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Solar photovoltaics, more commonly referred to as solar panels, are being installed on roofs across the country. By using sunlight to create energy, they offer a sustainable alternative to electricity. Residents cite electricity cost savings, increased energy independence, and environmental benefits as reasons why they chose to buy solar panels. Before installing solar panels on your home, however, you should educate yourself to make sure it’s right for you.

Basics of solar panels

The panels are made of silicon cells that are mounted on a glass sheet and encased with aluminum. For maximum efficiency, they should be placed on a South-facing, flat roof, because they will receive the most direct sunlight at that angle. Energy from the sunlight is then converted into alternating current that can power your home. Although solar panels are often associated with sunny year-round climates, they can be used successfully in Massachusetts.

How much will you save?

Before anything else, you should check your electric bill to see what you are currently paying. Keep in mind that although you may be able to drive down utility usage, you will still need to pay the fixed charge each month.  The Renewable Energy Division (MassDOER) offers information for consumers about solar energy and has incentive programs such as the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program, and the Mass Solar Loan program.

Buying vs. Leasing

There are a few ways to purchase solar systems for your home. You can buy an entire system yourself, which has an average gross cost of $18,840 without tax credits according to EnergySage. You may want to explore financing options through the installer, a bank, or the state. You will be fully responsible for maintenance if you buy the system.

You may be able to lease a solar system, if you’d prefer. They are often long term agreements, some last 20 years, so make sure you are not planning on moving anytime soon. If you lease, you are entitled to all of the power that is generated, but the leasing company will be responsible for maintenance. The Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Reports have more information on the differences between buying and selling.

Finding a certified company

Solar companies that perform installations must be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). In Massachusetts, the installer must be a licensed electrician as well as registered with this Office as a home improvement contractor. Be sure to check the referrals and licenses of the contractor and seek multiple bids with written estimates included. Find out how long they have been in business and ask to see current job sites, if you can. Like any other major purchase, you should research extensively and consider more than one option before purchasing solar panels. Variables such as the price up-front, tax breaks, the life of the system, and the responsibility of maintaining them all play a role in making the best decision for your home and wallet. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center released a guide to solar power that Massachusetts resident should consult for more information.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws and Arbitration Program, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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