The acronym RE stands for Renewable Energy. It’s what we do at Solar & Wind FX, Inc. This page contains a large amount of information about RE with the purpose of educating you on the subject and preparing you for your own RE project.

For the Reader’s Digest version, click here. For more detailed info read on.

Before you begin, I, Chris Schaefer, want you to know that the information you are about to read comes from my many, many years of experience. You’ll find personal comments by me, which are not intended to offend or alienate anyone or any specific political party. Please know that my only goal is to help and educate you. I appreciate any feedback you might have that can help make this page as understandable as possible to the average layman. Sorry in advance for the grammatical errors. :)

The following subjects should answer most of your general questions. If after reading this page you have more questions, or would like more specifics, then call us on the phone. Or better yet, make an appointment to stop by our Design and Training Center.

Renewable Energy Explained

Grid-Tied vs Off-Grid

The first step in the process is to determine whether to be attached to the Utility power grid (grid-tied) or not to be connected/reliant on the Utility (off-grid). There is no right or wrong answer to this question. If you are currently connected to the Utility, you will know this because you get the pleasure of sending them a check every month. Off-grid means that you are taking control of your energy needs and are going to become your own little utility/independent power producer, providing for 100% of all your electrical needs… No more monthly check-writing for you.

To begin, I’ve listed the four different types of systems available in order from least expensive to most expensive:

  1. Grid-Tied. Power generated from solar array offsets utility electrical consumption, no batteries, no back-up power, most efficient and lowest-cost system.
  2. Off-Grid. Remote, independent applications, solar array charges a battery bank and through the use of an inverter powers the home electrical equipment.
  3. Grid-Tied with Battery Back-Up.   Solar power offsets regular electrical consumption, batteries store power for limited back-up, most versatile system.
  4. Grid-Tied and AC Coupled.

Grid-Tied

Check your utility bill to see if there is a fee called “Service Benefits Charge” (SBC) or “Renewable Portfolio Standard” (RPS). If so, you should be eligible to take advantage of an incentive program that is controlled by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Visit their website for up-to-date incentive level info.

I wish to point out that the majority of grid-tied systems do not have any batteries, and if you remember any one thing as you read on, please remember this: when the utility grid goes down, so do you. In other words your electricity goes out, despite the fact that you have 4kw of PV or wind on your site. This is to protect the utility lineman from being shocked by your system feeding electricity back into the grid as they try to repair the line. There are ways to provide your family with electricity and keep the utility workers safe at the same time. That’s where Solar & Wind FX comes in. While on the subject of the Utilities, you may wish to read our description of Net Metering.

Off-Grid

Off-Grid is just that. You are off the utilities’ grid and are now in control of managing your own electricity production, as well as usage. The key word here is “usage.” I’m sure we all remember back to when we were kids and your dad was constantly telling you to turn the lights off in your room. You are no longer polluting the earth by using fossil fuels, nor are you concerned where we will put the nuclear waste from spent fuel rods. You have chosen to leave an inheritance to future generations that you cannot place a price tag on. Now there’s a Visa commercial for you. Priceless!! Not to mention how proud your dad would be. After all, he is due some credit. A good starting point is to know your annual Kwh usage. What I shoot for as far as qualifying and identifying a client for off-grid is a usage of about 6,000 Kwhrs or below, annually. If your usage is more, it will just take either more dollars and/or a good conservation strategy.

Obviously, there are many reasons for you to have a Renewable Energy (RE) system installed. However, we normally make this decision based on our back pockets. So just how far from the utility power is your building site? To give you a couple of examples, our Design Center is located at the end of a half-mile driveway. Back in the early 90’s, it would have cost us about $22-25k to have electricity brought up to our site. Well that was a no-brainer for me.  Another site was about the same distance, and the client was quoted over $40k. They ended up with a $55k system for a 5,000 sqft home. Their thought was “why write a one-time check for $40k and still pay a monthly bill till the end of time?” So what if your utility quotes you only $10k and you need a $40k system? This is a decision you must make on your own. I can tell you that you will have cleaner power (simply put, your electrical appliances will last longer) and more reliable power than the utility will ever be able to provide. No more coming home and finding all your digital clocks flashing. Does anyone remember the ice storm of ‘91 or the Northeast power outage of ‘02? Did you know that the utilities have still not made the necessary upgrades to the grid system’s infrastructure to prevent it from happening again? Do you remember buck’a’gallon gasoline? How long before electricity prices catch up to the rest of the world? Our American appetites for electricity continue to grow, despite an outdated and overburdened power supply and distribution system.

The major difference in an off-grid home is that we use a set of batteries to store your electricity for times without sun/wind. In a grid-tied system, the utility grid is your battery; basically an infinite battery (that is until the utility goes down). In off-grid systems, we use wet lead acid batteries, similar to that which you have in your car or truck. However, the batteries are much larger and are designed to put out energy over the long haul, as opposed to the one in your car/truck, which is designed to output a lot of energy over a few seconds for starting purposes. Good news for off-grid projects: for the first time ever, you can take a 30% Federal Tax Credit on your project. See Incentives and Tax Credits below.

Grid-Tied with Battery Back-Up

This is the same as a grid-tied system, but unlike a grid-tied system, you have batteries so that when the utility goes down for whatever reason, your lights will still stay on. Now generally I would suggest installing a set of AGM batteries over lead acid, as they are better suited for always being at or near float (system) voltage. To learn more on battery types, select this link: Batteries 101. Any time you add batteries, you add cost to a project. And frankly, there are very few installers that have any kind of experience with batteries. After 18 plus years, I’m still learning new things about them, especially as they age.

Grid-Tied and AC Coupled

Is the most expensive of all four systems. This type of system is generally installed years after a client has already had a grid-tied system in place, and primarily because they want to have back-up power for those times when the grid is out. The reason that it is the most expensive system is that it requires duplicate equipment. For example, the grid-tied inverter is just that; it is for grid-tied only, and not designed to be used with batteries. Now we must add to your system an inverter that is designed to be used with batteries.

Still unsure as to what to do, either grid-tied or off-grid? I personally would like to see everyone become off-grid electrical users and never have to worry about electrical reliability or what next month’s bill will bring. Surprise! And the greatest by-product of being off-grid is the awareness and responsibility of your own electrical usage brought to you each and every day. On the other hand, if you are already attached to the grid, then I would suggest having us design a system that would allow for possible future expansion and movement towards going off-grid. To put it simply, take the State’s incentive/tax credits monies, and then after three years you have the option to go completely off-grid. Why? In order to get the NYSERDA incentive, one of the requirements is to provide electrical production data for three years. After that, you can choose to do whatever you would like. This means that your obligations to NYSERDA are complete after three years. If we design a system with the intentions of going off-grid in the future, you can then pull the plug on the utility and become your own private utility. Be aware that if the design is as such, the overall system cost will be higher. You now have the knowledge, and we hope you will use it to move towards power independence.

System Sizing

RE Systems, in regards to solar power, are modular, flexible and scalable. Therefore, we can size a system in one of three ways: based on your energy production goals (percentage of electricity to supply), your available roof space, or your budget. It takes about 1 square foot of space per 9 to 12 watts. Thus, a 4,000 watt system would require approximately 400 sqft of roof space. Each 1,000 watts (or 1kw) of solar will produce about 100 Kwh per month on average here in Western New York. Keep in mind that if this is a grid-tied system, we can size a system to produce up to 110% of your annual usage.

If you’re interested in an off-grid or a grid-tied with battery back-up system, which provides uninterrupted power during a grid failure, then this will require a bank of batteries. Battery bank sizing is one of the most difficult tasks when it comes to system design. There are many factors that come into play. Systems with battery back-up are usually sized to run specific “critical loads,” such as well pumps, heaters, refrigerators, and basic lighting, for a certain amount of time. This can range from 24 hours to five days of what we call “autonomy” (think storage). It’s critical in any important design to match the solar array size to the battery bank size and your area’s sun resource. Depending on your utilities’ reliability, or if you are planning to be off-grid, we will need to spec out a fuel-powered generator. For more on batteries, checkout our “Batteries 101” section.

A Word of Caution

The following is a word of caution, my friends, on wind and solar installers in general. Renewable Energy (RE) is getting more publicity these days than ever before. Your utility bill costs are increasing more frequently than your paycheck, and many states are making funds available to consumers for RE systems. However, what almost always seem to follow ANY government funding are unscrupulous companies and individuals who are out looking to make a quick buck and take advantage of consumers. I call these people the “Sharks” of our industry. My peers and I will do our best to educate you and provide you with a quality system at a competitive price. Sharks, on the other hand, are looking to make the quick sale and move on to the next client. FYI, we don’t install plumbing, windows, decks, doors or heating systems. Renewable Energy is our focus, passion and lifestyle!

These days, the majority of installers have only been in business for 2-5 years. Now they may say that they’ve been doing it longer, but that’s generally because they are talking about their parent company. It seems that every Tom, Dick and Harry can install a solar panel. Mercy, Lord, help us all. I just don’t want to see a repeat of the Carter era (and if you don’t remember, ask someone over the age of 40 and they’ll tell you). As I tell any potential clients, I was here before NYSERDA incentives and State/Federal Tax credits, and I’ll STILL be here long after the Tom, Dick and Harrys of the world have moved on and out of the state, just as they did in the 80’s. I can’t begin to tell you how many projects we have had to correct by other so-called “professionals.” Also, just because someone is listed as a government-approved installer doesn’t mean squat. I’ve been doing it for well over 18 years now!

We’ve been seeing these Sharks, with home bases in other states, rent out space in our area and claim they are locals. This means that when they collect your money, it goes to their out-of-state headquarters where they pay their state taxes, not New York’s. Now NYSERDA has certain requirements necessary to be an Eligible Installer in their program, one of which is being NABCEP certified. So what these out-of-state Sharks are doing is having one NABCEP installer on their staff located in another state in order to comply! Our NABCEP certified installer, on the other hand, is the owner himself, Chris Schaefer. One thing to remember is that NABCEP does NOT certify companies, only an individual. The following story just goes to show how crucial the knowledge and integrity of that individual is. A few years back, one of our peers had lost a bid to a Shark for a top-of-pole mounted system. Normally, you would use a schedule 80 pipe for this. The Shark instead used schedule 40, which is about a third of the cost. After a heavy wind storm, the arrays buckled under the wind. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “you get what you paid for.”

I would encourage you to ask these Sharks if they are using RE themselves, on their own homes and businesses. And if so, for how long? Will they let you see their setup? Do they have data backing up their system designs? How many systems have they installed? Where is their headquarters? Do they have someone that is NYSERDA & NABCEP certified who works in their local office every day? Are they members of their local Chamber, Better Business Bureau? Do they have a Dunn and Bradstreet number? Make sure your dollars stay local. Don’t get me wrong; competition is healthy. But just make sure you are doing an “apples-to-apples” comparison when choosing your system designer/installer. Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox, for now anyway.

Net Metering Explained

In New York State, there is a Net Metering law. Not all states have this. Net Metering, in its simplest form, means that the utility purchases your excess electricity at the same rate at which they sell it to you. In order for this to happen, a utility grid interconnection agreement must be signed with your utility company. Not to worry, as this is something we do for you. This is how it works: on a month that your PV or Wind generator system makes more energy than you can use, your utility will credit you for that month and forward this credit into the following month. If you continue to have a credit each month for twelve months consecutively, then your utility will pay you for this excess. This may come in the form of a check or as a credit to the following billing period, depending on your utility provider. However, they are only required to pay you what is referred to as the “avoided cost.” In layman’s terms, this is known as the wholesale cost. This normally equates to about three to six cents per kilowatt, again depending on your utility provider. When we design your system, we are only allowed to provide up to 110% of your annual electrical usage.

Now recently the Public Service Commission (PSC) has introduced something called Remote Net Metering (RNM). What this allows us to do is let’s say you have two properties whether it be residential or business and only one site is good for installing solar. With RNM we can install enough solar at one location to cover both utility bills. For those of you that are business owners you may be able to apply for additional Federal tax credits thus making your project even more appealing from a financial standpoint.

Site Survey

A Site Survey involves having a PV/Wind professional (like myself) travel to your site to evaluate your PV and wind potential. Prior to arrival, you, the client, should prepare your utility bills for the past 12 months, or at the very minimum your Kilowatt hours (Kwh) usage for the same 12 months. If you don’t save your bills, you can call your utility or go online to retrieve this information. Below is a brief explanation of what you can expect as a result of a Site Survey.

The visit to your location will take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, during which time we will:

  • Determine the location of the PV array and/or wind generator, as well as the placement of the Balance of System (BOS) components.
  • Use a device called a Solar Pathfinder. This is to determine any shading that may occur during the daylight hours over a 365-day period.
  • Take digital pictures before and after shading (generally trees) has been removed. We will also need pictures of Service Entrance equipment and PV mounting location(s).
  • Discuss your electrical AC and DC power needs, as well as measure size and record name plate data off large electrical devices.
  • Record Service Entrance Panel manufacturer and model/serial number.
  • Determine wire run distances for calculating voltage drops. This can severely affect the cost of the system because of copper pricing, and it is used in our system design.
  • Review your utility bills for the past twelve months. Please allow us to take the originals back to the office or provide a copy. They will be returned once the survey calculations are completed.
  • Tour your home to determine any high energy usage appliances and ghost/phantom loads. A ghost or phantom load is an electrical device that, even when powered off, is still consuming electricity. This is the educational part of our job.
  • Discuss the use of a Kill-A-Watt meter to measure specific electrical devices. This helps you truly understand just how much electricity it takes to run your appliances.
  • Return to the office, armed with the above information, and do the calculations to determine the correct equipment best suited to meet the needs of your project.
  • Provide you with a budgetary quote and a basic description of the prescribed system that will meet your project needs. The budgetary quote will reflect any incentives or tax credits. Of course, any tax credits should be verified with your tax accountant.

We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a Site Survey done. In most cases, the Site Survey is free when within our local service area. If we need to travel an extended distance or travel by air, then the cost will be agreed upon prior to the visit. Of course, the high cost of vehicle fuel is not helping us out here. In addition to the travel time to and from your site, plus the time spent on-site with you, we will spend about 8 to 12 additional man hours putting all the information together. If a fee is required for your Site Survey, 120% of the cost will be applied towards the installation cost of your system.

Wind vs PV

It has been our experience that 8 out of 10 clients that walk through the doors of our Design Center looking to install a wind generator end up going with PV. I must remind you that each client’s site is different, and the use of either wind or PV is unique to your site alone. Each of these devices is out in the harsh environment 24/7, 365 days a year. A PV array is basically a non-moving device that absorbs the sun’s light. Where as a wind generator is placed atop a 100 to 130 foot tower and is subject to wind gusts, rain, ice, snow and lightning. The big difference being that you have a mechanical, rotating device with blades that flex and wear. You also have bearings and lubricants that must operate in all temperatures. A wind generator needs to be visually inspected, at the very minimum, every six months, and the tower should be climbed or lowered annually. For the annual inspection, all bolts and guy wires need to be checked for tightness. At some point the generator will need to be removed from the tower, and if you do not have a tilt-up tower, this will require the assistance of a crane. The maintenance of a PV array consists of keeping the snow removed and changing the tilt angles every season. People frequently say to me that they don’t get enough sun to just install PV.

After the first year that the Design Center was up and running, we experienced a problem with our large wind generator in November. We would be unable to repair the generator until the summer months. This meant that we had to run our business entirely off of PV. We did this successfully with only two separate days of runtime on our back-up fuel (yuk) powered generator. All of our off-grid systems are designed with back-up propane or diesel-fueled generators. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching a wind generator and don’t mind the maintenance. When I set out to start this endeavor, my goal was always to provide my business and home with 100% Renewable Energy (RE). By design, our hybrid system (comprised of both PV and wind) has achieved this. However, for a client that does not want to be bothered with the periodic maintenance of a wind generator, PV is the way to go. Keep in mind also that the best wind generators have a 15-year life cycle. Compare this to the fact that most PV manufacturers supply a 25-year power rated warranty, and we expect to see panels still operating after 50 years! Please do not misunderstand our message here. Our job is to educate you, the consumer, on selecting the correct product that best fits your needs and lifestyle. The final decision to go with either wind or PV is ultimately yours to make.

PV Array Placement

PV panels need to be placed in an area that has no shading between the hours of 0900 and 1600 hours. That’s four o’clock in the afternoon for non-military personnel. PV panels can be mounted on a roof, on top of a ground-mounted pole, or ground-mounted via a series of aluminum rails. This will depend, of course, on your site. It seems that most people want to place these on the roof of a home. It is our company’s policy to do this only as a last resort. This is not to say that we won’t, but we must first educate the client on why it is better not to. Below are what we call the “Nine Deadly Sins” regarding rooftop installations:

  1. When mounting to a pitched composite roof, this will require many penetrations via lag screws. This presents the potential for a leak. Now granted, today we have wonderful flashing mounts, thus leaking should be a thing of the past.
  2. Given that the roof is extremely hot during the sunniest periods, this increases the temperature of the PV array. As the roof temperature rises, the array’s electrical output decreases.
  3. You cannot adjust for seasonal tilt angles of the PV array, thus you are unable to get the full payback from your PV system. Ideally, your roof should have an 8/12 (33-degree) pitch and have an azimuth of 192 degrees (just west of magnetic south).
  4. When it comes to installing PV panels on your east and west-facing roofs, it’s just a poor investment. There are times when your home is just not a good candidate for PV.
  5. It is unsafe to climb the roof in the winter months to remove snow from the PV array, thus you are unable to maximize your electrical output.
  6. It is not only difficult, but also unsafe to service the array in the winter months or in severe weather.
  7. Most PV panels are warrantied for 25 years. But what about your roof? Also, how many roofs (reroofs) are currently on your structure? You will have to replace your roof before the PV array. Even for someone that is about to have a new roof installed, the array will outlast the roof.
  8. The PV array can limit access to the roof for fire and rescue personnel.
  9. Underneath the panels is a good place for critter nests and tree debris to collect. We know of a case in which a squirrel made a nest under the panel and chewed its way through the roof and into the client’s home!

A word to the wise: there are installers that will place systems which allow for some partial shading. Here’s our thought on that: you, the client, just spent thousands of dollars on PV panels. As an installer/designer, I want to squeeze every electron out of those panels to give you the best bang for your buck along with the shortest payback period.

Wind Generator Placement

Any wind generator needs to be about 30 to 50 feet above the tallest obstacle within a 500ft diameter of the tower base. Under no circumstance is a wind generator to be mounted to or on top of a structure. There are three main tower types: Self Supporting (SSV), guyed wire lattice, and tilt up tower. The SSV is generally the most expensive, however if you don’t wish to cut or trim vegetation around the guy wires, or look at them, this is the way to go. Both the SSV and guyed wire tower will require a crane for the installation, as well as any time that the generator will need to be removed. A tilt up tower, on the other hand, requires a winching system or tractor to raise and lower. Also, the tilt up tower is not climbable. Ideally, all wind sites should be on flat ground. This is even more important for a tilt up tower.

Inverters: String vs Micro

Up until the year 2009 or so, there have only been String Inverters in the grid-tied market. The word “string” refers to the placement of PV modules in a series (positive to negative), anywhere from eight to fifteen in quantity. Now if any one of the modules were to have any issues (like shading, soiling, or just a malfunction), then that string would act like a string of Christmas lights. Or perhaps a better analogy would be a garden hose, and what happens when the water is on, but you step on the hose. This means that the output of the entire string is severely reduced. Additionally, a string inverter can only monitor the string as a whole. Thus if there are issues at the module level, the client may never know. See the graphic below for a visual.

string_inverter_vs_micro

In the case of the Micro Inverter, each module receives its own inverter. This way, if there is shading, soiling, or a malfunction of some kind, the micro inverter will detect this and with the included monitoring software, the client and/or installer will see this and be able to address the issue. With a string inverter, you would have to do quite a bit of rooftop troubleshooting to determine which module is at fault. I personally had an issue involving a PV module that was just outside of the performance warranty by 2%. In other words, most manufacturers state that their module will operate within a certain tolerance. In this case, let’s say +/- 5% when it comes to output on a rated panel of, say, 250 watts. The client, using the monitoring capabilities of the micro inverter, had noticed that the module was not performing within the +/- tolerance. After doing some field testing, all appeared to be normal. We contacted the manufacturer and allowed them to view the data on that module, and based on this information, they happily replaced the module. Had this been a string inverter, that 2% would have never been noticed, due to the wire/connector losses of having numerous modules in a series.

Batteries 101

There are several types of batteries on the market today used to provide energy storage. But only three of them are cost-effective and commonly used in our RE industry. These three types are: absorbed glass mat (AGM), gelled electrolyte (Gel Cells), and flooded. These are all lead acid based. The AGM and gelled batteries are sealed, and are virtually maintenance-free. These are usually used in outdoor applications and grid-tied systems, where they are normally only used for short periods of time. Although the batteries are sealed, they still do emit gasses. Thus, a sealed battery box needs to be provided, along with either a passive or active venting system. In general, these batteries are more costly than their flooded counterparts.

Flooded lead acid batteries (also known as deep cycle batteries) are what we normally use in our off-grid projects, or when the client has large energy requirements. Along with flooded lead acid batteries comes required maintenance. As the batteries charge, the water/acid mixture inside turns to a gaseous state. The gases are then vented out of the battery box to the outside atmosphere. The water level of each cell needs to be maintained, so these levels will require monthly inspection. This can vary depending on usage. Other maintenance that is required approximately every six months is equalization. Here, we give the batteries an exact over-charge for a period of time, which is based on battery size and current state of charge. The equalization is best done with a fuel-powered generator. The purpose of the equalization process is to bring each battery cell up to the same voltage and specific gravity. It also mixes up the water and acid mixture, as well as cleans the lead plates. There are items that we can add to the battery systems to help minimize the maintenance. It should be noted that batteries need to be kept in a very clean, 77-degree F environment. For batteries, cleanliness is indeed close to godliness.

So how long before the battery bank will need replacement? There are many variables that come into play. One of the battery manufacturers that we commonly use includes a prorated warranty of 10 years, and a life expectancy of 15 years. Currently, all maintenance and measurements seem to back up the manufacturer’s claims.

Incentives and Tax Credits

This is almost as difficult of a subject to write about as giving out winning lottery numbers. In the past 11 years, we have seen changes that affected our business and installation schedules without warning. I will try to explain them in an understandable way, but please know that by the time you read this, they may already have changed. I know, fun stuff, eh? As previously stated, you need to verify all possible tax credits and incentives with your tax advisor to confirm that you can qualify for them. At present, we have a state tax credit and federal tax credit, as well as a NYSERDA incentive program called Program Opportunity Notice (PON) 2112.

The New York State tax credit, as of this writing, is worth $5,000 (form IT-255). The Federal tax credit (form IRS-5695) is 30% of the total installed cost of your project, minus any NYSERDA monies. Above, in the section titled “A Word of Caution”, we mentioned making an “apples-to-apples” comparison. In talking with many potential clients, this is the one area that our competitors are quoting differently, thus their numbers are lower than ours. Again, beware of the ‘Shark’. The FTC lasts until 2016, and is considered “non-refundable.” This basically means that you cannot get more back in the credits than you pay in Federal Income taxes. You are able to stretch out the tax credit over a two-year period in case you do not have the tax liabilities.

Then there is NYSERDA. Oh yes, my most favorite of all government agencies to deal with. I do hope you can detect the deliberate sarcasm. The people within the agency that I deal with are helpful and professional, but the agency as a whole is just another government-run bureaucracy. In 2009, the incentive was $4 per watt. In October of 2009, without warning to installers/engineers, it was dropped to $2.50 per watt. Shortly thereafter, in January of 2010, it was dropped again without warning to $1.75 per watt. On April 1st, 2013, it was lowered to $1.40 per watt. No, that’s not an April Fools’ joke. As a courtesy, you would have thought they would have told us of the proposed changes at least a week in advance. Heck, a few days would have even been acceptable. Gee what does this remind you of? Can you say federally run health care, “we have to pass it so we know what’s in it?” You can’t tell me that they came to work on Monday morning and decided to make the change then. I think not. There I go on my soap box again. At the time of this writing, the current incentive is $0.80 per PV watt installed.

As an example, for a residential home here in NYSERDA territory, let’s say the rebate is $1.00 per PV watt installed. So on a 4,000 watt installed system, you are looking at a $4,000 incentive. For a wind generator, the incentive is currently at about 50% of the overall installed cost of a residential system. To give you an idea, this size PV system would provide just about 5,000 Kwhrs annually. But this output would depend on the mounting solution used. Of course, the use of a Dual Axis Tracker would increase the output of your system by an average of 34%.

Leasing vs Ownership

It has been our experience that most people for whom we install RE systems either have the cash to invest or get their financing elsewhere. As of 2012, the big thing seems to be the ability to offer finance solutions to the client. This makes sense on some levels because it can get more people into RE. Below, you will find a chart comparing leasing verses ownership. I believe it speaks for itself as to why ownership is the only way to go. Again, just beware of the smooth-talking Sharks out there.

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Something else to consider is the possibility of taking a loan from your 401k or retirement program. Now I realize that on the surface, this seems not to be a wise move. However, I’ve had clients for whom this has worked out well. Because of their tax status, even after paying the federal penalty for prematurely pulling from their retirement account, it proved to be financially beneficial to them. Because every tax year is different, you need to look at this annually. You might be surprised, as they were. Ask yourself this question: given our current government, do you really believe that the full value of your 401k will be there when you retire? Do you think that the government might change the rules between now and then so that you get less and they get more? Hmmmm? Remember what happened with Cyprus and their banking system? A government will do anything to stay in power and I mean anything!

Also, if you are a public school teacher or New York State employee, you can take a loan from your retirement program without penalty and you actually pay yourself back over time.

System Costs

This is by far the most frequently asked question that I receive: “How much will it cost to install a PV or wind system?” There is no standard answer to this question, either. The best I can give you are some ball-park numbers, based on my experience. Before I get to the numbers, you must understand that a site survey needs to be performed and there are many questions that need to be answered before a solid number can be given. For a description of what a site survey entails, refer to the Site Survey section. Remember that a number given to you will probably not be the same for your neighbor or friend. Each system is very site-specific. For an average family of four in a 2,400 sqft home, a grid-tied system will run around $6k to $55k after any incentive programs or tax credits. However, the incentives have been known to change literally in an instant without any warning. It is approximately $30k to $80k for an off-grid system that consists of either a PV or wind system. This does not include the price of a back-up generator. Also, there are no NYSERDA incentives available for off-grid systems. I am hoping this will change in the future, but don’t hold your breath. However, there is now a Federal Income Tax Credit (ITC), Form IRS-5695, for 30% of the installed system cost.