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Solar Currents (As originally published in The Danville/Alamo/Lafayette Today Newspaper, Sep 2013)

Read Original Newspaper Article PDF here

It ’s official! The rank and file of both political parties agree on at least one thing; when presented the question about how solar energy is viewed, 94% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans view solar power favorably.

As a solar professional, it’s exciting that there is consensus on this issue, seemingly more agreement on this issue more than any other that comes to mind. If I were to stereotype, I’d guess that the “left” likes the environmental advantages and the “right” likes the financial advantages that solar energy has to offer. Certainly that’s a poor stereo type because everybody likes a good investment. Most of us care greatly for our environment. Why there is agreement should not be of great concern to those of us in the solar business; what matters is that industry growth is strong and adoption of solar and alternative energy strategies is becoming more mainstream. This is good for business and the environment, and it’s very good for national security.

The recent study also found that some political stereotypes don’t stick. Both party’s rank and file agreed that the 30% Federal Tax Credit for individuals and businesses (which is available until tax year 2017) should be extended to continue the mass adoption of solar photovoltaic (PV). In many places the extension of the tax credit to speed the adoption of solar may ultimately not be necessary. “Grid parity” is being achieved; the cost of solar energy is equal to, or lower than, the cost of utility energy from day one of installation.

The beat goes on: PGE electric rates rose 4.6% so far this year. Many of the readership may be chuckling at this fact; they’ve purchased their own solar power systems, so PGE rate increases don’t effect them. The biggest concern amongst Americans is the perceived cost and practicality of solar power. In California, with ample sun and extremely high utility electric costs, it’s much more expensive to NOT have solar power installed. Paying a utility bill that generates a zero rate of return on investment is no investment at all. If you have any doubt as to the validity of this previous statement, answer this question: why will a financial institution be willing to become your power provider by installing a solar system on your home for FREE, then contractually sell you the power for 20 years at a lesser price than you are paying PG&E. In this model there is a LOT of money to be made as an energy provider. It’s an investment with little risk due to the inherent reliability of solar PV systems and little chance that electric rates will decrease. The financial institution will charge you less than PGE, they’ll make money in the process, and you’ll save money in the process. Of course, if you purchase your own solar PV generating system, you’ll not have to share any of the profits with the bankers.

Another “It’s official” moment: A Chinese professor from Nanjing University School of Finance summarized the relationship between Chinese solar module quality and the warranty/insurance that theoretically protects the buyer. “To our disappointment, many financing banks have not noticed the severity of this problem and the quality issue of Chinese PV modules distressing the solar industry. If several solar module makers have serial losses, the insurer will likely become insolvent.”

I’ll say it again: As is true with many purchases, the best insurance starts with a quality product.

Myth buster: It’s a common misconception that once one “goes solar” all natural gas appliances should be switched to electric appliances. Natural gas prices are stable, and natural gas appliances are more energy efficient than their electric brethren. Any solar PV installer worth their salt should communicate that “right sizing” the solar PV system is the most critical aspect of “going solar.” Simple energy efficient measures should be taken prior to, or in conjunction with, a solar PV project. Replace that single speed pool pump NOW, replace that electric clothes dryer NOW, and lose those incandescent light bulbs. If you’re a business or homeowner, PGE provides excellent rebates for many projects that increase efficiency (See EnergyUpgradeCa.org and PGE.com/rebates for more info). A good contractor will install a quality solar system at your home. However, an excellent contractor will properly assess your electric usage and discuss efficiency upgrades, then engage in a dialogue about solar system size and electric bill offset to meet your budget or financial goals.

By Mark Becker, GoSimpleSolar

Mark Becker is the President of GoSimpleSolar, by Semper Fidelis Construction Inc, a Danville based Solar Installation Firm (License 948715). Mark can be reached at 925.915.9252. Visit GoSimpleSolar’s showroom at 114 West Prospect Avenue in Danville or www.GoSimpleSolar.com, or email Mark@GoSimpleSolar.com.