Going Solar One Neighborhood at a Time

By Jacques Kapuscinksi

Photograph of solar-panel-covered roof.

Soaking up the sun with neighborhood solar.

A couple of years ago my neighbor and I discussed how neat it would be to have solar panels installed on our homes. Our unshaded, flat, and south-facing roofs seemed ideal. Then, while doing research about the economic incentives available in Washington DC, I found out about a nonprofit that is helping neighborhoods organize residential solar group purchases. The savings realized by installing panels on many homes in the same area are passed along to the homeowners—up to 30% less on the total cost of the system.

I decided to establish a Coop in the area where I live, and together we organized forums at a community center, a local library, and at a friend’s home to discuss the process, including the economic and environmental benefits of going solar.

Our initial group of 24 collectively selected a vendor to install our solar panels. We must be on to something, because the number of interested homeowners has now grown to more than 135, and over 25 people have already signed contracts.

In addition to the savings of buying via a coop, a 30% Federal tax credit is available until the end of 2016. Additionally, our local DC utility company is required by law to get a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable energy.  People who install solar panels in Washington DC generate Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs, which the utility buys instead of building their own solar arrays. Homeowners can also sell these credits on an open market. SREC values fluctuate with the market, but right now their value can account for around another 30% of the cost of the system over time.

Another incentive that is not available right now but may be soon is a DC renewable energy rebate. Such a rebate could be as much as $1,500 to $2,000 for each solar-panel-topped home. In 3 to 4 years I will recoup all of my upfront costs, and will have lower utility bills.

Over its 25 to30 year lifetime, a system will generate tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of electricity.  I will be connected to the grid, and thanks to something called “netmetering,” my home will seamlessly switch between using the energy produced on my roof and “rolling over” any excess produced to the grid.

The photovoltaic panels that will be installed have micro-inverters, so each panel will have a monitor attached that feeds into the meter outside of the house, if one of the panels ever goes down I will know immediately.

All of these incentives make solar panels an affordable investment, and a priceless down payment for my children’s future to combat climate change.

About the Author: Jacques Kapuscinski is the Web Content Coordinator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development and is the community manager for EPA’s Science Inventory.