With electricity bills increasing, natural resources dwindling and the government searching for climate change solutions, more and more homeowners and businesses are converting to solar power.
The City of Union City and others throughout Alameda County are helping to raise awareness about the benefits of converting to solar energy. On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the cities of Union City, Hayward, Fremont, Newark and San Leandro will hold the r at Hayward City Hall.
We caught up with Avalon Schultz, associate planner for the City of Union City, to find out more about why homeowners should convert to solar power, available resources and the City of Union City’s solar energy goals.
Why should homeowners convert to solar energy? What homes are best suited for it?
Solar energy is a clean and efficient way to supply your home with the energy it needs on a daily basis. As long as you have just a few hundred square feet of unshaded south, west, or east facing roof space, you have the potential to generate solar power!
Solar water heating is an age-old technology utilizing the heat of the sun to directly or indirectly warm your water for use in your home. Solar thermal systems can supply your home with up to 70 percent of its hot water needs. Solar thermal systems are typically a smaller upfront investment than solar PV, and there is up to $1,875 in state rebate (through the California Solar Initiative, or CSI) money available to help reduce the cost of the system.
Solar electric systems can be sized to offset a portion or all of your electricity bill! While solar PV panels continue to improve in efficiency a little bit every year, solar electric systems installed as far back as the 1970s continue to produce electricity today in exactly the same way current systems do. The State of California still provides rebate money to help reduce the upfront cost, and there is a Federal Income Tax Credit available to all homeowners to the amount of 30 percent of the post-CSI system cost for the installation of both solar electric and solar thermal systems.
Installing a solar thermal or a solar electric system today will mean that you will enjoy free energy for years to come, with most systems carrying at least a 25 year warranty and guaranteed to still produce at 80 percent of their year-one production levels in 20 years from now.
How much can the average family actually save?
Currently, an average 3-4 person home can install a 2-collector solar thermal system for as little as $4,000 after state and federal rebates and incentives, and it requires less than 100 square feet of roof space. Installing such a system can nearly zero-out your natural gas bills in the summer (aside from the natural gas needed for cooking and clothes drying, if any), and will reduce your gas bills in the winter months as well.
A 3.5 kW solar electric system (about 14-20 panels, depending on your panel wattage), can be installed for just over $20,000, or about $15,000 after your state rebates and federal tax credit. Such a system can produce around 5,000 kWh of electricity a year, saving you anywhere from $700 to $1,700 a year in electricity costs.
About what percentage of homes and businesses in Union City are currently using solar energy?
The City started tracking solar installations in 2010. What we’ve found is that Union City residents are increasingly recognizing the value of solar PV. The number of residential solar permits doubled between 2010 and 2011 and that trend is set to continue in 2012, with nearly 20 homeowners installing solar PV in the first six months of the year.
Businesses are also taking advantage of solar. Since 2010, solar panels that produce 586 kW of energy have been installed on commercial rooftops. The greenhouse gases reduced annually from these installations is roughly equal to 75,000 gallons of gasoline, 17,150 tree seedlings grown for 10 years, or 131 passenger vehicles taken off the road according the EPA’s greenhouse gas calculator.
Does the city have a goal in mind for the future?
The City of Union City’s Climate Action Plan includes goals that one in three homes and one in four commercial buildings will have solar PV by 2020. The City will continue to spread the word about the benefits of solar PV to help make those goals a reality.
Check out the newly updated GreenUnionCity.Org webpage for more information on how to go green at home or at work and to learn about what the City is doing to improve the environment.
Where can those interested in solar energy go to find more information? What local services are offered?
The SmartSolar Program is a free an independent program offering solar education and advising to East Bay residents and businesses interested in exploring their solar options, all at no cost. SmartSolar is offered by Community Energy Services Corporation, a Berkeley-based non-profit organization, with funding from East Bay Energy Watch Partnership.
A FREE SmartSolar assessment consists of:
- An energy efficiency consultation including an analysis of your energy bills and suggestions for energy savings
- A proposed system size based upon your current and future energy needs and your available roofspace
- Information about approximate system costs, rebates and incentives, financing options, and local area contractors
Learn more about solar energy in the documents above.
To speak with experts, attend the Alameda County Solar Fair on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hayward City Hall, located at 777 B St. in Hayward.