We all want clean, renewable and economical energy, so where are the solar sweet spots?
Utility Scale Solar Electric Systems: Obviously, the utility scale solar systems that the Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) has been installing is one sweet spot, our community owned utility has already created a 70-megawatt system with another 100-megawatts being built for enough combined electricity to power 31,000 homes for a year. Utility scale solar and wind electric frequently cost less than electric from natural gas and coal.
Home Solar Electric Systems:
The federal government provides a 30% tax credit, and CSU provides 25 cents per KWH rebate, net metering, and there is no increase in property taxes. On a typical 7 KW system costing $22,000 less 30% $6,162, less rebate $1,559 = $14,400, which works out to a return on investment of about 10%. Savings accounts, IRAs, and similar low risk investments usually provide a less than 1% return. The net savings over 25 years is about $29,000 – $38,000. The main components in solar electric systems are often warranted for 25 years or more and require very little maintenance. The panels are likely to continue producing substantial electricity for far more than 25 years, and can also increase the value of your home, in this case roughly $10,250.
Under net metering, the electricity a home owner produces above what is used is credited at full retail price back to the customer for use later when more electricity is needed in the home. The grid is in effect being used like a battery at no charge from the utility. When solar systems on homes are first installed, home owners and installers alike love to see the solar (REC) meter begin to spin as the system produces electricity from the sun that will never go up in price! No money down loans are available.
Passive Solar New Homes:
When building a new home, the combination of passive solar design (south facing windows with energy storage in concrete floors and multi-layered drywall on walls), extremely low air leakage allowance, and heavy insulation can combine to make the home so efficient that it requires very little or no heat; and the backup can be an air to air heat pump run on electricity from thee solar electric system (stored, when needed, on the grid).
Electric Cars & Trucks:
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, transportation is the single largest source of air pollution in the nation.
The federal government and the state of Colorado now have substantial incentives for both 100% electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHE). The federal government offers a tax credit of $7,500 for 100% EVs, and $4,000 or more for PHE vehicles. The financial savings from these very clean running vehicles can add up rather quickly over say five years, and electric vehicles are very low maintenance. If you have a solar electric system on your home, then your electricity to run your vehicle will eventually cost you nothing! There are also an increasing number of EV charging stations in Colorado Springs that are free.
The number of miles you can drive on a single charge using an EV varies and has substantially increased over the past few years. Some two car families will purchase a PHE vehicle, or a fuel-efficient gas vehicle, that can be used for long trips, and an EV for local driving. Single car families that need to drive long distances can purchase a PHE vehicle, some of which can run over 600 miles before needing to charge or fuel up.
Blooomberg New Energy Finance, Marklines, predicts that “…by 2022 electric vehicles will cost the same as their internal combustion counterparts.”
Commercial Solar Electric Systems:
As with solar electric systems on homes, businesses also have access to a 30% federal solar tax credit, the CSU 25 cents per watt rebate and net metering. In addition, commercial solar electric systems can take advantage of substantial accelerated depreciation. The return on investment can be like those on homes if the price for electricity is not too low. Large businesses, especially industrial scale, have low electric rates, thus are less likely to be a solar sweet spot. The lower the electrical rate, the less money per watt a solar system can save a business. So, the sweet spot generally for businesses is in the small to medium range, although there are some large businesses that can benefit from solar electric, if the solar system can reduce the demand charges.
Commercial Solar Hot Water Heating:
Some businesses use substantial amounts of hot water year-round, such as apartment buildings and commercial laundromats. These solar hot water heating systems also qualify for the 30% federal tax credit, accelerated depreciation, and CSU provides some rebate money for solar hot water heating.
Replacing Propane With Solar Electric or Solar Heating:
Since propane cost a lot more than natural gas, home owners and businesses that use propane can often save significant money by having either a solar electric, or a solar heating, system installed.
Colorado Dermatology Institute Solar Electric System:
The Colorado Dermatology Institute has contracted with RMSWI to have a 54KWDC (182 panels) solar system installed on its roof during 2019 using very advanced North American made Silfab 295-watt bifacial panels with a 30-year production warranty. The bifacial characteristic of these panels combined with bifacial racking and new white roofing add another 13% to the output of the system. System price $221,000, after incentives = $90,509, ROI, 8%, the net savings over 35 years is roughly $300,000-$345,000. Estimated increased property value $80,000. This is likely the first bifacial solar electric system ever installed in Colorado Springs.