Cold efficiency helps elevate solar savings in Northeast

Solar power is most effective in areas with consistent, reliable amounts of sunlight. However, a recent analysis of homeowner savings from solar energy found that the systems were highly effective in the Northeast as well.

Sense, an energy consumption analytics company in Cambridge, Mass., looked at data from 1,800 homes in states with a high rate of solar energy adoption. The average homeowner who used solar power saved $1,075 a year, or enough to offset 67 percent of their electric bill.

Solar power had the greatest efficiency in Utah, where savings typically offset 84 percent of a homeowner's bill. The average savings stood at 75 percent in California and 66 percent in Arizona.

However, Sense determined that savings were comparable in the Northeast, crediting the efficient operation of solar panels in cold temperatures for this benefit. The average New Hampshire homeowner using solar power offset 76 percent of their electric bill. The typical savings were 70 percent in Vermont; 67 percent in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania; and 66 percent in Connecticut.

The analysis also determined that since the periods of greatest energy use typically did not line up with the production of solar energy, 55 percent of the electricity generated by solar panels ended up going back into the utility grid instead of directly powering the home. Sense said only one in five homeowners ended up generating more electricity than they used.

This trend suggests that homeowners can improve the usefulness of solar panels by concentrating energy-intensive tasks at times of peak solar power generation. This could include scheduling items such as dishwashers, clothes dryers, pool pumps, and electric vehicle chargers to work during the daytime rather than at night.

The report says that since a great deal of electricity created by solar production is sent into the grid, homeowners should look at state regulations to see how they might affect their energy costs. Many states have net metering, where a utility compensates homeowners for electricity generated by renewable energy sources.

If you are considering solar panels for your home, you can start by using a solar mapping resource. The Department of Energy says these sites allow you to plug in your address and calculate potential energy savings based on factors such as typical sunlight exposure and how shaded your roof is.

Consider your electric bill as well. Lauren Schwahn, writing for the financial site NerdWallet, says homes that have higher energy usage or are in states with higher electrical rates will benefit more from offsetting their monthly bills with solar panels.

At the same time, you'll need to consider the cost to install these panels. While they don't require much maintenance, the "break even" point may be several years away.

Certain incentives are also available to make solar panels more affordable. States offer benefits such as property tax exemptions, cash back, and waived fees. A federal tax credit allows homeowners to deduct 30 percent of the installation cost for solar panels, although this will drop to 26 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2021, ending at the conclusion of that year.

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