By John Downey
Customers in 42 of the nation’s 50 largest cities — including Charlotte and Raleigh — would save money by installing rooftop solar instead of buying all their power from local utilities, says the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center.
Going Solar in America, a 27-page report by the center based at N.C. State University, argues the perception that solar is too expensive for most homeowners is false.
Residential solar has prospered largely in states with high electricity rates — such as New York and California. But report authors Jim Kennerly and Autumn Proudlove say the data show consumers nationwide can benefit from solar — even in relatively low-utility-rate states such as North Carolina.
New York City and Boston unsurprisingly rank as the cities with the largest savings from a solar investment. But Raleigh ranked 30th on the list and Charlotte 34th.
In both N.C. cities, Kennerly and Proudlove say, the costs of a solar project will be more than offset by the savings on utility bills over time.
The report calculates that typical Charlotte customers would save about $57 per month on their electric bills in the first year after installing a solar system. Raleigh customers would save about $49 per month that first year.
Customers in San Francisco, by contrast, would save $187 per month in the first year.
Costs and incentives
But Kennerly and Proudlove’s calculations are not based just on gross savings. The costs of the system and the relative difference in rates across the country also enter into the calculations. So do incentives offered in various states and cities.
So, for instance, Charlotte and Raleigh benefit from relatively low costs for solar installations. The Southeast and the mid-Atlantic states have the lowest installation costs in the nation, according to the data the report cites.
So a 5-kilowatt system, the standard used in the report, would likely cost about $18,500 in North Carolina. In the Northeast, a similar system would cost more than $21,000, on average. Thus, a homeowner in North Carolina pays less for the system and so does not have to save as much to come out ahead.
And Raleigh edges ahead of Charlotte in the rankings because Duke Energy Progress offers a solar incentive that’s unavailable from Duke Energy Carolinas.