Solar power generation

Twenty REC PE 255 watt solar modules on barn roof.

Solar panels plugged in and generating power.

The farm is now a renewable energy producer—and one step closer to energy independence. Thanks to grassroots movement Solarize Orange, I’m generating about 35 percent of the farm’s power with a 5.1 kW net-metered system installed by Yes!Solar Solutions

Access to residential solar is cheaper than ever before. There has never been a better time to invest in your own energy system, with falling solar module prices and government tax incentives still available in many states. I’m fortunate to live in a state that has cutting-edge policies pushing solar installations for homeowners and businesses. North Carolina currently offers one of the most generous tax credits at 35 percent off the cost of a solar installation, while the federal tax credit is 30 percent. To see what incentives are offered in your state, you can check out a database managed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center.

You can also research online to see whether there is a grassroots movement brewing in your area. These organizations help residents band together for lower solar installation costs. The Solarize Orange program further lowered the final cost of our system by more than $1000. The more people who sign up and commit to installing a system, the lower the final price for all. It also made the process very easy by providing information through question and answer sessions, and by vetting the program’s solar installers so we could be sure we were getting a good deal.

Inverter installed_13jan2015_2

SMA SunnyBoy 4000TL-US inverter.

The farm’s system consists of twenty 255-watt panels that line a portion of the barn roof. As the panels soak up energy from the sun, this DC power is sent to the inverter and converted into AC power for the house and farm. The system is grid-tied for now as current battery systems are still somewhat expensive, but Tesla is working on new battery technology that could be a game-changer.

A recent report from the NC Clean Energy Technology Center backs up my belief that a PV system is a good investment. The report found that in nearly all of America’s 50 largest cities, an average size solar PV system delivers a better payback than stock market investments. In many of those cities, solar power is cheaper in the long term than power from the utility.

“Right now, buying an average-sized, fully-financed solar PV system costs less than electricity from their local utility for 93% of single-family homeowners in America’s 50 largest cities, and in most places, is a better investment than many of the stocks that are in their 401(k).”

The tide is turning for traditional electric power companies. The utility industry model relies on selling power. As more Americans install solar PV, demand for power company electric will go down, along with their shareholder profits. The traditional model will have to change or go the way of the horse and buggy.


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