Sustainability Recipe: Go Solar!

May 14, 2018

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Sustainability Life Recipes provide practical tips to go green and save green. Each recipe features strategies that save money while protecting the environment and contributing to good jobs for people in our community.

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Produced in collaboration with Smart Energy Choices (formerly Get Your Greenback)

Now is a great time to go solar with more options than ever before, from rooftop and groundmount systems to off-site solar on "community solar farms." Solar can provide 100% of your home's electricity, and the incentives for going solar cover as much as 60-65% of a system's cost. For many families with good solar sites, this can often mean that there is no upfront cost required, and they can go solar for a monthly cost the same or less than what they are currently paying the electric utility. Remote solar sites and community solar farms means homeowners with shady roofs and renters can also go solar, and save money on their electricity bills.


Think about whether participating in a community solar project or installing solar on your own home or property.

Community Solar

Community solar is an array of panels installed in a sunny location. Anyone in the area can access the clean energy produced by these solar panels and get credits toward their electricity bills.

To be a part of a community solar project you just need to have an account with an electric utility, then you:

  • Find a community solar project in your area and ask about rates and subscription plans
  • Subscribe to a plan that works for you
  • Save. Your electricity provider will still deliver energy to you, and you’ll be credited for your portion of the community solar project right on your electricity bill.

Home Installation

There are several options for New Yorkers to go solar. Find out which solar option is right for you: home installation (rooftop or ground-mounted) or community solar.

  1. Get a free solar estimate from one of our area professional solar contractors, all of whom have agreed to a set of good practice standards:

Please let them know you learned of them through Get Your GreenBack.

(In addition, Halco and ETM Solar Works provide solutions for solar hot water.)

  1. Review the quote with the contractor and your options for siting, your ability to take advantage of the tax incentives, and financing options (up front, low interest loans, and lease)

  2. Sign the contract. Get on the installer’s construction schedule. They will complete all of the project engineering, permitting, interconnection, and financing paperwork, including what you need to claim the incentives.   

  3. Financing available.There are a number of local financing options with low interest rates that may help you finance your solar project. Monthly solar savings may be able to cover your loan payments.

  4. Be Wise. This online guide from NY-Sun provides an overview of the process of going solar in NYS, and good tips for working with contractors and understanding your NYS incentives. In addition, check out this website for an understanding of working with local energy contractors.


An average 7 kW roof-mounted home solar system will cost about $20,000. However, existing incentives can cover up to 2/3 of that cost, so the cost to you would be closer to $7,000. If financed your monthly payment could be similar or lower than your existing monthly electrical bill, and after 10 years, you'll be getting electricity for free for years to come.

There are 3 main incentives available to homes in the area:

  1. NYS Tax Credit- 25% of cost, up to $5,000. Credit can be claimed over five years.

  2. Federal Tax Credit- 30% of cost. Valid for projects completed through 2019 (then it decreases).

*Income-eligible households (e.g. in Tompkins County, a family of four earning less than $69,503) qualify for two times the normal NYSERDA rebate (currently, $0.70/watt vs $0.35/watt).


  1. But it’s so cloudy in Ithaca and upstate! Can solar work here? New York has an excellent solar resource, which is equivalent to about 2/3 of that of Arizona and Southern California annually, and much more than in Germany, which leads the world in solar installs.

  2. Can Solar PV meet 100% of my electricity needs? Absolutely! Typically, systems are designed to meet 100% of your electrical usage on an annual basis. Smaller systems are also fine and sometimes make more sense because of space or budget constraints.

  3. How big of a PV system would I need to power my home?To get a rough estimate, you can divide your annual electrical usage (in kWh) by 1.1. This will give you the size of the system in Watts, assuming you have good solar exposure. For a better approximation, you can use this solar calculator from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

  4. What about solar hot water? Heating water with the sun works well in our region and can be a good solution for your home's hot water needs. There are incentives available to reduce the cost of the system. Some local contractors with expertise in this field are ETM Solar Works and Halco.

  5. Will solar affect the value of my home? There is strong evidence that solar PV positively impacts home value. A 2015 study from Berkeley Lab “Selling Into the Sun” [pdf] looked at 1000s of homes with and without solar electric and compared their sale price. Conclusion: solar PV increases value of home to the tune of $4 per Watt (e.g. $20,000 for a 5kW system)--but only when the solar system is owned (not leased).

  6. Is my home right for solar? Solar works best facing south, southwest, and southeast. There should be minimal shading from trees, buildings, chimneys and other obstacles, or the cause of the shading should be able to be mitigated. Shading can be measured exactly by a contractor, and that is a standard part of the site assessment process. Another possible consideration for installing solar is the condition of your roof. Roofs should typically have at least 7-10 years of life remaining in order for a new solar system to be located there. If you have a roof that is older than that or in poor condition, your contractor can help you get an estimate for replacing all or just part of the roof to enable the installation of a solar system.