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Green Building News

Solar Panels Are Now a ‘No-Brainer’

Just like granite countertops, residential PV systems are becoming a standard option for home buyers

Solar panels are becoming as common as granite countertops. Six of the country's largest home builders now include photovoltaic systems in new construction. This near net-zero home is in Wells, Maine.
Image Credit: Scott Gibson

Photovolatic (PV) arrays are becoming a standard feature in new houses, just as granite countertops once made the transition from expensive novelty to mainstream amenity, according to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek.

The report said that six of the country’s ten biggest home-building companies are now including photovoltaic panels in new construction, while the Solar Energy Industries Association is predicting that demand for solar installations will climb 56% this year alone.

Jim Petersen, CEO of a roofing and solar contracting company, said the cost of the systems are simply rolled into the mortgage “like any other feature.” Including the solar arrays during construction is about 20% cheaper than adding them later.

Costs are falling

Tom Werner, CEO of California-based SunPower, said a 3-kW system, big enough for a typical mid-size house, could be purchased for $15,000, Businessweek said. Costs have declined sharply over the last several years, falling to about $4.93 per watt in the first quarter of the year, 16% lower than a year earlier, the article said.

“You embed it into your home mortgage, you’re cash-flow positive month one,” Werner told Businessweek. “We’re rapidly passing the equivalent of a ‘countertops decision’ to a ‘no-brainer.’ You just do it.”

Solarbuzz, a solar market research company, reported earlier this year that PV installations in the U.S. now exceed 10 gigawatts, with 1.8 gigawatts installed in the first half of 2013.

“Average installed system prices in the U.S. have declined from around $6/watt two years ago to approximately $4.25/watt for residential installations and $3/watt for large utility-scale PV projects today,” Solarbuzz said in July.

5 Comments

  1. Steve Knapp CZ 3A Georgia | | #1

    Is it a "no-brainer"
    Maybe in California or other high-cost areas. I really wanted to include solar on my new build but couldn't make the numbers work in Georgia. Our power rates are simply too low for any kind of reasonable ROI.

  2. Eric Sandeen | | #2

    ROI on solar for a new build
    Steven -

    What was the ROI on your countertops, wood floors, deck, etc?

    But honestly, I am sympathetic - we're in a similar situation, spending a ton on a renovation, and somehow spending 2-3% of the total towards more solar seems like a stretch that's hard to make. And I'm a solar evangelist! I can't really explain it, but somehow cabinet upgrades seemed like a no-brainer, and solar was a stretch. And I'm telling you, there's no ROI on the cabinets. :)

    Getting it included in the cost right up front & rolled into the mortgage does seem like a way to make it much more painless.

  3. Steve Knapp CZ 3A Georgia | | #3

    ROI
    Hi Eric:

    I take your point. But the companies that sell solar systems always stress the ROI. A 7kW system runs between $14,835 and $20,742 after rebates, according to a reputable installer. I'd love to install one, but it would take a very long time to cover the cost at 8 cents a kilowatt hour. Even so, I am making my house solar ready and keeping my south-facing roof clear of obstruction just in case rates increase and/or system costs decline sufficiently to justify the investment.

  4. Kevin Dickson, MSME | | #4

    Solar ROI
    Steven,

    Another way to look at it is quoted above: "You embed it into your home mortgage, you're cash-flow positive month one" . What you are doing is calling up a provider and saying "I want PV", which is very little work. The benefit: lower total monthly expenses, right from the start. Even though your mortgage is $14k higher, the solar makes the house worth at least $14k more than without solar.

    I think Scott is right, it's a "no-brainer" while interest rates are low.

  5. Mike Collignon | | #5

    Resale value + ROI
    Kevin hit on something very important. The resale value bump is there from the start. Sandia Labs' PV Value tool will help demonstrate (to appraisers, real estate agents, homeowners, etc.) just how much.

    Also, it's not just about offsetting your personal usage. Do your utilities give you a credit for surplus production, in case you're net positive?

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