If you had to guess the states where solar adopters are seeing the greatest benefits, where would you choose? If you're like most people, you might say California, Arizona, Hawaii, Florida or any of the other parts of the country renowned for their warm weather and near-constant sunshine. It seems to make sense – a solar PV system needs abundant sunshine for it to be worth the upfront costs you pay for it, right?
As it turns out: maybe not. According to a new study, the amount of sun exposure a certain area gets doesn't have much of an effect on the savings homeowners can get from having the system on their roofs.
What makes solar a good investment in some states but not in others?
While the aforementioned states are certainly solar powerhouses in their own right, the amount of sun a region gets is actually not the most important factor in making solar power for the home a smart investment.
According to a study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the homeowners who see the greatest savings on their energy bills after they go solar live in states that meet the following criteria:
- There are generous government state- and local-level incentives and rebates for homeowners who put a solar PV system on their roofs.
- The cost of electricity from the regional utility is high.
- The state has a consumer-friendly net metering policy, which credits the system owner for excess power generated.
Based on these criteria, the NREL found that the top 10 states where homeowners saw the greatest energy bill savings thanks to their solar panels were:
- New Mexico
- New York
- New Hampshire
Connecticut, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have a lot in common: They have consumer-friendly net metering policies, electricity is expensive compared to much of the country and their state governments have made a commitment to making solar affordable for the average homeowner. And as residents of these states will tell you, there isn't nearly as much sunshine as they'd like
Rethinking the sunlight misconception
As popular as residential solar may be, there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding its effectiveness as a way to lower energy bills and provide cleaner power to homes and businesses. But one of the most persistent rumors is the one that suggests that people living in places like New England or the mid-Atlantic shouldn't go solar because there isn't enough sunlight.
"Plenty of sun-drenched states are squandering their access to the sun by refusing to make incentives and rebates available for their residents to go solar"
The NREL study is certainly a strong piece of evidence against that charge, but you don't need to dig through the research to see why solar makes sense for residents of these areas. In these regions, high electricity prices – and rate hikes – are par for the course. Fortunately, so are solar policies that help home and business owners take a bite out of their energy bills. And homeowners know this, judging by how quickly they're putting solar on their roofs in these states.
That's why an abundance of sunshine alone isn't sufficient to make solar a great investment. Plenty of sun-drenched states are squandering their access to the sun by refusing to make incentives and rebates available for their residents to go solar, forcing them to remain reliant on the volatile fossil fuel and traditional grid-delivered electricity prices.
Having a lot of sunshine is nice, but when you're talking about saving on your electric bill and protecting yourself from rate hikes, it's a non-factor. The sun shines everywhere – yes, even in New England – and that means we can all take advantage of its energy.