What You Need to Know to Go Solar in Massachusetts
Thanks to a fairly high solar resource and great state policies, Massachusetts is one of the best solar markets in the country. Solar energy is today the most cost-effective way for homes, businesses, and institutions in Massachusetts to get control over their energy bills and lock in a reliable cost of energy from a proven solution: the sun.
How Solar Power Works in Massachusetts
It may not seem it in the midst of a winter storm, but Massachusetts actually receives quite an incredible amount of solar energy each year – in fact, a full 33% more sunshine than Germany, the world leader in solar energy adoption. Our climate may be cold, but cold is actually good for solar panels. In the brisk but sunny fall and spring, solar panels in Massachusetts will produce a disproportionately high amount of power, helping to make up for any power loss due to solar panels being covered in snow.
Folks from Massachusetts going solar have a few options, the most popular is a grid-tied solar electric array.
‘Grid tied’ means that the system will connect to the public utility grid, providing reliable backup power for when there is insufficient sun to power your home, such as at night or on cloudy days. Conversely, a grid-tied system also sells excess power to the grid, meaning, when it is sunny and your system is producing more solar power than you can use, you’ll send the power back to the public grid, powering your neighbor’s house and earning you a credit. The solar credits you earn can be used against future power consumption from the grid.
Most of the systems we design will meet close to 100% of a home’s needs in a given year. In the summer, you will tend to produce more power than you need and you will earn a credit. In the winter, you will tend to need more power than you produce and so you’ll consume those solar credits. At the end of the year, you should be at or close to zero credits in the solar bank, a situation we call ‘net zero’ (not to be confused with ‘off-grid,’ which means not using the utility grid at all!).
What About this SREC/Net Metering Thing, am I Okay?
Solar policy changes very fast in Massachusetts, but as of now (April 2016) the SREC-II program is available for systems under 25kw in size. This is great news since the terms of SREC-II are great for the residential solar generator. You can shave down the rate of return for a solar investment by opting to sell your Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) to a broker in Massachusetts. More on that below.
I Heard You Can Heat with Solar, is that True?
Yes! Sort of. You can heat your home with electricity, which can be provided by solar. The best way to heat a home using electricity is with an air source heat pump (also called a ‘mini-split’).
Solar-powered heat pumps extract heat from the outside air even at very low temperatures (-10F) and move this heat into your home through a reverse refrigeration cycle (imagine if you took a window air conditioner and flipped it around). Because they extract heat from the air rather than directly heating indoor air, they operate 2-3x more efficiently than electric baseboard heaters. In the summertime, the system runs in reverse, extracting heat from your home and moving it inside, cooling your home at a rate 2x more efficient than window air conditioners.
The result? A heating system that can run on sunshine for the equivalent of $0.89/gallon for heating oil!
How Much Does it Cost? (and what are the incentives?)
The easiest thing to do is to open up our solar calculator which will show different size systems and how the pricing varies.
Here’s an example break-down of a standard rooftop mount 6.2kw solar electric array (24 panels). This system will produce around 7,800 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, enough to meet 100% of the needs of many homes.
$24,800 gross installed cost
– ($7,440) 30% federal tax credit
$17,360 total MA solar investment
Say you pay 16 cents per kilowatt-hour now for electricity, by saving you $1,750/yr + SREC benefits ~$1,/yr for the first 10 years, the system will have paid for its installation cost in roughly 5 years, and will continue producing free power for the next 20+ years. Solar power equipment is warrantied for 25 years, and we expect it to last for more like 40+ years.
What about RECs?
The ‘green’ properties of your solar array have value and can be sold for additional revenue. For every 1,000 kilowatt-hours, a solar customer earns a Solar Renewable Energy Credit, or SREC. SRECs are a special high-value solar REC that can be sold by Massachusetts solar generators to Massachusetts utilities for a premium, roughly $200 per REC in Massachusetts (though it is a market based price so it can change widely). So for example, the above system would generate 7 RECs per year (7,800 / 1,000 = 7.8) worth 7 * $250 = $1,750 in additional revenue each year.
How Do I Get Started?
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