While no financial whiz, Alex was concerned about his soaring utility bills, particularly heating. An energy consultant he invited to his home advised to consider putting up solar panels on his roof, which he says he has been seeing more of lately. The consultant promised much lower energy bills, including heat and electricity. While this action might be a no-brainer in California where sunshine reigns, did it make sense for him in Brooklyn?
Californians look at solar energy as a natural, particularly because of a climate that is blessed with lots of good weather, which is what drives solar energy. In addition, it has always been a major objective of the state to have clean energy and access to solar energy for all its citizens including the poorer ones. Californians have taken that to the next level and even introduced community solar which would set up the solar panels in central communal locations and made accessible to nearby residents. But does it make sense in Brooklyn with its less than certain weather? True that there is significant home ownership in Brooklyn but there are also many apartment buildings and renters.
Solar energy is not a one-size fits all. There is solar energy that is accessed from a distance as is the case with community solar settings and then there is solar energy that is “rooftop” meaning that it is dedicated to the house beneath.
Still and all, as much as everyone heralds solar energy as the absolute source of energy for the future, more than 75% of American households don’t have access to solar power. That’s partly why this fall the California Environmental Justice Alliance issued a statement encouraging the state to pursue community solar energy as a way to close the solar gap between those living inside and outside of disadvantaged communities.
Will we see the expansion of solar energy in some of our heavily populated areas such as Brooklyn, Lakewood, or Passaic? It depends, a common answer for many a Jewish problems. Obviously cost and feasibility will be a major factor. Not every rooftop is ideal for solar panels. There is an upfront cost of installing solar panels, including the system itself, permits and contractors. There is also the cost of the ongoing expense of maintaining a residential solar system. So, in the end doing the math may determine whether someone invests in solar or stays with the existing system. While the homeowner might save a few shekels on monthly bills, in the end the cost might not warrant the change.
One energy article summed it up this way: “Fortunately, while there are some extra costs associated with keeping your solar panels running, they are generally low and infrequent. Plus, the benefits of solar energy will almost always outweigh the expenses that you’ll incur in the decades-long lifetime of your solar system.”
Solar energy experts say that installing solar panels should be trouble-free. They are relatively easy to install, and they are designed to last as much as 30 years with minimal upkeep. Still some solar panel companies will not guarantee the best results in a climate like New York where the elements may not be so kind to the panels, thus reducing the effectiveness of the sun’s rays to produce energy. The panels work best when they are placed in areas with high temperatures because the hotter it gets outside, the more electricity is generated.
Solar panels are considered to be the future of energy accumulation because they are becoming more popular every day, albeit not so widespread in many Jewish communities. This is not only because solar panels are far cheaper than other renewable sources, but it is also because there are several added benefits as well. Solar panels are very easy to maintain, and it takes minimal effort to own them.
One Brooklyn frum home put the solar panels on his porch roof which he raises on Succos to open as a sukkah. When asked why he didn’t install the panels on the rest of his home, he responded that his roof wasn’t conducive for the panels and the cost of rebuilding the roof was simply outrageous.
Solar panel installation can be very expensive depending on the location and the solar panel installation company. But it can in the end provide energy for a home at a fraction of the cost of what one is paying nowadays with the soaring energy costs. Imagine that there are no boilers to maintain and relatively little to do with the panels once they are installed.
Should one decide to install a solar power system in their home, the federal government awards a tax credit for their investment. The tax credit for solar was at one time worth 30% of the total system cost, a number that will be decreasing with time. It usually covers the value of panels and other parts, as well as contractor fees for the installation. In addition, there is a 25% state tax credit in New York and similar incentives in other states.
According to an April 2019 study by Zillow.com, Brooklyn homes with solar systems have a 4.1% higher resale value than comparable homes without solar. Since most solar systems produce excess energy which is returned back to the grid, Con Edison compensates for this excess energy through a process called Net Metering.
Although it sounds simple and straightforward, solar panels can be part of different systems. For example, solar panels can be tied to a grid which means that any excess electricity goes back to the power lines to be used by others. Some solar panel systems use batteries to store energy. It seems that the battery systems are used in some states with frequent storms and power outages.
Brooklyn Microgrid (BMG) is an energy marketplace for locally generated, solar energy. The BMG marketplace allows prosumers (i.e., residential, and commercial solar panel owners) to sell the excess solar energy they generate to NYC residents who prefer using renewable, versus fossil fuel, energy.
Advocates of installing solar panels say that irrespective of the high cost of installation the savings on electricity are significant.
In talking to a few experts, they agreed that many of the frum communities are not ideal for installation. They point to the ways the houses are constructed, their location vis-à-vis sunshine, and overall capacity of the building to sustain the panels.
This is an appropriate discussion at a time when inflation is taking its toll on such expenses as heating and electricity. For places like Florida and California that have an abundance of sunshine, it is the ideal solution for the future of energy and containing costs. But increasingly solar energy is being discussed for homes in our communities. The hope is that the sun will be shining on our communities as well!