approximately 9,700 were installed. (These figures include PV and thermal systems.) In addition, more residential solar energy capacity (PV and thermal) was installed in 2014 than in 2012 and 2013 combined—another strong indication of the significant growth of the solar energy industry in Maryland.
In addition to financial assistance offered by MEA, there are also a number of other ways that homeowners can save money. Various third-party financial solutions are available that don’t require an up-front cost to install a solar energy system. But in exchange, homeowners enter into a long-term agreement that should offer savings on their electric bill. The federal government allows a 30 percent tax credit for installed solar energy systems, and local property tax credits vary by county. Homeowners can also create Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), which they can sell to utility companies—typically with the help of brokers. With so many incentives, now is definitely an ideal time for homeowners to go solar.
“A combination of successful state policies, programs, and initiatives has supported the tremendous growth of Maryland’s solar industry,” Tomic says. “MEA is proud of the 2,000 employees and 133 companies in Maryland’s solar industry. These individuals and businesses spur private investment, provide local economic benefits with each project, and help consumers generate wealth from their solar energy systems.”
For information about MEA and the programs offered and to learn more about renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, visit energy.maryland.gov or call 410-260-7655.
“Solar energy really has no downside,” Manthy notes. “It provides clean, affordable energy, benefits the environment, creates jobs, boosts the economy, helps save the polar bears. . . Solar energy does all of that. And as it becomes more affordable, it’s becoming a mainstream way to provide energy. It’s definitely the way of the future.”