Did you know Florida receives as much harvestable sunlight as Texas? That makes solar power in Orlando affordable and accessible than ever, allowing you to instantly knock some cash off your monthly power bill. The initial investment for a system can range anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, but over time, farming the sun can add a considerable amount of value to your home.
The solar industry is still developing, so it pays to do some serious research before pulling the trigger. Fortunately for you, we’ve already done the lion’s share. Keep on reading for a complete breakdown of how solar works, the latest federal and state incentives, how much money you could save, and a list of the best installers in Orlando.
Freshome’s Top Four Solar Panel Installers in Orlando
Choosing the right company to install your solar panels is a pretty big deal. Think about it: You’ll potentially be doing business with said company for the life of your panels. That’s why we thoroughly researched each one via its website, email correspondence, and a phone interview. During our evaluation, we looked at a variety of factors including customer service, stability of the companies, and the variety and quality of the products that they offered. What we found is that compared to other areas across the nation, Orlando has some really great options. Two of the manufacturers we recommend below have actually been in business for 30 or more years, which is a rarity in the industry. Keep on reading for more about each company’s offerings and customer services.
Solar-Ray has been in business for 13 years and is able to install any brand of solar panels (including our favorites like Solar World and Canadian Solar), but it has an exclusive relationship with Amerisolar in Central Florida who offers a 30-year warranty on their panels (which is five years better than the industry average). Any solar panels Solar-Ray installs are warrantied by the manufacturer (25 year warranties are typical) and its parts and labor comes with a standard one-year warranty as required by the State of Florida. Solar-Ray expects to be able to complete projects in around 2 weeks, depending on how long the permit process takes in each customer’s local area.
After reading numerous customers’ comments and reviews, we were left with the impression that Solar-Ray is an up-front, honest company that doesn’t play games. One 10-minute phone call with its CEO later (Mike Brown), and we discovered that its customers weren’t joking. Throughout the call, Mike went above and beyond to supply all the information necessary to make an informed decision. He came through with sincere dedication and honesty, and the interview was a breath of fresh air, lacking an expected sales-pitchiness.
Central Florida Solar
Central Florida Solar installs many different panels from some of our recommended brands like Solar World and Axitec. All the solar panels it installs are warrantied by the manufacturers, while Central Florida Solar has its own one-year warranty on parts and labor. It also includes a lifetime roof penetration warranty in case of any leaks or problems due to improperly installed equipment. The expected turnaround on projects varies greatly depending on where you live due to the length of time it may take to get a permit from some local government agencies.
While we did not get an timely email reply from Central Florida Solar, its staff were friendly and helpful on the phone, and succinctly answered all of our questions.
Superior Solar Systems
Superior Solar Systems has been installing a wide variety of solar panel brands for over 30 years (including panels from some of our top picks like Solar World and Canadian Solar). The company’s warranties are pretty typical, and include the one-year warranty for parts and labor while the panels themselves are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. We were told that installation projects can take up to 4-6 weeks to complete based on how quickly the permit process is completed.
Solar Power’s quick response times and professional customer service quickly showed us why they are one of the largest installers in the area. While the reps didn’t do a great job of answering our questions via email, and were slightly pushy on the phone, the company’s sleek website helped to balance out our impression of the overall customer service experience.
Bob Heinmiller Solar Solutions
Unlike the competition, Bob Heinmiller Solar only offers two different brands of solar panels. However, one happens to be Solar World, which is a Freshome top pick. Like most companies, the manufacturer provides the warranty for the solar panels (length of the warranty will depend on which manufacturer you choose), while Bob Heinmiller Solar covers the other parts and labor for one year. Representatives offer a very ambitious two day turnaround for the completion of projects which was the quickest offered by any of the companies.
Bob Heinmiller Solar has been in the game for over 30 years and is one of the more experienced installers doing business in Orlando. While we never received any response to our email inquires, its representatives did provide clear, helpful answers to our questions over the phone. Just the fact that they have been in business so long as well as testimonials from many satisfied customers, establishes the company’s reputation as a solid choice to install and service solar panels in Orlando.
Finding the best solar panels in Orlando
When it comes to purchasing solar panels, you get what you pay for. And purchasing the cheapest option doesn’t usually pay off in the long run: If you install shoddy panels you might end up with a solar farm that loses efficiency after a few years, or has a seriously insufficient warranty. That’s why we recommend purchasing solar panels that meet these three standards: a minimum efficiency rating of 16.5, a minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25 year warranty.
It’s important to note that most solar companies are contractors that will install your choice of solar panels. Each one has its own recommendations and favorites, but we advise going into this process with a brand already in mind, and only making a final decision on one that meets the standards listed above.
There are a ton of brands available on the market now which means better prices and quality, but can also mean a huge chunk of your time if you tried to compare all the available options yourself. Thankfully, we here at Freshome have done the heavy lifting for you and have come up with four great options. For more info and a full review of our top pick, Solar World, go here. In the meantime, check out our four top brands:
Solar Power in Orlando
What to Expect
When deciding whether solar is a good investment choice for you, local regulations aren’t the only factor to consider. You must also consider how much potential energy the sun puts out in your area. For instance, residents in Alaska are going to get a trickle of energy out of their panels in the same amount of time that residents of Arizona are getting a flood of electricity.
As mentioned earlier, Florida has no lack of sunshine. Orlando receives 2000 harvestable kWh per year. The average residential price per kWh is 11 cents, which is slightly lower than national average. Here are some examples of how much money’s worth of power you could produce in a year in Orlando:
What this all means for you is that, despite some problematic local regulations, solar makes sense for almost all homeowners living in Florida. Take advantage of that roof space and all the free sunlight, and save some serious cash.
Florida’s Solar Policies and Incentives
Florida isn’t called “The Sunshine State” for nothing, and if you have lived in Orlando for any amount of time you can attest to that fact. That’s great news because lots of sunshine equals a greater energy output from your solar panels. The unfortunate downside is that despite the state’s abundance of sun, it’s pretty average when it comes to renewable energy policies and incentives.
Florida lacks many of the solar-benefiting policies that other states have in place, but the few that it has are exceptional. A couple of obvious neglections on the state’s part are a renewable portfolio standards and a solar carve-out. The first is legislation mandating that a certain percentage of all the generated energy in the state must come from renewable energy sources, while the second penalizes companies that do not have a certain percentage of their energy generated by solar power. What this means for you is that energy companies in Florida have little motivation to give you incentives like rebates or better rates when you sell excess energy back to the grid.
Florida has a stellar Net Metering Policy that allows you to sell excess energy back to your electric company for the same price that it would be sold to you. This keeps energy companies from taking advantage of solar system owners by only paying them a fraction of what the excess energy is actually worth.
One of the great benefits of purchasing solar panels is that your home’s value immediately increases by up to 20 percent of your annual energy bill. You also won’t be penalized on your property taxes for installing solar panels. This means that around $20,000 of your home’s value (depending on how many solar panels you have and how much energy they produce) will not be factored into your state taxes.
As far as rebates go, Florida really doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. A small exception is the City of Longwood. Longwood will give you a $500 rebate for purchasing a solar panel system for your home. While that isn’t a whole lot compared with the overall cost of a system, it’s at least something. Another exception is available to you if you are serviced by the Orlando Utilities Commission. It’s currently the only company to offer performance payments. This means that they pay you for how much energy your solar panels actually produce – whether you use it in your house or sell it back to the grid. The rate is $0.05/kWh which isn’t a whole lot, but could mean somewhere around $300 dollars for the average homeowner with solar panels over five years.
Thankfully, there is a big federal incentive that you can also take advantage of: the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC). It’s a pretty straightforward program that credits you 30 percent of the cost of a photovoltaic solar panel system for your home on your federal income taxes. For example, if your system costs $18,000 you would receive a tax credit of $5,400 at the end of the year. You may want to act fast, however, as this program is set to expire in 2017 unless it is renewed by Congress.
How do solar panels work?
Your system is made up of 2-3 key parts: the solar panels, the inverter, and the batteries (if you aren’t on the grid, that is) which all work together to provide your home with energy from the Sun.
Here’s how it all goes down: Sunlight strikes the panels containing the photovoltaic cells, which are made of a semiconductor (which is usually made from silicon). This process jars electrons from the sunlight loose and starts the flow. That electricity then travels from the panels into the inverter which takes the DC current and converts it to AC that you can use to power your home. And if you have any excess electricity, it will flow into one of two places: batteries or back into the grid.
Should I go off-grid?
While getting “off the grid” might sound pretty adventurous, staying on-grid is almost always a better decision. The main barrier to installing solar panels on your home is going to be the cost, so selling your excess power back to the power company is your best shot at making the purchase of solar panels an attractive option if you ever decided to sell.
Compared to years past, solar panels are incredibly affordable; but $18,000 is still a chunk of change. The best way to turn your purchase into a solid investment is to sell excess electricity back to the power companies. Thanks to the to Florida’s great net metering policy, they have to pay you the same amount of money for the electricity that you sell them as they they would charge you.
The only drawback with an on-grid system is that most don’t include battery back-ups. So if the grid were to go offline for some reason you would be left without power. It’s important to understand that, unless you purchase a special inverter, when the grid is down your home won’t be receiving power from your solar panels as your power flows to the grid and then to your home. Those off-grid with battery back-ups would be in great shape at that point, while you would be sitting in the dark. However, the cost of the batteries themselves (they are quite spendy) and all that money you would be saving by selling your excess energy to the power companies would definitely make up for the small inconvenience of temporarily losing power for most everyone.
What are my financing options?
In many states, you have the option to lease your solar panels from the local installers rather than purchasing them yourself. Unfortunately, this is not an option in Florida, so financing your purchase (unless you have an extra $18,000 laying around) is going to be your only option.
The recommended way of financing your loan is going to be a HELOC (home equity line of credit) since you can usually get a HELOC loan with an interest of only 5 percent or less. If you have around $18,000 in home equity than you are going to be in great shape. When you purchase an average size system costing around the $18,000 mark, you will end up making about $12,000 over 25 years.
If you don’t have that much equity, or just aren’t prepared to make that much of an investment you can still purchase a small rooftop system with only a few panels that produces much less energy (2 kWh is average for a small system), but also costs much less. You still come out ahead in the end with a potential investment return of around $6,000.
What’s the installation process like?
After picking your panels and deciding on a local installer, the company will typically come out to your home for a design consultation and to decide on the specifics of what kind of system will be best for you. Once that process is completed you will finalize your financial plan to pay for your system. Finally, your installation process will commence and you should have your own brand new solar system in 2-3 weeks.
The installation policy will, of course, vary depending on your unique situation and the local company you choose to install your solar panels. If your home requires a specially designed and custom built system, it may take longer for you to get your solar panels installed and may involve a more intensive process.
Does color matter?
While the color of your solar panels won’t affect how much energy they produce, the color and style of your solar panels is still very important. The last thing you would want is to finally get those solar panels installed just to realize that you hate the way it looks on your roof. Besides your own buyer’s remorse, you also need to consider that you might need to sell your house at some point. While you can change your landscaping or the color of that bright pink wall you painted in a moment of delusion, changing the color of your solar panels is not an option. So considering the aesthetic quality of your solar panels as well as the practical side is a vital part of this process.
The good news is that there are a lot of efficient, reliable solar panels that happen to have a sleek, modern look available in several colors that can actually serve to add to the aesthetic appeal of your home rather than detract from it. Manufacturers like Solar World produce solar panels that are prime examples of efficiency, reliability and beauty converging into a single solar panel.
All things considered, investing in solar in Orlando is a great choice for anyone that owns a roof and has a bit of home equity. Why not make the sun work for you?