What’s the Average Cost of Solar Across the US, With a Focus on New York and California? The Green Living Guy Investigates.

A solar installation crew hard at work in New York – photo courtesy of Kasselman Solar
A solar installation crew hard at work in New York – photo courtesy of Kasselman Solar

Solar has gone from being an expensive rarity to a common sight on rooftops in many places across the country. As a result, homeowners have switched from asking if solar is actually worth it to how much it costs. 

Unfortunately, determining how much solar would actually cost for your home isn’t simple. To give homeowners a better idea of true prices out there, Green Living Guy decided to do some research! 
First off, why is determining the cost of solar so difficult? There are several reasons for this:

1) Not all homes use the same amount of energy – this can even be true of homes that are right next to each other.

2) Different homes have different roof angles and receive different amounts of sun.

3) Rebates and incentives change from state to state, and even utility to utility.

4) Installers don’t tend to publish their prices, and pricing can vary widely from one installer to another for the same panels.

5) Prices have been dropping rapidly for the past ten years, making price studies from only a few years back completely inaccurate.

So how are homeowners supposed to know even a general ballpark for prices when considering purchasing solar? Well, we went looking better information, and we found several recent studies that help shed light on the actual cost of installing solar.

We looked at studies from both Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a federally-funded laboratory which does a large amount of research on all kinds of energy, and Solar to the People, an independent marketplace site that evaluates solar installers and publishes educational studies for homeowners.

The Lawrence Berkeley study looks at solar costs across the entire US, and is quite an in-depth study – 

Here are our takeaways from the Lawrence Berkeley study:

1) Residential solar prices have dropped enormously across the country in the past decade

– Home solar prices have dropped roughly 55% from 2005 to 2015. The average price of an installed watt of home solar in 2005 was $9.04. In 2015 installing that same watt cost $4.05.

Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016
Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016

2) The prices that homeowners pay per installed watt of installed solar within states varies– as you can see in the graph below, people pay a wide range of prices for each installed watt. So prices vary not only ACROSS states (you can see that California prices in 2015 are almost 20% HIGHER than New Jersey prices), but WITHIN states – we were surprised to the extent that homeowners within a state paid such different amounts per watt of installed solar. 

Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016
Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016

All this variation between states got us thinking – how much do installations cost overall versus just on a per-watt basis, and are there differences across regions WITHIN states?

For this part of our research, we turned to several studies that looked at two of the most popular places to install solar nationwide – California and New York. Lo and behold, it turns out that there are large variations within states, and you could be paying significantly more or less for solar than the state average depending on the region you live in.

We dug into Solar to the People’s study on the cost of solar panels in New York to understand how prices for home solar varied across the Empire State in the first six months of 2016. We were shocked to see the large variations you can see in the infographic below.

Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016
Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016

According to the data collected by Solar to the People, the average price for a home solar installation in New York state in the first half of 2016 was $16,426. Regional prices varied heavily for a full installation of home solar panels from a low of $12,361 in the Ithaca area to a high of $21,104 for solar on Long Island. The reasons for these price differences were primarily due the differences in state incentives. This incentive program is called the NY-Sun residential rebate program and is still available and going strong for upstate New York (where Ithaca is located), but is no longer available in Long Island. Long Island homeowners continue to go solar regardless, as they live in one of the highest cost areas for electricity in the country. 
Of course, there’s no way we can discuss regional solar costs without looking at the reigning king of home solar installations, California. We looked at Solar to the People’s California study to get some insight into if there are regional differences in the cost of installing solar in California. According to the study, the average cost of a home solar installation in California in 2015 was $18,675. 

Yet again, we saw there were sizable difference between the least and most expensive regions, though not nearly as large as New York. On average the highest-cost area for Solar in California was the Redding and Shasta / Cascades area at $20,698, and the least expensive was the Central Coast at $16,212. The differences in these prices seemed to be almost exclusively due to the size differences between installations in those two areas. The prices for home solar in the majority of the regions in the Golden State seemed to hover around the statewide average, like San Diego at $18,540 and Orange County at $18,866.

 

Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016
Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016

Hopefully our research has helped you understand a bit more about the national and regional costs of home solar installations! We think that knowledge is power that giving homeowners accurate information on solar is essential to help the renewable energy revolution keep on steaming ahead!

The Impact of Solar Power: Don’t Waste It

Every time I sit down to write about the energy industry these days, I simply can’t help myself.  
Each time, I want to start the article by slapping myself on the forehead and exclaiming: “Who’d
a thunk it?” The changes in the energy field are coming so fast and furious that pipe dreams from
just a decade ago are becoming a reality right before our very eyes.

Think about it like this. If you install a solar panel on your roof and put grid tie inverters to work,
you have done what generations of Americans never dreamed possible: Contributed to the national energy pool. 

Solar power 

I typed in “growth in wind power” in a Google search and the first two words I read were these “
wind industry.” Those two words were never linked together before. Now there is a “sun industry” and a “wind industry.” There is also a growing “tide industry,” from generators that harness the movement of the ocean. There is a “geo-thermal industry” that centers around harnessing underground heat and underground cooling. These were dreams 10 years ago. Now
they are industries.  

Wind power's growth is even more phenomenal. According to the Energy Department, wind power capacity installed in 2000 was 2.53 gigawatts across four states. By 2020 that is expected to reach 113.43 GW across 36 states. By 2050, it is expected to reach 404.25 GW in 48 states.
Here are some numbers to contemplate. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the growth in solar power generation in 2016 alone was projected to reach 119 percent. Wind power’s growth is even more phenomenal. According to the Energy Department, wind power capacity installed in 2000 was 2.53 gigawatts across four states. By 2020 that is expected to reach 113.43 GW across 36 states. By 2050, it is expected to reach 404.25 GW in 48 states.  

Electric cars, of course, is the frustrating industry that seems to be in a stall. In time, this will
revive itself, perhaps someday during the next White House administration. But President Obama did his best to push automakers into a new mindset and he certainly succeeded. As of 2013, cars on U.S. roads averaged a previously unheard of 23.6 miles per gallon. You see all those tiny cars out there. The land of trucks is turning into a land of tweaky, tiny cars. All to the better.  

Back to the solar panel and grid tie inverters….this works two ways. You can go off-grid by disconnecting (or simply not using) any electricity provided to you from your local utility. This has obvious benefits. Your electricity usage no longer supports the burning of fossil fuels that contribute dangerously to global warming. Your electric bills drop or disappear. All to the better. 

Back to the solar panel and grid tie inverters....this works two ways. You can go off-grid by disconnecting (or simply not using) any electricity provided to you from your local utility. This has obvious benefits. Your electricity usage no longer supports the burning of fossil fuels that contribute dangerously to global warming. Your electric bills drop or disappear.
But not so fast. Two of the least understood – and almost never predicted – phenomena in the energy market is that improvements in the efficiency of appliances, motors and heating and cooling units have become one of the most important contributors to the stall in national demand growth for electricity. People are not using few electronic devices, but just the opposite.  

Nevertheless, our devices – televisions, radios, refrigerators – are so much more efficient than before that utility companies are scaling back on new coal and oil-burning plants more than
anyone anticipated. That’s all to the better, too.  

The second phenomenon – the flip side of efficiency – is waste. Let’s imagine that half the people in the country went off-grid. They simply produced their own electricity. Well, they are either going to produce too much or too little electricity and the obvious option is to produce too much because too little means sacrificing quality of life. So, off grid consumers will produce too much and allow the excess to go unclaimed. Once their private batteries are full, their solar panels will be idle. The sun will shine and energy harvesting will stop.

This is inherently a wasted opportunity. Users who stay connected to the grid will benefit themselves, by selling their excess to the utility company, and they will benefit mankind and the planet, but lowering the need to produce electricity with fossil fuels.

Just taking your home off line or off grid seems sensible, but it under-utilizes the impact an individual could have on the planet. 

Top 6 US Cities for Living a Green Lifestyle

Living a green lifestyle means managing your waste, recycling efficiently, making environmentally-friendly transportation choices, buying local and organic goods, utilizing alternative forms of energy and reducing your overall carbon footprint. Going green becomes easier when you’re surrounded by a community that works together and supports each other to make the right choices. Here are six of the top U.S. cities that will compliment your green lifestyle.

New York City, New York

With 56 percent of commuters using public transportation, the majority of New York City residents are passing on carbon emitting means of transportation and implementing green options into their everyday lives. If you’re considering moving to the city or want to move into a green apartment, ForRent.com can lead you to LEED certified buildings with roof gardens, central-air filtration, a natural gas-fired cooling system, energy efficient elevators or solar shades, just to name a few.

Austin, Texas

Although an ambitious goal, the city aims to be carbon neutral by 2020 meaning the entire city will be powered on strictly clean energy. This, along with their 206 parks, 12 preserves, 26 greenbelts and 50+ miles of trails, means the city of Austin is serving as a great role model for residents while providing them with tons of green space to make use of.

Chicago, Illinois

This city is considered one of the first pioneers of sustainable practices, beginning in 1909 with city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham, who provided the city with a long-term plan that balanced urban growth and protecting the lakefront. More recently, the Chicago Green Roof Program has converted more than 2.5 million square-feet of city roofs to green spaces that support plant life.

Seattle, Washington

Many residents here have installed or plan to install solar panels on their homes thanks to the city’s incentive program that promotes energy conservation. Seattle also participates in city-wide composting of food scraps and yard waste, regulated by the Seattle public utilities department, eliminating 20-30 percent of waste that would normally end up in landfills.

San Francisco, California

This city has fine tuned their recycling program and has even added an artistic twist with an artist-in-residence at the recycling facility who creates work to inspire residents to continue recycling and properly manage their waste. Most residents living in the city do not use personal vehicles thanks to San Francisco’s numerous bike lanes, great public transportation system and overall walkability. For those who might need to utilize a vehicle every once in awhile; ride-sharing is a great way to get around while carpooling with others or you can hail one of the city’s hybrid cabs. As of the recent election, the entire state of California has banned plastic bags. However, San Francisco was the first U.S. city to adopt the ban and continues to serve as a great example for other cities going green.

Portland, Oregon

Deemed the most bikeable city in the U.S., Portland encourages their residents to skip gas-powered travel and provides them 200 miles of dedicated bike lanes to ensure their safety. For Portland residents, sustainability starts within their homes and many residents install container gardens, make their own cheese, keep bees, care for their own chickens and so much more. Even if you decide to dine-out in Portland, restaurants offer vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, locally sourced and organic options.

If you’re looking for a city that not only embraces, but also makes your eco-conscious lifestyle easier, any of the above six are great choices.

Top 6 Solar Business Opportunities

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently unveiled rooftop solar panels that look exactly like roof tiles. That sort of creative thinking has allowed companies like Tesla to leapfrog energy giants and take advantage of the biggest business opportunity in centuries – the solar energy boom.

There is absolutely no doubt that solar energy will contribute a substantial portion of the world’s energy by the end of the decade. So, what sort of opportunities does this paradigm shift offer to entrepreneurs? Here are the top six best solar business opportunities: 

Solar panels

Product Marketing

Tesla isn’t likely to be the only player in the innovative solar products space. There’s a ton of players in the market already and many of them will have different products that will need to be marketed. Online marketing experts and affiliates could get involved and start selling products right away. There are a number of affiliate programs for solar products out there right now. Or you could simply set up a blog or marketing site for solar products on Amazon. 

Auditor

Here’s an interesting business opportunity if you’re good with numbers. Homeowners and businesses will need guidance on cutting their bills and finding energy efficient products. A service that puts the numbers together and evaluates the potential capacity for energy generation will most likely be in hot demand.

Solar areays

Consultant

The best way to get involved with upcoming technology is to be a consultant. Businesses and individuals will need some guidance on setting up big solar projects and generating energy. Your insights and analysis could be invaluable if you hire experts from the industry. You could also simply focus on the financial products and offer investors guidance on investing in solar stocks or ETFs.

 Solar Farm Developer

Solar panels on rooftops are alright for many homes, but they won’t be the best solution for industrial properties or regions where the sun doesn’t always shine. These properties will have to rely on massive solar farms that connect them up with the grid. Developing or leasing out parcels of land converted into solar farms is perhaps the biggest business opportunity in this industry. 

Landowners and property developers are already cashing in and building out massive solar farms in the middle of nowhere. 

There’s no reason a small contractor can’t get involved.


Panel Cleaning & Repair

Panels will eventually need repairs and regular cleaning services. As the number of panels across the world expands, a quick and affordable cleaning service that specializes in solar panels could stand to benefit. Setting up such an operation is relatively simple and this is the sort of business model that promises regular cash flows from long-term contracts.

Every new technology brings with it a lot of opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs. The solar energy boom is well underway right now, so there really cannot be a better time to get involved.

First solar farm in community renewable energy project joins the grid Down Under

THE first commercial solar farm in a project aiming to provide options for Australia’s struggling vignerons has gone live.

The 187kw site in the South Australian town of Renmark was switched on to the electricity grid on September 26.

It is the first of three similar-sized sites expected to be up and running before the end of the year.

Renmark–based Yates Electrical Services began its Red Mud project this year and has been running a 180kw test site since February.

Since then, 80 potential sites have been assessed with 25 of them being deemed “rating one” because of their size, location, current use, zoning and electricity network connections are ideal.

The project aims to work with landowners to set up 100kw-200kw community-owned solar farms and sell the energy to Australia’s National Electricity Grid through the volatile wholesale spot market.

Managing Director Mark Yates said under the Red Mud project, landowners could lease their land to be used for a solar farm, lease the land and buy into a portion of the farm or choose to own the entire solar farm outright…
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