The market for solar energy systems among residential customers in the U.S. has never been hotter. A combination of significant improvements in photovoltaic technologies, far lower prices, the continuing availability of Federal and state tax credits, codes requiring new residential buildings to meet certain energy efficiency standards, and greater consumer awareness has led a growing number of U.S. homebuilders to partner with photovoltaic energy solutions providers to offer buyers new homes with solar arrays.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports that the cost of installing solar has dropped by more than 70% since 2010. As installation costs continue to fall, the use of photovoltaic installations and concentrated solar power systems in homes is expected to rise— especially in light of the Federal tax credit extension passed by Congress in December 2015.
The Federal residential renewable energy tax credit is worth 30% of a solar array’s price until 2019, when it will gradually decline to a level of 10% from 2022 onward. Especially when these credits are coupled with other state and local tax incentives, the additional monthly cost over a 30-year mortgage of installing a solar power system can be less than an average utility bill. It has also been estimated that the cost of installing solar panels is around 20% lower during new construction than when adding an array to an existing home.
Solar has already become one of the least expensive sources of electricity in many states. Consumer demand for solar is especially strong in some parts of the country, such as California and Colorado, and rapid growth is anticipated in states like Utah, Texas, South Carolina, and Florida. Even in states with less sunshine such as New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, the demand for residential solar is growing due to state incentive programs. In California, codes require that all new residential buildings must be zero net energy by 2020—which means that homes will have to generate as much power as they consume. In addition, cities and utilities have set aggressive renewable energy goals to reduce the cost to the consumer of installing solar power systems.
Given the strong demand for and increasing affordability of solar, homebuilders are now routinely partnering with renewable energy solutions providers to offer solar energy systems as upgrades or as standard features. For example, Meritage Homes announced in 2015 that for the construction of a new community of homes in Hayward, California, they are joining forces with SunPower to install highefficiency solar power systems, and with Sunverge Energy to provide complementary energy storage technology.
In addition to this partnership, SunPower cooperates with homebuilders across the U.S. From the perspective of the builder, the advantages of working with a solar supplier like SunPower include having a partner that focuses solely on installing and maintaining solar power systems, and that has independent sales and customer service staff ready to educate prospective home buyers about the financing and the installation process of solar power systems. SunPower also provides users with online apps for monitoring their solar power system and tracking their energy usage.
SolarCity, another major provider of solar power systems, has a Homebuilder Program that it claims can enable builders to pre-install solar power systems in new homes without adding to the purchase price, or to the construction costs of the homebuilder. Systems can include energy storage service consisting of the Tesla Powerwall battery pack and advanced hybrid inverter, monitoring, and control systems. SolarCity also seeks to ease the burden on builders by providing staff who work directly with the homebuyers in choosing a solar plan and in managing the installation. In addition, the company is prepared to handle the technical and legal aspects of solar projects, including warranty and service agreements, permits, inspections, and insurance.