by Susan Post
Alternative energy sources are gaining popularity across the U.S. and residential solar electric systems are a large part of that growing trend. According to Renewable Energy World, solar installations in the U.S. grew by 41 percent in 2013.
Two companies in Ohio are a part of that growing change. Athens-based Third Sun Solar and a Central Ohio business, Ecohouse, specialize in residential solar electric system installations.
After a long winter, it might seem like Ohio would not have enough sun to support such a system, but Ecohouse Owner, Kevin Eigel says Ohio has plenty of sun to make it work.
It appears that the solar market is growing right along with solar awareness. “Solar is at or just beyond the tipping point where people now have a better understanding of what it is and what it can do,” says Gerald Kelly, Director of Communications at Third Sun Solar.
Solar provides a clean source of renewable energy by converting sunlight into electricity. Vital in states with skyrocketing electric costs like California and Hawaii, solar energy has huge financial benefits. While energy costs in Ohio trend lower, it is coming at a greater expense to the environment.
“The total cost for a residential solar electric system is typically $10,000 to $20,000” – Kevin Eigel, Ecohouse
“In Ohio, we continue to burn coal to generate most of our electricity,” Kelly says. Coal is inexpensive, but it burns dirty. Coal is also a limited resource, and costs will not remain low forever, so many Central Ohio residents are making the long-term investment in solar energy.
“The demand for solar is increasing every year in Ohio,” Eigel says.
Trends within the solar industry are making the switch more accessible to homeowners. “Systems now cost about half of what they did three or four years ago,” Kelly says.
Installing a solar energy system is a long-term investment not only because a typical system lasts for 30 years after initial up-front costs.
“The total cost for a residential solar electric system is typically $10,000 to $20,000,” Eigel says. The number of years needed to realize savings on electric bills and to offset initial costs varies depending on the size of the system. Kelly says a smaller, three-kilowatt system might take 12 to 13 years, while systems in the eight to nine kilowatt range takes 10 years or less to see a return on investment.
Switching to solar energy does not eliminate electric bills altogether; rather, systems are still typically connected to the grid. Solar significantly reduces bill costs, however, and helps homeowners gain a degree of energy independence.
Many people flip a switch and the lights come on, but they do not really think about where the energy is coming from. Kelly says installing a solar system makes homeowners much more aware of the power they are actually using, and it drives them to see just how low they can get their electric bill.
When installing a system, Third Sun Solar and Ecohouse work with the business or homeowner to figure out what wattage system will best fit their needs based on how energy independent they wish to be. For example, Kelly says a six-kilowatt system might reduce an electric bill by two-thirds. As such, if a customer was paying $100, they could expect their bills to drop to around $30 per month.
“Over the life of the solar system the savings would add up to over $50,000,” Eigel says.
In addition to the cost savings, a homeowner receives credits for pushing power onto the grid.
“Solar owners in Ohio are able to sell “Renewable Energy Credits,” which reduces the overall cost of the investment,” Eigel says. During the day, a solar system is pushing energy onto the grid, while at night it is taking it off. Solar system owners also receive a federal tax credit of 30 percent, significantly reducing the initial cost of the system.
While many of the benefits seem financial in nature, solar energy is ultimately harnessing the power of a free and natural component of our everyday lives to make the environment cleaner.
Susan Post is a freelance writer and editor based in Columbus. She enjoys writing about her city and the people and places that make it special. Contact her at Susan.Post.firstname.lastname@example.org.