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The Savvy Homeowner‘s Complete Guide to Saving Money on Solar Panels in Tennessee

As a digital technology expert and solar enthusiast, I‘ve seen firsthand how going solar can transform both your energy bills and your environmental impact. But for homeowners in Tennessee, the path to solar savings can feel a bit murky. With limited state incentives and a complex web of utility programs, it‘s not always clear how to get the most bang for your solar buck in the Volunteer State.

That‘s where this guide comes in. We‘ll dive deep into the current state of solar in Tennessee, explore the incentives and financing options available, and provide expert tips for maximizing your solar investment. Whether you‘re a tech-savvy early adopter or a budget-conscious homeowner looking to slash your electricity costs, this comprehensive guide will give you the tools and knowledge you need to make solar work for you in Tennessee.

Solar Energy in Tennessee: A Bright Spot in the South

First, let‘s set the stage with some context on solar energy in Tennessee. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Tennessee ranked 14th in the nation for solar energy growth in 2022, with 595 MW of new solar capacity installed that year alone. This brought the state‘s total solar capacity to over 2.7 GW, enough to power nearly 300,000 homes.

However, the vast majority of this solar growth has been driven by utility-scale projects, not residential installations. In fact, despite having some of the lowest solar equipment costs in the nation, Tennessee ranks a dismal 32nd in the country for residential solar adoption. So what gives?

State Residential Solar Capacity (MW) National Rank
California 12,801 1
Texas 1,838 2
Florida 1,622 3
Tennessee 98 32

Data from SEIA State Solar Spotlight reports

A big part of the problem is the lack of state-level incentives for residential solar in Tennessee. Unlike solar leaders like California and Massachusetts, which offer generous rebates and tax credits to homeowners who go solar, Tennessee provides virtually no financial support for residential solar adoption.

This absence of state incentives, combined with lackluster net metering policies and limited solar financing options, has created a challenging environment for solar growth in the residential sector. But as we‘ll see, that doesn‘t mean solar can‘t still be a smart financial move for Tennessee homeowners.

The Federal Solar Tax Credit: Your Ace in the Hole

While Tennessee may not have your back when it comes to solar incentives, the federal government certainly does. The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is hands-down the most valuable incentive for going solar in the U.S., and it‘s available to Tennessee homeowners just like anyone else.

Here‘s how it works: when you purchase a solar panel system for your home, you can claim a credit worth 30% of your total system costs on your federal income taxes. This includes not just the cost of the panels themselves, but also installation labor, inverters, mounting equipment, batteries, and even sales tax.

To illustrate, let‘s say you purchase a 6 kW solar array for your home at a total cost of $18,000. With the ITC, you‘d be able to claim a credit of $5,400 (30% of $18,000) on your next federal tax return. That‘s a huge chunk of change back in your pocket, drastically reducing your out-of-pocket costs for going solar.

It‘s important to note that the ITC is a credit, not a deduction. This means it directly reduces your tax liability, dollar for dollar. So if you owed $7,000 in federal taxes before claiming the credit, you‘d only owe $1,600 after. If the credit exceeds your total tax liability for the year, you can even roll over the remaining balance to future tax years.

To be eligible for the ITC, you must own your solar panels (either purchased outright or financed with a loan) and have them installed on your primary or secondary residence. The credit is set to remain at 30% through the end of 2032, after which it will step down to 26% in 2033 and 22% in 2034 before phasing out entirely in 2035. Our advice? If you‘re considering solar, act now to maximize this incredible incentive.

Navigating TVA‘s Solar Programs

Now let‘s talk about the elephant in the room: the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). As the largest public power utility in the country, TVA plays a major role in shaping the solar landscape in Tennessee. Unfortunately, their track record on residential solar support is mixed at best.

Up until 2020, TVA offered a popular program called Green Power Providers, which paid homeowners a premium rate for the solar electricity they generated. However, they abruptly shuttered this program and replaced it with a new offering called Green Connect, which is far less lucrative for solar homeowners.

Under Green Connect, homeowners can still sell their excess solar power back to TVA, but at a much lower rate than before. As of 2023, the Green Connect rate for residential solar is just 4.4 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), compared to the retail electricity rate of around 10.7 cents/kWh. This means that for every kWh of solar electricity you export to the grid, you‘re essentially losing out on 6.3 cents of value.

What‘s more, Green Connect participants must pay a monthly "grid access fee" of $5 per installed kW of solar capacity, up to a maximum of $50 per month. For a typical 6 kW residential system, that‘s an additional $30 per month, or $360 per year, eating into your solar savings.

Despite these drawbacks, enrolling in Green Connect is still a necessary step for most Tennessee solar homeowners, as it‘s the only way to interconnect your system to the grid and receive credit for your excess generation. Just be aware that the financial benefits are much more limited than they were under the old Green Power Providers program.

Solar Financing Options in Tennessee

For many homeowners, the upfront cost of solar is the biggest barrier to entry. Even with the federal tax credit, shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for a solar array can be a tough pill to swallow. Fortunately, there are several financing options available to help make solar more affordable in Tennessee.

One popular option is a solar loan, which allows you to borrow money to cover the upfront cost of your system and pay it back over time with interest. Many solar installers partner with specialized lenders to offer solar loans with competitive rates and terms. By financing your system with a loan, you can still take advantage of the federal tax credit and reap the long-term savings of solar without having to pay for everything out of pocket.

Another option that‘s gaining traction in Tennessee is solar leasing. With a solar lease, you essentially rent your solar panels from a third-party owner, who installs and maintains the system on your property. You then pay a fixed monthly fee to the owner for the right to use the solar electricity generated by the panels. While leasing can reduce your upfront costs to zero, it typically offers lower long-term savings than purchasing or financing your own system.

It‘s worth noting that in Tennessee, solar leases (as well as similar arrangements called power purchase agreements, or PPAs) are only available through a small handful of specialized companies. This is due to restrictive state laws that prohibit most third-party solar ownership models. As a result, leasing options can be harder to come by in Tennessee compared to other states.

Innovative Solar Technologies on the Horizon

As a digital technology expert, I‘d be remiss not to mention the exciting innovations happening in the world of solar that could help drive down costs and improve performance in the coming years.

One such innovation is bifacial solar panels, which can capture sunlight from both sides of the panel to boost energy production. By generating power from reflected light off the ground or a rooftop, bifacial panels can increase energy yield by up to 30% compared to traditional monofacial panels. While bifacial technology is still relatively new and more expensive upfront, it‘s expected to become more cost-competitive in the next few years.

Another promising development is the rise of smart inverters, which not only convert DC solar power to usable AC electricity but also provide advanced grid-support functions. Smart inverters can help solar arrays play nicely with the grid by regulating voltage and frequency, providing reactive power support, and even helping to mitigate the impact of grid outages. As more utilities require these advanced functionalities, smart inverters are becoming an increasingly important part of the solar equation.

Finally, there‘s the emergence of solar plus storage, which pairs solar panels with battery systems to provide backup power and greater energy independence. By storing excess solar power during the day and deploying it at night or during outages, solar plus storage can help homeowners maximize their solar investment and reduce their reliance on the grid. While still a premium option today, solar plus storage is expected to become more mainstream as battery costs continue to fall in the coming years.

The Environmental and Social Benefits of Solar

Of course, the benefits of going solar in Tennessee extend far beyond just financial savings. By generating your own clean, renewable electricity, you‘re also doing your part to reduce air pollution, combat climate change, and create a more sustainable future for generations to come.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average Tennessee home uses about 1,245 kWh of electricity per month. By installing a 6 kW solar array, which can generate around 720 kWh per month in Tennessee, you could offset more than half of your home‘s electricity consumption with clean, renewable energy.

Energy Source CO2 Emissions (lbs/kWh)
Solar PV 0.07
Wind 0.02
Nuclear 0.04
Natural Gas 0.91
Coal 2.21

Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

What‘s more, by reducing your reliance on fossil fuel-powered electricity, you‘re helping to create a cleaner, healthier environment for your community. According to the EPA, the electricity sector is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., accounting for 25% of total emissions in 2020. By going solar, you can be part of the solution to this pressing environmental challenge.

But the benefits don‘t stop there. Solar energy is also a powerful job creator and economic engine, particularly in a state like Tennessee with a growing solar industry. According to the 2022 National Solar Jobs Census, Tennessee was home to over 4,000 solar jobs as of 2021, a 10% increase from the previous year. By supporting solar through your own investment, you‘re helping to create local jobs and drive economic growth in your community.

The Bottom Line: Is Solar Worth It in Tennessee?

So, after all this analysis, is going solar actually worth it for Tennessee homeowners? The answer, in my expert opinion, is a resounding yes—with a few caveats.

While it‘s true that Tennessee lacks the generous state incentives and net metering policies of some other states, the combination of low solar costs, ample sunshine, and the federal tax credit still make solar a smart financial investment for most homeowners. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the average 6 kW residential solar array in Tennessee can pay for itself in just 9-12 years and provide over $30,000 in lifetime savings.

System Size (kW) Upfront Cost (after ITC) Annual Savings Payback Period (years) Lifetime Savings (25 years)
4 kW $9,800 $818 12.0 $20,450
6 kW $14,700 $1,227 12.0 $30,675
8 kW $19,600 $1,636 12.0 $40,900
10 kW $24,500 $2,045 12.0 $51,125

Data from NREL‘s PVWatts Calculator, assuming a 6 kW system, 14.4% capacity factor, and $0.1029/kWh electricity rate

Of course, the exact payback period and savings will vary depending on your specific system size, location, energy usage, and financing method. But in general, most Tennessee homeowners can expect to see significant long-term savings by going solar, even without state-level incentives.

To maximize your solar investment, I recommend the following tips:

  1. Get multiple quotes from reputable solar installers to ensure you‘re getting the best price and quality for your system.
  2. Look for installers who offer competitive financing options, such as low-interest loans or solar leases, to help reduce your upfront costs.
  3. Be mindful of shading and roof orientation when designing your system, as these factors can have a big impact on your energy production.
  4. Consider investing in high-efficiency panels and inverters, as well as emerging technologies like bifacial panels and battery storage, to maximize your energy yield and savings.
  5. Stay informed about any changes to solar policies or incentives in Tennessee, and be prepared to advocate for policies that support solar growth and adoption.

Ultimately, going solar in Tennessee is not just a smart financial decision, but also an investment in a brighter, cleaner future for your home, your community, and the planet. With the right approach and a little bit of savvy, you can harness the power of the sun to save money, reduce your carbon footprint, and take control of your energy future. The time to go solar in Tennessee is now—and with this guide in hand, you‘re well on your way to becoming a solar success story.