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The California Solar Mandate Rolls Out In 2020. Here’s What Developers & Homebuyers Need To Know.

The California Solar Mandate Rolls Out In 2020. Here’s What Developers & Homebuyers Need To Know.

California Solar Mandate: Quick Facts

  • New homes built in CA after Jan 1, 2020 must be equipped with a solar electric system
  • Solar systems must be sized to offset 100% of the home’s electricity usage – but homes can still use energy from other sources, like gas
  • The size of the solar array can be reduced if other energy efficiency improvements are made elsewhere, like the inclusion of energy storage or green building materials
  • The CEC expects the mandate to add roughly $9,500 to up-front development costs, but save the homeowner $19,500 over the life of the system
  • Housing developers can save money on solar installation by sourcing wholesale materials and employing their own contractors to build the systems

Update (5/31/19): We’ve just published our 2020 CA Solar Mandate Calculator to help you figure out what size solar system you will need under the new requirements. Take a look!

By now you might have heard that California passed a law requiring all newly-built homes to be equipped with a solar power system. The California solar mandate is part of an initiative by the California Energy Commission to have at least 50% of the state’s energy produced from clean energy sources by 2030.

This article will focus on what we do best as a distributor of solar equipment: helping you design and price out your system with the new CA solar mandate in mind.

Our focus is helping housing developers and contractors comply with the new requirements. But the same rules apply to individual buyers who are shopping development work to a private contractor, or building the home themselves as a DIY project.

If you live in California, and plan to build or buy a new home after this law goes into effect, this article will tell you everything you need to know to get started.

Let’s answer the most pressing questions on your mind:

When does California’s solar mandate go into effect?

January 1, 2020. If you file for your building permit on or after this date, the dwelling must be outfitted with a PV system.

According to Greentech Media, homes which are granted a permit in 2019 and built in 2020 are not required to comply with this mandate.

Which buildings must be outfitted with PV arrays under the new code?

The mandate only applies to buildings under three stories tall. Larger developments, like a new highrise apartment building, will be exempt from these requirements.

Do I need to offset 100% of the building’s energy usage?

Not quite. New dwellings don’t need to be zero net energy (with 100% of the home’s energy use offset by PV production). Instead, they must be designed to achieve zero net electricity, with 100% of the unit’s electricity production offset by solar.

The home’s total energy budget accounts for mixed-fuel energy usage, which means it’s still ok to rely on other energy sources (typically gas) to power a certain portion of your home. You can still use a gas stove or central heat, for example, and that usage does not need to be offset by solar.

Under the mandate, each property is assigned an “energy budget” based on its square footage. The budget varies based on climate zone and other factors.

The responsibility for hitting these budgets will fall on housing developers, who can use the CEC’s compliance software to calculate the requirements for new homes.

Are there any exemptions to the sizing requirements?

The new mandate was built with flexibility in mind, and contains certain exemptions. For example, in buildings with multiple dwellings (like an apartment complex), common areas are exempt from the regulations. That lowers the burden on the size of the solar electric system.

There’s also a compliance credit for adding energy storage to your system. Storing energy in a battery bank reduces the burden on the utility grid, which gives providers a reason to incentivize the inclusion of energy storage.

Homeowners who opt into energy storage are allowed to reduce the size of their PV array by 25%. So if you’re on the hook for 4 kW of solar, you could build a 3 kW system with energy storage to satisfy the requirements.

How much does it cost to install solar?

According to this NREL report (PDF) published in early 2018, the benchmark cost of a residential solar system is $2.70 per watt (fully installed).

Cost Breakdown:

  • Solar Panels: 50 cents per watt
  • Inverter: 20 cents per watt
  • Hardware (structural and electrical components): 30 cents per watt
  • Soft Costs – Install labor: 25 cents per watt
  • Soft Costs – Land Use, Sales Tax, Overhead, and Profit: $1.45 per watt
A breakdown of the cost of solar, as of Q1 2018.

This benchmark figure assumes you turn to a full-service solar provider for design and installation—a factor that most frequently applies to residential end-users.

Housing developers are much more equipped to minimize these costs, because they can use their in-house workforce to complete the labor. You’ll be able to source the equipment from a wholesaler, cutting out the third-party installer who makes a profit by marking up their installation services.

If you’re a housing developer, you can apply to become a Wholesale Solar partner and receive discounts on solar equipment, then perform the installation in-house.

Though NABCEP certification is nice to have, it’s not required to perform a solar installation. The work is straightforward enough that it can be performed by roofers, electricians and/or general contractors on your team who are competent and qualified enough to do construction work.

Many of our residential customers also choose to perform the installation themselves, using our DIY solar resources as guidance. The other option is to source the equipment directly, then turn to a local contractor to perform part or all of the installation.

This drives down installation costs significantly, as local contractors tend to be far more affordable than national providers: somewhere in the range of 75 cents/watt for installation services, vs. $1.60/watt from a large solar installer.

How to estimate the cost of solar based on expected energy usage

Looking for an estimate tailored to your home’s target energy usage? Here’s how to find an estimate based on your current usage:

Dig up a recent electric bill and look for your monthly kilowatt-hour usage. Then, plug that figure into our solar cost calculator to see how much it will cost to build a system that covers your usage patterns.

In step 7, if you choose the “Buy Direct” option (selected by default), please note that the system price estimate only includes the cost of equipment. To factor in installation costs, take the “System Ballpark Size” and multiply by 75 cents/watt, then add the two figures together for a total project estimate.

Once you have a target system size, you can also take a look at our grid-tied system packages for up-to-date pricing.

What financing options do I have?

Individual home buyers have a variety of options to finance the addition of solar to their new home. Developers can roll these options into the purchase contract, offering community solar or lease/PPA agreements for more flexibility.

The best long-term value comes when the homeowner pays for the system up front and owns it outright. But that also requires the highest up-front investment, adding costs that may not fit within every budget.

If buying the system up front isn’t an option, there are other ways you can comply with the new law. These include:

  • Finance the system through a bank loan or FHA title 1 loan
  • Rent the system through a lease or PPA (power purchasing agreement)
  • Invest in community solar, a central solar system that distributes power to multiple dwellings in a neighborhood, apartment complex, etc.

Though loans, leases, PPAs and community solar arrangements don’t offer as much return on the investment into solar, they also require less up-front investment into the system. If the buyer doesn’t want to stretch their budget, these options are an enticing alternative.

Learn more about common financing options in the solar industry.

Do I need to offset 100% of my energy usage?

Not quite. Each property is assigned an energy budget based on its square footage, and the regulations are tailored to mixed-fuel homes. That means the energy budget is built on the assumption that the home will run off a mix of electricity and gas, with the latter powering your heating, for example.

The new mandate was built with flexibility in mind, and contains certain exemptions. For example, in buildings with multiple dwellings (like an apartment complex), common areas are exempt from the regulations. That lowers the burden on the size of the solar electric system.

There’s also a compliance credit for adding energy storage to your system. Storing energy in a battery bank reduces the burden on the utility grid. Homeowners who opt into energy storage are allowed to reduce the size of their PV array by 25%. So if you’re on the hook for 4 kW of solar, you could build a 3 kW system with energy storage to satisfy the requirements.

Does solar add to the value of my home?

Yes. While the up-front cost of solar is expected to add roughly $9,500 to the price of a new home, the resident is expected to save around $19,000 on energy costs over the life of ownership. (Source: CEC 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards FAQ)

Grid-tied solar systems almost always provide a net-positive return on investment over the life of the warranty.

In addition, Solar systems improve property value by an average of 3.74%, according to a paper published by the Lawrence Berkeley National Library. Homes with solar energy systems are more desirable to buyers, with solar-equipped homes fetching an average of $14,329 than their non-solar counterparts tracked by this study.

While those numbers fluctuate based on the size of the system (and the value of the home itself), the data suggests that homebuyers are willing to pay more up front in order to save money on utility bills in the long run.

Should you decide to sell your home in the future, you’ll be able to make back some (or all) of the original cost of the system at closing. This benefit comes in addition to the money you will save on energy bills while living in the home.

What system components will I need to buy?

Aside from the panels themselves, you need additional parts to build a complete solar power system. The essential components are:

  • Solar panels, to capture energy from the sun
  • An inverter, to convert that energy to a format that can power your appliances
  • Racking, the foundation on which you mount your system

These are connected by smaller components like wiring, fuses, and disconnects. You can also add equipment to monitor your system’s output online, which helps troubleshoot any issues with shading or defective equipment.

To eliminate guesswork, we offer several pre-sized packages with everything you need to get your system up and running.

What are the best solar brands and products on the market?

If you’d like to have a hand in the research process and pick your equipment yourself, we’ve got you covered. Take a look at our reviews of the best solar products on the market:

We regularly re-evaluate and update these articles as prices change and new options become available. This is a great jumping-off point to help you design the best possible system for your specific needs.

More Resources

California’s solar mandate doesn’t go into effect until 2020, but it’s never a bad idea to start the planning process early. Here are some of our most valuable resources to help you plan your solar project:

Download our free solar panel buying guide!
Weighing the Pros and Cons of Tesla’s Solar Roof

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Tesla’s Solar Roof

Quick Review: Tesla Solar Roof

Tesla’s sleek, eye-catching Solar Roof looks amazing and will make you the envy of your block. You’ll have to pay more for a full roof replacement—not to mention the premium for the Tesla brand name. Those costs eat into the value of your investment into solar. But if you don’t mind ponying up, Tesla backs its new product with a generous 30-year warranty.

Tesla’s Solar Roof is finally making its way to consumer homes. Ever since the product reveal nearly two years ago, people regularly ask us whether the Solar Roof is a sensible way to go solar.

We decided to weigh the pros and cons of Tesla’s latest offering to see whether it lives up to the hype.

Production of the Tesla Solar Roof has been limited, and prices are still sky high to capitalize on new release hype. We love the design, but we need to see a steep price drop – and proof the product is reliable – before we recommend it as a sound investment for the average residential consumer.

The Basics

What makes the Solar Roof unique? In a conventional setup, solar panels are housed in a dedicated module, which is then attached to a roof or installed elsewhere on your property. In contrast, Tesla’s Solar Roof is a rooftop with solar panels embedded directly into the shingles.

The solar array isn’t a separate unit installed on top of your roof – rather, it is your roof.

Tesla Solar Roof vs. a conventional solar array
Left: a solar array installed by a Wholesale Solar customer. Right: Tesla’s Solar Roof.

Each shingle is a discrete solar panel. A percentage of the panels are solar-enabled, while the rest are “decoy panels.” The non-enabled panels look exactly the same, to maintain a uniform aesthetic. Customers can determine what percentage of panels they need to enable to meet their energy needs.

Are You on the List?

Tesla loves to build hype around their products long before they hit the market, and the Solar Roof is no different. After announcing the concept in October 2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tested the first trial installation in his home in Q2 of 2017. (Isn’t it nice to be the boss?)

The publicity generated intense interest from consumers, who rushed to sign up on the waitlist for residential installations. It took less than three weeks after sign-ups opened for Tesla to sell out their stock through the end of 2018.

Now, we’re getting our first look at a completed installation looks like in a residential setting. YouTube channel E For Electric tracked down Tri Huynh, one of the earliest adopters of the Tesla Solar Roof, to speak with him about the installation process.

Huynh applied to install a Solar Roof for his home as soon as the announcement was made. He said it took well over a year for Tesla to contact him to conduct a site survey. After screening his eligibility, Tesla warned it would be another year for production to finish before they could proceed with the installation.

Huynh didn’t mind the wait. His home already needed a new roof, and as an early adopter of new technology, he was willing to hold out until the Solar Roof hit the market. He put down the $1000 deposit to hold his place in line.

Tesla finally met with Huynh for a site survey early this year. Two solar techs spent a day evaluating his property, even flying a drone above his house to take aerial pictures.

Shortly after that, Tesla deployed a team of 20 workers to perform the install. It took about two weeks to complete, although rain added delays to the process.

The size of the workforce and install time both seem excessive to us. But the Solar Roof is a new product, and Tesla wants to get it right. We expect that process to be streamlined as they work out the kinks.

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Evaluating the Pros and Cons of the Tesla Solar Roof

Tesla is a company with a certain mystique about them – people get super excited about every announcement they make. So it comes as no surprise that people constantly ask us what we think about the new Solar Roof.

We wanted to take a deep dive into what we know about the Solar Roof to help you determine whether it’s a viable option for your needs.

First, a quick summary of the pros and cons:

Pros

  • WOW FACTOR. It’s gorgeous – no blocky solar panels jutting out from your roof.
  • DURABILITY. Solar Roof panels received the highest possible hail, wind and fire resistance ratings.
  • WARRANTY. The 30-year warranty goes beyond the industry standard. There’s also a lifetime tile warranty to cover physical damage.
  • EARLY ADOPTION. Who doesn’t love to be the first to get their hands on new tech?

Cons

  • EXPENSIVE. The Solar Roof costs about 4 times as much as a DIY solar installation. You pay a steep premium for the Tesla brand.
  • THE WAITING GAME. The first residential customers spent over a year on the waitlist before their Solar Roof was installed.
  • UNRELIABLE. More discrete parts means more chances for hardware to fail. Past iterations of the solar shingle design were notoriously high-maintenance.
  • POOR ROI. Paying more for Tesla-branded eats into your investment.

Let’s take a deeper look.

Pros

Slick Design

First and foremost, the Solar Roof looks amazing.

It’s designed to be indistinguishable from a roof built out of traditional materials. Looking at pictures of the Solar Roof, I wouldn’t have guessed there were solar panels built into this rooftop unless you pointed it out.

Tesla will offer 4 different tile designs to match the style of your home. The panels come in textured, smooth glass, Tuscan and slate designs, which rival the appeal of their asphalt counterparts.

Tesla's Solar Roof tile designs
The tile designs for Tesla’s Solar Roof, from top to bottom: textured, smooth glass, Tuscan, and slate.

Durability

Tesla claims the Solar Roof tiles are three times stronger than traditional roof tiles. This claim is backed by standards tests conducted by ANSI, ASTM and UL, which conduct standards tests for (respectively) hail, wind and fire resistance. Tesla’s tiles received the highest possible marks in all three categories.

The Envy Factor

This is the hardest to quantify, but it can also be the strongest motivator for people willing to make a huge investment into an exciting new product like this.

Before the price drops and the product becomes more widely available, it’s an awesome feeling to be part of the exclusive club that has access to cutting-edge technology before anyone else. Think of the first time you saw someone flying a drone – or driving a Tesla car on the street, for that matter. It evokes a natural sense of awe and curiosity.

The Solar Roof is no different. Huynh said that his neighbors regularly stopped by to chat during the installation, and most couldn’t resist lingering to ask questions about the newest Tesla product.

People are naturally drawn to innovation, and early adopters get a rush from riding the first wave of a new technology. As another early residential Solar Roof customer put it, “I feel like we’re living in the future!”

(Mostly) Generous Warranty

The Solar Roof is covered under a 30-year warranty for power and weatherization. The power warranty covers the output capability of the solar arrays. The weather warranty protects against failure as a result of water damage or other weather effects.

30 years eclipses the standard coverage for most solar arrays on the market, which typically offer a 25-year warranty. The extra 5 years may be a selling point to counteract the hesitation early adopters have when they invest into an unknown product. With no established track record, there’s no guarantee the product life won’t be shortened by a major design flaw down the road. The 30-year warranty may help alleviate those fears.

Tesla also offers a lifetime tile warranty, which covers physical damage to the glass in the tiles. If one of the glass panels ever breaks, even after the 30-year period, it will be covered under the lifetime warranty.

However, this doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Most traditional solar panels come with a 25-year power warranty and a 10-year workmanship warranty. If your array breaks down due to product defects, you’re covered for 10 years.

It’s not clear whether Tesla’s warranty covers the same ground:

Our tile warranty covers the glass in the tiles. The power warranty covers the output capability of the solar tiles. Weatherization means that there will be no water leaks or other weather intrusions during the warranty period that result from our installation.

-Warranty info from the Solar Roof product page

There’s no mention of a workmanship warranty, except as it relates to weather intrusions. So if your system fails due to faulty wiring, bad connectors or a broken junction box, you might end up paying for it out of pocket.

Tesla’s warranty is longer than the industry standard, but the extent of coverage may leave something to be desired.

Cons

There’s no doubt the Solar Roof is an innovative product. There’s nothing on the market that competes with it right now. That said, there are a handful of prohibitive factors that would stop us from recommending it to a majority of hopeful buyers.

Steep Up-Front Cost

Let’s get The Big One out of the way: for the Solar Roof to be financially viable, it needs to replace your existing roof. And even then, building a traditional roof with a dedicated solar array is a more efficient investment.

When Consumer Reports ran the numbers on the cost to install a Solar Roof, they estimated a typical installation might set you back $73,500 for a 3,000-square-foot roof.

Compare that to our discrete solar modules. A package for the same sized home might run one-third to one-quarter of that cost to install on your rooftop, depending on the energy output.

Even if you paid for a brand-new roof and then built a solar array on top of it, you’d come out spending much less. EnergySage estimated a 33% price premium on the Solar Roofcompared to building a traditional asphalt roof + solar array.

As you can see, the majority of the installation cost of the Solar Roof comes doesn’t come from adding a solar array. It comes from building an entirely new roof, which is a much steeper investment. And Tesla hopes to upsell you on roofing costs based on their strong brand capital.

Low Return on Investment

But let’s say the stars align. You’re in the market for a brand new roof, and you’re looking to go solar as well.

Even under these ideal circumstances, the Consumer Reports analysis couldn’t conclusively state it would be a good investment.

For a two-story home in Texas, where the A/C might run 300 days a year, the $73,400 in tax credits and energy savings falls short of the $86,100 cost to install the Solar Roof. In that scenario, the homeowner would find themselves $12,700 in the hole. Even with substantial energy savings, they would actually lose money over the life of the warranty.

Things look a bit brighter for a small ranch-style home in sunny California, where energy costs are sky high. Consumer Reports estimated a $56,800 Solar Roof might earn the owner $41,800 in net savings over the life of the system.

That’s not bad, but it’s still a far cry from a traditional PV system, which can pay for itself 2-3 times over during the life of the warranty.

The premium you pay for Tesla-branded roofing materials eats into most, if not all, of the money you save from reduced energy bills. The end result is that it takes ideal circumstances just to break even on the investment.

One of the main selling points for solar is its viability as a long-term investment. It’s not uncommon to see a 200-300% return on investment out of a traditional solar array.

Since the install cost is substantially lower, the average payoff period is much shorter. Investing in a traditional solar array can net you a healthy profit in the long run.

With the Solar Roof, Tesla aims to upsell a product you don’t need (a new roof), eating away at the value of your investment into solar energy.

In terms of the time value of money, it’s crazy to invest $70,000 for 30 years to see little to no return. There are better ways to put your money to work for you.

Availability

Even if you do need a new roof, we’re operating under the assumption that the installation will even be available to you. As it stands, you’ll need the leeway to plan the installation far in advance, as people have already been on the waitlist for the Solar Roof for over a year.

If you’ve already decided you need to replace an old roof, you may not have time to wait to get started. The need to replace leaks or structural damage is likely too urgent for you to hold out on the waitlist.

Similar problems arise with the construction of a new home. If you’re working with a contractor, your build is probably on a strict timeline. Holding out for the go-ahead from Tesla might not work with permitting, your contractor’s schedule or your own target move dates. After all, you can’t move into a house with no roof because you’re waiting for Tesla to call you back.

As production of the Solar Roof ramps up, we expect the waitlist to clear, at which point these problems will disappear. For now, Tesla needs to clear through their backlog of eager customers, which may throw a wrench in your plans.

Untested Technology

We touched on this a bit in the warranty section. New technology always comes with unanticipated problems and surprises. The first version of a product never works as well as its successors. It always takes a few iterations of new technology to come out with a stable and reliable product.

The 30-year warranty does a bit to assuage these fears – if something breaks, you’ll be covered. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a hassle when things break. Failures mean calls with support, appointments with technicians, and warranty paperwork to fill out. It may not cost you money, but it still adds stress and takes time out of your life.

Tesla designs great products, but every new product has some kinks to work out. A solution from a more established product line is bound to work more consistently and require less upkeep on your end.

Extra Maintenance

In addition to the stability of first-generation technology, we have concerns that the design of the Solar Roof itself could lead to extra maintenance.

Each shingle is a self-contained solar panel. That means that there are hundreds of individual panels that make up your solar array. And more parts equals more opportunities for an individual part of the system to break down.

The best-case scenario is that each part functions independently, allowing it to be replaced without affecting how the rest of your Solar Roof functions. At worst, if the parts are inter-connected, one panel going out may put a damper on the energy generation capabilities of the entire array.

There’s a precedent for these concerns. The Solar Roof is a new take on existing technology known as Building Integrated PV (BIPV). There’s a reason BIPV products fell off the market: the product was unreliable, difficult to install, and more expensive than traditional solar panels. As Green Tech Media noted, “BIPV frequently amounts to paying a premium for less of a return. That math has already killed a long line of companies.”

Until the Tesla’s new product eclipses the performance of its predecessor, we see no reason why the Solar Roof won’t suffer from the same problems that doomed BIPV.

Contractor Woes

Since the Solar Roof is a new product, it will be challenging to find a contractor capable of performing the install. Tesla is notoriously picky with who they vet to perform their labor. Even if the Solar Roof is available in your region, there’s still the additional hurdle of securing a qualified installer.

There’s another major complication with the installation process. The people who install the roof are different than the people who do the electrical work. Roofers typically aren’t electricians, and vice versa. Installing the Solar Roof will require the coordination of multiple specialized contractors.

In the past, we’ve had customers tell us they ditched Tesla over frustrations with the long waiting period and lack of available contractors to perform the install. Not only are traditional solar panels a more sound investment, navigating the installation process is more manageable than tracking down a team of Tesla-certified installers.

The Final Verdict: Should You Buy a Tesla Solar Roof?

The Tesla Solar Roof is a gorgeous product with a prohibitively high cost to install. Right now, it’s largely a premium solution for early adopters who don’t mind paying more to access cutting-edge technology in high demand. Anyone who invests in the Solar Roof should also be willing to contend with more frequent maintenance than a traditional solar array might require.

Lastly, you should be willing to wait for production to catch up to demand. Just know that you’ll be running on Tesla’s schedule, and they’re a lot better about generating hype around new products than meeting production deadlines.

Consider the Tesla Solar Roof if:

  • You have the financial means to make a substantial investment into a new roof
  • You like to get your hands on cutting-edge technology and don’t mind joining the waitlist
  • You don’t mind performing more regular maintenance on your solar panels
  • You live in a populated region with access to Tesla-certified installers

Go with a traditional solar array if:

  • You want to maximize your return on investment
  • You want the most efficient product for your money
  • Your purchase is time-sensitive
  • You’re willing to sacrifice aesthetics in exchange for functionality
  • You want a stable, market-tested product
Download our free solar panel buying guide!
SunPower Buys SolarWorld, Reviving An American Solar Giant

SunPower Buys SolarWorld, Reviving An American Solar Giant

America’s largest solar manufacturer is teaming up with a leading technological innovator in the field.

SunPower announced this morning that it will acquire SolarWorld Americas for an undisclosed sum. SunPower will take over operation of SolarWorld’s manufacturing facility in Hillsboro, OR. The deal gives the largest American solar manufacturer the backing of one of the industry’s leading technological innovators. It should help both companies stay competitive and keep prices down for consumers.

With the acquisition, SunPower hopes to avoid the tariff on solar imports imposed in February. Under the tariff, foreign manufacturers pay a 30% tax on cells and modules imported to the United States for sale.

Silicon Valley is home to SunPower headquarters. But they outsource their manufacturing to Southeast Asia and Mexico. That will change when this deal finalizes. SunPower plans to assemble their low-cost P-Series module at the newly-acquired Oregon plant. Shifting manufacturing efforts into the U.S. effectively bypasses the tariff.

This move seems to be a savvy way for SunPower to remain competitive in the American market. Most solar companies will opt to raise prices to offset increased import costs. Instead, SunPower will plug into SolarWorld’s established manufacturing and distribution infrastructure. This should soften the impact of the tariff and keep their prices affordable.

The result for consumers? A technological leader joins forces with an experienced American manufacturer. This deal helps both SunPower and SolarWorld stay competitive. We expect any pricing changes on their product lines to be negligible.

A Win-Win Deal

The deal is a major victory for SolarWorld. They’ve been around for over 40 years and have proven to be the most resilient solar brand in America. But their growth has not come without its rough patches.

SolarWorld’s German parent company, SolarWorld AG, filed for bankruptcy in 2017. Since then, SolarWorld Americas trimmed their workforce and cut back research and development.

As a result, SolarWorld has struggled to compete with the cheap import market. Last year, they joined Suniva to lobby for the tariff which was eventually enacted this February. Ironically, that same tariff drove SunPower to seek American manufacturing options.

The SunPower acquisition provides much-needed relief to help them stabilize. SunPower has pledged to invest capital to reignite SolarWorld’s R&D efforts. SunPower will also fund improvements for the Oregon manufacturing facility.

The partnership is ideal for SolarWorld. SunPower is a technological leader in the solar industry. Their premium modules are among the most efficient products on the market. The new investment capital and guidance of a market leader bodes well for SolarWorld. We’re excited to see what innovations will come to their products in the near future.

The Oregon facility SunPower inherits will also continue to produce SolarWorld-branded legacy products. That’s great news. SolarWorld’s longevity as an American manufacturer has earned them a loyal following. We want to see their full product line remain on the market.

SolarWorld’s CEO, Jürgen Stein, commented on the impact the deal will have on his company’s operations:

“We are delighted that SunPower has agreed to inject fresh capital and their industry leading P-Series technology into SolarWorld Americas operations here in Hillsboro. Our hundreds of long-time employees are excited to be part of this next chapter in SolarWorld Americas’ long history. We are thrilled about this acquisition as it means quite simply, that our company can look forward to redoubled strength as it continues to innovate and expand into the future. This outcome is ideal for SolarWorld Americas and its employees.”

Wall Street seems to agree that this is a strong move for SunPower. SPWR opened at $8.81 on Wednesday, the day news of the acquisition went public. The stock continues to rise a day later, peaking at $9.77 a share at the time of publication.

The acquisition is not final until U.S. and German trade officials approve it. SunPower expects the deal to become official by the end of June.

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What We Don’t Hate About the Solar Tariff

What We Don’t Hate About the Solar Tariff

If you have any interest at all in solar energy, you’ve probably heard the news—effective February 7, 2018, the Trump administration is imposing a 30% tariff on imported solar panels and solar cells.

In other words, the price of solar has just gone up. (Or maybe not… But I’ll get into that in a second.)

There have been many “doom and gloom” news articles discussing the impacts of this decision on the US solar industry—and yes, there will be impacts.

Now, clearly I can’t predict the future. But I do want to talk about why this decision will likely not affect the solar industry quite as drastically as many of the industry experts are claiming.

As the purchasing manager at Wholesale Solar, I spend a lot of my time researching the fluctuation in the solar market. So you can imagine that—even more than you might have—I’ve been paying close attention to the trade case that led to this tariff.

And now that the decision has been finalized, I’m less worried than you might think.

Yes, this tariff will impact the commercial solar industry and will lead to about 23,000 American jobs lost, according to SEIA.

But when it comes to residential solar—in other words, the kind that you need for your home—my estimate is that this tariff, at its worst, will increase the retail price of an average grid-tied system by about 5% and an off-grid system by around 2%.

So for example, a grid-tied system that used to cost $14,000 will increase to $14,650. An off-grid system that was $22,000 will now be priced at around $22,440.

Impact of solar tariff on home solar

Well heck. That’s not much of an impact at all, is it?

I’ll dive deeper in a minute, but first, let’s look at how we got here.

“Section 201” and the solar tariff Trade Case & Solar Tariff

In May 2017, module manufacturer Suniva petitioned a Section 201 trade case. That’s a piece of legislation which is designed to protect against imports causing serious harm to a U.S. industry.

Suniva claimed they were being harmed by excessive imports from China and requested a large tariff in response—approximately 50%.

But they had help: SolarWorld backed their claim that the industry was suffering.

Because of this case, a tariff—a tax, basically—on imported crystalline-silicon PV panels and cells was proposed, and then approved on January 22, 2018.

The tariff steps down over time:

We’ll need more information—and more time—to fully understand the long-term impact of the tariff. But based on what we know now, it doesn’t look like the tariff will mean much for the price of residential solar systems.

Here’s why.

The solar panel tariff—how will it affect you?

Yes, large-scale commercial installers will feel the impact of the tariff, because they buy and install so many solar panels.

In home systems, solar panels represent a smaller cost. That means the tariff is expected to cause only modest price increases for residential consumers—anywhere between $500 and $1000 for a typical customer.

But for you, the Wholesale Solar customer, there are several pieces of good news.

First, we stocked up on solar panels before the tariff was implemented, which means our prices aren’t going up any time soon.

Second, solar panel prices were relatively high already, which means manufacturers will likely end up absorbing some of the tariff. So even if prices do go up, they may not increase by as much as you’d think.

Third, the tariff applies for a relatively short time period and is already facing a challenge from South Korea. Module manufacturers may simply lower their prices to offset the impact of the tariff—in the hopes of maintaining or growing market share here in the US.

And yes, there is the chance that the tariff will get overturned by the World Trade Organization.

Don’t wait

And even if every one of those pieces of good news turns out to be bad, you’ll STILL experience a smaller impact at home.

Here’s why.

Modules only represent a small portion of the overall cost of installing your system. You’ve got all the other components to think about, as well as permitting and installation.

Related: Save time with your FREE Solar Permitting Guide »

Another reason is that module prices had already increased—the uncertainty surrounding the trade case and subsequent tariff decision increased demand in late 2017 and early 2018, which led to higher prices towards the end of last year. Prices are already up, in other words, so you won’t see much difference between where they sit now and where they might go with a tariff.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, however, I should mention that as a homeowner, you do stand to suffer… If you don’t take action and buy now.

You may be saying “I’ll just wait a couple years until the tariffs go down!”

It’s a common refrain, but that’s a bad approach.

Why? Because of the tax breaks—a 30% Federal Tax Credit means you can save big on your taxes by buying solar.

But that credit will start shrinking in just 2 short years.

Until then, the 30% tax credit will more than make up for any extra money you might pay on solar panels.

So if you’re playing the waiting game, hoping the tariff will disappear, you could simply end up losing credits on the tax side.

In other words, if you’re worried about saving money…

It makes the most sense to go solar as soon as you can.

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The President to Decide on The Future of Solar Panel Costs

The President to Decide on The Future of Solar Panel Costs

The International Trade Commission (ITC) will hold a vote on the trade case’s proposed remedies in October 2017, and in November, the ITC will take the case to the President, who has until January 12, 2018, to take action.

Greentech Media Spells out exactly what happens in each phase of the 201 trade case through 2018 with this helpful timeline above.

Frequent readers will recall we covered the beginnings of a Trade Dispute Casting a Shadow Over Solar’s Bright Future a few months back. Suniva and SolarWorld, two of the leading solar manufacturers in the US, allege that cheaper solar products imported from abroad, especially China, are having a negative impact on profits and sustainability for American businesses.

The ITC is moving forward with the Section 201 Trade Case, affirming the precedent that these lower prices on overseas products are indeed harming American manufacturers.

Suniva’s recommended remedy has changed several times over the course of the case, based on current market trends and recommendations from various authorities and lawmakers. The main remedies proposed have been to impose a tariff- an import tax on overseas solar products, and a quota – a restriction on the amount of solar panels and modules that can be imported from foreign manufacturers.

Initially, Suniva proposed a tariff of $0.32/watt that would drop to $0.29/watt after 4 years. Following discussions and delegations, this proposed tariff has been reduced to $0.25/watt that would fall to $0.23/watt after 4 years. Although that amount doesn’t seem like much money, those watts add up, and in total solar projects will cost 10-20% more with the tariff in place.

More troubling is the proposed quota – a restriction on the amount of solar equipment imported from foreign manufacturers. The current proposed quota is 220 MW and 5,700 MW worth of cells and modules respectively imported from foreign sources. Restricting the flow of solar cells and modules from non-US manufacturers effectively cripples the available supply, which, if demand continues to increase (as it has been on track to project over the next few years) will drive up prices considerably.

A third option has also been presented, and would ideally be the best solution: a manufacturing tax subsidy. This would essentially incentivize foreign manufacturers to establish factories in the US, manufacturing on US soil, providing jobs, and eliminating the need for import tariffs and fees.

Whatever the outcome, the solar industry is in for a shakeup. DIY suppliers like www.altestore.com, boxedsolar.com, and www.wholesalesolar.com allow you to cut costs on the overhead – even if system prices go up 10-20%. When you’re ready to start planning your solar project, make sure to talk to an experienced solar technician first.  They can help you through the designing process.

TIP: Don’t forget to file for the 30% Tax Credit and pay less on your income tax.

Go Solar While You Still Can: Trade Dispute Casts a Shadow on The Industry’s Bright Future

Go Solar While You Still Can: Trade Dispute Casts a Shadow on The Industry’s Bright Future

Business Tactics Dimming Solar Prospects At Home and Abroad

Go solar while you still can: 2017 may see the end of solar’s rapid growth period – at least, for the moment. Recent trade disputes between Suniva and overseas solar manufacturers are set to spark a significant increase in the price of solar panels before the year is out, which could spell doom for the already-struggling American solar industry. This dispute comes hot on the heals of SolarWorld’s insolvency in Germany – the company currently survives only in its Portland, Oregon-based offices (with manufacturing in nearby Hillsboro, Oregon).

In 2011, SolarWorld was right there alongside Suniva – alleging that Chinese manufacturers used unfair practices through government subsidies to finance the manufacture of solar products at a much cheaper cost than American competitors could manage – in some cases allowing those manufacturers to sell their product for lower prices than were even required to build them. Essentially, the case alleged that Chinese manufacturers were undercutting their overseas counterparts illegally. The American manufacturers (six in all, including Suniva and SolarWorld) won that case, and now 2017 sees a new battle in the ongoing trade war.

Suniva has requested that the International Trade Commission look into the impact that imported solar cells and modules (and their lower pricing) has on domestic solar manufacturers – alleging that the competition has dissuaded the development of American solar products in favor of cheaper, less regulated foreign products. At Suniva’s urging, the ITC is taking a thorough look at the case – but if they decide to act on the company’s proposed tariffs and pricing increases, industry experts are worried it could put solar power in a downward slump for the foreseeable future.

The Price of Trade War

With the proposed price increases, solar power would reportedly be set back to pre-2012 levels in terms of pricing for equipment and 2015 levels for installation – a nearly 40% increase, which would be disastrous for many solar projects – including California’s recently-announced renewable energy initiative. Some sources suggest even greater increases – predicting solar cells and modules could rise nearly 70% in costs!

Suniva tariff price increase predictions

Industry experts estimate, should Suniva’s proposed tariffs and price increases be approved, 47 Gigawatts (GW) of planned photovoltaic projects currently in the works could be canceled – to give some indication of how much 47GW is, that’s enough power to keep the lights on for over 4,000 American homes for an entire year. And that’s just the basic wattage of the proposed systems – they would provide continuous power for residential and industrial projects for years to come if installed.

Buy Solar While it’s Still Affordable!

The only good news in this potential trade deal is that you, the DIY customer, will be largely unaffected. Low prices are a market expectation that customers have come to know and love, so most retailers are locked in. The trade war and its looming price increases largely effect industrial and municipal solar projects, which while bad for the country as a whole, have little effect on retail. Utility projects will be worst hit, and many planned projects may well be abandoned, so if you’re a residential customer whose on-the-grid power is currently or will in the future be provided by solar – now might be the time to look into a DIY system. Save yourself money and spare the politics by switching to a grid-tied or off-grid solar system to cut costs and avoid the hassle that comes with being a utility company customer. But act fast, as this trade war shows, the market can change on a dime, and you may not have long before prices skyrocket! Many manufacturers who sell to utility projects also provide solar installation for residential customers, so they may raise prices there to compensate for the difference, so don’t wait.

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Solar Outshines Coal In Uncertain Times

Solar Outshines Coal In Uncertain Times

Solar Waxes Strong In Spite of Stiff Resistance

Has the energy industry finally reached the tipping point? Certain industry professionals seem to think so! Optimistic early adopters of solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and other renewable energy sources have long envisioned a future free from fossil fuels, and the latest outlook report from Bloomberg shows that the real world is finally falling in line.

renewable energy surpasses fossil fuels graph

It’s no secret that renewable and green energy is so named because it relies on consistent, sustainable resources that won’t run out anytime soon, so it’s good news to see that major industrial sectors and first world countries have gotten in on the adoption of these power sources over coal and oil.

The secret to any industry, of course, is cost – as prices drop, more people buy in. Whenever a new technology (such as solar panels, electric wind turbines, etc) enters the marketplace, it does so at an increased cost that eventually lowers in price as new methods of manufacturing it are developed, new resources for that technology are found, and an increase in customer demand drives the economics behind it. Solar panels in 1977 cost around $76 per watt, compared to an average of $0.74/watt in 2013. That’s a massive decrease in price over a course of 36 years, all due to more affordable manufacturing, an increasing customer base, and government incentives to help people embrace solar power more readily.

A Sign of the Times

According to the report from Bloomberg, within 4 years, solar will be cheaper than coal, with some of the biggest new marketplaces being highly industrialized countries such as China, India, and Pakistan. By 2040, the report estimates that solar prices will have decreased 67% in the US and 85% in Japan, which will allow more and more people to access affordable renewable energy for their homes and devices – indeed, entire cities may soon be powered by solar.

solar to outperform coal and oil by 2040

The Bloomberg report comes in at a vital time – with California announcing an initiative to go 100% renewable by 2045 only a few weeks ago. The drastically lowered cost of entry to install solar power is likely to help this plan in the years to come, as the cost of converting from oil and coal to renewable energy sources has been cited as a major hurdle to overcome.

The transition is not going to go uncontested, however, oil and coal are still major industries which many political and corporate interests are heavily invested in. Just recently, political commentator John Oliver came under fire from coal magnate Robert E. Murray, owner of Murray Energy, regarding “defamatory comments” made during his assessment of the coal industry and President Trump’s statements regarding the importance of the diminishing industry (current estimates place coal industry jobs are around 76,000 in the US, compared to a growing 800,000+ jobs in the renewable energy sector as of March 30, 2017).

John Oliver speaks out about Coal and it's value

The Future Looks Bright

So the question must be asked: can solar and coal coexist? Of course they can, but should they? While keeping people employed is an important factor to consider, there’s no question that renewable energy is dominating the job market with new opportunities every day. There’s also the environmental factor to consider, of course, over 70% of Americans believe climate change is a very real threat and support initiatives to stop or slow it. States beside California have gotten in on green energy initiative, in fact the top “solarized” states are California, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey, Utah, Massachusetts, Georgia, Texas, and New York.

The fact that these top solar states include states of both major political persuasions is a major boon for successful renewable energy initiatives. While coal and oil are traditionally associated with the “red state” mentality, renewable energy concerns and affects both sides – it’s not only good for environment and has the potential to help combat climate change, but it’s also a growth industry providing thousands of jobs and also cutting down on costs long term – a solar array is a lot lower maintenance than an oil refinery, after all!

The future looks bright for solar while coal and oil’s flame starts to flicker out.  As solar prices go down, turnkey solutions and DIY solar power systems are at an all-time low, reducing your barrier to entry and allowing you to help influence future renewable energy growth on a personal level.

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SolarWorld Americas Sheds Some Light On Company Status

SolarWorld Americas Sheds Some Light On Company Status

Some of our readers may have heard that SolarWorld was facing some financial trouble in May 2017. While that is true, and some difficult decisions had to be made by the company at an international level, rest assured, SolarWorld is still with us in the form of SolarWorld Americas.

SolarWorld Americas, based in Portland, Oregon, strived to pick up the slack from its German home company and continue the tradition of providing the highest quality crystalline-silicon photovoltaic panels and solar power systems on the market, retaining a standard of excellence even in the face of stiff competition from overseas manufacturers.

The 42-year-old solar company aims to improve its services immediately with the introduction of dual-warranty protection. A little extra peace of mind at no added cost, the Dual Warranty plan goes into effect immediately in the event the original warranty can no longer be supported (due to expiration, invalidation, etc.). This provides an extra layer of protection guaranteed on your expensive solar equipment, so you can worry less and enjoy the summer weather more.

This new package, dubbed SolarWorld Assurance, offers these protections with zero premiums, zero deductibles, and transferable policy ownership – you, the customer control the policy with no strings attached. In the wake of the parent company’s insolvency, this shows SolarWorld Americas sending a clear message: quality matters, the customer is king, and they intend to keep American-made solar coming for a long while yet.

Dual Warranty SolarWorld With Wholesale Solar

This shows SolarWorld Americas sending a clear message: quality matters, the customer is king, and they intend to keep American-made solar coming for a long while yet.

So what does this have to do with Wholesale Solar? Well, SolarWorld’s Dual Warranty is 3rd-Party backed and guaranteed, meaning we get to offer it when we sell you solar power systems featuring SolarWorld products – such as our 4th of July Free Shipping offer! We always help our customers ensure their warranty info is filed with the manufacturer and guaranteed to be honored, so this new SolarWorld Assurance policy provides a new level of customer confidence, offering peace of mind at the perfect price: free.

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California Aiming For 100% Renewable Energy by 2045

California Aiming For 100% Renewable Energy by 2045

In a time where green energy initiatives are at risk across the country, the state of California seeks to take a stand and reinforce its long history of strong progressive policies: by 2045, 100% of the state’s energy will be powered by renewable sources such as wind and solar.

SB100 passed in the senate Wednesday, May 31, 2017, outlining a transition to renewable energy, with California expected to reach the 50% mark by 2026 and 100% by 2045. Overcoming this hurdle is a major step – though not the last, as SB100 still has to clear the Assembly House to be passed into law.

The goal of supplying the state with 100% renewable energy, completely phasing out fossil fuels and other sources, is a lofty one – which has raised its fair share of concerns from opponents. Much of the initiative’s future depends on affordable prices and advances in technology over the next 20+ years, and many estimates take into account the installation of new wind and solar farms, wiring, electrical substations and other infrastructure to support them.

California is currently the country’s leader in solar energy production and home to over 40% of solar energy jobs in the US. Senate president Pro Tem Kevin de León, spearheading SB100, firmly believes in the bill, stating, “We’re showing the way forward, we’re sending a clear message to the rest of the world that no president, no matter how desperately they may try to ignore reality, can halt our progress.” If SB100 passes in the Assembly House, it will prove de León quite correct.

Perhaps most importantly, SB100’s success so far, as well as growing concerns over sustainable energy in recent weeks, has put solar and wind power at the forefront: with one of the most influential states in the US aiming for 100% renewable energy, people are taking notice!

The solar market has grown 97% since 2015 alone, and PV system prices have dropped 60% in the past ten years, meaning solar power is more affordable and more readily available than ever, and with new companies entering the market every year to offer solar power across the country, California may be the very first state to reach a 100% renewable energy standard, and it’s likely many other states will soon follow.

At Wholesale Solar, we believe solar power is a nonpartisan issue: right wing, left wing, republican or democrat, we can all agree that cutting down utility costs and harnessing unlimited energy from the sun is both good business and good for the planet.

We support solar energy not because it’s profitable for us, but because we believe in what we’re doing. Every customer we sell on solar is potentially megawatts-worth of energy provided through renewable systems rather than oil or natural gas. Every solar panel we help you install goes a long way towards building a better future for us all.

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Buyer Beware – With Tesla’s New Solar Roofing Tiles, The Devil is in the Details

Buyer Beware – With Tesla’s New Solar Roofing Tiles, The Devil is in the Details

Tesla, one of the leading innovators in the solar power marketplace, recently announced pricing details for its revolutionary solar roof tiles – a system that, until now, seemed like a pipe dream. For many would-be solar customers, it still is.

“We paid our $500 down and were to get an assessment from an installer within a week.  Installation was to have been completed by the end of April.  Never happened.  Never even were contacted…We have tried to get some of the solar electric installers locally to become certified Tesla installers, but they are leery of the Tesla track record of promising but not coming up with the product.” – Susan Q, former Tesla customer. She converted to Wholesale Solar and purchased a 4.43 kW Grid-Tied Solar System from us shortly thereafter.

If you are dead-set on a solar power system, Tesla’s solar roof tiles may seem like a dream come true  – offering a similar aesthetic to shingle or Spanish tile roofing, but with the added benefit of photovoltaic cells rather than normal solar panel arrays. Much of this technology is untested, however, without the proven history of reliability and durability that current solar panels are known for. Rather than mounting on a racking system, solar roof tiles replace the entire roof – which is fine if you’re building a home from the ground up, but may seem unnecessary to many homeowners, when their home has a perfectly good roof already. These concerns are just the beginning, however, there are a few factors to consider which may influence your decision:

Price

While their pricing is noted as being competitive with other roofing styles such as shingle or tile, coming in a $21.85 per square foot, the cost of installing a complete Tesla solar roof tile system is still more than many homeowners can afford. An average roofing job will cost around $73,500 after solar tax incentives and rebates, according to consumer reports – comparable to a shingle or tile roof, and will save a family over $2000 a year on power costs.

While such an installation will pay for itself over time, the up front cost is still a huge investment compared to the $5000-30,000 you’ll spend on a DIY complete solar power system. Whether you go off-grid completely or grid-tied to zero out your utility bill, you get the same return on investment and guaranteed reliability with proven equipment and technology, all for a fraction of the price.

Solar panels vs Tesla solar roof tiles cost comparison
Our friends at Spice Solar calculated the cost of a 2,500 sq. ft. roof in California and compared Tesla’s solar roof tiles against ordinary solar panels. The price difference is shocking.

Tesla also promises an unlimited warranty on their solar roof tiles, a big bonus to be sure – but the promise of a warranty is only as good as the product it’s backing, and with potentially years of waiting before Tesla installs solar roof tiles on a customer’s home, those promises of a warranty might be just so much hot air. For comparison, our solar panels have a guaranteed 25-year power warranty, and are a product that’s ready right now, when you need it. Our pre-wired power centers also come with a 5 year warranty of their own, and other products from various manufacturers we carry are supported with warranties of anywhere from one to 30 years. At Wholesale Solar, we keep our promises, and back them up with tangible results.

Time

Depending on the size of your solar installation project, setting up your DIY system can take up to a few days to set up – hard work, but well worth it in the end! You should always take into account the planning, permitting, and other essential stages ahead of time to save yourself some trouble once that work begins.

Tesla’s solar roof tiles, however, take over a week to have installed by a professional roofer – often at an added expense, and is not something you can do on your own. This is a major downside for many people, and the inconvenience of having roofers in and around your home and property can dissuade many people from installation.

Complexity

Solar roof tiles are a complex system – with individual cells grouped together and multiple points tied to wiring, power control, and even “dummy” units – cells that look the same, but aren’t actually solar cells, to comply with fire code regulations. This creates a very difficult, specialized installation only a few contractors are capable of – in fact, Tesla has their own installation personnel who they use for the job. Maintenance costs can also run high, as this installation is so beyond the standard that it will require specialized experts to service or repair.

For comparison, a complete DIY solar kit from Wholesale Solar is custom-tuned to your individual needs, and prepared before shipment to be almost “plug and play” – no difficult rewiring, no specialized electricians or contractors required, and that’s part of what makes them special. It’s a solar power system that you can install on your own, and our technicians are on-call to help should you have questions.

“Turns out they can’t find anyone in our area who wants to be a certified installer.  They won’t sell to owners who want to install their own, even if overseen by an electrician…We have tried to get some of the solar electric installers locally to become certified Tesla installers, but they are leery of the Tesla track record of promising but not coming up with the product.”

– Susan Q continues to elaborate on her difficulties with the system in question. She intended to DIY with parts ordered from a number of sources, solar panels from a different manufacturer, and a Tesla PowerWall to accommodate her inverter and battery storage needs. Not only did Tesla never deliver the PowerWall, but the planned installation process was hampered by Tesla’s certification requirements and bureaucracy.

Solar is Ready Now

Tesla will begin installing solar roof tiles in the state of California starting this June. However, preorders and installation scheduling are often quite high, and it can take months or even years before the company’s production schedule ramps up enough to get to your project.

Solar power systems are available today, ready to ship to your door and install immediately. This means you can switch to clean, sustainable, renewable energy for your home without having to wait, just call and order, no hassle.

Solar Roof Tiles may be a major player in the future, but there are still more affordable, immediate ways to transition to solar power for your home or business, and we here at Wholesale Solar can help. Our reviews speak for themselves, and we have a long record of satisfied customers and successful DIY installations across the country. Check out our online solar calculator to determine the cost of your project, call for a quote, and start making a difference with solar power today!

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