After a slow spring and summer, Dan Williams was busy this fall. The solar installer climbed rooftops across the Twin Cities in response to demand from a new made-in-Minnesota solar PV rebate.
Williams is vice president of Powerfully Green, a solar installation company based in Champlin, Minnesota. It's among the first vendors for Silicon Energy, A Washington company that is Minnesota's first residential solar electric panel maker.
"We sought them out early to go get trained in on their materials," Williams said.
Silicon Energy started shipping its modules in September. Williams' company, which he co-owns with CEO/President Rebecca Lundberg, did about 15 projects using panels from Silicon Energy's plant in Mountain Iron.
The modules are more expensive than most solar PV panels. Silicon Energy says its product was designed to withstand extreme, northern climates better than those from its competition.
Williams is convinced the added cost is worth it. He installed a set of them on his own home a year ago and said the system sheds snow better than the other two panel types on his roof.
The higher price tag doesn't necessarily mean the customer will pay more. That's because of a generous $2.75-per-watt rebate for Minnesota-made panels that is in addition to a $2.25-per-watt rebate for Xcel Energy customers.
Solar electric projects are also eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit.
When all is said and done, homeowners can end up paying as little as 10 percent of the project cost, Williams said.
The made-in-Minnesota rebate makes Silicon Energy's panels cost competitive with cheap Chinese imports, he said.
A three kilowatt project using Chinese modules might cost in the range of $12,000 to $18,000 before incentives, Williams said. After the federal tax credit and Xcel rebate, the homeowner cost is between $8,000 and $9,000.
A comparable project made with Silicon Energy panels would cost between $25,000 and $27,000, but when you tack on the Minnesota-made rebate, the homeowner bill is around $5,000, according to Williams.
"Your net cost ended up being cheaper than the Chinese model," Williams said.
The Silicon Energy projects Powerful Green installed this fall ranged in size from 2 kilowatts to 8 kilowatts. The bill to homeowners ranged from $4,000 to $9,000, which should be recouped in five to ten years, he said. "This is a far cry from where it was six years ago when we got started," Williams said. His customers today get about five times as much solar for half the cost of what he paid for his own system.
Size isn't the only variable that determines a project's cost. Projects are most economical when the house's roof has the right slant and position. Building mounts, awnings or other structures to hold the panels adds to the cost.
Williams finished the season with a backlog of projects to start in the spring.