Solar Education

With 2019 fast approaching, and decreasing tax credits on the horizon, now is the time to schedule your free feasibility survey with Cal Solar.

We have all the information you’ll need on solar, including important details on the federal tax credits and special financing. While deadlines are seasons away, booking now to discuss solar options is a smart first step.

Due to the looming tax credit deadline, “It is anticipated that at the end of next year every solar company is going to be booked out and extremely busy,” said Martin Webb, Commercial Sales Manager with Cal Solar and a solar professional for 20 years. “It’s never too early to start looking at solar and plan for a project next year to beat the rush.” Webb said it is also important to check with your tax professional for clarification on how the credit may apply to you.

Homeowner Jay Schwabe is a proponent of solar and recently had a new home system installed by Cal Solar. “I worked for 36 years for Philips Medical as a field engineer installing CAT scanners and MRI machines, so I have a lot of experience with electrical and mechanical repair,” he said.

Schwabe’s neighbors had solar on their roof and recommended Cal Solar. “I called Rob Totoonchie [Residential Sales Manager] at Cal Solar for a quote,” Schwabe said. “He came out, took shade reports from the roof from four locations and presented a quote a few days later. The entire process was extremely easy and fast. Hint: Let the experts do it!

“There was a recent IRS ruling stating that commercial installations don’t have to be completed in the calendar year to get that specific calendar year’s higher level of tax credit,” Webb said. “The project just has to have been started – or at least incurred 5 percent of the project cost – in that calendar year to get that year’s higher tax credit … As long as the project is completed before 2024.”

Where the residential tax credit cannot be used: Rentals.
The residential tax credit is only good for homes where the taxpayer lives. It doesn’t have to be the primary residence, so a vacation home or a second home qualifies, but it does have to be a home where the taxpayer lives. So if someone owns a rental home as a landlord and wants to put solar on it, then the residential tax credit cannot be used, since they don’t live there, the tenant does. The only way a property owner can have a rental qualify is if they structure their rental income as an LLC or corporation, and then they claim the 30% commercial tax credit.

Where the commercial tax credit cannot be used: Nonprofits.
No taxes are paid from churches, schools, government buildings, fire stations, parks, and other nonprofits, so the tax credit cannot be captured by those types of groups.

“That’s why there are new financing outfits geared towards helping nonprofits go solar,” Webb said. “[The finance company] will own the system for the first few years, capture all the tax benefits, and then pass some of them through to the nonprofit in the form of lower monthly payments. After six years, the lender has exhausted all the tax benefits, so at that point they turn full system ownership over to the nonprofit.

“So nonprofits can now get some of the tax credit value that they used to have to pass up, by letting someone else own the system for the first few years,” Webb explains. “It’s like lease-to-own in a way. Most of our recent commercial jobs have been nonprofits – churches, fire departments, public parks – where a third party gets the tax credit and shares that savings with the nonprofit. Whether commercial, nonprofit, or residential, with our special financing you can still capture that value somehow.”

Clean and green
Solar is clean energy, and most solar loan payments are lower than your PG&E bill. With the current 30% tax credit and $0-down financing, you can now free up the extra money that you typically send to an out-of-town energy company.

Schwabe received an email from PG&E on July 17, 2017 allowing him to turn on his solar system and start producing electricity.

“Exactly 13 months later, August 17, we reached a milestone when the production of electricity reached 10,000 kilowatt-hours,” Schwabe said. “More than I expected, but pleasantly surprised. Rob had predicted about 8,500 kWh in one year and we produced almost 8,900 kWh. As it turned out, we had a very small surplus, and after 365 days, our PG&E bill was minus $30. Pretty cool to get money back after one year.”

Get a quote from Cal Solar today to take advantage of the tax credit.


Tax Credits By The Numbers

Residential Federal Tax Credit, By Year
For solar electric or solar water heating systems:
– 30% for systems “placed in service by” 12/31/2019
– 26% for systems “placed in service by” 12/31/2020
– 22% for systems “placed in service by” 12/31/2021
– No residential tax credit after 2021
Note: Home being served by solar does not have to be your primary residence.

Commercial Federal Tax Credit, By Year
For solar electric or solar water heating systems:
– 30% if “starting construction by” 12/31/2019 and system “placed in service by” 12/31/23
– 26% if “starting construction by” 12/31/2020 and system “placed in service by” 12/31/23
– 22% if “starting construction by” 12/31/2021 and system “placed in service by” 12/31/23
– 10% for systems “starting construction after” 2021
Note: Excess commercial tax credit value can be carried forward 20 years.

– Source: Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency

The Sahara desert is expanding, and has been for at least a century. It’s a phenomenon that seems impossible to stop.

But it hasn’t stopped at least one group of scientists from dreaming of a way to do it. And their proposed solution, a grand scheme that involves covering vast areas of desert with solar panels and windmills, just got published in the prestigious journal Science.

Eugenia Kalnay, a prominent atmospheric scientist at the University of Maryland, has been thinking about this idea for a decade. Kalnay is small in stature, soft-spoken. But she’s made her name with big and bold ideas. And what could be bigger and bolder than reversing the course of the world’s biggest desert?

Her academic adviser at MIT, Jule Charney, was among the first to describe the vicious cycle that can lead to desertification. With drought, green vegetation disappears, and the light-colored dirt that remains reflects more of the sun. This cools the land surface, which in turn means that there’s less heat driving air upward into higher and cooler levels of the atmosphere – the process that normally produces precipitation. So there’s less rain, killing even more vegetation.

Kalnay wondered if there might be a way to revive those atmospheric currents. “It occurred to me that the same [cycle] would go in the opposite way, so it would increase precipitation, and vegetation, and then more precipitation,” she says.

And then she thought of solar panels. They’re dark, so they don’t reflect the sun’s light. Could they heat up the surface and revive those rain-bringing air currents?

Kalnay convinced one of her post-doc researchers to create a computer simulation of an otherworldly Sahara where 20 percent of the land is covered with solar panels. The computer model also turned the desert into a giant wind farm, covered with turbines. Kalnay thought they might also help boost those beneficial air currents.

And the simulation turned out just the way she’d hoped. It showed rainfall increasing by enough to bring back vegetation. The model showed the biggest increases in rainfall along the southern edge of the Sahara, the area called the Sahel.

“It is wonderful!” she says, and her eyes go wide with an infectious joy. “We were so happy because it seems like a major solution for some of the problems that we have.”

The super solar farm she imagines is huge, as big as the entire United States. And it would generate four times as much electricity as the entire planet consumes right now. Kalmay talks of novel high-capacity transmission lines delivering power to Europe and the rest of Africa.

I told her that the whole scenario sounds like science fiction. Kalnay disagreed. “It would be science fiction if the technology was not available,” she said.

“So you could imagine it?”

“Yes,” she said, confidently.

After all, she’s used to imagining the workings of the entire planet’s atmosphere.

A few billion solar panels and windmills in the desert? No big deal.

A number of investors have explored the possibility of large solar farms in the Sahara, though nowhere near as massive as the scenario that Kalnay has simulated. Those ideas, however, remain stuck on drawing boards.

Story By: Dan Charles, NPR

California is ready to remake the U.S. West — or at least its power grid.

The legislature is considering a plan to expand a grid serving 30 million Californians to encompass as many as 13 other Western states — if they choose to join the effort. The California Independent System Operator, which currently manages a $9.3 billion wholesale market, would cede authority to a regional body under the proposal, which requires federal approval.

“We are worried that California would have to give up its climate leadership in order to form a regional grid,” said Matthew Freedman, a lawyer for the Utility Reform Network. Under a regional system, the state would lose the ability to appoint all of the grid manager’s board members.

A regional grid would seek to unify the 38 different grid operators that span the West

Source: Western Electricity Coordinating Council

As state legislators consider whether to pass the bill by the end of next week, here’s a look at the challenges to making it happen:

Enron’s Ghost

A regional system could give way to the kind of market manipulations that Enron was infamous for in the early 2000s, exposing consumers to soaring energy costs, critics say.

“The ghost of the energy crisis is definitely haunting the whole conversation,” said Rick Umoff, the California director of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association, which supports the regional grid bill. “There’s a fear of losing control.”

Consumer advocates warn that a single market could stick California’s electricity customers with the bill for an entire region if something goes awry.

“We are going to have a lot more of an opportunity for speculation and it is going to come at the expense of California consumers,” Consumer Watchdog’s Liza Tucker said.

Proponents say that a number of provisions have been put in place since the energy crisis to prevent market manipulation including enhanced federal enforcement and independent market monitors. “Speculators are quickly caught and punished,” said Carl Zichella, director of Western transmission for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The California Independent System Operator says the regional grid could actually save consumers as much as $1.5 billion a year by 2030, according to a report it commissioned that also indicated pollution could be reduced.

Federal Rule?

Another worry is the feds — whether a multistate system would leave California at the mercy of Trump administration appointees by increasing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s oversight.

“Our concern is that the federal government could say, ‘We are going to put a thumb on the scale and make sure coal wins,’” said Travis Ritchie, an attorney for the Sierra Club, “because that’s what we are seeing in other parts of the country.”

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Chris Holden, and the Natural Resources Defense Council say those fears are overblown. FERC already oversees California’s grid.

READ: Trump Proposes Unwinding Obama’s Coal-Plant Pollution Curbs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday unveiled a plan that would dramatically weaken pollution limits on coal-fired power plants by shifting most of the regulatory burden to states in a further assault on the Obama climate legacy.

Conflicting Policies

But would greater federal involvement tether environmentally friendly California to policies designed to help coal states that don’t share Western clean-energy ambitions?

Some green-energy advocates like the Sierra Club think so, though Holden says the way it’s written ensures that the state will be able to pursue its own climate goals.

The governor of Utah — a coal-heavy state — has worried the opposite would happen, saying his state would be subject to California’s green energy mandates.

Who Joins?

Even if all the kinks get sorted out, the benefits of a regional grid could ultimately be limited if there aren’t enough participants or too many conditions are set.

For example, the Bonneville Power Administration, the giant Northwest hydropower marketer for the federal government that also operates transmission ties between California and Oregon, says it wouldn’t participate.

“A lot of folks are saying, ‘I don’t know if I’d want to join,’” said Dave Cherney, an energy policy expert for PA Consulting Group.

Join Cal-Solar for a Step by Step Introduction to planning and implementing an off-grid residential solar system. California Solar Electric Company is often asked many questions about designing, installing and operating off grid solar systems. Clients ask about the benefits, about the brands like outback power, and which one is the best to get. We often find it hard to keep up with all the questions! In response to this, we are offering a two-day workshop on planning and implementing an off grid residential solar system on October 15 and 16, 2016 at our 149 Main Street facility in Grass Valley.

Workshop hours are from 9am to 3pm on Saturday and from 10 am to 1pm on Sunday. Registration is $150 and space is limited. Pre-register and save your space with a $50 deposit today by calling (530) 274-3671.

This Off-Grid Workshop provides an introduction to system design and maintenance. Attendees will leave with a solid understanding of the factors of design, as well as ongoing maintenance of off grid power stations. Take your power back—learn how to use the sun’s energy to go off-grid.