The number of solar installations in California is well over 155,000, making it increasingly important for realtors, assessors, and potential home buyers to better understand the value that an existing solar array adds to a property. To help, the State of California recently released the Solar Advantage Value Estimator (SAVE). This tool was built to help realtors and assessors better understand the value that solar panels add to an existing home or small business.
The tool, which can be found on the Go Solar California website, is simple to use. Just enter the address of an existing property with solar and you will receive several key data points — including the net present value, yearly electricity bill savings (low, medium, or high), the life expectancy of the system, and the unit’s energy output. The SAVE system takes into account your climate zone, utility rates, system degradation, and electricity price increases.
When using SAVE, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, utility costs are only estimates. While you can enter a custom number for the cost of electricity, the site does not provide guidance on how to obtain that number. Second, the site makes assumptions for factors such as capacity, price escalation, and degradation that cannot be adjusted. Finally, the service is specific to residential customers and commercial customers with systems under 30kW.
In addition to evaluating one’s current solar system, the tool can also be used to estimate the value of a future system. However, we recommend other tools for more a detailed and accurate look at systems that you have yet to install. The National Renewable Energy Laboratories’ In My BackYard tool allows you to input your actual electricity data and draw a box on your roof to better understand how big your system could be. We also encourage anyone interested in going solar to contact at least two installers and ask for a free in-home assessment.
Overall, the SAVE tool works well for evaluating the benefits of existing solar arrays on homes and small businesses. Thanks to the tool, we see the net present value of some of these systems at two to three times their initial cost, which makes us excited. Those of us in the industry already know that solar can pay itself off within five to ten years, but we hope that the SAVE tool will help the general public understand that by switching to solar you can decrease the cost of electricity, and potentially eliminate utility bills for decades. We also hope it will help the realty industry adequately evaluate solar as a major home improvement.