Recipe #12: Go Solar!

Sustainability Life Recipe Series...


What practical things can we do in our daily lives to protect our living environment, save money, and contribute to good jobs for people in our community?
We’ve done the research alongside our partner Get Your GreenBack Tompkins, and these 13 steps in the areas of local food, building energy, waste reduction and transportation are a great place to start. The Sustainability Life Recipes series will focus on ways to save money, go green, and learn about resources to support your journey. Have an idea? Send us a note at

Now is a great time to go solar with more options than ever before, from rooftop and groundmount systems to off-site solar on "community solar farms." Solar can provide 100% of your home's electricity, and the incentives for going solar cover as much as 60-65% of a system's cost. For many families with good solar sites, this can often mean that there is no upfront cost required, and they can go solar for a monthly cost the same or less than what they are currently paying the electric utility. Remote solar sites and community solar farms means homeowners with shady roofs and renters can also go solar, and save money on their electricity bills.



First, think about whether participating in a community solar project or installing solar on your own home or property is best for your situation.

  1. Get a free solar estimate from one of our area professional solar contractors, all of whom have agreed to a set of good practice standards:

Please let them know you learned of them through Get Your GreenBack.

(In addition, HalcoETM Solar Works, and Solar is Hot provide solutions for solar hot water.)

  1. Review the quotewith the contractor and your options for siting, your ability to take advantage of the tax incentives, and financing options (up front, low interest loans, and lease)
  2. Sign the contract. Get on the installer’s construction schedule. They will complete all of the project engineering, permitting, interconnection, and financing paperwork, including what you need to claim the incentives.   
  3. Financing available.There are a number of local financing options with low interest rates that may help you finance your solar project. Monthly solar savings may be able to cover your loan payments.
  4. Be Wise. This online guide from NY-Sunprovides an overview of the process of going solar in NYS, and good tips for working with contractors and understanding your NYS incentives. In addition, Get Your GreenBack has a draft guidefor working well with local contractors.


An average 7 kW roof-mounted home solar system will cost about $20,000. However, existing incentives can cover up to 2/3 of that cost, so the cost to you would be closer to $7,000. If financed your monthly payment could be similar or lower than your existing monthly electrical bill, and after 10 years, you'll be getting electricity for free for years to come.

There are 3 main incentives available to homes in the area:

  1. NYSERDA rebate - $0.35-$0.70*/watt (as of Nov 2017; rebate decreases over time)
  2. NYS Tax Credit- 25% of cost, up to $5,000. Credit can be claimed over five years.
  3. Federal Tax Credit- 30% of cost. Valid for projects completed through 2019 (then it decreases).

*Income-eligible households (e.g. in Tompkins County, a family of four earning less than $69,503) qualify for two times the normal NYSERDA rebate (currently, $0.70/watt vs $0.35/watt).


  1. But it’s so cloudy in Ithaca and upstate! Can solar work here? New York has an excellent solar resource, which is equivalent to about 2/3 of that of Arizona and Southern California annually, and much more than in Germany, which leads the world in solar installs.
  2. Can Solar PV meet 100% of my electricity needs? Absolutely! Typically, systems are designed to meet 100% of your electrical usageon an annual basis. Smaller systems are also fine and sometimes make more sense because of space or budget constraints.
  3. How big of a PV system would I need to power my home?To get a rough estimate, you can divide your annual electrical usage (in kWh) by 1.1. This will give you the size of the system in Watts, assuming you have good solar exposure. For a better approximation, you can use this solar calculator from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
  4. What about solar hot water? Heating water with the sun works well in our region and can be a good solution for your home's hot water needs. There are incentives available to reduce the cost of the system. Some local contractors with expertise in this field are ETM Solar WorksHalco and Solar is Hot.
  5. Will solar affect the value of my home? There is strong evidence that solar PV positively impacts home value. A 2015 study from Berkeley Lab “Selling Into the Sun” [pdf] looked at 1000s of homes with and without solar electric and compared their sale price. Conclusion: solar PV increases value of hometo the tune of $4 per Watt (e.g. $20,000 for a 5kW system)--but only when the solar system is owned (not leased).
  6. Is my home right for solar? Solar works best facing south, southwest, and southeast. There should be minimal shadingfrom trees, buildings, chimneys and other obstacles, or the cause of the shading should be able to be mitigated. Shading can be measured exactly by a contractor, and that is a standard part of the site assessment process. Another possible consideration for installing solar is the condition of your roof. Roofs should typically have at least 7-10 years of life remaining in order for a new solar system to be located there. If you have a roof that is older than that or in poor condition, your contractor can help you get an estimate for replacing all or just part of the roof to enable the installation of a solar system.


  • Get in touch with Annalise Kukor, Energy Educator at Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County,, (607) 272-2292
  • Join the conversation on the Online Forum for Solar Energy
  • The Solar Energy Industries Association has a number of guidesfor consumers on working with contractors, community solar, and leasing land to solar companies.




Views expressed in News posts may not be those of Cornell University. No endorsement is implied.