Residential Solar Basics

At one time, solar-generated electricity was cost-prohibitive. But it has become increasingly attainable as the price of solar panels has declined. A main reason for this drop is that photovoltaic solar panels became more efficient and less expensive. The efficiency and affordability of solar, combined with the higher costs of fossil fuels, have made solar a competitive electricity source. Today, solar panels are 94% cheaper than they were in 1989.

Solar energy is radiation (light) that comes from the sun. The energy the earth absorbs from the sun in just 1 hour is enough to power the planet for a year.

This energy is harnessed through solar panels, specifically photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. When these panels are exposed to sunlight, they generate an electric charge that can be utilized to power households.

The panels absorb light in the individual PV cells. Silicon layers in the panels create an electric field. At the junction between the layers, one side has a negative charge while the other is positive. The electrons flow out of the junction and create an electric current. The current is sent through wires to a solar “inverter” where the electrical current is converted from direct current (DC) electricity to alternate current (AC) electricity for use in your home.

From a financial perspective, transitioning to solar is usually more cost-effective than traditional ways of powering your home. However, the major cost of solar is the initial investment in designing and installing the solar system. Once the system is in operational,

savings accumulate in the subsequent years during the life of the solar system. This happens because the cost of the sunshine for your solar system is free while the cost of fossil fuels for your current system is not free.

Different ways of going solar need to be considered during the investigation process. There are generally three ways you can go solar.

  • Own and pay for your system – with this approach you pay the upfront cost of installing your solar system. Although this requires a large cash outlay initially, it usually is the lowest total cost approach because you get the maximum cost savings over subsequent years.
  • Own and borrow money for your system – This is the same as the previous approach except that you borrow money to pay for the initial construction of the system which relieves you of the initial cash outlay. However, the overall cost is higher (less savings) than the first option because you still pay for the initial cost of the system over subsequent years when you repay the loan, and interest charges are added to the loan payments.
  • Don’t own your system but lease it from a solar company. This also relieves you from the initial cash outlay for the construction of the system. In addition, there are usually management benefits with the lease arrangement. But the cost over the life of the system is greater (less savings) than the two previous options.

Source: Eco Watch


Net Metering is the ability to store excess electricity on the grid (receive a credit) and use it later. For example, if you produce 35 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity one day and you use only 25 kWh, then you are credited with 10 kWh that you can use during a following day when your solar system does not produce enough electricity. Both of Iowa’s investor-owned utilities, Alliant and MidAmerican energy, are required to provide their customers with net metering. Net metering makes solar economical.

Federal Income Tax Credit is a federal incentive available to Iowa homeowners that allows you to claim a Federal tax credit of 30% on your total solar investment. There may be other tax credits and rebates available to home owners.

Exemption from sales tax provides a 6% automatic discount in the cost of going solar in Iowa. The exemption includes the cost of the purchase and installation of the solar energy system, including solar panels, inverters, and batteries.

To be eligible, the solar energy system must have a capacity of less than 60 kW for residential customers.

Solar Property Tax Exemption provides a 100% exemption from property taxes for the added value of a solar energy system installed on a property. This means that homeowners who install a solar energy system can benefit from the increased value of their property without paying additional property taxes on that value.

Key Considerations for Solar Power

  1. Upfront Cost vs. Long-term Savings: While solar power may offer a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels, it involves an upfront investment with savings realized in subsequent years.
  2. Roof Integrity and Installation: Roof integrity is generally not compromised with correctly installed, lightweight modern solar panels. However, it’s advisable to have your roof checked for added reassurance.
  3. Potential Shading Issues: Be mindful of potential shading from trees and structures, which can reduce solar energy production. Plan future landscaping with low-profile trees and shrubs to prevent shading.
  4. Repairs and Maintenance: Although solar system maintenance is typically minimal, damage can occur. Manufacturer warranties are typically 25 years for solar panels. Inverters are more susceptible to failure, with manufacturer warranties typically lasting 15 years.
  5. Seasonal and Weather Considerations: Solar panels can operate efficiently in winter, benefiting from clear skies and lower temperatures. Rainfall and the panel’s angle usually helps in keeping them clean.
  6. Impact on Roof Temperature: The installation of solar panels may reduce roof temperatures by about five degrees due to reduced sunlight exposure.
  7. Insurance Coverage: Check your homeowner’s insurance policy, as it may cover the solar energy system, including the roof-mounted panels.
  8. Landscaping Limitations and Responsibility for Documents: Consider potential landscaping limitations and clarify responsibilities for handling interconnection and incentive documents for the solar system.
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