VICTORVILLE • As demand for home solar power increases across the country, local homeowners are turning the High Desert’s abundant sunshine into savings.
John Watterson used to dish out $450 to $500 per month on electricity before a solar energy system was installed on his 3,000-square-foot home. He now pays about $43 a year.
“When you run the AC and heat the pool, you pay for it,” said Watterson, who lives in Apple Valley. “With the Southern California Edison rebate and state tax credit, the system cost us under $30,000.”
Curtis Neil, operations manager for Advanced Conservation Systems, said the High Desert’s climate zone is the perfect place for solar-powered hot water, pool and electricity systems.
“We’re a small family-owned business, but we average about 48 residential installs a year,” said Neil, who has been in the solar business for 30 years. “But living in the most fantastic place for solar also comes with its problems.”
Neil said the High Desert’s harsh climate, which includes high temperatures, harsh winds, freezing temperatures and hard water, can wreak havoc on the systems.
Watterson said the downside of ownership is the maintenance of the system, which for him involved the purchase, installation and replacement of a $500 power converter.
“These panels have a 20-year warranty, and you’ll see it on your bill if some are missing,” Watterson said. “I had my system installed nearly 10 years ago, so the cost and savings is better (now), and the efficiency of the panels are better now.”
ACS is enjoying the steady business, which reflects a Solar Energy Industries Association report that demand for U.S. solar power increased 41 percent last year, driven by record growth in residential projects.
“Homeowners usually install solar panels and pool systems to save money,” Neil said. “We sell systems, but we’re seeing a lot of people that want to lease them. But why lease for years when a system can pay for itself in six to nine years? Purchasing is better.”
But many consumers are attracted to leasing options because they can get the panels installed at little or no upfront cost. A recent Bloomberg report stated that residential projects last year jumped 60 percent over 2012 as homeowners embraced financing models, according to Shayle Kann, vice president of research at Boston-based GTM research.
Neil said residents used to want solar hot air systems only as a backup for emergencies. But after the world survived the Y2K scare, and as the technology improved, people turned to solar for economic reasons.
“When your cost savings go from saving a large portion of your utility bills to an annual zero balance, people pay attention,” Neil said. “A typical residential solar panel install takes about two days, which includes prep work and installation, and another day for inspection.”
“The biggest hurdles are the four to six weeks of permitting prior to us arriving,” Neil added. “But for the average 1,795-square-foot home with a 5- to 5.5-kilowatt system, the savings begin day one.”
Neil said once he produces the system’s residential document package, permit turnaround times for the town of Apple Valley and city of Hesperia average about two weeks.
Brady Schimpf, operations manager at Vivint Solar, said his office installs approximately 80 solar panel systems each month in the High Desert.
“We don’t sell or lease. We offer a power purchase agreement where the customer signs up to buy (power for) 15 cents a kilowatt hour,” said Schimpf, whose team was preparing for an installation in Victorville. “Averages vary for each residence, but most customers are paying 20 to 30 percent less than Edison. We put up the equipment at no cost and the customer pays for the power.”
Residential installations rose 33 percent in the fourth quarter over the third quarter last year.
“Residential solar in the U.S. is becoming the bedrock of demand for solar and is really a market segment that benefits from extremely attractive economics,” Kann said in the Bloomberg article.
For more information on the solar industry and tax credits, visit www.seia.org.
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