The Bright Side of Going Solar

Published: Oct. 10, 2017 at 5:28 PM EDT
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Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Fall temperatures mean falling power bills but more homeowners are erasing their electric bill entirely and it has nothing to do with the cooler season.

From your grocery store to your neighbor's home, you've probably seen more shiny panels on tops of roofs. Federal and state grants, combined with lower costs for solar panels, make producing your own energy more affordable than ever.

Under the South Carolina sky, a team installs panels which will soon begin soak in the sun and transform it into clean renewable energy thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Let's be honest, not everyone is a tree hugger. Some do want to save the environment but almost everyone wants to save money.

"Finally got to the point it made financial sense," Landon Ball said. "I have always been interested in technology. Even as a kid, I played with solar panels." As an engineer, he knows solar energy can cut or even completely wipe out his power bill. "It makes a lot of sense you have a roof facing the right direction and turns out our house has a nice southeast facing roof," he said.

Peter Larsen and his team with Southern Current designed and are installing the Balls' solar system. "We are putting solar panels on that high rooftop right there where the guys are working," he said as he pointed to the roof. It's one of the hundreds of installs they've done so far this year in South Carolina. "More and more people are seeing solar as an essential appliance for their smart energy home."

Georgia is the third-fastest growing generator of solar power in the nation. South Carolina is further behind but is beginning to grow. Southern Current's residential installs doubled from last year.

Here's how solar energy in home works in South Carolina: photovoltaic (PV) panels soak in the light. The panels convert the light into electricity and then that electricity is used to power the home. Excess energy is rolled over to the next month. In Georgia, the process is similar except the solar energy goes straight to Georgia Power. Georgia Power deducts the cost of your electric bill from the power you generated. Excess solar power generated is also rolled over to the next month.

Liz Owens: "So how much are solar panels?"

Peter Larsen: "Well price of solar panels raised per watt anywhere from $3.50 to $3.50 per watt."

Liz Owens: "It's an expensive investment."

Landon Ball "Yeah, so total cost is very expensive. $44,000."

Yep, there is some initial sticker shock. However, there are grants available that lower that price.

The U.S. government will give you a tax credit worth 30% of the total system and installation cost. South Carolina, offers a solar tax credit worth 25% the total system and installation cost.

The tax credits cut the Balls' solar panel cost in half. "We will have a payment that's equal to our average electric bill so we will be swapping the cost of the electric bill for a payment on the solar panels," Ball said.

They were able to fit enough panels on their roof to cover 100% of their electric usage which means they shouldn't have another power bill.

There are a lot of factors to consider before going solar:

1. First how big is your roof? Do you enough space for enough solar panels to power your home?

2. Is your home east facing where the sun rises your panels will soak in the most sunlight?

3. Is the area around your home free of trees and tall building which could cast shadows on the panels?

4. Will your HOA allow it?

"Over time you are going to pay far less for solar energy then you do from the grid," Larsen said. The standard return on the investment for the panels is five to seven years.

"It's fun to go through it and basically be more self-efficient generate our own electricity. Over time the electric companies are always raising their rates every year or every couple years they'll have rate hikes and we won't see that anymore," Ball said.

Solar panels last about 40 years. Most places guarantee the panels will produce the same amount of power for 25 years. After 25 years, production usually drops 85%.