Miami Herald

Go green with solar energy and save on electric bills

- BY JANA SOELDNER DANGER Special to South Florida Home

Climate change and an increasing awareness of protecting the environmen­t, as well as a desire to lower electric bills, are encouragin­g interest in solar energy. With all its sunshine, Florida is an ideal location. In fact, Florida is the second largest market, behind California, for solar energy, according to Boston-based Energy Sage, a company partly funded by the US Department of Energy that monitors, assesses and compares solar energy installers. “More and more people are realizing climate change is an issue, and want to live sustainabl­y,” said Sage CEO Vikram Aggarwal. “Before 2016, Florida wasn’t even in the top 10, but for the past two years, Florida has come on strong.”

“People want to reduce their electric bills,” said David Atis of Atis Solar in Miami. “They always have to pay FPL for their electricit­y, but if they go solar, one day that will stop.”

Daren Goldin, founder and CEO of Doral-based Goldin Solar, which has additional offices in Dania Beach, Vero Beach and Orlando, said he has seen interest in solar during the past five years. “It used to be that the general public didn’t have much knowledge about solar, but now our potential customers are more educated,” he said. “Instead of buying grid power, they can generate their own electricit­y from the sun hitting the rooftop. It feels like Florida has come a long way.


Solar power is harnessed with aluminum-framed panels made of silicone cells encapsulat­ed in modules with tempered glass on top and white backsheets underneath that bounce light that comes through the solar cell back into it, Goldin said. “They’re very strong,” he added.


With many different installers and types of equipment available, choosing the right company can be confusing. The Energy Sage website, free to consumers, is designed to help. Consumers can compare solar panel prices and quality much the way travelers can compare hotel prices on websites like Trivago and Expedia. Installers submit quotes to the Sage platform, where homeowners can view them easily. “Installers know they’re competing with each other, so they come with sharpened pencils,” Aggarwal said.

Sage assesses the quality of panels, as well as their efficiency — the amount of electricit­y they will produce — with algorithms developed in partnershi­p with the National Renewable Energy Laboratori­es, which are owned by the US Dept. of Energy. Efficiency and quality have improved in recent years. “Difference­s can be similar to the difference between a car with a 100 hp engine or a 250 hp engine,” Aggarwal said.

Sage also rates panels on how they perform when they are heated, which can affect the amount of electricit­y they produce, and what production is projected to be over the life of the panel. “Every year, panels degrade a small amount,” Aggarwal said.

The number of panels needed depends, among other things, on the size of the house. An installer will typically take a home

owner’s electric bills for a 12-month period and average the number of kilowatts used, Atis said, adding that an average 2,000-square-foot home might need between 16 and 24 panels.

A reputable company may also look for other ways a homeowner can reduce energy needs, like replacing outdated air conditione­rs or water heaters, Atis said.

The size of the roof helps determines the number of panels that can actually be accommodat­ed. Panels have been improved in recent years. “Today, there are good quality panels that don’t take as much room,” Aggarwal said.

The panels also act as a heat barrier, reducing the need for air conditioni­ng. With good quality panels, homeowners can produce 80 to 90 percent of their needed electricit­y, Aggarwal said.


Solar panels are not cheap. Aggarwal estimates it takes a Florida homeowner between eight and 10 years to break even on them. Still, he said, “Solar is an excellent financial decision.”

Equipping a 2,000square-foot house might cost about $30,000, Goldin said. But a homeowner can get a federal tax credit (30 percent till the end of 2019; 26 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2021) for the installati­on, he said.

In addition, FPL now offers net metering, which can significan­tly offset an electric bill immediatel­y, Goldin said. It works like this: Solar panels produce electricit­y during the day when the sun is out. At night, the house takes energy from the grid. With this system, if a house produces more electricit­y during the day than is required, the excess power goes into the grid, and the homeowner gets credit for it on the home’s electric bill.

“Net metering is a pretty nice incentive,” Goldin said. “You’re effectivel­y treating the grid as storage.”

Goldin admits that achieving net zero is difficult, but says he himself does it, adding that his own electric bill is only $9 per month for a basic residentia­l charge.

What happens if the grid goes down during a hurricane?

A home’s solar energy system shuts down, Goldin said. Why? To avoid injuring or killing FPL workers who are out trying to fix the grid.

There is a solution, however: Installing backup batteries. While batteries can be bulky and unsightly, there are now power walls that are sleek and attractive, Goldin said.


The installati­on process works like this: Anchors are connected to the rafters and waterproof­ed. The anchors are connected with rails installed perpendicu­lar to the rafters, and finally the panels are installed. Florida building code requires the systems to withstand winds of 175 mph, Goldin said.

After a project is permitted, installati­on can take two or three days, Atis said.

Before choosing a company, ask for references. How long has it been in business? Check reviews on social media. And don’t forget to find out about the warranty.

 ?? Courtesy of Energy Sage ?? Different quality solar panels can vary in efficiency. Quality installati­on is important.
Courtesy of Energy Sage Different quality solar panels can vary in efficiency. Quality installati­on is important.
 ?? Courtesy of Goldin Solar ?? Homeowners who install solar panels may be entitled to a federal tax credit.
Courtesy of Goldin Solar Homeowners who install solar panels may be entitled to a federal tax credit.

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