Your 2020 guide to getting solar panels for your home in North Carolina
This page is a complete guide to the complicated and sometimes confusing process of installing solar panels on your North Carolina home. Since there's a lot to consider, we've separated the page into sections to help you find what you are looking for. If you find this page useful, please share it with someone who might also find it interesting!
** What's new for 2020 **
Duke energy continues to offer its gold rush-esque incentive program. Installations completed within 90 days of the beginning of the following year prompts dozens of installers to line up at the computer terminal to claim rewards as if they were attending an Elton John concert.
North Carolina’s major energy suppliers have met their Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) goals (we’ll get to exactly what an RPS is in just a second). The utilities have reined in their own solar incentives.
But it's not all bad news! Solar is cheaper than ever, and the cost and payback time of a solar system is better than in some states. The legislature could do more to ensure a sunny future for solar by strengthening the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, and renewing the expired state tax credit, but solar still makes a good deal of sense here.
Questions? Our network of solar experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page. You can get discounted on-grid pricing as low as $4,000/kW! This is paired with the North Carolina solar incentives you see below.
What you'll find on this page:
The Solar Strategy section is focused on the 3 ways of paying for solar in North Carolina, so you can decide which is best for you. We've created a tool that asks you a few questions and recommends whether you should pursue a solar lease, loan, or outright purchase. Then, we provide detailed analysis of how each works.
The Policy Information section contains all our latest research on the rules set by lawmakers and the Public Utilities Commission, which determine how easy it is to go solar in North Carolina. These policies and rules govern everything from renewable energy mandates to interconnection, and have a huge effect on the viability of solar.
Finally, the Solar Incentives section includes information about money-back rebates and grants, tax credits, and tax exemptions for going solar in North Carolina.
Click any of the boxes below to go to that section of the page, or scroll down to read the page in order.
|Your North Carolina Solar Strategy|
|North Carolina Solar Policy Information|
|North Carolina Solar Incentives|
|Your North Carolina Solar Strategy|
|Comparing Solar Investment Options|
|Paying Cash for Solar in North Carolina|
|Solar Loans in North Carolina|
|Solar PPAs in North Carolina|
|Solar Purchase Payback Time in North Carolina|
|North Carolina Solar Policy Information|
|Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)|
|RPS Solar Carve-Out|
Your Solar Strategy in North Carolina
Figuring out the best way to go solar in North Carolina can be a little daunting. From loans and leases to power-purchase agreements, there are a lot of options out there. To help you pick the one that might be best, we've created the handy decision tool below.
We'll ask you a few simple questions about you and your home. Once you're done, we'll recommend a good option. Further down this page, we provide cost estimates and example return-on-investment calculations for all the various options:
How to pay for solar panels in North Carolina
The chart above shows the 25-year returns for an investment in solar whether you choose to purchase a system with cash or pay over time with a loan. That might look a little complicated to you, so let's break it down:
The green bars show the return if you pay up front. As you can see, there's a big payment (negative) in year 1, which gets slowly erased by elecricity savings over time. The orange bars, on the other hand, show what happens if you take a solar loan or Home-Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) to pay for the system. You don't put any money down, and you still get the tax credit, meaning you actually come out ahead in year 1. The bars dip after year 6, because your loan payments (over a 15-year term) will exceed your energy savings by a little each year. Still, in the end, you'll come out thousands of dollars ahead over the 25-year estimate.
Finally, the blue bars represent a similar loan scenario, but for a smaller solar system. The loan and savings will be smaller, but it's a great way to go solar, even of you don't have a lot of cash or equity. Usually this is where we'd show you the savings with a solar Power-Purchase Agreement, but North Carolina is one of only 5 states in the country that ban third-party ownership.
There's still a lot to love about solar in the Tar Heel State. Read on to find out more about each option!
Option 1: Paying cash for solar
Paying up front used to be the only way to get panels on your roof, and it's still the option that allows you the most control. But it isn't the best option from a percentage return on investment standpoint—that award goes to the solar loan.
Still, an outright purchase returns the most money over time, because you own the system from day one and reap all the benefits—including a Federal solar tax credit of 30% of the costs, and some decent energy bill savings. In our example, you put down $16,250, but by the end of year 1, those incentives and energy savings will erase a bunch of it. Over 25 years, your system will have produced nearly $13,000 in income. You'll be earning that over time, just like putting money in a retirement account. Here's how solar compares to an alternative investment:
Here’s how the numbers work for a North Carolina solar purchase of a 5-kW rooftop solar system:
- Installing a typical 5-kW solar system should start at about $16,250.
- First, subtract your energy bill savings of $686, reducing your year-1 investment to $15,564.
- Since the Feds calculate their incentive based on out of pocket costs, you'll get 30% of that back as a tax credit. Subtract $4,875, for a new price of $10,689. Note: you can take the credit several years if you don't owe that much in Federal taxes this year.
- Your energy bill savings will grow over the life of your system as the price of electricity goes up. Your system will pay itself back after 14 years, and you'll end up with $12,926 profit at the end of your panels' 25-year warranty. The rate of return on this investment is 6.7%. That's pretty good!
- On top of those profits, your home's value just increased by just about $18,000, too (your expected electricity savings over 20 years)!
- And speaking of doing good for the environment... your system will create some green for the earth by not using electricity from fossil-fuels. In fact, the energy you’re not using has the carbon equivalent of planting 106 trees a year, every year your solar power system is humming.
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in North Carolina. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar panel system, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Option 2: Using a loan to pay for solar
This is where we tell you that taking a loan for solar panels is a no-brainer, because it means investing in an income-generating asset. It's true! As you can see from the chart above, you'll start out with a big windfall, because with a loan, you're not putting any money down, and you get the Federal 30% solar tax credit just like if you paid up front for your system.
You'll end up paying a little more for loan payments than you'll save on energy costs, but the key here is that you'll pay the loan off in year 15, and start saving tons of money every year after, because you'll own the system outright. You'll end up $7,540 to the good after 25 years, which is great for an investment where you put nothing down!
A solar purchase like this will make sense for you if the following is true about you and your current situation:
- You can qualify for a solar loan or home-equity line of credit (HELOC) for with a fixed rate of 4% or lower and a 15-year repayment period.
- You have an appetite for making a little money with a long-term investment, while also producing benefits for the environment.
Here’s how the numbers pencil out for a North Carolina solar purchase with a loan:
- Installing a typical 5-kW solar system should start at about $16,250. That's how big your loan will need to be to cover it.
- The electricity bill savings in the first year of operation will total $686, but your loan payments will be $1,442 for a difference of $756, or about $63 per month.
- Then comes the tax credit! The Feds will give you 30% of the cost of your system back at the end of the year; that's $4,875. After the first year, you'll come out $4,119 ahead, which will help eliminate the burden of loan payments.
- When your loan’s paid off after year 15, you’ll start to see over $1,000 per year in savings until the end of your system’s life.
- For our 25-year estimate, you'll see pretty nice returns, to the tune of $7,540 after all the payments. That's a huge amount of money for a zero-down investment!
- Finally, the environmental benefits cannot be overstated. Operating your system will take as much carbon out of the air as planting 104 trees every year!
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in North Carolina. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar loan, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Option 3: Buying the electricity, not the panels with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)
North Carolina does not offer solar Power Purchase Agreements or leases. Perhaps it would be a good idea to contact a solar advocacy organization and ask them to fight for solar in your state!
North Carolina Solar Policy Information
Ever wonder why solar seems to be everywhere in some states, but not in others? We did too.
State legislatures and public utilities commissions can enact rules to make solar power accessible for everyone. Favorable rules explain why some of the cloudiest states—New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, are doing so well with solar, and yet some of those with the most natural solar resources—like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia—are doing so poorly.
Below is important information about the public policy, rules, and economic reasons that affect your ability to go solar here in North Carolina:
North Carolina's Renewable Portfolio Standard
12.5% by 2021
A Renewables Portfolio Standard (“RPS”) requires utilities in the state to eventually source at least a certain percentage of their electricity from clean, renewable sources like solar panels.
North Carolina’s RPS, first passed in 2007, requires all investor-owned utilities to produce 12.5% renewable energy by 2021. Municipal utilities and electric cooperatives have a lower goal of 10% renewables by 2018. The RPS also includes a small carve-out for solar power of 0.2% by 2018. That ain’t much, but a mandate is a mandate.
In this case, though, the mandate has already been surpassed. North Carolina is one of the nation's top solar markets. As an addendum to this information, it's worth noting that in 2018, Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order mandating that the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40%. Though not an "RPS law" per se, this mandate will have a great effect on how much solar growth the state continues to see. Analysts at PV Magazine have identified electricity generation as the #1 place for reductions, meaning the potential for 25 gigawatts of new solar generation in North Carolina by 2025.
North Carolina's Solar carve-out and SRECs
.2% by 2020
The solar carve-out in North Carolina’s RPS states that 0.2% of the state’s electricity must be generated from solar by 2019. If you think that seems low, you’re right. The North Carolina solar carve out numbers have already been achieved by the state’s utilities. A strong RPS with an expanded carve out for solar would go a long way toward bringing better incentives to North Carolina homeowners again.
North Carolina Electricity Prices
The average cost of electricity here is 11 cents per kilowatt hour (“kWh”). That’s really cheap! Even cheaper than the national average of 13 cents/kWh. Why is energy so inexpensive? Oh, only because coal and other destructive fossil fuels are generating all that energy.
No biggie. NOT GOOD! When all of the fossil fuel we’re burning starts to catch up with us, new regulations and scarcity is going to cause energy prices to rise, and rise, and rise. All those rising rates are going to cost you boatloads! That is… unless you are making your own power from say, a solar power system.
North Carolina Net Metering
Statewide for big utils
North Carolina law requires all three of North Carolina’s largest electric utilities –Duke Energy, Progress Energy, and Dominion North Carolina Power– to make full retail rate net metering available to customers. So, any extra kilowatt hours you produce in a billing month are carried forward as a credit to your bill the next month at the full retail rate. That’s great!
What’s not so hot is that all unused credit transfers to the utility without compensation at the beginning of the summer season. You don’t get a check for your unused credits under the net metering law, the way you would in other programs.
We can’t be too hard on North Carolina individually, since that’s a shameful trend we’ve seen in a lot of states now, but we’re still not happy about it. Your surplus should be your surplus, no matter how long you hold on to it.
Of note, North Carolina has also made it easier for people with existing solar installations to add in battery storage, without having to wait in the interconnection queue all over again.
North Carolina Interconnection Rules
"Interconnection" refers to the rules that are in place about what needs to happen before you can get your solar system up and running with your utility company. North Carolina's interconnection policies are a mixed bag.
We like that small installations are eligible for fast track application status, but we don't like that the state leaves it up to utilities to decide whether they want to require redundant external disconnect switches and insurance, and impose fees on interconnection applications. We'd prefer to see a more streamlined, statewide policy.
North Carolina Solar Incentives
Next to high electricity prices and net metering, solar incentives have traditionally been the most important factor for whether home solar power makes financial sense in a state. In the past, some states with otherwise lousy policy had tremendous incentives that drove down the up-front cost of going solar so much that homeowners could save oodles of money even without net metering or a good RPS.
These days, the big incentive most people can get is the Federal Solar Tax Credit that earns you 26% of your total system costs back after just 1 year. State incentives play less of a role than in the past, but some really good ones are still out there, ready to help homeowners go solar and save money before you know it.
Let's see how North Carolina measures up:
The availability of state solar incentives for residential solar systems was sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, utility company websites, and the state public utility commission.
North Carolina Solar Power Rebates
$600 per kW (Duke and DEP)
North Carolina’s solar rebate program covers all customers of Duke and Duke Energy Progress. The program provides rebates of $.60 per watt for homeowners, so a typical 5-kW system at an average cost before rebate of $3 per watt would cost around $12,000 instead of $15,000. That price could be further reduced by the 26% federal solar tax credit to around $9,000. That's a huge reduction in cost, just after 1 year!
The rebate applies to installations between 2018 and 2022, but includes installations completed within 90 days of the program date every year. This means the 2020 rebates will be scooped up by people whose installations were "completed" in October through December, 2019. Rebates will still be available for people who install in 2020 and 2021, but probably not 2022, because all the late-2021 people will apply immediately in 2022.
Rebates are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, and considering how fast the previous year’s program was fully subscribed, it'd be a good idea to be ready to file for your North Carolina solar rebate at 9 AM on January 1st, of next year. If you want to be sure to get a Duke rebate, sign up for personalized solar quotes for your home now.
North Carolina Solar Tax Credits
North Carolina had one of the country's most amazing solar tax credits. Unfortunately, it expired in 2015, and nothing has come in to replace it.
Property Tax Exemption
In addition to that awesome state solar panel tax credit, North Carolina gives you a little long-term love on your taxes as well when you install a solar power system. You see, when you install a solar power system, your home increases in value because of the anticipated savings in electricity costs. Exempting property value increases from solar power systems from accompanying property taxes is an easy way to incentivize solar power. North Carolina seems to agree; 80% of the home value increase from your solar power system is exempt from property taxes. That’s not the 100% exemption we’ve seen in a lot of states but… well… it’s 80% of the way there!
Sales Tax Exemption
Unfortunately the equivalent sales taxes exemption that many states also have passed is a big fat 0% of the way there. As in, there is no sales tax exemption for the purchase and installation of solar power systems here. That’s a real shame. Sales tax exemptions help the local solar industry in addition to the customer, so they’re a double win, when such exemptions are in place that is.
Low-income Solar Programs
Grade: FLearn more about low-income solar programs available in the U.S.
The consensus on North Carolina solar power rebates and incentives
For a state without a super-strong RPS, the prospects for solar in North Carolina are pretty impressive. The payback timeframe here is still superb – for now. Between the federal solar tax credit saving you bundles of cash up front, the state solar tax credit savings you another pile every year for up to 5 years, and the potential for great rebates, performance payments, and energy bill savings, North Carolina has one of the shortest payback timeframes we’ve seen yet. That’s if you can get all the benefits. The patchwork nature of the incentives and the weak RPS goals mean we can’t give North Carolina better than a “C,” even though it’s possible to beat the bank here in the Tar Heel State.
Remember too, the state tax credit is set to go away at the end of 2015, so if you’re on the fence, you should know that that single incentive, if you can get all of it within the 5-year timeframe, is worth 5 years of payback time reduction on its own. Put another way, that tax credit is the difference between a 6-to-9 year payback and a 11-to-14 year payback. That’s a big deal in the solar world.
Again, if you are confused about how these numbers work and would like some personalized assistance or a quote of your own, simply connect with our network of solar experts. They’ll help sort out all the pricing, get you access to special deals, and they’re super friendly to boot!