Federal Incentives, Local Incentives, Tax Credits

A Guide to Solar Panel Tax Breaks

It’s no secret that leaders in energy production are working hard to ensure the viability of renewable energy sources. A large factor in determining renewable energy viability is the economics of it. Only when renewable energy becomes economically viable will it be able to supply larger quantities of clean energy on a greater scale.

Solar energy accounts for less than 1% of US energy consumption.

Though many residences, businesses and public buildings have adopted solar energy, it still only accounts for less than 1% of energy consumption in the United States and just above 1% globally. European countries like Germany, Italy and Greece have approximately 7% of their energy supplied by solar. But the solar industry has its sights set on far greater adoption rates that are required to grow the industry and help achieve energy independence.

The current paradox facing the solar energy industry is that higher solar installation rates depend on affordability, and affordability depends on higher solar installation rates. So how do solar energy providers and advocates increase solar installation and usage rates if consumers still perceive the initial costs as being too high? The answer is in financial incentives.

Financial incentives ease the burden of high installation costs and encourage homeowners and business owners to purchase solar energy systems. Financial incentives in the form of rebates, tax credits and tax exemptions are available at the municipal, state and federal levels. This strategy intends to galvanize widespread adoption of solar energy throughout the United States.

Today, there are countless financial opportunities for individuals and businesses to take advantage of when it comes to solar. Still, many people aren’t even aware of what’s available or how it all works. This guide will cover some of the most important solar panel tax breaks to be aware of and how to apply for them so you can start earning a return on your investment quicker.

What Is a Tax Credit?

Definition of a tax credit.

The first step in taking advantage of solar panel tax credits is understanding exactly what that is. A tax credit is a government-authorized amount of money that a taxpayer (individual or business) is allowed to deduct form their taxes owed to the government. Tax credits can be provided at a municipal, state or federal level. Unlike tax exemptions or deductions, which lower a person’s total taxable income, tax credits lower the amount of taxes you owe at the end of the year.

When it comes to solar tax credits, these dollar amounts are deducted from taxes based on a percentage of the total purchase and installation costs of solar products. These costs can be claimed through their designated tax codes when you file your taxes.

Why Are Tax Credits Offered?

There are many reasons why governments establish tax credits. In the case of solar energy, governments issue tax credits because it:

  • Lowers the consumer cost of a solar energy system
  • Motivates homeowners and businesses to switch to renewable energy
  • Reduces energy consumption levels
  • Bolsters economic growth in the renewable energy sector
  • Alleviates usage constraints on traditional grid energy
  • Increases viability of solar energy
  • Encourages independence from reliance on fossil fuels

All of this contributes to a larger vision of one day making solar energy economically viable enough to support larger-scale energy provision. Tax credits help people and businesses get on board with switching to solar energy while helping to eliminate financial risks, which are often barriers to adopting new technologies.

Other Types of Solar Tax Breaks and Financial Incentives

As mentioned, tax credits are available to help reduce the level of taxes owed to the government, based on the purchase of solar panels and other related products. But this is just one type of financial incentive offered at varying local, state and national levels.

Types of Financial Incentives

In addition to tax credits, financial incentives for solar energy installation can include rebates, grants and property or sales tax exemptions. Here’s how these other types of financial incentives work:

Rebate: A rebate, in general terms, is an amount of money the consumer gets back based on certain conditions of their purchase. This allows the consumer to get money back quicker than with a tax credit. Different structures of rebates are available, from lump sum amounts after purchase to regular dollar amounts based on the amount of solar energy being produced. Rebates often come with a time limit, so it’s important to look for this when you first start planning your investment.

Grant: A grant is a sum of money that’s given to individuals or organizations to help them cover the costs of solar panel installations. Grants can come from the government or from private organizations who want to help encourage solar adoption. Grants are often available for low-income homes or for businesses as part of their building energy efficiency improvements. Grants can either fully or partially cover a solar energy project and are typically non-taxable.

Tax Exemptions: A tax exemption occurs when the purchase of a product or service is excluded from an otherwise applicable tax. This can include state or city sales and use taxes or property taxes. Most states offer an exemption on sales taxes when purchasing solar equipment. Depending on the state, this may include solar components as well as the professional installation services.

Another type of tax exemption is for property taxes. Because solar power systems increase home and building values, some states are now excluding solar energy systems from property tax assessments so home and building owners don’t have to pay increased property taxes.

The Federal Solar Tax Credit (Solar ITC)

The most well-known financial incentive for solar energy installation in the United States is a federal tax credit for solar panels, also known as the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). It was first implemented in 2006 as a way to stimulate the solar energy industry in the United States. The solar ITC is available both for residential and commercial installations. Here is what’s included in the federal solar tax credit and how it works:

30% credit from the Solar ITC

  • Tax Credit Amount: The Solar ITC offers a 30% credit on residential and commercial solar installations. Prior to 2009, there was a $2,000 ceiling on the federal solar tax credit. But as of January 1, 2009, new solar installations don’t have a maximum credit amount. The 30% tax credit for solar panels is available for installations that go into service before December 31, 2019.
  • Tax Credit Administration Details: The IRS issues the federal solar tax credit. For residential solar installations it falls under section 25D, and for commercial installations it falls under section 48 of the federal tax code. If your solar tax credit exceeds that year’s tax liability, the remainder can be carried forward to the following taxable year.
  • Tax Credit Application: If you’re a residential homeowner, your federal tax credit gets applied to your personal income taxes to reduce your total amount owed. If a business installs a solar energy system, the business claims the credit on their business taxes. The credit amount is calculated at 30% of the total eligible solar installation costs. It’s important to note that the ITC is a credit and that you do not receive a cash rebate from the government later on.
  • Tax Credit Eligible Projects: The solar ITC covers solar-electric (photovoltaic or PV) and solar water heating projects. These can include residential or commercial projects as well as installations on RVs, mobile homes and boats deemed to be secondary residential dwellings. The solar project does not have to be installed at the person’s primary residence in order to be eligible for the tax credit, but the residence does have to be in the United States.

All solar installations packages are eligible for the solar tax credit.

  • Tax Credit Eligible Expenses: All solar installation packages for home or business are eligible for the solar tax credit. These include the photovoltaic panels, inverters and other components, as well as the installation cost. Backup battery systems for dwellings or buildings that may not be grid-tied are also eligible for the ITC. Any products that upgrade or expand existing solar electric or solar water heating systems are also eligible if they include at least one photovoltaic panel.
  • Tax Credit Requirements: Specifically concerning solar water heating projects, the installed equipment must be certified for its performance by the Solar Rating Certification Corporation (SRCC). At least half of the property’s energy used to heat the water must come from solar.
  • Tax Credit Term: Originally, the Solar ITC was only offered until the end of 2015. However, it has since been renegotiated and is now offered at 30% now through until the end of 2019. After that, the credit is reduced to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021. After 2021, the residential solar tax credit will no longer be available. However, a 10% tax credit will permanently be available to commercial businesses.

State-Level Solar Tax Credits

Individual states offer their own tax credit.The Solar Investment Tax Credit issued by the federal government isn’t the only solar tax break available to residences and businesses. Individual states offer their own tax credit for solar panel programs to their residents on qualified solar installation projects.

Here’s how some of the states are offering their own solar tax credits:

1. Arizona: The Arizona Solar Energy Credit is a personal tax credit first offered in 1995. It provides taxpayers with a 25% personal income tax credit based on the total amount spent on residential solar photovoltaic and water heating systems. It offers this 25% tax credit up to the amount of $1,000 per residence.

2. Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources provides its residents with a 15% personal income tax credit — up to $1,000 maximum — on all residential solar photovoltaic and water heating installation projects.

3. New York: The Residential Solar Tax Credit program offers New York residents a 25% income tax credit on residential solar energy systems, up to a total amount of $5,000. There is no expiration date on this solar tax credit at this time.

4. South Carolina: South Carolina’s Solar Energy Tax Credit program offers a 25% personal income tax credit on residential and commercial solar photovoltaic and water heating installations. The tax credit limit is $3,500 for any given tax year or up to 50% of taxpayer liability for that year — whichever is less. South Carolina’s Solar Energy Tax Credit program is available now through the end of 2018.

5. Utah: Utah offers a Renewable Energy Systems Personal Tax Credit of 25% on all eligible residential solar energy installations up to $2,000. At this time, Utah has not provided an expiration date on this financial incentive program.

Solar Panel Rebate Programs

Solar panel rebate program incentives.

Solar panel rebate programs incentivize homeowners and businesses by providing them with a cash rebate after they’ve installed and begun using their solar energy system. These rebate programs and amounts vary by state, municipality and even utility company.

Many solar panel rebate programs are based on production capacity, whereby they offer a certain rebate amount per watt of energy produced. Others may be based on the amount invested in the system’s installation.

Here’s a look at some different solar rebate programs happening at different levels of government and with different project types. Make sure to check the sources for updates as these incentives change frequently:

1. LADWP Solar Incentive Program: The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) Solar Incentive Program offers residential homeowners, businesses and government organizations a rebate on solar energy produced by photovoltaic panels. These rebates are available now through the end of 2017. Residential rebates are $0.25 per watt, commercial rebates are $0.40 per watt and governmental or non-profit rebates are $1.15 per watt.

These particular solar panel rebate amounts will step down over time. Rebates are eligible for system sizes between 1 kilowatt and 5 megawatts.

2. CPS Energy Solar PV Rebate Program, San Antonio, TX: The utility company CPS Energy offers San Antonio, TX residents a solar photovoltaic energy production rebate of $0.80 to $1.20 per watt depending on different eligibility tiers. The Solar PV rebate program, funded through the Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan, is available for commercial, industrial and residential installation projects from now through 2020.

3. Boulder, Colorado Solar Rebate: The city of Boulder, Colorado offers its residents and businesses an approximately 15% rebate on any city sales and use taxes paid on materials and/or permits needed to install a solar energy or water heating system. To obtain their rebate, homeowners and businesses must complete their rebate application within 12 months of the city’s final inspection. While this financial incentive program is based on an amount of taxes paid, it is considered a rebate because it gives the applicant cash back, as opposed to a credit.

Solar Tax Breaks and Exemptions

As mentioned, other important solar tax breaks to be aware of are property and sales tax exemptions. Unlike tax credits, solar tax breaks and exemptions are immediately effective. How solar tax breaks and exemptions work depends on the state or local jurisdiction.

Here are some examples of available solar panel tax breaks and exemptions in certain states:

1. California Property Tax Exclusion: California has primarily led the way in solar incentives and adoption in the United States. California alone has over 200 renewable energy incentive programs, including the important Property Tax Exclusion for Solar Energy Systems. This property tax exemption program is statewide and provides a 100% exclusion on the solar energy system’s value.

California’s state tax code doesn’t consider solar energy systems as increasing home value for property tax calculating purposes. Therefore, if you install a residential solar energy system, your property taxes won’t increase because of the value solar adds to the home. This is particularly important in the State of California, where property values have risen dramatically in recent years. A property tax exemption is a nice incentive for those concerned about increasing property taxes.

2. Washington DC Personal Property Tax Credit: Similar to California’s program, Washington, DC offers a 100% exemption on residential and commercial solar installations when it comes to assessing property taxes. This incentive program was implemented in 2012 and covers both photovoltaic and water heating solar installations, as well as other solar technologies.

3. State-Level Sales Tax Exemptions: Often overlooked, solar panel tax breaks are the various sales tax exemptions on solar installations and products. Over 29 states offer some form of sales and use tax exemption on solar equipment, devices or professional installation services performed by contractors. For example, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Arizona offer a 100% sales tax exemption on solar energy systems installed for residential or commercial uses, with no maximum amount.

Tips on Claiming and Receiving Tax Credits and Rebates

If you’re planning to install a solar power system for your home or business, it may seem like an overwhelming process, given how many different financial incentives and options are out there. To help make the process easier, here are a few tips to follow while claiming and receiving your solar panel tax credits and rebates:

1. Ask your Solar Design Tech: Our solar design techs are experts in their field. We have robust information about the different types of incentive programs in your area. We can help recommend the best rebates and tax credits for solar panel programs and ensure your particular system meets the eligibility requirements of the incentives.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency

2. Research Financial Incentives in Your Area: If you’re taking the DIY approach or you just want to do your own research, you can check online using tools like the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE). This comprehensive database is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and holds thousands of different local, state and federal tax credits, rebates, grants and other financial incentives for renewable energy installations.

3. Consult a Tax Professional: Because many of these financial incentives — particularly the federal solar investment tax credit — involve tax liability, it’s important to consult a tax professional. Consulting a tax professional prior to installing your solar electric or water heating system can ensure your specific project meets all eligibility requirements. Additionally, a tax professional can help ensure you’ve completed your applicable tax sections appropriately. This is especially necessary where a business investment in solar is concerned.

4. Act Sooner Rather Than Later: Many of the financial incentives, including the federal solar tax credit, have deadlines attached to them. This is to encourage homeowners and businesses to adopt solar power now. Time-sensitive financial incentives further encourage people to switch to solar if they know their tax credit eligibility will expire. With the federal tax credit, the highest amount available is a 30% credit, which is only available until the end of 2019. From there, the credit amount drops annually until it goes away completely in 2022.

Remember that you’re able to combine multiple incentives together in order to get the greatest possible return on your investment. By combining financial incentives, you not only offset your upfront installation costs with sales tax exemptions, but you can also reach your payback period earlier through the various rebates and income tax credits available.

Impact of Solar Tax Credits and Rebates

Solar industry employment

Incentivizing solar energy at a consumer level is essential to ensuring the industry’s long-term prosperity. The more homeowners and businesses take advantage of available solar panel rebates and tax credits, the more it supports the industry. As the industry grows, solar energy will become increasingly more accessible to people of all income levels.

Importance of incentivizing solar energy.The federal solar tax credit in particular has had a tremendous impact on the solar energy industry. Policymakers saw the industry growth and positive changes that came from the original ITC, which caused them to extend the program from 2016 onward. It’s expected that this extension will further drive growth in the solar industry.

It’s believed that by 2020, the solar industry will employ 420,000 workers and will create more than 20 gigawatts of solar electricity annually. It’s estimated that with these projected numbers, solar electricity will account for 3.5% of all energy consumption in the United States by this time. This is a massive increase from the less than 1% solar provides today.

If you are interested in installing a residential or commercial solar energy system, be sure to research all applicable local, state and federal financial incentives you may be eligible for. For more information on which incentives are available to you, visit Wholesale Solar’s list of local and state incentives.

How To, Solar Education

53 Ways You Can #GoGreen For St. Patrick’s Day!

We always say the first step to going solar is lowering your energy use. It will help you reduce the cost of your system, and hey, it’s good for the planet too!

So this St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve compiled a list of 53 of the best ways to #GoGreen by lowering your energy use. And the best part? They’re all either low cost or no cost!

So without further ado:

  • Unplug items you rarely use.
  • Unplug your televisions/VCR, stereos, clocks, cordless vacuums and small appliances when you’re away on vacation. Many items draw power even when they’re turned off.
  • Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. Remember to turn off your computer, or use the sleep setting.
  • Turn down the brightness on your TV and computer monitor.
  • Keep lights and lighting fixtures clean, especially if you’re reducing the number of lights you use. Dirt absorbs light. Let lights cool before cleaning them and never touch halogen bulbs with your bare hands. The oil from your skin can greatly damage the bulbs. Use a small piece of paper to hold the bulb.
  • Dress according to the weather and the season.
  • Close foundation vents in the winter months.
  • If your air conditioning unit is on the ground, keep the area around it clean and free of obstructions to maintain airflow. Vacuuming A/C and furnace filters can help increase efficiency between filter replacements.
  • Set or program your thermostat according to the season: for hot/warm months, 78-80 degrees when home and 5 to 10 degrees warmer when you’re away; in cold months, set the thermostat to 68 degrees when home, and lower to 55-62 degrees when leaving the house.
  • Take full advantage of your window coverings. In the summer, close blinds and drapes during the day to keep heat out. In the winter, open window coverings on the sunny side of your home to take advantage of free heat from the sun. Close the coverings on cloudy days or right after the sun sets.
  • Use your dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer as late in the evening as possible, especially in summer months. (This is still true when you have a solar PV system, and you are using supplemental energy from the grid. If you are completely off grid you may want to live without a dishwasher and do your dishes by hand. As much as possible, everyone with solar PV systems and battery backup should wait until after 2pm when your battery bank is full and the sun is still up to run these appliances using the PV panel generated electricity.)
  • Run full loads in your dishwasher, washer and dryer. Use cold-water to wash clothes as much as possible (90% of energy is used to heat the water).
  • Use the energy saver option on your dishwasher, allowing dishes to air dry. If your dishwasher has a filter, keep it clean.
  • Clean the dryer lint filter with each load.
  • Clean the dryer ducting periodically to increase efficiency and prevent a fire hazard from accumulated lint.
  • Utilize a clothesline for drying your clothes.
  • In warmer weather, barbecue outdoors when practical, or cook later in the evening. Reducing the heat coming into your home from any source, such as cooking, will reduce the load on your air conditioning. (A/C uses more energy than is really practical if you are completely independent off grid. Using a swamp/evaporative cooler, if ample water is available, and/or as many Passive Solar techniques as possible is critical for off-grid living in hot climates.)
  • Clean the reflectors underneath the burners on stovetops.
  • Make sure food is cool and covered before it goes into the refrigerator.
  • Use the energy saving feature on your refrigerator, if available, or set the thermostat to 38 degrees.
  • Keep your freezer as full as possible. Use containers or plastic bottles filled with water for empty spaces.
  • Vacuum refrigerator and freezer coils (underneath and in the back) and don’t obstruct the coils. They need air space to work.
  • Keep the seals (gaskets) on refrigerators and freezers clean.
  • Turn off the water while you brush your teeth at the sink and while you are soaping up and washing your hair in the shower.
  • Set your water heater to 110 degrees.
  • Install electrical outlet and switch plate insulation.
  • Change your incandescent bulbs to Energy Star rated compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL’s) or light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs). Both radiate less heat and use about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs.
  • Use smart power strips for your home theaters and entertainment centers that will prevent your game players or stereo from using power when you are only watching TV.
  • Replace worn or damaged seals on your refrigerator and freezer.
  • Install a door sweep at the bottom of your door between your home and your garage to seal the gap and prevent cold air from coming in and warm air from escaping your home.
  • Caulk windows and exterior doors.
  • Seal small gaps around plumbing stacks, vents, ducts, or electrical wires with caulk and seal holes up to 3 inches in diameter with spray foam. For spaces larger than 3 inches, cover with a piece of foam board and seal with spray foam.
  • Install a water heater blanket but be careful not to cover vents or temperature settings.
  • Install hot water pipe insulation. Keep the insulation at least six inches away from the flue (exhaust pipe) of gas water heaters.
  • Fix leaky faucets.
  • Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators.
  • Use room fans to keep the air moving and reduce the feeling of heat in your home.
  • Replace furnace and air conditioner filters at least once a year. Check filters every 30 days and replace if necessary. Spray the filters with a light coating of lemon furniture polish or vegetable oil cooking spray to help trap dirt in the filter.
  • Seal holes, tears and leaking connections of HVAC ducts using mastic or metal (foil) tape (never use ‘duct tape,’ as it is not long-lasting).
  • Seal holes and gaps around chimneys or furnace flues that penetrate your attic floor. At areas that get hot use metal flashing for larger gaps and use high temperature caulk for small holes and gaps.
  • Replace normal thermostats with programmable thermostats.
  • Install pool trippers to reduce the time your swimming pool pump runs. 8-12 hours a day is sufficient.
  • Buy a cover for your pool to retain heat in the water.
  • Plant trees and shrubs on the south and west side of your residence. The vegetation acts as insulation and provides shading, reducing thermal gain in a building.
  • Install floor and ceiling insulation: It is recommended to have a minimum of an R-30 – R-38 insulation in the attic (varies per climate) and R19 insulation in the sub-floor. (Find and seal air leaks before adding more insulation.)
  • Add window screens or window films to reduce the solar energy from entering your home. Remember to include skylights; some shade systems include remote controls making them more convenient to operate.
  • Replace inefficient and single pane windows with energy efficient multi-pane, thermally-broken, vinyl-framed windows. Windows with integral solar blind systems may qualify for the 30% Solar Federal Tax Credit.
  • Appliances over 10 years old are usually not as energy efficient as newer models. Look for products with the ENERGY STAR™ label. The Energy Guide Label tells you how efficient it is and how much it will cost you to run.
  • Service your heating and air conditioning systems once a year.
  • If your furnace is over 10 years old, replace with a 90%, or greater AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rated unit.
  • If your centralized air is over 10 years old, replace it with a properly sized unit for your home. Oversizing or under sizing your AC unit can reduce efficiency, accelerate wear, and shorten its lifespan.
  • Testing and sealing the ductwork. Not only does this improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system, it makes the house more comfortable.
  • Have ceiling fans installed in all bedrooms and your family room. They can make you more comfortable while allowing you to set your thermostat to higher temperatures in the summer and lower temperatures in the winter.

Do you have a low-cost tip for lowering your energy use? Share it with us in the comments!

Aquion Energy, Ask Wholesale Solar, Back-up Power, Batteries, Crown, Energy Storage, Fullriver, Powerwall, Solar Tech, Solar Trends, Tesla

Ask Wholesale Solar: Which Batteries Are Right For Me?

There are a lot of reasons folks make the decision to go solar. More and more, that decision involves including an element of backup power, which is stored using batteries.  But which batteries are right for which solar project? Which batteries should you use if you’re running your whole home off-grid? What about for a small cabin that you only visit once in a while? Which batteries are best if you’re adding the security of backup power to your grid-tied home? And how does emerging technology like the Tesla Powerwall compare with other new energy storage technologies?

Get an expert perspective on all of this, and learn about the newest battery technologies, in this latest video in the Ask Wholesale Solar series.

Solar design tech Jeremy A. discusses the differences between the most common types of batteries used to store energy from your solar array, including lead-acid batteries and sealed AGM batteries, and  goes over emerging technology such as lithium ion batteries like the Tesla Powerwall and aqueous ion batteries.

Do YOU have a question you’d like to Ask Wholesale Solar? Ask away in the comments and your question could be featured in a future Ask Wholesale Solar video!

Company Culture, Solar Education

The Path to Solar Expert with Ricky R.

 

Shalom solar folks, my name is Ricky! I’m a solar sales tech in training and I’d like to share with you all a recent learning experience I gained on my path to becoming one of the solar experts here at Wholesale Solar.

I’d been working at Wholesale Solar for half a year, steadily absorbing the knowledge of my peers, many of whom have been working in the solar industry as technicians, installers, and designers for years. Most of the people I work with here have installed solar on their own homes, and have conceived, designed, and created all kinds of solar projects. There’s a lot to learn just by being around the “solar experts,” but one thing I hadn’t yet gotten was hands-on experience. There’s nothing like actually doing the things you’re walking people through each day.

So this winter, I decided to add hands-on experience to my ever-growing solar knowledge toolkit. I talked to my sales manager about it, and soon myself and a Wholesale Solar warehouse technician (shout out to Shae!) were sent to the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, California, only a few hours south of our home and Wholesale Solar’s offices in Mt Shasta.

Our adventure started early one foggy January morning. After brewing up a pot (or two…) of coffee in the french press, we headed south towards Hopland. On our drive down, we stopped by friend and local artist Mark Henson’s property to check out his home’s grid-tied system off highway 20. As Mark was showing us under the hood, the sun broke and the sky cleared, setting the stage for the beautiful, sunny winter days that followed.

When we arrived at the SLI, we were greeted by a campus dedicated entirely to sustainable living and practices. The unique learning environment assured me that we were in good hands, and we were excited to get to work! The course we attended was in Photovoltaics and was led by an experienced solar installer. Over the run of the of two-day course, we also got to work with and learn from a wide variety of solar professionals.

In the classes, which were held in a sustainable yurt built by the campus in their biodynamic garden, we were instructed on subjects like Electrical 101 and PV Equipment Installation and Maintenance. Taught in an open-forum setting, there was time for the instructors to answer each of mine and my classmates’ questions, creating an atmosphere for growth. We learned things like the path the sun takes from hitting the panel to powering the home in both grid-tied and off-grid solar systems, system design theory, wiring 101, and the effects of various elements on photovoltaic energy production. For example, the instructors rigged up this representation of the effects of total shading on one solar cell, using water as an analogy for electricity. (PS: don’t freak out and go clean off your panels immediately, this was a fun science experiment, not a real world example! Honestly, you only need to worry about cleaning off your panels every few months.)


The days were packed with new information and experiences, so we needed a lot of brain food during our stay. Being from southern California, my brain actually runs on good burritos, so I was very thankful to know Willits has a great taqueria (head to Taqueria Bravo if you’re ever in the area). Each day after class, we’d grab some great food and talk over everything we learned while we ate.

On the last day, the whole class and one of our instructors took a field trip to a solar-powered olive oil bottling plant and got to do a little taste testing. It was pretty neat to see a small local business that ran on solar power. With the direction that commercial solar installations have been taking recently, I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more local businesses run on solar in the near future.

I walked away from this experience with the knowledge that I’m on the right path to helping people produce clean renewable energy, and that I’m gaining as much solar knowledge as I can. I’m grateful I live and work in Mt Shasta in an environment that encourages and supports my proactive desire to keep growing and learning!

Check out my album above to see some of the things I got to experience at the SLI.

Stay sunny,
Ricky R.

Customer Installations, DIY Solar, Grid-tie Solar, Install of the Month, SolarEdge, Suniva

Install of the Month – March 2017

“Beginning to See the Light” with Tom D.

Welcome solar friends! It’s that time of year again: as winter begins to melt away into spring and the sun pokes its head out from behind the clouds, we welcome in the prime months for solar. The extra spark of energy in the air makes us feel like anything’s possible!

To celebrate, we’re sharing our March Install of the Month. It goes to Tom D., who installed his own grid-tied system. This is a great one, since Tom is an example of someone who didn’t even know DIY solar was an option. But after he talked to us, he saw the light.

In his own words…

After I talked to Brent on the phone, I felt confident that I could readily do the installation myself while getting a better system with an optimized ground mount, and save a bunch of money too.
– Tom D.

A better, optimized system that saves you a bunch of money? That’s what DIY solar with Wholesale Solar is all about! Right on, Tom!

Like Tom’s installation? Right now we’re having a sale on systems just like it! Systems with Suniva solar panels and SolarEdge inverters ship free in the month of March. Check out systems with Suniva and SolarEdge, or see all systems that qualify for free shipping here. Free shipping can mean you save 10% off the total cost of your system, so make sure you at least call us and get your free quote to see how much you’d save on your system. We want to help you see the light too!

Interview with Tom

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch?

When I received my system I actually didn’t get started right away. Instead I took my time to plan things out (find the perfect location, etc.), get my documentation and plot plan together for permit, and purchase the additional materials I would need.

After receiving my equipment, it was six weeks before I finally visited my county building department to apply for my permit. I walked out with my permit, which only took 35 minutes, and three days later I had the foundation holes dug for my ground mount piers.

I was working on the installation in my spare time, so it took roughly four weeks from getting my permit to turning the system on. I was surprised how easy the permit and inspection process was here in California, in my county anyway, and how easy it is to complete the PG&E online interconnection application.

How many people did it take?

Four people including myself. My neighbor who owns a small excavator dug my pier foundation holes and the 200 foot trench. Another friend who owns a small tractor with a front-end loader backfilled the trench and also helped me place the horizontal 3” pipe rails onto the vertical piers. My wife helped with feeding the wire into the conduit as I pulled it through from the other end. Everything else I was able to easily do myself.

Brent and his associates at Wholesale Solar were fantastic in providing any assistance I needed via telephone and email, as well as providing informative online videos.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

No, not really. I have had very little construction experience and absolutely no electrical experience.

[A solar install company] did a very nice presentation, but when I was shown the price breakdown in the quote, I was quite surprised. The cost of the installation represented 2/3 of the overall cost of the complete system. That was when I got online and found Wholesale Solar.
– Tom D.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

There were a few unknowns up front, especially the mystery of the permit and inspection process. If only I would have known it would go so smoothly!

Another mystery for me, as a non-electrical person, was understanding how the electrical connections would be made at the inverter site and getting another breaker in my heavily populated electrical panel as I was already maxed out. But once I had a clear perspective on these things, it all came together nicely.

Another challenge was trying to come up with a suitable support structure for holding the 3” diameter steel pipe posts in place prior to filling the foundation with concrete. Once I came up with a viable solution for my particular setup, it was a piece of cake. (See the wooden braces in Tom’s install gallery above! – Ed.)

Also, the soil where I live is both rocky and hardpan, making for poor soil conditions to dig into. When I got my first IronRidge project report that specified a 60” hole depth for my foundation and piers, I called Brent and shared my concerns regarding what I expected with my horrible soil. In minutes, Brent produced a revised plan to allow me to dig only 36 inches deep, and the holes would have a wider diameter.

As expected, it was very hard work digging down to 36 inches, so I can only imagine what it would have been like if I had to go to 60 inches! This quick revision on the specification was one of the big advantages of working with Wholesale Solar.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

It was the communication component of the system that I forgot to address up front. This is the feature that allows me to monitor the output of each individual PV Module via phone app or computer. I probably should have ran CAT 5 cable in my trench out to the inverter from my house but now I am ordering the SolarEdge Wi-Fi kit instead and that should do the trick nicely anyway.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I had solicited a quote from a company that had a kiosk setup in Costco. They did a very nice presentation, but when I was shown the price breakdown in the quote, I was quite surprised. The cost of the installation represented 2/3 of the overall cost of the complete system. That was when I got online and found Wholesale Solar.

When I talked to Brent on the phone, I felt confident that I could readily do the installation myself while getting a better system with an optimized ground mount, and save a bunch of money too. It turns out that there is quite a bit of satisfaction in doing a D.I.Y. project like this; my friends and family are all impressed … but I know that it really wasn’t all that hard to do.

It turns out that there is quite a bit of satisfaction in doing a D.I.Y. project like this: my friends and family are all impressed… but I know that it really wasn’t all that hard to do.
– Tom D.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

It’s really easily justified when you do the math. Based on my average monthly electric bills for the last twelve months and adding up all equipment and installation costs (then subtract the tax credit), the payback should be only about 48 months. Purchasing solar is also a sure hedge against the future hikes in utility company electric rates.

Components in Tom’s System

Questions about Tom’s install? Ask us in the comments below.

Customer Installations, DIY Solar, Grid-tie Solar, Install of the Month, SolarEdge

Install of the Month: February 2017

“Days of Wine and Solar” with Jorgen O.

For Jorgen, the decision to convert his home in California wine country to solar power was an easy one. Inspired by the lowest panel prices ever and wanting to be 100% certain he got the 30% federal tax credit, Jorgen decided to use his ample days of sun for more than ripening the grapes in his vineyard. He decided it was time to harvest another of the sun’s many fruits: photovoltaic power.

And so, Jorgen began his research. Like many, he sought quotes from large solar installers before finding Wholesale Solar. Not being afraid of planning, research, and getting his hands dirty, once Jorgen saw the price difference between installing himself and hiring the big guys to do it for him, he called us up, got his quote, and never looked back.

“The system I purchased from Wholesale Solar cost about $20,000. I’d received bids from $86,000 to $46,000 for the exact same system. That got my attention!
– Jorgen O.

When he called, Solar tech Todd E. was there to help design his system. The first step for Todd was designing a system based on Jorgen’s monthly energy needs so he could tie into the local electrical grid and reach net zero. Next, the two worked together to figure out the best placement for Jorgen’s system.

Todd advised that Jorgen’s system should be ground mounted and split into three arrays: “The system was fairly large, so it would have taken up too much space and been too much work to install on his curved tile roof,” Todd shared, and added that “Jorgen didn’t have the room going left to right for one big south facing array, so we split his panels up to fit the space and still get the optimal south-facing sun.” The result was a gorgeous system tucked in behind the trellises; a crop of solar panels soaking up sun long after the last grape has been harvested and only dried leaves and cane are left.

Jorgen’s installation was “A perfect example of how the DIY process of designing and installation should go,” Todd noted, adding, “It was a seamless path from purchase to installation.” And luckily for those of us who love to see the step-by-step process of DIY solar installations, especially seamless ones, Jorgen documented the entire procedure from start to finish. Do yourself a favor and read his solar installation log below for a detailed account of what it’s like to install a system like this yourself:

Jorgen’s Installation Log

Day 1 Received the building permit.
Days 2-5 It rained, and I had to wait a week for the ground to dry.
Days 3-5 Installed wiring for internet, inverters, sub panel, and disconnect switch up to the main power panel.
Day 7 My electrician replaced 200 amp CB with 150 amp CB, rearranged existing circuit breakers, and installed the 80 amp solar panel CB at the bottom of the power bus. The labor cost was $200.
Day 13 Rented Ditch Witch with auger and trencher attachments. It was very handy and easy to operate.
Day 14 Passed trench and pier inspection.
Days 15-16 Poured concrete and set 20 steel posts. I had one helper for two days. Mixing concrete using a $182 Harbor Freight cement mixer.
Day 18 System freight delivery from Wholesale Solar arrived.
Days 19-21 Installed steel pipes and rails.
Day 22 Pulled wires.
Days 23-24 Installed solar panels, optimizers and connected wiring. It took two days with some help from my wife.
Days 25-26 Installed the two inverters, finished the wiring, and tested the system with SolarEdge support via the internet connection.
Day 27 Passed final inspection and applied online for permission to connect to the power company.
Day 28 2pm received email permit to connect the solar system. Turned on the switch – everything worked as advertised!

Interview with Jorgen

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

It was a total of 28 days, and I had help from an electrician, one helper, and my wife. I used two weeks of vacation, and several days were wasted due to rain and muddy soil.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Some remodeling to my home and backyard projects.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

It took two months to research pricing, evaluate the system, find parts not included in the kit, deal with power company connections and local and electrical regulations. That was the most time-consuming part. The most difficult part was drilling the holes accurately due to rocks, but I managed to get the posts lined up with bigger holes and extra concrete.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Planned for and purchased most parts at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and a few online. The only thing I missed were the warning labels and decals for all the electrical panels and boxes.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I’d received bids from $86,000 to $46,000 for the exact same system. That got my attention! Found a similar system package at Wholesale Solar for about $20,000 not including all of the additional costs like wiring, permits, conduits, CBs, rental equipment, miscellaneous parts, tools, steel pipes and concrete. All of those combined came to about $5,000 for a total cost of about $25,000.

Components in Jorgen’s System

Questions about Jorgen’s install? Ask us in the comments below.

Customer Installations, Grid-tie Solar, Install of the Month, SolarEdge, SolarWorld

Install of the Month – January 2017

“The Best of Both Worlds” with Sully B.

Welcome to the first Install of the Month of 2017! To start the year off, we chose Sully B’s great-looking grid tied system.

Sully wanted two things: the quickest return on investment, and a system that wouldn’t look out of place in his gorgeous yard. Of course, purchasing wholesale is always going to have the quickest ROI. Not only do you save outright, there’s also no paying interest on a loan or pressure to finance your system. It’s just the price of the equipment and contract work if you choose it.  But… can a system like this also look phenomenal? We feel that Sully’s system answers this question with a big yes, showing that it’s possible to get the best of both worlds.

“Sully was different than most customers,” shared solar design tech Isaac A.  “He was very interested in the aesthetics of his solar array.” Because he saved so much choosing to purchase his equipment through Wholesale Solar and hire a local contractor to install it, he was able to modify his system so it looked the way he liked.

The modifications Sully decided on included:

  • Black on black USA-made SolarWorld modules.
  • A symmetrically balanced array that required some custom design from solar tech Isaac A. In most cases, racking is engineered to pack as many modules into an area as possible without consideration for the way it looks.
  • Extra IronRidge XR1000 rails to accommodate the custom design.
  • The black steel pipes and black IronRidge rails that the black on black panels are installed on to give it its sleek, state-of-the-art look.

It was the first time installing solar for the local contractor Sully hired, so naturally the contractor had some questions. He spoke with Isaac several times, who was able to answer his concerns about the custom design and electrical design options that would meet the requirements of his local AHJ (Authorities Having Jurisdiction).

Read on for Sully’s take on his new system!

Interview with Sully B.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

From the time of placing my order with Wholesale Solar, to receiving the equipment, to having my contractor install the system, it took approximately 5 weeks. On an average day there were two people working on the project.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Neither myself, nor my contractor had any experience with solar installation. My contractor handled 100% of the installation.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

There was a learning curve for my contractor early in the project. However, Isaac with Wholesale Solar was very helpful with this aspect of things. I’m not sure anything was too difficult, but, this being my contractor’s first solar project, it naturally caused a little anxiety. At the end of the day, any anxiety was unwarranted as the project went very smoothly.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

No. My contractor constructed the support system out of 3” steel pipe and Isaac referred him to IronRidge for design ideas and support.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

Before I decided to hire an independent contractor and order my equipment through Wholesale Solar, I had a reputable solar company come out and give me an estimate. The young man was very knowledgeable and professional, however he seemed more focused on trying to get me to finance my project rather than paying cash.

I wanted the shortest return on my investment and was not interested in paying interest on a loan. To me, that defeated the purpose.
– Sully B.

The initial estimate through them was in the neighborhood of $52,000 for an 11 kilowatt system with 36 panels.

After having the salesman remove all the “inflationary” projections, I quickly realized I was going to need a larger system for my 4,600 square foot home. Instead of signing up that evening, I decided to do a little more research. I ended up contacting Wholesale Solar and was introduced to Isaac. He was very knowledgeable and provided me with the facts about solar and how to maximize it. Based on the information I provided him, along with the available space in my back yard, Isaac designed a 50 panel system with 2 inverters. The cost for the equipment was $26K and my contractor charged me $12K to install it for a total of $38K before tax incentives. Bottom line, I got a lot more for my money using Wholesale Solar!

Bottom line, I got a lot more for my money by using Wholesale Solar!
– Sully B.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

To save money on my power bill.

Components in Sully’s Grid-Tied System

Thanks Sully, and congratulations on your new system and your switch to solar power!

Ask Wholesale Solar, DIY Solar, Solar Education, Solar Panels, Videos

Ask Wholesale Solar: Which Solar Panels Are Right For Me?

DIY solar means getting your hands dirty. Not only in the literal sense of getting up on your roof and mounting the racking yourself or digging holes for the steel pipes for a ground-mount, getting your hands dirty also means being willing to learn about solar. That’s how you get the best, most efficient system for your home, that’s how you know what wire goes where and how your system actually works. And that knowledge is what Wholesale Solar is here to help with.

We’ve been helping regular people go from solar novices to being confident enough to install their systems for 30 years. Plus, our solar experts don’t just have that longtime experience under our belts, we also keep up-to-date on the latest solar technology and methods and want to share them with you to make your DIY install go better than a system you pay an arm and a leg for someone else to handle. It’s all in our Google Reviews and right here on our blog’s Install of the Months: if all these people can do it, you can do it too.

Our dream would be for everyone in the world to be as nerdy about solar as we are so they could save huge on solar by installing themselves. That’s where our new solar education series Ask Wholesale Solar comes in! These videos are designed to help kickstart your solar education and get a better handle on what kinds of things you need to be thinking about before installing.

So without further ado, we present the first video in the series: Which Solar Panels Are Right For Me? With Wholesale Solar design technician Jeremy A:

Do YOU have a question you’d like to Ask Wholesale Solar? Ask away in the comments and your question could be featured in a future Ask Wholesale Solar video!

How To, Solar Safety

Solar How To: Taking Care of Your System in Winter

Preparing Solar System for Winter

Winter is the most demanding time for solar power systems. Not only does winter mean more severe conditions, it also means that people are spending more time indoors, and therefore using more electricity. Especially people with electric heating.

However, if you take the proper precautions you can be sure your solar energy system will function properly even during the harshest winter weather.

Even though your solar system doesn’t require any additional maintenance to run smoothly in snowy weather,  it may need more frequent attention and upkeep. All you need to do is keep these simple tips in mind and you will keep your system operating safely all winter long!

It Starts With Energy Conservation

You may see your solar system’s production decrease during the winter months. That’s because the days are shorter, sunlight strikes the panels at a “lower angle,” and accumulated snowfall can cover panels and temporarily halt production.

Therefore, it’s best to know how to minimize your electricity usage in order to maximize your savings. Using energy more efficiently this winter can help keep your utility bills under control.

Wholesale Solar's 53 ways you can lower energy use green cfl lightbulb graphic

Click for more ways you can lower your home’s energy use right now.

Tips to make the most of your clean electricity :

  • Ensure that your house has proper insulation to conserve heat. If it doesn’t, investigate the cost of adding insulation to exterior walls and attic.
  • Before turning on your heater, check your ducts for leaks.
  • Use a heating system that automatically maintains a preset temperature with the help of a digital thermostat.
  • Make sure to close your damper when the fireplace is not in use.
  • Take advantage of sunny days to heat your house.
  • Open the curtains on your south-facing windows during the day and close them at night to lock the warmth in. Thermal curtains help insulate windows even better than regular curtains.
  • Make sure you only use necessary loads.
  • Turn off excessive lighting when not needed.
  • Disconnect ghost loads that consume power even when off as long as they are plugged in. Over a period of 24 hours, a plugged in TV consumes the same power as when it is ON for thirty minutes.
  • Replace all the high wattage bulbs with energy efficient ones. You could save about 75% of energy consumed by a 60 watt bulb by replacing it with a 15 watt energy efficient CFL, without sacrificing your light output.

Snow On Your Solar Panels

Snow Melting on Solar Panels

In most areas, sun will melt the snow from your panels on its own.

After heavy snowfall, snow or ice may accumulate on your rooftop and cover your solar panels. If you have a rooftop array that is out of reach, we don’t recommend trying to get on your roof to shovel snow off your solar panels. Their dark surface will gather sun and actually help melt the snow, causing it to slide off the system’s glass surface.

Raking snow off rooftop arrays could harm the panels by scratching them or worse, harm you, if you slip and fall or get caught under snow and ice falling from your roof.

If you have a ground-mount array that is easily accessible, and you do choose to brush snow off your panels, use a soft brush or broom so you don’t scratch the panels. Also, be mindful of your footing, and beware of falling ice or heavy snow loads from the panels.

If you’re living in a country where you get plenty of snow and wind during the winter, it’s highly recommended to purchase solar panel that have been tested to withstand a certain snow load. Wholesale Solar recommends the strong and durable SolarWorld SW270 Protect Solar Panel.

Most IEC / UL certified solar panels can withstand 50 psf (pounds per square foot) of snow load and wind load. However if you expect several feet of snow every winter, it’s highly recommended to go with a more robust version, such as panels that withstand 113 psf snow load.

Nowadays there are even panels on the market that withstand 150 psf of snow load. That may seem excessive, but when snow builds up, and it starts raining snow starts melting, the pressure from the snow will be very extensive.

Maintaining Your Battery Bank During Winter Months

Adding fluid to offgrid battery banks

Warning: If fluid levels are low, replenish prior to charging batteries!

Extreme cold temperatures can be very hard on your deep cycle batteries. Make sure your batteries are installed indoors, and if they are outdoors, make sure that the compartment is properly insulated. Lead acid batteries freeze at below zero temperatures and will be destroyed.

Make sure that you have all the diagnostic tools ready at your disposal. This includes a digital multi-meter, a set of clampers and cutters, and a handheld battery refractometer.

If a constant power supply is crucial, make sure that you have a backup generator ready and tested for functionality in advance. Some fuel supply would be handy as well.

For Off-Grid solar system owners, have enough supply of anti-freeze distilled water for your batteries. The battery fluid level should be checked regularly. The fluid level should be at the plastic fill port lower ring. If the level is low, add distilled water.

Battery output voltage and battery capacity both decrease with temperature. Check battery voltage often. If battery level is at or below 12 volts DC, you should charge the batteries. Use a 45 amp or greater capacity 12 volt DC battery charger.

If possible, the batteries should receive an equalizing battery charge from a high capacity battery charger about once a year to keep the plates free of sulfate buildup.

Most batteries do not fail instantaneously, but over time. Regularly checking the voltages identifies a potential problem earlier than later.

The Final Word

During the severe winter months, it’s essential that you maximize your electricity generation, minimize your electricity consumption, and be diligent about maintaining your solar system.

Following the above tips can help you and your solar system fare a little better this winter when the inevitable “Snowmaggeddon” comes barreling through your city.

Have questions? Need help choosing the right solar system for your needs? Call the solar experts at Wholesale Solar at 1-800-472-1142. After all, we don’t just sell solar, we live it.

Related Links:

Energy Conservation Tips
Solar Panels
SolarWorld SW270 Protect Solar Panels
Battery Backup Power Systems
Grid-Tie with Battery Backup Solar Systems
Off-Grid Solar Systems