BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A seminar detailing the benefits of residential solar energy was presented at Brookdale Reformed Church on Thursday, Sept. 22. Elvin Frost, the senior solar advisor for Geoscape, delivered the presentation. The church itself had gone solar earlier this year with Geoscape installing the roof panels. The seminar attracted about a dozen people.
“If you haven’t heard the report,” Frost began, “this August has been the hottest in history.”
Regardless of any historical temperature readings, Frost said it appeared that the weather is changing. He equated a small change in energy-consuming habits with enormous benefits to the environment.
According to Frost, the use of solar energy is considerable in New Jersey. In terms of its use, he said the state was ranked No. 3 in the nation while being the fifth smallest state. He said 58,000 NJ homes have solar panels.
“Mostly in the back of the house,” he said.
He presented a slide show for part of his talk. “The Vatican, the Taj Mahal, the White House, the lights of the Eiffel Tower — all solar,” he said.
Numerous corporate businesses are also using solar energy, including Macy’s, Toys ‘R Us, Staples, Johnson & Johnson, and Costco.
Frost said there was no telling what the weather was going to be like, but one thing was a certainty: sunshine. He gave a quick description of how solar energy works.
The panels are installed on the roof of the home. They create a DC electrical current which is converted into an AC current for home usage.
“When you have solar energy, it has priority over the electrical company,” he said.
When a resident’s solar panels produce more than their home needs, Frost said it was like having “a bucket of electricity.”
This extra electricity is sent to the power grid of the electric company servicing the home. The company credits the homeowner at the same price they would have to pay the company to buy it back, which is what a homeowner will do when it is needed. Frost said when a resident sends their solar-made electricity to the electric company, the electric meter in their home will spin backward.
“The biggest misconception about solar,” Frost said, “is when a hurricane comes and knocks out the electricity. The law requires that solar energy be turned off, too.”
For a resident to get electricity in the event of a weather-related power failure, in which electric lines are down, like everyone else, Frost said the solar resident will have to rely on a gasoline generator. He said it was necessary to cut off any transfer of solar energy to a company’s power grid while lines were being repaired to avoid injury to workers.
“Safety reasons,” he sad. “There would be too much electricity on a damaged electrical grid.”
He gave a little advice on what to look for when choosing a solar panel manufacturer: the warranty of the product; the labor costs to repair; and if the manufacturer pays for shipping if the panel has to be repaired.
The federal government will help a homeowner pay for solar installation, as much as 30 percent of costs, through a tax credit.
“If you aren’t eligible for the entire credit, it rolls over the next year,” he said.
But this federal plan for a 30 percent credit expires in 2019, he said. In subsequent years, the credit percentage will be lower.
The state will also help pay for 50 percent of solar installation, Frost said. This is done through a 15-year certificate which the state sells to a broker.
“It’s like a stock,” Frost said.
Periodically, the homeowner will receive a check after a certificate sale. “It adds up to about 50 percent,” Frost said.
Frost said there are three ways for a homeowner to acquire electricity: the electric company; solar panels through a leasing agreement; or solar panels that are financed by the homeowner.
He said a homeowner will pay the most if they go to their electric company and almost as much if they lease the panels. He compared leased panels with a leased car.
“At the end of the time period for the leased car, a person can give it back or buy it at fair-market value,” he said.
According to Frost, with solar panels, there is no way to determine what the fair market value will be at the end of the lease period if the homeowner wants to buy them.
Also with leased panels, it is the leasing company that receives the federal tax credit and the state certificate, not the homeowner, he said. But financed ownership by the resident will pay for itself, according to Frost.
He also said that solar panels on the roof will help to protect the roof and provide some insulation against heat and cold of the weather. “Whether you get solar or not,” he said, “the sun is always going to shine.”