From the sundial to solar voltaic cells, harnessing the sun’s power for our own use has always been forward-looking.
Keeping that in mind, we walked into the 2012 REALTORS® Conference & Expo’s Making Solar Work session with a few questions about the future of renewable energy. Here are some of the answers we received from the event’s two presenters: Jan Addison, deputy general manager of the Orange County Convention Center, host of the conference and a leader in commercial solar usage, and Natalia R. Paredes, a renewable energy analyst with the Orlando Utilities Commission.
What will happen if the federal government stops subsidizing the solar industry?
Paredes said she would not be surprised if the federal government extended its current 30 percent tax credit on residential renewable energy technology beyond its expiration date of December 2016. She added that, while tax credits must end at some point in the future, it won’t stop people from buying in.
“Currently that is the goal, because solar has been subsidized way too long,” Paredes said. “I think it would still be installed because the cost of solar has gone down so much.”
Addison added to this sentiment a personal anecdote: “When I bought my hybrid, they were not subsidizing it. But I still bought a hybrid,” she said.
How can real estate professionals help home owners and buyers make informed decisions about solar?
“You need to know any local incentives to use as a selling tool,” Paredes told the audience. She recommended www.dsireusa.org, a Web site offering information gathered by the Department of Energy-funded Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency project. In addition to offering detailed information about the incentives for solar that are offered by utilities such as hers — as well as by local, state, and federal government bodies — the site also offers localized information on policies and codes relating to renewable energy.
Paredes urged real estate professionals to help their clients with due diligence in the installation process. She said she noticed that when new incentives popped up in Florida, the state was flooded with contractors, not all of whom were qualified to install solar.
“They were doing a really horrible job,” she said. “Picking the right contractor is key. Solar has only been around a few years; not everybody can install it.”
How long will it take home owners who install solar systems to see a return on their investment?
It depends on the type of investment and the credits available to them. For solar thermal (also known as solar water) systems, the payoff can arrive in a couple of years. Paredes said that while these systems cost around $4,000 to $5,000, tax credits and incentives can easily bring the price down to the $3,000 mark. Even though this type of heater generates electricity only when the sun is out, the savings from avoiding the use of other energy sources is significant.
Now, the sheer scale of a solar voltaic (also known as PV) system means a home owner is playing a whole different ball game. This is where the long view comes into play. Paredes noted that while the investment of installing solar tiles on a home’s roof can take 20-25 years to pay off, there is also very little maintenance involved. Home owners in drier areas of the country may occasionally need to hose the dust off the cells to make sure the surface is relatively clean. But many areas of the country can rely on precipitation to do the work. Also, home owners should keep in mind that, aside from energy savings, such systems have a positive impact on property value. Last year, the Department of Energy found that the sales price for such a system is comparable with its investment value.