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Going Solar at Home

Going Solar at Home

While going solar is a great way to reduce your use of fossil fuels and become energy independent, there’s a lot to consider before installing solar panels on your roof and maintaining a residential solar array. While the below list of topics may not include all of the solar-related concerns you might encounter, it’s a lengthy list designed to help you get started on the road to energy independence, reduced fossil fuel reliance and minimizing your carbon footprint.

Pioneer hosts an online webinar for residents. Visit our Events page to find upcoming webinars or visit our YouTube channel to experience a recorded solar webinar with insights and tips on how to get the most out of your solar system, read the bill and track information about how well your system is working.

Net Billing Tariff/Solar Billing Plan

The California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) decision on Dec. 15, 2022, ended the Net Energy Metering (NEM) solar tariff April 15, 2023, and replaced it with the Net Billing Tariff also known as the Solar Billing Plan (SPB).

According to a CPUC analysis, rooftop solar installed after SBP goes into effect on April 15, 2023, should be able to be fully paid off in nine years or less, based upon ongoing electricity bill savings.

The CPUC designed SBP to promote grid reliability, to incentivize solar and battery storage, and to control electricity costs for all Californians.

Under the new tariff, the average residential solar customer will save approximately $100 a month on electricity bills. Solar customers will also benefit from an electricity rate designed to make adding electrical appliances (such as heat pump water heaters) more affordable. The CPUC believes the design also will help residents take better advantage of at-home electric vehicle charging.

Some key facts about the new SBP program as it stands today:

  • Current NEM 1.0 and NEM 2.0 retain their legacy agreements for their full 20-year term
  • New owners inherit the NEM 1.0 and NEM 2.0 legacy agreements for the remaining agreement years
  • Both NEM and SPB continue to have annual net surplus compensation
  • NEM 2.0 will apply to complete interconnection applications submitted prior to 11:59 pm April 14, 2023
  • SPB applies to interconnection applications submitted starting April 15, 2023
  • Any previous NEM 1.0 or 2.0 customer who makes changes to their system that increases their production by more than 10% will be transitioned to SBP
  • Adding battery storage will not change a customer’s NEM program
  • Billing for SPB is scheduled to be available starting December 14, 2023
  • Any residential solar customer who should have been on SPB in 2023 will be transferred accordingly:
    • NEM 1.0 whose legacy has expired will transition to SPB on their annual PG&E true-up in 2024
    • SBP customers, who were temporarily placed on NEM 2.0 until the billing system was ready, will transition to SPB on their annual PG&E true-up in 2024
    • SBP customers whose permission to operate and SPB start date are after December 14, 2023 will start on SPB immediately

 

Key differences between SBP and previous NEM programs:

  • Excess electricity exported to the grid will be valued at an energy export credit (ECC). This is the most significant change from the previous NEM system. This value is much less than the retail value of electricity pulled from the grid.
  • SBP requires positive charges be paid monthly. Contact PG&E to ask for more information about how the billing will work at 1-866-743-0335.

 

Learn more about Net Billing Tariff/Solar Billing Plan from the California Public Utilities Commission – Energy Division

PG&E also provides extensive SBP Frequently Asked Questions with additional information.

Start with Energy Efficiency Assessments

Energy efficiency upgrades to your home. You can start saving energy and money today with just a few energy efficiency upgrades. According to the Department of Energy, energy-efficient homes can save anywhere from 5 to 30 percent on energy use.

The first thing everyone should do is to perform a self-energy audit of your home. This will help you create a list of energy saving opportunities around your house.

Some at-home items to evaluate or upgrade include:
  • Swap any incandescent or CFL light bulbs for LED lamps
  • Enhance or replace your attic insulation 
    • Maintain a minimum of R38 with a goal of R49
  • Check caulking and seals around windows, pipe entry and exit points on all exterior walls. Seal any visible gaps.
  • Check and replace any defective weatherstripping around doors and points of entry
  • When replacing appliances always buy ENERGY STAR

For more information please visit Pioneer’s page on residential energy saving tips.

Assess System Size and Rooftop Situation

A critical step in the solar installation process is to determine if your roof is able to support a photovoltaic system. 

Some things to know before you move forward with the project:

  • Can your roof support the additional weight of a solar system?
  • What is the orientation of your roof? 
    An east or north-facing photovoltaic system is less optimal. For maximum production benefit, your solar system and panels should be facing west or south. This orientation will maximize the ability to offset energy usage during afternoons.
  • Is your roof shaded?
    Beautiful big trees provide plenty of benefits and help keep a house cooler in the summer. The drawback of shade, however, is the impact on the amount of energy produced by your photovoltaic system.

    We would never encourage customers to cut down tall or mature trees. Those beautiful oak trees can take 30 to 40 years to reach full height and can live hundreds of years. The amount of energy saved due to the shading is a huge energy saver and is basically free to you.
  • Net Energy Metering (NEM) programs
    NEM programs are constantly being discussed and debated at the investor-owned utility offices and at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Make sure you understand the applicable NEM rate you would be assigned and the buy-back rate for any overproduction.
  • Permitting
    Make sure you understand the required permits and the associated costs.

    Make sure you understand if your homeowner’s association (HOA) has any rules related to solar. For instance, some HOA’s state that all solar must be in the back of the house and not on the street view.

Financing Residential Solar

There are many financing/payment options available for getting solar installed on your home. Make sure you understand the short-term and long-term impacts of each option. There is no one right option and the decision should be based on you, your family and your financial situation. Before signing any contracts please make sure to understand the ability to cancel the agreement and fully understand the monthly costs to you.

Scroll right within table to continue reading 

Purchase Lease Power Purchase Agreement
Requires capital to finance
Often requires down payment
Typically no down payment
Property owner responsible for operations/maintenance
System owner is responsible for operations/maintenance
System owner is responsible for operations/maintenance
Property owner claims rebates/incentives
System owner (3rd party) monetizes rebates/incentives
System owner (3rd party) monetizes rebates/incentives
Generally most advantageous to private (taxable) entities
Lease payment is fixed rate not tied to the power generated – typical 15-year term
Purchase the power generated at a fixed rate – typical 15-year term

Choose Solar Installers Wisely

It is very important to only use certified, licensed contractors. Nearly as important is obtaining competitive bids, typically three bids for the same job. Here is a list of important questions to ask your salesperson or contractor:
  1. Are you licensed, bonded and insured?
  2. Does the vendor’s company perform the installation or do they use a third-party installer?
  3. Is my roof right for home solar power?
  4. Does their bid include an expected production calculation?
    1. Don’t rely on the one provided by the vendor. Ask them to use the state’s GoSolar calculator
  1. What happens if my system doesn’t perform as promised?
    1. Do they provide a production guarantee?
  2. Who takes care of building permits and inspections?
    1. This includes scheduling, being available and paying for all inspections and permits.
  3. What is the warranty for the panels and inverters? Installation? Roof?
  4. Can they provide references?
  5. What additional costs might I expect during the life of my panels?

Battery Add-ons

Should you consider installing batteries at the same time you are having solar installed on your roof. Most solar vendors also sell and install batteries as an added feature.

Batteries allow a customer to charge during optimal solar times and then use that energy during the more expensive times of the day. This feature magnifies the potential financial savings for a customer, especially for those on Time-of-Use (TOU) rates.

For more information about residential solar energy, including energy production, Net Energy Metering and Time-of-Use rates, contact your Pioneer Community Energy team by email at info@pioneercommunityenergy.org and by phone at (916) 758-8969
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