Let the Sun Power Your Home!

Solar panels have become very popular in the Berkshires and elsewhere over the past five years. Just look up and you can see them in many neighborhoods, and in many cases, on several homes in a single neighborhood. Generous state subsidies have helped home-owners switch to this clean energy.

Photovoltaic panels installed on a residence


Here’s why solar is so popular. Solar panel prices have dramatically decreased over the past few years and incentives have remained high, a combination that makes solar a “no-brainer” as an investment. Systems on homes with good sunlight can generate investment returns of greater than 15% with payback periods of 4 to 6 years. After that it’s all positive cash flow as the panels generate power for 25 years or more. Also, many homeowners like the idea of generating their own power, contributing clean energy to the electric grid, and reducing their CO2 emissions. This power can be used to help them transition away from burning oil and natural gas, and it can be used to recharge their electric cars and power their high-efficiency heat pumps for home heating and cooling. On top of all that, solar panels increase the value of your home.

Some folks are looking forward to the time (coming soon) when they can more economically connect batteries to store their own power and operate “off the grid.”

Recommended Actions 

  1. The Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program is the state’s solar incentive system.
  2. Consult a Solar Company. In the Berkshires, we have several local trusted installers like Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, Alpine Solar Heat and Hot Water and North-East Solar, all companies who have operated here for a long time and for the right reasons.  You can also meet representatives of these companies at the Berkshire Earth Expo. All installers will be able to consult you on current incentives.
  3. Contact installers and ask them to estimate the expected efficiency of and payback period for solar panels at your site. Get quotes, choose an installer with the right price and track record who can get your system in pronto, and enjoy the Power of the Sun and lots of savings this year and for many years to come.

Financial Considerations

         Here are the solar financial incentives currently available:

  • A federal tax credit of 26% of the cost of the system (as of 2021). There is no $ limit on the credit and the cost of roof repair/replacement under the new panels may be eligible for the tax credit.
  • A State of MA tax credit
  • Massachusetts has an incentive program that uses Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) to pay owners of solar systems for all the power they generate (even if it’s used in the home) for a period of 10 years. Under the current program, one SREC is “earned” for every 1,200 kilowatt-hours generated. While the amount of electricity produced varies with sun exposure, a 5-kilowatt system can earn 5 SRECs each year. SREC values vary; in the past year they have sold in the range of $280 – $420 each.
  • SMART is the name of the new solar incentive program in Massachusetts, starting in March 2018.
  • The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) help explain how to make solar panels affordable, especially for poeple on low or moderate incomes. Incentives and loan options change frequently, please visit the links above for up-to-date information.

Environmental Benefits

Every kWh generated by a solar system means one less kWh produced by burning coal, oil or natural gas. That’s a really good thing for the planet. Solar power avoids 1 lb. of CO2 emissions for every kWh produced so a 5 kW system avoids 5,000 lbs. of CO2 emissions every year. Not only does solar power decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and help keep the Earth cooler; it also makes cleaner air for us to breathe by avoiding nasty pollutants such as fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and ozone. Let’s have more solar and breathe easier!


Q: How does solar power work? A: Solar electric systems, also known as solar photovoltaics or solar PV, convert sunlight into electrical energy through an array of solar panels that connect to a building’s electrical system or directly to the electrical grid. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) has some good background information on this.

Q: How do I know if my home is good for solar?  A: You can view your roof on Google Maps (click on the Earth box and enter your address) to get a sense for its orientation and potential shading from trees. South-facing roofs with little shade are best, but east and west-facing roofs work well too as long as there is little shade. Ideal roofs have long expanses of open areas but panels can be placed on smaller areas as well.

Q: What if my roof is old? Should I replace it before installing solar panels?   A: Fifteen years is about the dividing line between installing panels on the current roof and replacing the roof and then installing panels. If you install the panels on the existing roof, the panels will protect the part of the roof on which they are installed. You can have the panels taken off and reinstalled when you decide to re-roof. If you decide to re-roof before installing panels, you may be able to claim the 30% federal tax credit for the cost of the new roof under the panels.

Q: Do I have to maintain my solar system?  A: Generally the panels will sit up on the roof out of sight and out of mind, powering your home, even on cloudy days. There are no maintenance contracts to buy and New England weather will keep the panels pretty clean.

Q: What happens when it snows? A: Snow will pile up on solar panels, but the sun’s energy soon melts the bottom layer next to the panels and the snow will come sliding down quickly with a big whump. Snow guards are available to protect people and plants under the panels, and if squirrels chew your system’s wires, you can have critter guards installed.

Q: How do I get paid for the electricity my system sends to the electric grid? A: Each month the power company will record the total amount of kWhs (kilowatt-hours) your system has sent to the grid and the total amount you have used in your home. If you have used more than you have sent, you will pay for the excess used kWhs at the full residential electricity rate. If you have sent more kWhs than you have used, you will get paid for the excess that you’ve sent at a reduced rate. Also, all solar owners pay an added flat monthly fee based on system size.

Q: How big should my solar system be? A: Since you are not paid well for the excess power that your system produces, it makes sense to have a system that is properly “sized” just to cover your electric bill. However, you may decide to install a bigger solar system and switch to air-source heat pumps for heating and cooling and/or buy an electric car, using the power of the sun instead of burning oil and gasoline and saving a lot of money.

Q: What is the process of going solar? A: Generally a solar installer will ask for a copy of your electric bill and will prepare a proposed layout and financial estimate based on that and your roof space. Some parts of your roof may get more sun than others; you can change the layout to meet your needs. Once you have approved the design and signed off on the financials, the solar installer will handle the installation, checking roof structural support, pulling permits, obtaining equipment and scheduling the work. It may be a month or two until installation. Actual installation usually takes 2 days – electrical work and roof racking on day 1 and panel installation on day 2. After building and electrical inspections, the electric company will install a new meter and give you approval to power up your system!