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Can solar energy be affordable and reliable?

5 Things to Know Before Investing

KPRC 2 Investigates answer all of your questions about solar panels
KPRC 2 Investigates answer all of your questions about solar panels

Houston, TX – Texans in search of reliable energy are increasingly turning to solar panels to power their homes.

In the United States, solar energy consumption increased nearly six-fold between 2012 and 2018. The availability has also made it more affordable for many people who are looking for other energy options.

But is it right for you and your home? KPRC 2 Investigates spoke with experts about everything between reliability and the affordability of solar energy.

Is using solar panels reliable enough to be off the grid?

The 2021 winter storm and the recent threat of a summer energy blackout raised questions about the reliability of solar panels powering homes.

Gage Mueller, a salesperson for SunPro Solar, says solar energy is reliable, but there’s a caveat; Solar panels rely on the grid to power homes. Homes must be connected to the electrical grid, despite using solar panels. The panels produce the first source of electricity, but when they aren’t, homes are powered by electricity from the grid.

“Solar does, by itself, (but) does not continue to provide power to your home like a generator would,” said Fred Anders with Texas Power Guide. “If you couple it with a battery storage system, then it is capable of doing that.”

During an outage situation, a battery could power refrigerators, televisions, ceiling fans and allow you to charge your phone.

“If you’re looking to power an air conditioner unit, something that’s a bigger draw, you would need multiple batteries,” said Mueller.

Although battery backups are recommended by many experts, the costs to purchase and install even one battery is significant.

Are there hidden costs of solar panels?

Investing in solar panels can be daunting, but because the demand has increased, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports costs sank by over 75% between 2010 and 2018.

Experts also tell us that the investment upfront is paid off through smaller energy bills.

KPRC 2 Investigates learned there are other costs to consider before investing in solar energy.

  1. Solar Panels
  2. Micro Inverters
  3. Homeowners Association Permits
  4. City Permits
  5. Utilities

Are solar panels affordable?

As they grow in popularity, solar panels costs have decreased, but the upfront investment could put many off.

You can pay everything upfront or finance it, similar to a car note. It includes the cost of solar panels and other costs.

“The way I look at it is, you’re deciding to pay for all your electricity for the next 25 years upfront or with a loan,” said Dori Wolfe, a coordinator with Solar United Neighbors. “Anybody who invests, who decides to get solar in Texas, depending on what they’re paying for electricity right now, can look somewhere between a 10 to 15-year payback.”

Solar United Neighbors is a new option for neighborhoods to consider. Wolfe says the nonprofit helps educate people about the components and process of going solar through a co-op model. The group secures offers from solar panel companies and presents them to the neighborhood, but it’s up to each individual to decide whether they’ll invest.

Wolfe says the co-op model reduces barriers to access solar energy and helps bring down the average costs because it becomes a competitive bid process.

Experts also say buyers may qualify for a federal tax incentive of 26%. The incentive works like a credit, which means not everyone will qualify.

Mueller with Solar Pro says it is a misconception that everyone is eligible for the tax incentive. He urges people to talk with a CPA and homeowners insurance to ensure everything is in order before signing a contract to buy solar panels.

How much money can I save using solar panels on my home?

The upfront costs of going solar can be overwhelming, but experts say it’s paid back through lower electricity bills.

Using solar panels still requires people to be connected to the electrical grid and establish that with an electric company.

Experts say the goal is to produce enough solar energy to power your home and minimize the use of electricity from the grid. This could reduce an electric bill to $0 if enough energy is produced.

Some of those companies offer buyback, net metering or credit plans for the excessive energy solar panels may produce that goes back to the electrical grid.

Anders says there are roughly 10 electricity providers that will compensate for extra energy produced by solar panels. But the state of Texas does not require electric companies to compensate people for that energy.

“You’re pretty much at the mercy of the retailers to voluntarily offer plans that would pay you that check,” said Anders.

Do solar panels work on a cloudy day?

Solar panels rely on the sun, but that doesn’t mean they won’t produce energy on cloudy days.

“Solar works no different than you going to the beach on a sunny or a cloudy day and getting a sunburn. It’s using the UV rays,” said Mueller.

The energy production may be lower on cloudy days, but Mueller says the panels will still produce power.