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Solar at Home

Solar at Home

The trials, tribulations and rewards of going solar

What you really need to install solar: A CPA

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Editor's Note: Scientific American's George Musser will be chronicling his experiences installing solar panels in 60-Second Solar. Read his introduction here and see all posts here.


Pile of solar paperworkWhen people talk about using renewable energy to save both energy and jobs, the jobs they’re usually referring to are engineering and construction. But if my solar experience is anything to go by, the profession that will benefit the most is accounting.


If I’d known how much paperwork it would take to install solar panels on my roof, I’d have hired someone more adept in navigating bureaucracies. It’s been way too much for a mere astrophysicist. I started the process in February and the first of the many required approvals did not come through until the end of April, when the utility, Public Service Electric & Gas, checked off on our application to supply power to the grid. A couple of weeks later, the New Jersey Clean Energy Program okayed its subsidy, and two weeks ago the utility agreed to kick in with its own contribution.


But wait, there’s more. The utility needs to formalize its agreement; the town needs to issue a building permit (not a foregone conclusion, since we live in a historic district); we need to register the system with the state and eventually set up an inspection; and, because the utility will in effect be part-owner of the panels, it will place a lien on our house, which our insurance company and mortgage provider need to sign off on. Solar installations are so uncommon that neither our insurer nor our bank knew quite what to do, which added to the delay.


The folks at the utility and state have been cordial and helpful, and I’m sure there’s good reason for all the forms, signatures, and initialing. They’re providing some oversight of our solar contractor, which I welcome. And the delay has given us time to think over our options for fixing our roof. But I’m struggling to see how solar is ever going to gain traction until the subsidies and paperwork are streamlined. Evidently I’m not the only one to have reached this conclusion.


Some of George's paperwork

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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