As a mechanical engineer, Steve Ogden had been running the numbers of going solar for some time. This Fort Mill resident knew the renewable resource was good for the environment, but he questioned whether it was a sound financial investment.
When Duke Energy announced its Solar Rebate Program a few years ago, he jumped at the opportunity. Thanks to tax credits and rebates, the return of his investment is only five years.
Ogden is one of 1,400 Duke Energy residential customers who’ve gone solar since the South Carolina General Assembly passed Act 236 in 2014. The solar bill opened doors for utility companies to offer net metering at a one-to-one watt rate for customers who installed systems up to 20 kilowatts.
“They’re getting full retail rate for their solar,” RENU Energy Solutions marketing and Communications Director Hannah Wiegard said. “Any time that customer has extra solar, they get a credit on their bill for the exact same price as they would pay for using that solar themselves. So it shortens the timetable that it takes to earn back the cost of their solar.”
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The initial solar installation cost for Ogden’s 3,500 square-foot home was $47,200. But after the rebates, the 30-percent federal tax credit and the 25-percent state tax credit – his final bill whittled down to $11,800.
Plus, he signed on for 18-month, interest-free financing through his utility company so he’s investing those funds into a higher-rate return and plans to pay off the solar costs in one balloon payment. And his panels are producing more energy than expected.
“RENU specked it to be 14,600 kilowatt hours and I’ve already exceeded that with one more month to go,” he said. “So far so good. And I haven’t received any bills from Duke all year.”
Ogden was wise to act early because on July 9 Duke Energy Carolinas announced it had hit its two-percent net metering capacity and new solar users would receive less value for their unused energy beginning Aug. 1.
Fortunately, Ogden and others who signed on through Duke Energy’s rebate program are grandfathered into their earnings. – at least for another seven years.
“Existing customers served under the residential net metering tariff will receive the one-to-one retail rate and other terms and conditions through Dec. 31, 2025,” S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff deputy director Sara Johnson said. “At that time the customer will be subject to the tariffs approved by the Public Service Commission for renewable generation.”
However, according to Wiegard, York Electric Cooperative has a cap of its own, which it has not yet reached. So RENU’s receiving many phone calls from the company’s customers who want to cash in on solar-friendly net metering.
Lancaster resident Amy Esposito connected her solar installation to the grid through York Electric Cooperative in December. Like Ogden, she chose solar for environmental and financial reasons.
“I used to fear every electric bill, especially in the wintertime,” she said. “We have a living room with a double ceiling, so the ceiling is twice as high. To heat that area costs a lot of money, so our bills were through the roof.”
Instead of paying $200 to $350 per month in utility bills, Esposito now invests $200 to $300 monthly installments to pay off her solar installation.
“In eight years, we’ll be saving $200 to $350 per month and the solar panels help protect our roof so it lengthens the life of our roof,” she said. “If we ever decide to move, we can take it with us or sell it with the house.”
With the net metering value decreasing value in South Carolina, some solar users may opt for storing their energy in batteries rather than selling it to the grid. Wiegard said battery technology has improved by leaps and bounds.
“Most of our storage customers aren’t necessarily wanting solar so they can be off grid every day; They’re wanting it as an energy backup source in case of an outage,” she said. “There’s a way to use a battery to prevent yourself from using very much grid energy.”
Solar users can use a product that configures to respond to certain conditions, such as nighttime or overcast skies, to conserve battery power.
Much has changed over the last five to 10 years in solar energy costs and efficiency. RENU Operations Director Andrew O’Donnell said solar panel systems produce more power today than five years ago.
“Every solar panel is rated at a greater number of watts and you’re also benefiting from increases in conversion rates in the solar cells which are now between 18 and 22 percent,” he said. “Electronics improvements at the panel level have also lessened the effect of shade. Your solar dollar goes farther now.”