In the solar power game, Massachusetts comes in hot. It ranks seventh nationally in its solar capacity installed per capita — pretty impressive, no? As EnergySage, a site that serves as a marketplace for solar panel companies, puts it: “If you can pay your current utility bill, you can afford solar.”

If you’re ready to start taking your energy use seriously, Boston’s local companies are ready to outfit your abode in natural energy fashion. And lucky for you, we’ve already done the hard work. Keep reading and you’ll find information about the top solar installers in your area, solar power basics, Boston’s regulations and incentives, and a few nice-to-know FAQs.

Freshome’s Top Solar Panel Installers in Boston

Getting a solar energy system isn’t just about throwing shiny new cells on your roof — a new solar setup means additional wiring and strategic panel placement.

The growing market of solar energy companies means that you have plenty of options to choose from — and plenty of details that threaten to overwhelm you in the process. That’s where we come in. With top-notch research on the right companies and the right solar brands, we’ve created your all-in-one resource for the solar lowdown. We made the calls, investigated the options, and determined the three best places you should begin your search for a solar system.

Boston Solar
(617) 858-1645

Beautiful, intuitive website? Check. Detailed array of services from panel building to installation? Check. Founded in 2011 with solar on the brain, Boston Solar has since expanded its reach to “weatherization” and heating/cooling systems in order to create an authentic energy solution experience for its customers. In addition to the manufacturer’s warranty on the panels, Boston Solar adds a 10-year warranty on top of that simply to cover the labor and installation process.

If we can improve how energy is used in one home, we will help one person save. If we can improve how energy is used in everyone’s home, we will help the world save — and help save the world!”

And to top it off, Boston Solar actually has a referral program awarding their customers $500 for each new client they refer who installs a solar PV system with the company. Talk about taking energy incentive into their own hands!

Great Sky Solar
(888) 451-3979

This worker-owned cooperative gets major points for an easily-navigated website and clear diction of its services: from solar PV system building to installation. Their brand tone differs from its competitors with a tangible community-based feel. You get a distinct sense from their communications that they’re an authentic entity that truly cares not only about the environment, but the customers they’re designing solar PV systems for.

Wagner Solar Inc.
(877) 979-2463

Installing solar systems since 1979, Wagner Solar is employee-owned and supplies solar panels in addition to their installation services. Unlike many solar company sites, Wagner’s provides an in-depth presentation of the kind of panels it provides according to your roof type. They offer a 10-year warranty on their panels, which is substandard to Freshome’s bar of a 25-year warranty.

Finding the best solar panels in Boston

Shopping for solar panels and a total system that will work for your home shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment decision. You want to choose quality panels with a dependable warranty. Go with the cheap kind, and they could very well break. Add a short warranty to that equation and you’re back at square one. Neither option sounds ideal, right? The best bet for maximizing power and panel longevity is to invest in a panel that lives up to the following standards:

Ask your installer about the panels that you’re purchasing, and whether they’re up these essential standards. While the numbers can seem daunting, it’s completely worth it to talk to each company and learn the implications of each system they offer.  Here are Freshome’s top recommending brands — you should ask your installer about whether they offer panels from these companies as well.

Solar Power in Boston

Boston’s Solar Policies and Incentives

The city of Boston recently launched an initiative called Renew Boston Solar. Partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and a host of other clean energy stakeholders, Renew Boston Solar is reaching for a green energy revolution in the city.

To name a few ambitious implications of the initiative, the city is encouraging the increased use of solar technology by easing permit restrictions, providing maps of potential locations and planning city-wide bulk purchases of solar PV systems. Renew Boston Solar has also led to greater collaboration with state incentive programs and special financing for installing solar across the city.

And because money talks, the city offers straight-up cash for switching to solar-powered systems. Once you install your solar PV setup, Boston hands you a check for 1/3 the amount of the commonwealth solar rebate up to $2,800.

From a statewide perspective, Massachusetts’ renewables portfolio standard (“RPS”) offers a personal income tax credit of 15 percent, up to $1,000 for residents with solar technology installed in their homes. The target is 15 percent renewable energy by 2020, with a 1 percent increase every year following. Then there’s the state’s Commonwealth Solar Rebate Program (CSRP). The program takes into consideration a few factors to calculate how much you can get back: income, home value, and the manufacturing origins of your panels (are they from Massachusetts?) Dollar-wise, the base incentive is $400/kW regardless of your income or home value.

So depending on your solar production, you could potentially see a solar power rebate between $2,000 and $4,250 for a 5kw system. Overall, the area offers an impressive array of incentives. Boston and greater Massachusetts has proved through moves such as Renew Boston Solar that it truly prioritizes the development of more efficient energy usage.

And to top it all off, there is still a 30 percent federal tax credit, known as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The ITC implemented in 2006 to spur the development of solar energy in the United States, and research shows that this credit has contributed to a compound annual growth rate of 76 percent.

How do solar panels work?

It all starts with photovoltaic cells: the cells on solar panels that turn rays into electric energy  Often referred to as PV systems in the industry, what sounds like complicated tech-speak can actually be an incredibly simple boon to your energy savings.

So what happens once the sunlight hits? Called “direct current” or DC electricity, it flows to a power inverter, where it’s converted to “alternate current,” or AC electricity. The AC then moves to the breaker box, subsequently powering your lights and home appliances. Whatever leftover energy there is (if any) is either stored by a battery system (if you have one in place) or connected to your city’s utility grid, allowing you to both give and receive energy.

So while it’s a relatively simple concept, with professionals in the area to take the reins for you vis a vis system design and installation, it’s also an incredible source of clean energy that can power your home the way you’re used to, with far less cost and carbon footprint.

On the grid or off the grid? (net metering vs. batteries)

Net metering and battery storage are both ways to divert unused solar energy. Net metering takes the energy you don’t use and puts it back on a shared grid (giving you credit towards your overall energy bill), while battery systems store it.  In plain terms, the argument for net metering rests on the fact that you, as a homeowner, don’t have to deal with the storage costs of a battery. The regulations associated with net metering and pushback from utility companies, who perceive net metering as a source of revenue loss, make it a slightly more complicated option than battery storage.

Battery storage has indeed improved over the years – in the past, arguments were made that batteries are too costly, are not reliable, and add complications. Technology gains have added myriad options for designing a system with battery storage. You can enable your battery bank on the web to notify you when the battery is full or when they need to be switched out. Some also find the concept of a local storage system to be more reliable than using a shared grid.

The tiered net metering system in Massachusetts stipulates that average residential homes are Class I, meaning any extra solar energy produced and returned to the grid is directly credited to your bill. Different utilities companies have different net metering policies — you’ll want to check in with your panel installer to see what local net metering regulations will apply to your new system.

Does color matter?

Most companies offer panels in a range of options off the black to light-gray scale. The darker panels, as may seem self-explanatory, do the best job of absorbing maximum sunlight. Shinier colors can, in a counter-intuitive move, reflect away the sunlight that you need to power your home.

Will I make a difference?

Whatever company and system you decide to entrust with your newfound energy savings and reduced global footprint, get ready to see the following potential changes in your day-to-day activity and home use.

  • Conserve water: more than 16,000 gallons of water annually
  • Cut out the middleman: Reduce reliance on foreign and nonrenewable energy sources
  • Raise your resale potential: solar systems can increase a home’s resale potential by an average of $5.50 per watt – and certain studies show that homes with solar sell 15% faster than those without.
  • Put it in perspective: by installing a solar energy system in your house, you already know you’re reducing your carbon footprint, but how does your new energy usage compare? To the tune of 35,180 pounds less carbon dioxide per year. In order to save the same amount of carbon dioxide, you’d have to plant 88 trees every year.
  • Cut the lights: the average 25-year electricity cost of solar is about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour – less than half the cost of your current utility usage.

And it’s all possible because of the sun.

Take Action

By now you’re fully immersed in some serious solar energy research. So is it right for your home and location? Give our top-rated companies a call and get a quote. They’re ready to built out a price and system that reflects your energy goals.

Local Installers: Boston Solar, Great Sky Solar, Wagner Solar Inc.

Freshome’s Top Solar Manufacturers: Solar World, Canadian Solar, Axitec, Kyocera Solar