Solar Power Q&A: Everything You Didn’t Know and were Afraid to Ask
By Donna Kelly
When businessman Robert Ott moved from his native Switzerland to Florida in 2016, he was shocked to find solar powered homes and cars relative rarities in the Sunshine State.
Since then, the Davenport resident has made it his mission to spread the news about solar energy throughout Central Florida.
Ott, 52, and a business partner founded AINOVA, Inc. in Switzerland seven years ago. He became interested in solar energy in 2013 after selling one of his start-up internet companies in Europe. He’s been involved in solar energy and electric cars ever since. AINOVA, a solar technology company, opened in Florida during 2016.
“As I am involved in the disrupting change of using more renewable energy than burning fossil fuel, the first thing I was wondering was why I don’t see as many solar powered houses here in Florida than I see back in Europe,” says Ott. “Especially, as we are ‘The Sunshine State’ of the United States, I started to investigate why so few people take advantage of going solar or even driving electric cars.”
Ott analyzed prices charged by utility companies, the amount of sunshine during the year, energy needs of residents, and government incentives related to going solar.
“I could not find a reason why more people aren’t taking the advantage of using renewable resources here in Florida,” he says. “I came to the conclusion that actually everything is in place that most of the people could take more advantage of except one thing: People don’t know yet what it means to enjoy all the advantages of renewable energy.”
He’s working hard to enlighten them.
Ott believes utility companies don’t — and likely never will — encourage folks to use solar energy because people who produce and use their own solar energy might purchase less energy from utility companies.
But he sees the roles of utility companies changing in the future.
“In my opinion, utility companies will also play the important roles in the future as they will change their business more from an energy delivery business to an energy exchange and energy storage business model.”
To foster understanding of solar technology and its benefits, Ott recently fielded a few questions about the growing use of this alternative energy source.
What are the main reasons homeowners should use solar energy in their homes?
Ott: Here are the major reasons why people should take advantage of going Solar:
• Easy Process — just sign a contract and the solar contractor does the rest.
• Stabilization of the Roof — the roof gets stronger and is more protected.
• Zero Maintenance — solar electricity is fully maintenance free, unlike solar water heaters.
• Emergency Electricity — solar energy can provide an emergency outlet during power outages.
• Government Incentives — owners of homes with solar energy are eligible for a 30 percent tax credit and the added value does not increase property taxes. (Note: For information about the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit, visit https://www.energy.gov/savings/residential-renewable-energy-tax-credit)
• Net Metering — solar panels overproduce during the day or during the winter, and the homeowner gets the energy back for free at night or during the summer when the A/C energy demand is higher than in winter.
• Cheaper Energy Price — You pay about three to four times less for solar-produced energy than energy bought from utility companies. With an average size solar system, it is a $20,000 to $40,000 savings over the lifetime of a solar energy system.
• Added Value if the House is Sold — I talked to some Realtors and on average, selling a house with a solar system (that is) paid off increases the value of the house about $10,000, depending on the size of the house.
What effect did installing solar energy have on your electric bill?
My energy bill two years ago was $399 per month. This March I paid $17.44 for surge protection. During the day I over produce (energy) and at night I give it back to the grid and get a credit from the electric company.
When does installing solar power not make sense?
Installing solar power does not make sense if the house faces north because you don’t get as much energy facing north. Facing south, east, or west is okay.
What questions should homeowners ask when preparing to purchase a solar power system?
• Is the contractor North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified? Installers and companies can be re-certified every year. I use Solar-Ray. They do such a good job, that I decided to use them rather than hire a staff.
• How long has the company been doing solar in Florida? The best thing is if they survived (the economic decline of) 2008.
• What’s the cost of the system? Look around and make sure you don’t pay too much. Calculate dollars per watt installed. It should be below $3 per watt. A deal below $3 per watt is worth it. An ‘average’ installation is 5-7kWp, which costs between $13,000-19,000 before the 30% tax credit.
• Ask for referrals and talk to customers.
On average, how long does it take to install a solar power system?
Installation takes four to six weeks. Make sure you contact your homeowners association (HOA) and tell them you’re installing solar. Florida law says you can put energy on your roof and the HOA can’t say no.
What is the average life span of a solar energy system?
Twenty to 30 years. There’s guaranteed 80 percent of energy (output) after 30 years. Panels do lose a little bit of energy.
What should homeowners know about financing a solar energy system?
I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to finance because most of the savings go to the bank. It does make sense if the homeowner can pay for at least half of the system.
Six percent is the current loan interest rate for financing a solar energy system. It gives you a lot of savings, but not the most. However, if they are refinancing their house, then they can include it in the financing.
What happens to a solar system during hurricanes?
Even though the solar system usually shuts down in case of a power outage, in the systems we install there is an emergency outlet and the solar system can be switched to provide 1.5kW though the emergency outlet directly from the solar panels. The only thing you need is an extension cord to power important devices in the home. That’s enough to power the fridge, LED lights, TV and internet connection devices and charge mobile phones and laptop computers. However, it can’t run the full A/C for the house, but running fans would work too. I personally use the battery from my electric car to run some appliances.
How does a solar energy system affect the resell value of a house?
Houses with solar sell faster or for a higher price.
What do you think the future holds for solar energy?
I believe in the next 10 years there will be worldwide electrification of everything. In Norway, there will be no diesel next year. Most cars will go electric. Most people will need to produce energy.
While Ott is in the business of selling solar technology, his mission is to spread the word about the benefits of solar energy.
“Get in touch with me because I like to educate people about solar energy, whether or not they purchase a system from me,” he says.