You might not think it, but thanks to tax breaks, rebates, and modern technology, harvesting the sun is now more affordable than ever. Plus, solar systems provide an immediate return on your investment by shaving a chunk of change off your monthly power bill.
There is a lot to consider when purchasing a new system — especially since you’ll spend around $20,000 when it’s all said and done. Don’t let that discourage you, though. We did the research already, so keep on reading for an explanation on solar power, a list the top local companies in your area, and a breakdown of all the Federal and State incentives that you should take advantage of.
Freshome’s Top Two Solar Panel Installer in Mobile
Choosing which installer to do business with is the most important decision you will make. That’s why we took the time to do thoroughly review the top two local companies. Despite our numerous attempts at contacting both companies, we were only ever able to get into contact with one. After we researched that company via its website, emailed it’s CEO, and interviewed a representative over the phone, we determined exactly what it had to offer. Keep reading for a detailed breakdown of our top choice and what we could find out about the other company.
Gulf South Solar
Gulf South Solar has been in business for 13 years, and in the solar business that’s a considerable amount of time. That fact, combined with all the customer reviews we read gave us a really good impression going into our interaction with the company. Thankfully, our experience was not disappointing and only served to cement our impression that Gulf South Solar provides quality products while providing excellent customer service. The email we received back was prompt and detailed, while our phone conversation left us feeling as though the company genuinely cared about it’s customers.
Gulf South Solar exclusively installs Solar World panels which come with a 25 or 30 year warranty, depending on the model. The installation is covered with a standard one year warranty. Because power outages are such a big concern in this part of the country due to Hurricanes and the like, it’s CEO said that half of their installations are grid-tied systems, and half are grid-tied with battery back-ups (more on what that means later). He also mentioned that projects are usually completed within 3 weeks.
While Gulf South Solar doesn’t offer the largest selection of solar panels, the panels they do install happen to be Freshome’s top pick. That, when paired with their excellent customer service, leads us to recommend them to you as a company that we feel would be a great choice to install solar panels on your home.
Gulf Coast Solar
Despite numerous phone calls and email messages, we were never able to get into touch with Gulf Coast Solar, so what we could determine about this company came primarily from their website. On top of all that, the website itself left a lot to be desired. The information available from other sources online was also very sparse. Here’s what we could come up with: Gulf Coast Solar is a solar panel installer that services Mobile, AL. They are not accredited by the BBB and we could only find one website that had customer’s reviews. Gulf Coast Solar had been reviewed only one time (with perfect scores). It’s website doesn’t mention when this company was founded or what brand of panels they install. It does mention that the panels come with a sub-par 10 year warranty.
Finding the best solar panels in Mobile
In a perfect world, the best products would also come with the cheapest price tag. Unfortunately this isn’t the case when it comes to purchasing quality solar panels. Buying the cheapest solar panels out there doesn’t usually end well as they tend to have sub-par warranties and may lose efficiency over time. We recommend only purchasing solar panels that meet three basic requirements. To meet our standards they must have a minimum efficiency rating of 16.5, a minimum max wattage of 230W and a 25 year warranty. With many systems costing around $20,000 and lasting for 25 years, it’s very important that you don’t settle for anything less than the best.
Local solar panel installers may prefer one brand over others, but almost all have several (if not many) options to choose from. It’s very important to make sure whatever brand you buy meets our minimum requirements. Consider our top picks as they combine stylish, sleek design with great efficiency and reliability. For more info on those and a full review of our favorite go here, but for now, here are our top 4 recommended solar panel brands:
- Solar World
- Canadian Solar
- Kyocera Solar
Solar Power in Mobile
Alabama’s Solar Policies and Incentives
Unfortunately when it comes to common-sense solar policies in Alabama, the silence is deafening. The list of policies and incentives not available (things like a statewide Net Metering Policy, or Renewable Portfolio Standards) is much longer than the list of incentives available to residents of Mobile, AL.
Our list starts and ends with the federal government’s solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The solar ITC is pretty straight forward as it provides you with a tax credit in the amount of 30% of the total cost of your solar panel system. However you should know that it is only guaranteed through the end of 2016 unless Congress votes to extend it. This credit is available only for the year that you actually purchased your system, but if you happen to not use the whole credit, you can roll over the remainder of the credit to the next year. So if you purchased a system that cost you $20,000 you would get a tax credit of $6,000 which means that your system really only cost you $14,000.
While the state policies are non-existent and there are no local incentives for Mobile, the federal solar ITC still makes installing solar panels on your home a smart investment. Take advantage of all that free sunlight and the 30% discount while it lasts.
Alabama’s Solar Potential
Even though residents of Alabama don’t get any help from the state government, there is another factor to consider when deciding if solar is right for you – the amount of potentially harvestable energy from the Sun in your area. Thankfully, the Sun makes up for the lack of helpful policies as it provides more than enough potential energy to make going solar an attractive option. Here are some examples of how much money’s worth of power you could produce in a year in Mobile:
Mobile receives 2000 harvestable kWh per year, and the average residential price per kWh is 11 cents. Based on those numbers, here are a few examples of what you might be able to save based on the number of panels on your roof:
How do solar panels work?
Your personal solar farm is going to be made up of the solar panels themselves, the inverter and batteries (if you purchased a battery back-up or are not on the grid). These key parts all work together to help you take advantage of the sun’s energy to provide power for your home.
This is how it works: the sunlight hits the panels containing the pv cells (pv is short for “photovoltaic” with “photo” meaning “light” and “voltaic” meaning “electricity”) which are made out of a semiconductor like silicon. The sunlight jars loose the electrons which results in electrical flow. The inverter takes the DC (direct current) electricity and turns it into AC (alternating current) which can be used to power your home. Any excess energy either goes into your batteries or straight into the grid (“grid” refers to the general “grid” of electricity that flows through your town and neighborhood via power lines).
Should I go off-grid?
If given the choice, purchasing a grid-tied solar panel system is almost always the better choice. The major drawback with completely removing yourself from the electrical grid is that you lose the chance to sell back your excess energy to the power company. Another negative is that, for the average household, you would have to purchase a much larger system with large batteries to completely supply your own power for the average household. This all makes for a much more expensive system with very little benefit.
It is important to note that when your solar panels are tied into the grid with no battery backup, if the electricity goes out you are without power. However, there are inverters that would be able to supply power during the day even if the grid is down (this is referred to as secure power). Regardless, those off-grid wouldn’t have to wait the several days it can sometimes take for power companies to de-tangle fallen trees from power lines.
There is a very popular third option: an on-grid system with a battery backup. According to a local installer, about half of the systems that the company installs include a battery back-up due to all the power outages caused by hurricanes and the like. Of course, this is going to be an additional expense, so a lot depends on how often you find yourself without power and whether that is a major concern for your household.
What are my financing options?
For most of us, the biggest single obstacle to producing our own solar power is going to be the cost. While the price of solar panels has dramatically decreased in the last few years, the average $20,000 price tag is a huge barrier. Thankfully, even if you have to get a loan, you can still come out way ahead in the long run, while not having to put any money down up front.
If you have around $20,000 equity in your house, then you are in luck as securing a HELOC (home equity line of credit) loan is the best option to finance your solar system. Since you can usually get a HELOC loan for around 5 percent interest, factoring in the amount of money you save on your energy bills, this is a great long term investment with a potential return of around $7,000 over 25 years.
Don’t have that much equity? Well there’s another good option: a small rooftop system. Most of us have enough equity to get a HELOC loan for $9,000 (the average cost of a 2kWh system) which will still save you a hefty chunk of change with an estimated $2,000 profit. Factoring in the savings on your energy bill, at around $20 per month, the cost of this system is not at all prohibitive.
What’s the installation process like?
Once you decide on a local installer and pick out your solar panels, typically a representative from the company will come out and do a design consultation at your home. They will walk you through the specifics to help you determine exactly what’s going to be best for you. Once you have made all of your final decisions and secured financing, the installation process will commence.
From this point it is typically 2-3 weeks depending on how long it takes the local government to issue the necessary permits and how much customization is necessary for your particular system. The actual installation of the solar panels is typically pretty quick and can be completed in a day or two. So from start to finish you can expect to have your very own solar power running through your home in under a month.
Does color matter?
When it comes to how much actual power is produced, color doesn’t make a ton of difference. However, the color you choose along with how attractive each particular brand of solar panels is does play an important role.
Thankfully, you no longer have to decide between the practical value of solar panels and the attractiveness of your home as there are many great options that successfully combine beauty and efficiency. That good news because you wouldn’t want to have your solar panels installed just to realize that they look terrible on your roof. You also need to consider the fact that at some point you may want to sell you house, and having attractive rooftop solar panels are a huge plus, unless they make your house stick out like a sore thumb. That’s why you should make sure you pick a style and color that will add to your home’s street appeal rather than detract from it.
While there aren’t a lot of local incentives available in Mobile, there is definitely plenty of sunshine, and when you combine that natural resource with the federal solar ITC, going solar is a great option providing you can secure a low interest loan. No matter what, it’s always a great idea to get a quote from our recommended local installer to see if installing solar panels on your home is right for you. Chances are good that you end up with a beautiful addition to your home that makes you money for many years to come.
Local Installer: Gulf South Solar