What’s the Financial Value of Solar for Residential Customers? (Part 1): Ranking America’s 50 Largest Cities

Financial value of solar with energysage

As a result of solar PV cost declines, rising utility rates, and supportive public policies and incentives, residential rooftop solar PV has become an affordable option for millions of customers, especially in America’s 50 largest cities. This is especially true if customers have the ability to access low-cost financing options like longer-term loans, leases, and third-party power purchase agreements (PPAs) that eliminate the upfront cost. Thus, the availability of solar PV (and other ways to more efficiently use energy) has caused many customers to seek their own degree of personal “energy independence” by focusing on ways they can diversify their energy choices and exert greater control over their utility bills.

However, most of the customers who want a greater degree of personal energy independence (and the community leaders who wish to help them get there) often do not understand (or are simply unaware) of how solar PV technology can help them save money and reap the rewards of a largely risk-free long-term investment. Often, the lack of familiarity most customers have with solar PV has the effect of increasing the costs (often called “customer acquisition costs”) that solar PV installers must incur to educate consumers and make a sale. When one considers that selling more PV systems is how solar installers can reduce their other costs and make their businesses leaner, more competitive, and cost-effective without incentives, educating customers and community leaders about the “dollars and cents” value of solar PV truly is paramount.

The NC Clean Energy Technology Center at NC State University, a partner in the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership (SolarOPs), has developed a series of tools to help do just that. This month, we released “Going Solar in America: Ranking Solar’s Value to Consumers in America’s Largest Cities”. The report’s analysis shows that the combination of rising utility rates, declining costs of solar, and the existence of supportive public policies and incentives make investing in solar PV a prudent and conservative long-term investment for people of all walks of life. We also crunched the numbers and ranked the best places within America’s 50 largest cities for customers to invest in solar PV.

Using the most current solar pricing data available (generously provided by EnergySage, the leading online marketplace for solar), we designed a ranking system for determining the “dollars and cents” value of investing in solar in these 50 cities. The rankings themselves are based on three metrics: (1) first-year average monthly bill savings, (2) the overall present-day value of a long-term investment in solar (as compared to an investment in a stock with an average return), and (3) the average or “levelized” cost of energy from a rooftop solar energy system.

The top ten highest ranking cities overall are:

  1. New York, NY
  2. Boston, MA
  3. Albuquerque, NM
  4. San Jose, CA
  5. Las Vegas, NV
  6. Washington, DC
  7. Los Angeles, CA
  8. San Diego, CA
  9. Oakland, CA
  10. San Francisco, CA





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The three metrics factoring into the rankings, examined individually, show:

1. Customers with a typically-sized 5 kW system can realize savings over $100/month, depending on how efficiently they use energy, and how much of their energy use from their utility they can offset with solar PV.

 

2. When customers choose a low-cost financing option like a loan (or a lease), solar PV can be a better investment than the S&P 500 in 46 of 50 of America’s largest cities, and in 20 of those 50 if customers purchase it upfront.

3. For customers in 42 of America’s 50 largest cities, a financed solar PV system is already at grid parity, and a system purchased upfront is at grid parity in 14 cities.

Nevertheless, the non-hardware soft costs of solar PV still constitute 64% of the price of a solar PV system, and must be reduced in order for solar PV to offer customers significant savings and investment value without supportive public policies and incentives. Over the next six years, while solar PV may face some policy and market uncertainty with the scheduled expiration of the Federal Investment Tax Credit at the end of 2022, local governments can help lower the costs of solar PV by taking targeted actions to reduce soft costs, and allow an even greater portion of the American public to choose solar energy if they so desire.

Jim Kennerly is a Senior Policy Analyst, and Autumn Proudlove is a Policy Analyst at the NC Clean Energy Technology Center. Their special thanks goes to all of their colleagues working on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) project, whose knowledge of policies and incentives in their states made this project greatly benefitted this project.

For more information on how your city can expand its local solar market and save consumers money on their utility bills, please feel free to contact Autumn Proudlove (afproudl@ncsu.edu).

Nevertheless, the non-hardware soft costs of solar PV still constitute 64% of the price of a solar PV system, and must be reduced in order for solar PV to offer customers significant savings and investment value without supportive public policies and incentives.

Jim Kennerly is a Senior Policy Analyst, and Autumn Proudlove is a Policy Analyst at the NC Clean Energy Technology Center. Their special thanks goes to all of their colleagues working on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) project, whose knowledge of policies and incentives in their states made this project greatly benefitted this project.

For more information on how your city can expand its local solar market and save consumers money on their utility bills, please feel free to contact Autumn Proudlove (afproudl@ncsu.edu).

Autumn Proudlove
Policy Analyst
NC Clean Energy Technology Center
NC State University

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