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Cape Cod Solar 101

Last Updated February 18, 2024

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Michael Jones

By Michael Jones

Michael literally wrote the book on solar (it’s called The Homeowners’ Guide to Going Solar) and has been a solar consultant for over four years.

Cape Cod solar 101 walks you through the basics of going solar on Cape Cod

The Cape Cod solar market is booming at the moment, partly because of statewide and federal incentives, and partly because Cape Codders want to do their part for the environment. The space is multi-faceted  – from residential to commercial, rooftop to ground mounted, purchased systems to leased ones. 

It can all get quite confusing quite quickly. So in this article I’m going to give you a brief overview of the basics. Think of it as Cape Cod Solar 101. A starting point from where you can begin your journey, exploring whichever aspects of solar you’re interested in. 

There are lots of links to other articles in the blog so you can dig deeper with just a few clicks of a mouse.

The Problem With Electricity

The reason solar has become such a big deal is because the entire world is facing two big challenges when it comes to electricity:

  • We’re going to need a lot more of it in the next 10-15 years (2-3 times as much by some estimates).
  • We’re going to have to figure out a way to generate and distribute all that extra power that’s completely different from the way we’ve been doing it for the last 125 years.

The Supply Side

Why do we need so much more power? Because just about everything in our economy is going to be electrified in the next decade or two as we belatedly start to tackle climate change. 

We’re already starting to adopt electric cars, electric heat pumps, electric stoves, electric garden tools, and that’s just at the consumer end of the market. 

When you also consider that Amazon has ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans from Rivian, many of which are already in service on Cape Cod, and electric trucks, electric buses, electric bikes, electric boats  and even electric planes are all starting to come on line, you get a sense of just how much more electricity we’re going to need.

The Delivery Side

Another problem with the way we do electricity right now is the way we distribute it. We decided about 100 years ago that we don’t really want our power stations to be located where we live. Back then they were dirty, dangerous places that were best located well away from our cities and residential neighborhoods.

The trouble with that is that we need a huge infrastructure of pylons, power lines and substations to deliver the power from where it is generated to where it is consumed.

In eastern Massachusetts, where we we’ve shut down more traditional power stations than we’ve built in the last ten years, the cost of delivering the power we need has become a huge problem, In fact we pay higher delivery fees for the power we use than just about anyone else in the country – anywhere from 40%-60% of a typical homeowner’s bill.

The Solution is Solar

The people whose job it is to worry about stuff like this decided long ago that solar is going to be a big part of the solution. This is not something we get to vote on. The decisions have already been made and baked into public policy, building codes, utility rates, state and federal tax codes and even international treaties.

So while certain high profile politicians may argue that climate change is a hoax and we’re going to continue to burn fossil fuels, it doesn’t matter. The people who actually run the energy sector have already decided otherwise.

We’re all going solar.

It’s the only way we know of to generate electricity that doesn’t involve moving a turbine. So with no moving parts, panels, once installed, require very little maintenance. 

What’s more, over the last ten years, in particular, the cost of the panels themselves has fallen so much that solar is now the cheapest form of energy we’ve ever had.

With such clear and obvious benefits, the powers that be are willing to throw money at the problem, which makes going solar cheaper for homeowners, and makes right now the ideal time to do it.

Why Massachusetts Leads the Way in Solar

While hardly the sunniest state in the nation, Massachusetts stands fifth in terms of solar installations per capita. Only sun havens like Hawaii, California, Arizona and Nevada are ahead of us. 

That is thanks largely to over fifty years of pro-solar policies and one of the most generous Net Metering programs in the nation. These have made it financially worthwhile for Baystaters to go solar. And that, in turn, has encouraged hundreds of solar companies, from local mom-and-pop shops to giant national companies, to set up shop here to help people make the switch.

Cape Cod Solar

Cape Cod naturally benefits from these statewide policies and from the proximity of all those solar companies. So much so that thousands of homes and businesses here have already made the switch to solar. Higher than average electricity rates, and perhaps a more heightened awareness of climate change are undoubtedly factors, as well.

According to 2019 data from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, there were 6,700 solar projects in Barnstable County with a median size of 6.2 kW. The number of installations has only grown since then and solar now looks set to become the primary source of electricity for Cape Cod in years to come.

Challenges to Cape Cod Solar

But there are also challenges to going solar on Cape Cod so let’s talk about some of those so you can be prepared if they come up with your project.

Solar is Complicated

As home improvement projects go, installing solar panels is one of the more complicated ones. Most of us find electricity generation mysterious, at best. If you add in the nuances of net metering, SRECs, power purchase agreements, interest rates, and the US tax code, things can get pretty confusing very quickly.

Unreliable Solar Advice

As with anything we find confusing, we often turn to others for help and advice. And that can get us into all kinds of trouble because lots of people have an opinion, and not all opinions are created equal. 

Specifically, there are two broad constituents that we typically turn to, and neither is necessarily ideal.

Friends and Family

Friends, relatives, or even people just sharing their opinions in the neighborhood Facebook group are usually well-intentioned folks eager to help, but that doesn’t necessarily qualify them as reliable advisors.

Even if they’ve recently gone solar themselves, their opinion is biased by their own unique experience, which may not apply to your situation. And if they went solar more than a year or two ago, the advice they offer may be based on outdated information. Technology changes, regulations change, and tax laws change almost every year, it seems.

Out of date advice from people who aren’t familiar with your unique situation can do more harm than good, even if it is well-intentioned.

Solar Reps

A more knowledgeable and up-to-date source of information can be found in the second broad constituency, solar reps. 

The good ones know their stuff and can certainly give you plenty of good information. The bad ones, not so much. And whether they’re good or bad, you have to be aware that they are, at the end of the day, trying to sell you on their company’s specific solar solution.

This doesn’t make your rep a bad or dishonest person. It just means their own goals (or their company’s goals) might not necessarily be aligned with yours.

Old Housing Stock

Cape Cod’s housing stock tends to skew on the old side. I’m sometimes shocked to realize that my own house, which my wife and I bought brand new in 1991 (seems like yesterday) is actually well over 30 years old now. And it’s one of the newer homes in our development.

Old houses mean that home upgrades are often needed before we can proceed with a solar installation. Trees, roofs and electrical panels are all expensive upgrades and can sometimes mean that the numbers for solar just don’t add up.

But sometimes going solar can be a way to get help with these kinds of upgrades. I’ve installed a fair number of homeowners who weren’t particularly interested in the benefits of solar. They just needed a new roof and didn’t have the cash to replace it. We were able to help.

Cape Cod Solar projects can be challenging for older buildings

Stringent Regulations

Old houses are one thing but historic houses present quite a different set of challenges. Stringent regulations about historical districts can sometimes derail a solar project, even if the house in question is relatively new. 

Large areas of the Cape have been designated historic districts, which means that all buildings within those areas are subject to these regulations, not just the historic ones. The best known, of course, is the Old Kings Highway Historical District which can impact solar installations from Sandwich to Orleans.

And then there are a number of neighborhoods where the Homeowners’ Association put restrictions on solar. Installations in Mashpee, for instance, can be affected by the HOA in New Seabury. Recently passed solar access laws have limited the power of homeowners associations somewhat but they do still try to flex their muscles and hinder solar adoption when they can.

Should You Go Solar?

This is probably the wrong question to ask. The chances are that, within ten years or so, you will be getting the vast majority of your electricity from the sun. 

So the real question is, do you want to generate your own solar energy, where you have some measure of control over how much you generate, what you do with it and how much you pay for it? Or do you want to get your solar energy from distant utility-scale solar farms where the utility companies still control the supply, the delivery and the price? 

Right now, there are lots of incentives out there for people who choose the former. Those incentives won’t be there forever, so now is probably the time to at least take a look at solar and see if it’s right for you.

Congratulations! You’ve passed Cape Cod Solar 101. If you’ve decided that your next step is to looking into going solar yourself, feel free to contact us to set up a brief chat about your options. Maybe we’ll throw you a graduation party.

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