Stephanie Esters, The Southern Illinoisan
October 9, 2015
A decade ago, Hugh Muldoon and his wife had a solar panel installed in their home in Carbondale.
The couple’s intention was not to necessarily save money, although Muldoon said he knows they’ve saved money over time.
Their’s is just story of a local couple attempting to “go off the grid,” to limit their reliance on electrical energy or find more environmentally-friendly options for powering their homes.
The Muldoons’ system was installed by Aur J. Beck, who said he “went off the grid” as a 15-year-old camped out in his family’s driveway in Somerstown, Tennessee. He said he was intrigued by the notion of harnessing the sun’s rays for electricity.
“Well, just the idea that here is a power source that’s readily available, that you just need to tap into. It is a free energy source, just the equipment to catch it costs money.”
Now, he’s in business, helping people in the region install solar panels on their rooftops, in their yards or elsewhere on their property to either reduce or attempt to totally eliminate their reliance on electrical, gas or some other power. He works with the property owner to specially design systems. He now works in eight states.
Time now to seriously consider
The time has never been better to seriously consider going solar, said Craig Pals, vice president of Tick Tock Energy, Inc., out of Effingham. The company helps design and install solar panels for home and commercial interests in 10 states, including Illinois. Each year, his 10-year-old company installs about 40 to 50 systems, some of which can be installed in two to three days, others a week and up to several weeks or more complex commercial systems.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the vast majority of this country’s energy comes from coal (39 percent), followed by natural gas (27 percent) and nuclear energy (17 percent). Solar energy provides 0.4 percent of the country’s energy.
Illnois residents can take advantage of the Solar Renewable Energy Credit, known as S-REC, available now through March 2016, and a 30 percent tax credit offered through Dec. 31, 2016, by the federal government. Another state program, the Solar and Wind Energy Rebate program, that offered rebates is currently closed; last year, homeowners received a maximum rebate of $10,000, while businesses received a maximum of $20,000 and public sector and non-profit entities, a maximum of $30,000.
“We’ve never seen a better time to do solar than now,” Pals said.
How to get started
Those interested in installing a solar panel can contact any one of several certified distributed generation installers. A list of certified distributed generation installers can be found on the llinois Commerce Commission website.
After an installer is contacted, they can help the homeowner or businessowner figure out what their needs are, Pals said.
His company starts by looking at the person’s site, either via Google Earth or in-person, to assess roof, yard or other space where the solar panels might be installed. In this area, panels placed in southern exposures get more energy than do those in other exposures, he said.
They will then discuss the homeowner’s goals, such as whether they are trying to reduce their electricity bill or be more conscientious about the environment?
The installers will then want to know the total cost of the past 12-months of utility bills, kilowatt usage and energy supplier.
“Then, after, we can get a 12-month history of your electric consumption profile. Then, from that, we can kind of size up how big of a solar system it would take to offset that purchase from that utility and compare that to the amount of ground or roof space you have available for collecting sunlight,” Pals explained.
From there, the company puts together a plan for the homeowner, which would include a simple design of the system, identifying the size, its estimated energy production and looking at any tax credits and other incentives for which the system might be eligible. Pals’ company then puts that together in a final cash-flow and return-on-investment analysis.
All of the solar systems Tick Tock has installed are grid-tied, meaning they are connected to the grid maintained by a local electrical company. Surplus energy from the homeowner’s unit can be credited back to the homeowner’s account and flows back to the grid; the homeowner can access the credit when needed.
There is also an interconnection agreement, a legal document that details the contract between the solar panel owner and their utility provider. These agreements, he said, can give the utility company the ability to make sure equipment is installed properly and working correctly.
“You basically have a miniature power plant on your rooftop,” Pals said.
His company works with investors who help people finance their systems.
He gave a hypothetical example of an 1,800- to 2,000 square-foot home, whose owner has, on average, a $150 to $160 monthly electricity bill. That person might opt for a 20- to 30-panel solar system, taking up 350 to 600 square feet of roof or ground space.
A system that size could cut the homeowner’s electricity bill by 50 to 100 percent, he said. The average system his company installs costs between $25,000 and $35,000; he tells people to consider these systems, built to last about 25 years, as an investment, with savings realized year after year.
“We basically customize it to each individual’s needs; there’s not just a one-size-fits-all approach”.