DENVER — Previously, owning solar panels was reserved only for those who could afford it. These days, though, with changes in technology and more options available, more Coloradans are considering making the switch.
Here are a few options to consider for people who want to harness the power of the sun to cut down on energy costs.
Individual solar panel purchase
The first option is the traditional route of purchasing solar panels and having them installed on your home.
According to the Colorado Energy Office, more than 100,000 rooftops — homes and businesses combined — had solar installed on them as of the end of 2021.
“I think the biggest thing that's really driven people's interest in solar is the declining cost,” said Keith Hay, the director of policy for the office.
Lou Patterson is one of the many Coloradans who recently made the switch after seeing how high his energy bill was.
Patterson and his wife were spending between $340 and $360 a month on heating and cooling their home because they like to keep the house cold.
“We use about almost 10,000 kilowatts per year, which is quite high,” Patterson said.
They thought about installing solar panels on their home when they first moved in, but decided it was too expensive. Then last year with the lower solar prices, the couple decided to invest.
They leased the panels, meaning they didn’t pay any upfront costs but they do pay around $133 a month for the 28 panels. They also received a rebate on them from the City of Aurora.
These days, their energy bill is around $9.75 a month just for the hook up charge, so between that and the leasing costs, the couple is still saving a considerable amount of money. Unlike other homes, their energy bill doesn’t fluctuate.
“It's the same every month and it's about a third of what I was paying before,” Patterson said.
Another way to get solar panels on your home but potentially pay less is to join a solar cooperative.
This is when a group of neighbors get together to go solar. They buy the solar panels as one to get a bulk purchase discount but sign individual contracts on their homes.
“Because it's a group buy program, oftentimes we see savings that people can realize,” said Bryce Carter, the program director for Solar United Neighbors.
When enough people join the co-op, the group comes together to solicit competitive bids from installers and then decide together which company they want to go with. The idea is also less expensive for the companies since it’s all happening in one community.
“A lot of times, we see savings of anywhere from 10-15%,” Carter said.
However, finding enough members for successfully creating a co-op can be difficult, which is where groups like Solar United Neighbors comes in.
It helps connect members of the community who are thinking about adding solar energy with one another.
“We streamline the process. We do a member selection process where bids come in from installers and our members are the ones that select which installer serves the community,” Carter said.
The group is now working with the City and County of Denver and recently unveiled an equity rebate program that will provide households making 100% of the area’s median income or less $8,000 from Denver’s Climate Protection Fund to buy the solar panels.
For people who cannot or do not want to have solar panels on their home, there is a third option: buying shares in a solar farm.
Colorado was the first in the nation to implement community solar gardens, which allows homeowners, businesses or even renters to purchase a share of solar that’s not installed on their rooftop but in a garden offsite.
“A community solar garden means that a lower or moderate-income family doesn't have to worry about making a large upfront cash investment. They really can look at what's the right level of solar for their monthly budget,” Hay said. “The community solar gardens are, by and large, a lower cost opportunity to really get into solar.”
Among the benefits of solar farms: there is no change to a home’s aesthetic and if there’s a maintenance issue, the panels are easy for a worker to access. There’s also not a large down payment required up front for the purchase or installation of the panels.
Which one is right for you?
Picking between these three options depends on a lot of factors, like how much money you want to put down up front on the solar panels.
If you have money on hand, you might be able to use that and rebates or tax credits to buy the panels outright.
“It comes down to a couple of things. One, how long will I be in my house, and can my house actually take solar on its roof,” Hay said.
Older houses or those that are mainly shaded might not be a good option for individual solar panels.
Another question to ask: How much energy do you use each month and is it enough to offset the cost of buying solar panels? If not, a co-op or solar farm might be a better option. The bottom line, though, is that there are plenty of options for people who want to make the switch.
“One of the things we know about solar is that it increases the value of a home,” Hay said.