What are the best solar panels for 2016, and is now a good time to install solar panels on your roof? These questions have been on my mind for a blog post here. Having some measure of independence from the power grid has seemed more important to me ever since I read Ted Koppel’s book Lights Out, which spells out how vulnerable the aged US power grid is. (That link goes to my review of the book here on this site.)
My husband Kelly has installed solar panels on three of the homes we’ve had, so I’m familiar with many of the details of getting a working solar installation up. It isn’t exactly simple. Before I could hunker down and do some research for an article on solar panels, I discovered that a website research team had spent six weeks working on such a post. You can see their article here: Best Solar Panels for 2016, by Mia Nakaji Monnier. This is on a useful website called The Simple Dollar, and I’ll have more to say about what it offers further down this page. Now I’m going to describe the article a bit. All the bits in yellow on this page are quotes from that article.
Clickable Article Contents
Solar Tax Credit Extended into the Future
The federal income tax credit has been extended several years:
To get the full Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), we’ve got to get our panels purchased and put up in the next three years. After that, the credit fades out…
Not in a Position to Buy? Leasing Solar Panels and Power Purchase Agreements
If you can buy solar panels outright for a home that you own (including having a mortgage on it) and expect to stay in for some time, you will get the best deal. But if that isn’t your situation, there are a a variety of ways that you could get a solar panel installation for your home.
When you lease solar energy, the company you lease from will install panels on your roof at no charge. It’ll take care of maintenance, and you’ll pay a set monthly fee (think of it like a subscription) for the length of your lease, which will likely be about 15–20 years… The PPA option is very similar to leasing; instead of paying a subscription, you’ll pay per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of solar energy that you use.
Also, in some places (mostly in Colorado) there is something called community solar. Rebates and credits from some states can also help with the costs.
What You Could Save Over Regular Power Bills
You could save a bundle in many instances. This was one of the most interesting parts of the article to me, as it went through a variety of options in some detail and then concluded wisely:
My verdict: I’d choose to buy and do it outright if I could swing it. But these are just my numbers, based on my neighborhood, climate, and available rebates and installers. You should absolutely get some quotes and do a cost-benefit analysis of your own.
Choosing Manufacturers and Installers
This is another strong section of the article, with some useful links out. Being married to an experienced do-it-yourself-solar guy, I never would have thought of a lot of the advice about choosing an installer. For example, here is a simple tip that could save you a lot of time:
My biggest lessons: Call for a quote. Don’t bother with online forms — I got slow responses from every single one.
Here is the link to that article again. Well worth a read. My summary doesn’t begin to make all the points in it.
The Website: The Simple Dollar
My impulses as a librarian came out of course, and I went all over the website reading this and that. It’s got good quality articles and the categories are:
Actually, though, their topics are broader than that sounds. I specially liked a couple of articles. One was on ways to stay cool during a hot summer without breaking the bank. I had never thought of a few of them, including taking a freezer pack to bed. Amusingly, after I had read that yesterday, a dinner guest we had last night mentioned that very strategy as one she has used for years!
The other article I found fascinating was one on why the writer chose to stay working when she had her kids, rather than to be a stay-at-home mom. It sparked some good discussion in the comments too.
What We Like About Having Solar Panels
We’ve had solar panels on three of our homes. This photo shows the array that Kelly put on a recent home of ours in Crestone, Colorado. At present we have a solar installation on our motorhome but not our house, because the old motorhome has such a good setup. It’s a rig that Kelly fixed up, and we and our dogs lived and traveled in it very comfortably for half a year recently. See my RV Living section of this website for discussions and stories about that. But I digress.
On a personal note, I like having solar panels for the reliability of power. We’ve lived in Mexico and we’ve lived in rural parts of the U.S, and I’m no stranger to having the power go out. It’s second nature to keep the refrigerator full of extra bottles of water (or beer) so its temperature will stay steadier in case of a power outage.
One evening in the earthbag house we built in Crestone, we were sitting around the kitchen table after dinner with friends when a woman came back from using the bathroom to report that the light was out in there. When we checked, it turned out that the electricity was out everywhere except where we had solar panels supplying the kitchen. Not just the bathroom, the whole town and surrounding region! We had been oblivious for hours.
But on a larger scale, I think home solar power is a real contribution to our world. With the uncertainties of the American power grid that I touched upon at the beginning of this article, the more homes that have their own power sources, the more flexible our communities are. Renewable energy is already playing a larger role, and that’s a link to some fascinating and encouraging information, chapter 3 from a new book, Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy, and that link takes you to the book’s page on Amazon.
So… for you, the best solar panels for 2016 are the ones you can afford and that suit your lifestyle. Hey, that might simply be a portable panel for charging your cellphone or laptop… or it might be a whole house system!