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Solar Fred Insights: All Solar is Local

Today, someone from Gambia visited my site. Where the heck is Gambia? Turns out that it’s a tiny sliver of a country in Africa. This visit reminds me that all solar is local, especially when it comes to the costs.

How local is solar? It’s not just your city, your little town, or even your house. In some ways, the cost comes down to your head, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

First let’s take solar costs from the broadest perspective.

Your country matters . Most visitors to this website are from the good ol’ USA, which currently provides every tax paying entity a 30% Federal tax credit towards their solar purchase. That’s not cash to a tax payer who doesn’t owe anything in taxes every year, but it’s great for those who do owe taxes. However, if you live in Germany and Spain, it doesn’t matter what tax bracket you’re in. Those countries have gone gonzo for solar because of legislation and incentives that pretty much pays people to get off coal and buy solar, making solar very affordable for anyone with the right solar conditions.

Your state matters. Your state matters not so much because it gets or doesn’t get a lot of sun. Geographical location certainly is a cost and payback factor due to sunlight, altitude and temperature, but not as much as you might think. Germany and Spain and Canada all receive less average hours of daily sunlight than the U.S. Yet those 4 or so hours a day are plenty to make solar worthwhile because of their incentive programs. So, the real reason why your state matters is not sun, but solar friendly laws and solar friendly subsidies. How do you know if your state has subsidies? See this government sponsored website or better yet, just get a free quote from a local dealer who will know what’s coming to you.

Your utility matters: The other element that differs among states and local utilities is “Net metering.” Net metering is the most important law a state can have for solar because it allows you to go solar without batteries. Instead, you remain connected to the grid. Your utility keeps track of any extra energy you produce, then credits you on your bill. At night, the utility gives you back the power you banked with them. In some states, you can sell your daytime “peak” power to the utility at a high rate, and then buy it back at a cheaper night time rate. That’s called Time of Use. Another variable factor is what happens at the end of the year. With some utilities and states, if your solar panels have generated more power than you’ve actually used during the year, you get paid a wholesale rate for your extra solar power that you never really used. In other states, the utility is only required to zero out your bill. These laws also differ between utilities within states. So clearly….

Your city and and town matter.
Your town or county or city can deter solar or help solar through subsidies and loan programs, of course. But they can also deter or inspire solar through enforcing archaic building codes that don’t apply to solar. They can require high permit fees…or low ones. They can require extra, more expensive equipment that aren’t used in other towns and states…and may not be necessary. They can require aesthetic requirements, forbidding solar panels to be visible to the street. In many cases, these codes and laws are passed and enforced out of ignorance…or because the town is influenced by politics and anti-solar businesses…. like the coal fired utility who wants to keep you as a steady customer, not a part time solar customer.

Your home matters. Here in the U.S., solar panels are most effective when facing South, South West or South East. Your roof’s angle and any shading will also effect cost, not to mention the type of roof that you have. Of course, the biggest home cost factor is the amount of energy you and your family require. Obviously, the more power you need, the more expensive your system will be–up front. Ironically, if you buy a lot of solar panels to offset your high electric bills, the payback of your system from reduced electric bills is much faster than someone who only needed a few solar panels to offset lower power needs.

It matters what’s in your head. I said solar is local to your head, and it’s not because you’ve got more or less hair. It’s because only you can decide to spend an afternoon to get a few quotes from some local solar people. Many feel they can wait until prices come down. The truth is that as prices come down, so do many state subsidies, so the consumer will still pay about the same amount. It’s just that the price won’t be as subsidized by state and local governments. Others feel the technology will get better. It will, that’s true, but not significantly in the next 10 years. Solar’s not like computer chips and Moore’s law. Trust me. You’ll be losing out on saving the planet and saving money as electric rates rise if you wait until solar technology is significantly better than it is now. Solar Fred wouldn’t lie to you. Really. I wouldn’t.

So remember: All Solar is local…and always will be. Now that you know that, might as well get a local solar quote, no? Yes. Click me here.

Last modified: December 28, 2018

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sandiegocountysolarECD FanTor a.k.a. "Solar Fred"Ken Oatman Recent comment authors
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Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred"
Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred"

Hi, Mike. Thanks for commenting. I've rephrased. I guess it depends on what you call "middle class" and how much of that tax credit can apply. If you get $6,000 as a solar tax credit, but only owe $1500 in taxes on April 15th, you'll still have $4500 to be used for the following years's taxes. You can't get the $4500 as a cash refund. If you could, it would help people in lower tax brackets get payback faster for their solar. Guess what I meant in a short handed way was that the 30% Federal tax credit may not… Read more »


Dear Solar Fred,I recently began reading your blog and appreciate the effort. There's just one thing I'll take issue with in this post – the 30% tax credit is a tremendous plus for middle class taxpayers.Keep up the good work.-Solar Mike


Actually, we don't have to wait till the technology is better. All we have to wait is for modules to become much cheaper, as they inevitably will as soon as the fire sales start. The bubble has burst.

Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred"
Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred"

Very kind, Ken. Solar Fred is blushing. Thanks so much for your thoughts and YOUR work actually on the Street installing solar. Words don't put up solar panels, so for anyone in the Boulder, Colorado area needing solar, please get a quote from Ken Oatman at again, Ken.

Ken Oatman
Ken Oatman

This is _Classic_ SolarFred: Written in delightful prose, flattening the learning curve on a complex topic. You are the very definition of a solar populist, exactly what this country needs, IMHO of course. Thank you for your increasing contributions to the photovoltaic cause.SOMEBODY needs to break this subject down for Middle America.


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