I mean, the least expensive is the easiest for me at the moment, so what is the lowest entry level solar energy system that I can purchase? I don’t hear this question often, but it is a real issue. How little can we spend and get the ball rolling with a PV system on our house.
Now, I am not talking about those little bitty gadgets that sway in the sunlight, or PV calculators. I am talking about actually generating some electricity that feeds right into the grid. Top quality, UL listed, contractor grade equipment, but at a small scale (at least to begin with).
In our area, the main power supplier is TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). TVA has a program called Generation Partners in which they will purchase ALL of the energy produced by a Photovoltaic System for $.12 ABOVE the retail rate of electricity. TVA will sign a 10 year contract with you to purchase this power. In this program TVA will also send you a check for $1000 just for hooking into the grid to help offset some of the initial expense of the system.
This program now has a 50kW maximum, so it won’t allow anyone to become a “solar farm”, but it will help those of us who want to get into solar on our houses! As a matter of fact, TVA will allow a system that is only .5 kW (500watts).
Installing a system this small can be done in just a few hours. Simple Energy Works actually has a 3 module solar kit that is .69 kW, and it is selling for around $3000. Now, this solar energy kit includes everything that is needed to hook up to the grid and apply for this TVA program (or any other power company program). This kit is designed so that a motivated homeowner can do most of the installation (other than the actual connection to the grid).
Well, if one of these .69 kW kits are purchased and self installed we are looking at an investment of around $3000. Let’s say that a local electrician charges $400 to do the final connection to the grid. Your costs are at $3400. Remember, TVA will send you a “Rebate” check of $1000 just for signing up in their program, so now the costs are $2400. The tax credit is for 30% of the total cost of a PV system (and it is good until 2016). Well, the 30% tax credit for this system will offset $1020 come next April 14th (or it can be rolled over). The total net cost of the PV system is now $1380.
So…. $1380 out of pocket to begin generating clean electricity… Not bad! Now of course this small solar system will not offset your entire electric bill… but it will help!
The nice thing about a small solar energy system like this is that you have built the infrastructure for a larger PV system when you have the opportunity. Next month (or year) when you have a small surplus you can begin adding modules to the system with no additional modifications. You can add one module at a time if you wanted too. The system is infinitely expandable and you are ultimately limited only by roof space (and
breaker space)—but then again, you may have room and exposure for a ground mount solar system too!
So….the next time you hear about the huge multi-thousand dollar investment that is required to go solar, just know that to get your foot in the door and to get a little momentum can be an investment that is very modest indeed. There are a lot of solar incentives and solar grants out there to take advantage of. It pays to do a little homework, or hire an experienced solar expert who is well versed in solar energy incentives, grants and funding.
For Tennessee Solar Incentives visit:
For Federal Solar Incentives visit:
For other State’s Solar Incentives visit: