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Solar ATM

By Mark Becker
| March 19, 2014

“What are you going to do with the savings?” That’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask our customers after we complete a solar PV installation for their home or business.

Solar PV systems installed on my home, place of business, and investment properties have generated savings for my family and business. These savings go to a variety of personal and community investments. A 401K, the children’s 529 plan, local Veteran’s charities and events, and most recently, a solar system donation to a high school in Bangladesh.

If you were “solarized”, what would you do with the savings? Average solar system lifetime savings vary from $100,000 to oftentimes more than $300,000. We’ve installed residential projects that are projected to save over half a million dollars during the warranted 25-year/expected 30 year-plus life of the system. Note: Your PGE bill doubles every 10 years, and quadruples every 20 years at the current annual utility escalation rate.

Impact: Solar energy provides financial return for Americans; but it provides life changing social impact for those who have no electricity at all. The Bangladeshi High School students tell of educational, cultural, and economic impact in their “Thank You” letters to us.

We all know the pain points of a recurring electric bill: Zero return on investment. Taking control of the cost of your electric bill by changing electric providers is what installation of a solar energy system achieves. Sometimes there are barriers to this process. As a business owner, it’s important for me to communicate that with our unique approach and lifetime roof warranty there is no threat to the integrity of the customer’s home due to water leakage. With an appropriate amount of time dedicated to design, panel color choice and location, any aesthetic concerns (if there are any) can be allayed. Most importantly: The misconception that “solar is expensive” has to be corrected. With the great variety of financial options available, it’s much more expensive to be buying power from PGE than it is to be providing it TO yourself from your own rooftop. Simply switching electric providers by entering into a “power purchase agreement” (PPA) with a finance company reduces electric bill costs from day one, oftentimes with zero monies down.

One of my favorite quotes: (attributable to the editor’s husband J) “Having solar is like having an ATM on your roof.”

If you’re a resident of Contra Costa County, especially Danville, the amount of available roof space allowed by building code for solar panels is about to get smaller. The Town of Danville (and at some undefined point in the future the rest of CC County we’re told) will, on January 1st, 2014, begin to enforce the State Fire Marshall PV Installation Guidelines. The result of this clear pathway requirement on a residential roof can be a less efficient solar installation, cutting into the savings a solar PV system can provide. Of course fire safety is critical, but less restrictive and more thought out guidelines to accommodate differing roof designs should be considered.

Consumer’s corner: Adapting business practices to achieve lowest cost of installation. The majority of solar installers have been focused on lowest initial installation price; pundits say a business must adapt to this strategy to compete. The solar business is not exempt from seedy players or practices. Perform your due diligence by validating references. Utilize the resources of the Better Business Bureau and Contractor’s State License Board. Set priorities as to how important it is for you to have reliable products installed, by specialty licensed personnel, by a company with experience and longevity. Many people prefer a local contractor; a local responsive contractor typically means greater customer support and satisfaction. Relying on reviews alone is NOT a means of appropriately vetting a contractor. Yelp is notorious for it’s inability to weed out false positive and negative reviews.

I’ve been moved to emulate: Instead of entering into a solar PPA with a third party financier for one of my investment properties, I’ve purchased a solar PV system for the home, thus becoming the financier. I’m selling the power to the tenants at a cost lower than PG&E rates. The tenants save money; I earn money, increase the value of my home, and get the 30% federal tax credit for the system. I’ll also depreciate the solar system as a business asset. It’s a win-win for everyone (except PG&E I suppose).

Mark Becker, President of GoSimpleSolar, by Semper Fidelis Construction Inc.