Earth Day 101: A Rochester resident's guide to installing solar panels
(THE MED CITY BEAT) - In celebration of Earth Day, here are a few things to know if you are thinking about installing solar panels on your home:
According to the non-profit group, Minnesota Renewable Energy Society, renewable energy technologies allow individuals and businesses to drastically reduce harmful carbon emissions.
Scientists say CO2 gases, primarily from coal-fired power plants, are the leading cause of global climate change.
The environmental impact of solar energy is practically non-existent. Unlike fossil fuels — such as coal, oil or natural gas — solar does not produce carbon, methane or particulate emissions. Solar energy production also does not require mining, drilling or fracking.
The upfront cost is significant, preventing many working or middle class people from investing in solar energy. Rochester Public Utilities estimates the average residential system costs about $10,000 to $40,000.
There are some incentives, though, from RPU and the government. RPU offers a rebate of $0.50 per watt for solar electric systems (up to $5,000).
The federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit, which is set to expire in 2016. There are no incentives from the state of Minnesota.
RPU estimates the average residential system pays for itself in the 8 to 12 year range. However, that's dependent on the size and type of the system, the cost of other forms of energy, how much energy the home uses and whether the homeowner had to take out a loan (and pay interest) to install the system.
One might assume the biggest challenge for the solar industry in Minnesota would be a lack of sunlight. But according to RPU, the state receives as much sunlight as Florida and Texas — and even gets more than Germany, the world's leader in solar energy.
So the challenge is not so much about latitude as it is about each home's particular location. A roof that faces south without any obstructions will produce more energy than a roof that faces north and has buildings and trees blocking the sun.
For people in urban or heavily-wooded areas, that means a solar system could be a poor long-term investment.
The best way to find out if your home is suitable energy is to have an installation company (many users we spoke to referred us to Solar Connection) come to your home or business for an evaluation.
(Cover photo: 2014 / Cascade Meadow / The Med City Beat)