Solar Energy

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Solar energy is clean, renewable, and inexhaustible. It creates no noise or pollutants, and saves money while lowering dependence on fossil fuels. It also helps to reduce the burden on an aging electrical grid–PNM has warned of potential rolling blackouts in the summer of 2023, as the grid struggles to keep up with increasing demand.

New Mexico is one of the sunniest states in America, averaging from 2,800 to 3,700 hours of sunshine annually across the state. It has also been ranked a top state for solar incentives, with state and federal savings adding up to 30% or more of installation costs. Home solar installations are cheaper in NM than the national average, and the cost of panels has fallen 53% in the last ten years.

A home solar system will lower your utility bills and your carbon footprint, while increasing your energy independence and the value of your home, and with the Inflation Reduction Act’s solar tax credit of 30% joining the existing state incentives, it is the perfect time to start planning an installation.

Photovoltaic, or PV panels, are the panels you’ve seen on rooftops or around buildings. Cells in the panel absorb photons from sunlight. These absorbed photons create an electric field across the layers, causing electricity to flow. PV solar panels are built to work in all climates, but still need a suitable roof with enough sun exposure.
1) Find a solar installer. Many installers offer free consultations that can help you find out if your roof is suitable for solar panels. This depends on size, shape, slope, as well as the age and surroundings of the roof. Here are some top recommended solar installers for New Mexico—no matter what, you want an installer who is insured and certified by an organization like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.
2) Determine if your roof and your home are right for solar panels. This will depend on roof condition, geographic location, exposure to the sun, and the PV system that you and your installer choose.
3) Calculate your electricity needs. This is a great time to do a home energy audit and see if you can make any improvements to your home that can help you save energy. Previous electricity bills are a great way to determine your annual and seasonal power needs, so you can plan for a new system. Don’t forget to consider upcoming changes, like an electric vehicle that will need charging!
4) Make a financial plan. New Mexico has outstanding tax incentives, and the Inflation Reduction Act adds federal incentives to reduce the cost of a new solar installation. Solar loans are also available to help finance a PV system.
5) Obtain permits and schedule inspections. Your installer may need information from you to complete this step, which can take weeks to months depending on local regulations. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s SolarTRACE tool can provide a rough idea of how long the process may take in your jurisdiction.

Further Reading:

Forbes Home: Your Ultimate Guide To Solar Panel Pricing And Incentives In New Mexico
Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy: Homeowner’s Guide to Going SolarFederal

Department of Energy Homeowner’s Guide to the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Electricity

USDA REAP Grant

State

Solar Market Development Tax Credit

Energy Sage New Mexico Solar Incentives

HouseMethod New Mexico Solar Incentives

Sustainable Building Tax Credit (SBTC)

New Mexico Solar Incentives for 2023

Programs to help pay for Solar

Solarize Santa Fe helps City of Santa Fe residents save money, create jobs, and address climate change by increasing access to rooftop solar and energy and water efficiency. It negotiates a group discount and consumer protections on solar installations with high quality, pre-vetted installers to make going solar easy and affordable. It also has special offers to make rooftop solar accessible to low-and-moderate income residents. Funds do run out each year so apply early.

Loans

Nusenda: Solar and Energy-Efficient Loans and Solar Partners.

Clean Energy Credit Union Solar Electric System Loans

Community Solar

Solar Storage

A home solar energy system generates electricity from solar energy—but what about when the sun isn’t shining?

On average, New Mexico experiences 278 sunny days per year. Those hours of sunlight can be captured by solar panels and used to power homes and appliances. But some of the energy produced isn’t needed during the day, and is either returned to the power grid or wasted.

Power demands are often highest at times when solar production isn’t at its peak: overcast days, hot summer evenings, and at night. So how do we recover that wasted energy from the sunniest hours and use it when we need it?

The answer is solar-plus-storage energy systems. Storage technologies capture the excess electricity, store it in another form, and make it available when it’s needed later. These systems can keep the power going through changing conditions and can even serve as backup during a power outage.

A solar-plus-storage system is a battery system that is charged by a connected solar system, like a set of photovoltaic (PV) panels. Four main types of batteries are used in these systems, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. As demand for EVs and energy storage continues to climb, private sector and government organizations are driving battery R&D and production, with new advances every year and great potential for better energy storage at lower costs.
Two types of battery are currently available for home use: lead-acid batteries and lithium-ion batteries.Lead-Acid. Lead-acid batteries have been used for decades in both industrial and automotive applications. They come in two main types: flooded lead acid batteries, and sealed lead-acid batteries.  Flooded lead-acid batteries are the least-complicated and least expensive deep-cycle batteries available but are more complicated to care for and store. Sealed lead-acid batteries (such as Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries and gel batteries) are lower maintenance and require less storage space.Lead-acid-based battery storage systems have a lower upfront cost of installation, balanced against more maintenance and a shorter life than a lithium ion system. Ongoing research is helping to advance safety and reduce weight, and these batteries can be recycled at a rate of over 99%.Pros: Affordable, reliable, compatible with most systems, easy recycling.Cons: Heavier and take up more space, can require maintenance, shorter life span and less discharging capacity.Best for: Backup power during outages, off-grid systems, and keeping installation costs down.

Lithium-Ion. Lithium battery technology has been advancing rapidly as EVs and energy storage drive demand. It’s a far newer technology than lead-acid, and offers higher energy density (more energy can be stored in a smaller space), greater efficiency, and a longer lifespan. These batteries are also virtually maintenance-free.

The biggest drawback to lithium-ion batteries is the higher cost at installation. Over time, the better performance and lifespan of lithium-ion batteries may make-up for this cost, but real-world testing and documentation are needed.

Pros: Lighter, smaller, longer-lasting, with great discharging capabilities.

Cons: Expensive, more difficult to install, risk of thermal runaway when overheated (or overcharged).

Best for: Residential solar installations, supplementing and adding efficiency to a grid-linked system.

(Two additional types of battery exist for large-scale and commercial use, and may become available for home systems in the future: nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) and flow batteries. Neither of these are currently suitable for residential use.)

  • Lower energy bills. Energy prices have been rising, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that they will continue to rise. Solar storage gets the most efficiency from a solar system and lowers overall energy bills.
  • Greater energy independence. Power outages are increasing, in New Mexico and across the country. Adding batteries to a solar system reduces reliance on the grid and can provide backup power.
  • Environmental protection. Solar-plus-storage increases the efficiency of clean energy and reduces reliance on fossile fuels.

Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, a new solar-plus-storage home energy system may be eligible for the 30% Solar Investment Tax Credit, as well as New Mexico’s Property Tax Exemption for Residential Solar Systems.

Further reading:

Forbes Home: Everything You Need To Know About Solar Batteries
This Old House: What Are the Main Types of Solar Batteries?
U.S. Energy Information Administration: Average Retail Price of Electricity in New Mexico