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Welcome to Madison’s solar energy information hub. Madison is working to encourage solar energy in our community. Here you will find a collection of solar information and resources.
Solar Benefits: Solar energy saves money on energy costs, improves environmental quality by reducing carbon emissions and air pollution, and improves electric grid resilience by reducing demand at peak (summer afternoon) times.
Solar energy is growing in Madison. View the latest metrics for NJ here and for Madison at the tab at the end of this page. Then join the trend!
So you are deciding to install a solar energy system; the tabs below will help you answer your questions, find your installer and, with your installer’s help, follow the right process for doing your installation.
Start to learn about solar energy
- The Solar Energy Industry Associations' Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power
- The US Department of Energy’s Homeowner’s Guide to Going Solar
- The NJ BPU Clean Energy Program’s A Basic Guide to Solar Electric Systems
- If you want to understand the numbers and how solar systems are rated, see our Introduction to the Terms and Technology tab below
Will solar work on your home?
- Investigate your properties solar potential with Google’s Project Sunroof
- Estimate the performance of potential PV projects with National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWatts Calculator
- For the local perspective, see a recent webinar sponsored by the Environmental Commissions of Madison and the Chathams
- Homeowners Associations and Solar Laws in New Jersey. According to Solar United Neighbors, New Jersey Statute § 45:22A-48.2 prevents Homeowners Associations (HOAs) from blocking their members’ solar installations. The statute applies to single-family dwellings, including townhomes where at least two sides are not connected to other dwellings, and where the house’s owner is responsible for roof maintenance. HOAs may impose restrictions on the system’s location, physical appearance, wiring, and contractor qualifications, as long as these restrictions do not increase the system’s cost by more than 10 percent of the original price or decrease the maximum capacity of the system. Click here to learn more about the New Jersey HOA law.
- Solar Rights Laws in New Jersey. New Jersey Revised Statute § 46:3-24 et seq. gives residents the option to negotiate solar easements with their neighbors in order to guarantee their systems get adequate exposure to sunlight.
- Solar Owner’s Manual – information for current solar homeowners to ensure they are getting the most out of their system from Solar United Neighbors.
Madison has about 5,000 single and two-family houses. As of June 30, 2023, about 107 (~2.1%) have residential solar systems, all on their rooftops.
What is our objective? To do our part for New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan, Madison needs to have ~1,000 homes with solar systems by 2050; that requires that we average about 33 new systems each year. Today that rate is about 15.
These 107 solar PV systems have a combined power rating of ~1000 kW. For systems like this in NJ we can assume that each kW of power will produce 1200 kWh of energy in an average year. Therefore, these systems are producing ~1 GWh of energy annually, a small fraction (less than 1%) of the 130 GWh consumed annually in Madison.
* NJDEP data includes two systems no longer operating. Those have been deducted from the graph.
Once you decide to install a solar energy system, here are some resources to help find a solar contractor (or two) to assess your home’s potential and provide a quote.
- Visit EnergySage to submit for solar quotes from a network of pre-screened, local solar installers
- Consumer Solar Checklist – a checklist for residential consumers considering solar energy from IREC, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.
- Solar Customer Resource Portal – from SEIA, the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Finally, the Borough of Madison cannot recommend any particular installer. However, below are listed those installers that have completed two or more residential systems in Madison.
|Installer||Systems in Madison|
|Apex Solar Power||3|
|Green House Solar||37|
|Green Power Energy||6|
|Solar Home Co.||2|
|Tesla Energy & SolarCity||12|
Data through April 2023.
Step 1 - Apply
- A completed Application Form
- Two (2) sets of completed plans signed by a licensed Engineer or Electrical contractor, including a single line diagram
- Specifications for proposed equipment
- A PVWatts calculation
- A $500 application fee
- 12 months of kWh consumption. Self generation systems must only produce up to 100% of 12 months kWh consumption
Step 2 - Engineering Review and Permitting
Step 3 - Interconnection Agreement
Key Rules and Policies
- Homeowner’s Guide to the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Photovoltaics – from the U.S. Department of Energy.
- A Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Financing – from CESA, the Clean Energy States Alliance.
Every month you use your solar system, you will save money on your electric bill. These savings will eventually offset the cost of any system. The only difference is how long that will take. Typical options available from most installers include a direct purchase, a solar loan or a solar lease. If you chose to pay cash, you will typically have the fastest payback. If you chose another finance option, it will take a bit longer but you may not have to come up with any money up front
Direct Purchase: Purchasing your solar system outright results in the quickest payback of your investment through savings on your electric bill and NJ REC’s (Renewable Energy Credits). Not to mention Federal incentives that are available which increase your savings even more. These incentives change from time to time, so discuss these with your installer. During your install, most installers will take care of all this paperwork and make sure that you are receiving every discount and incentive possible.
Solar Loan: This is just like getting a loan for your car except for one thing: you typically don’t have to make any up-front payments. Your solar loan payments can be less than your electric bill was previously, achieving savings immediately. The solar loan is probably the most popular option with our customers because they get a solar energy system and utility bill savings without having to lay out any cash at all.
Solar Lease: With solar leasing, the amount you pay for energy is locked in at a fixed cost, regardless of what happens in the REC or energy market generally. Furthermore, since you don’t own the system, the leasing company is fully responsible for the costs of maintaining and fixing your system.
How Much will my Solar System Cost
The upfront cost of a solar energy system depends on the size of your system, the complexity of the roof installation, and your choice of solar panels. A reliable estimate of the cost of a system can only come from your installer.
- Generic “per square foot” estimates from website calculators on many solar installer websites are unreliable. They are designed to produce low numbers for whatever you input so you will call the installer.
- The true cost of a system depends on many factors:
- How much power does your home typically consume
- What are you currently spending for electricity?
- What efficiency are the panels you would like?
- What are the aesthetics of the panel you like? There are color choices!
- What roofs and angles to the sun are available for installation?
- Do trees block the sun that will need to be taken down?
- What is the condition of the underlying roof? Will it support the installation?
- How will power be run? Where will inverters be placed?
- Will a backup system be installed? Where? How large?
- If you are serious about solar, the best way to get a proper solar cost estimate is to call and speak to an expert.
Solar Power and the Madison Electric Utility
Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in Madison are connected to the Madison Electric Utility. This connection provides two benefits: First, there will be times when you’ll need power from the electric system, like on a cloudy day or when there’s snow covering your solar panels. Second, at times when your PV system is generating more power than you need, the excess power flows into the electric system grid and earns you “energy credits” that will reduce future bills. This works through a process called “net metering.”
A customer with a solar system is a buyer and a supplier of electricity. You're a buyer at night – or on days with reduced sunlight - when you need electricity from the grid to run the equipment in your house. You're a supplier when your PV system is generating more power than you need and the excess flows into the electric system. Measuring the flow of electricity in two directions requires a “net meter.” Your meter has two registers. One register is measuring the electricity you are consuming from the Madison Electric Utility grid, the other measuring the electricity you are providing to the grid. You’ll receive a Madison Electric Utility bill every month based on your “net consumption” of electricity, measured in kilowatt hours (kWh).
The net consumption is the difference between the amount of electricity drawn from the grid when your PV System is not meeting your household needs and the amount you exported when the panels were producing in excess to your household needs. Keep in mind; you use your solar panels’ electricity first.
Get the Most Value from Your Credits
Residents can decide at any time whether to cash out their remaining solar energy credit or let the credit continue to accumulate and roll forward. The "cash out” will automatically occur when a credit reaches $750 and also when an account is closed. If you request a cash out, then the utility will use the actual cost the Borough paid for electricity to determine the value of the credits you have accumulated. This rate does not include system charges, capital and operating expenses. So, you will get the most value from energy credits if you use them during the year to reduce your bill.
Measuring Your Total Consumption and Solar Production
The Madison Electric Utility only records customer’s interaction with the Madison Electric grid. That is, the energy that your solar panels produce but is consumed for your own home needs is not recorded. Only your solar contractor or your system can provide solar production reports. The only way to know how much total electricity you have consumed in your house is to add up the solar production from the contractor with the electricity purchased from the Borough. An example is provided below.
A Sample Bill including Solar
This utility bill is for an actual residence (2200 sq.ft. 5 bedroom split-level). At the time of this bill, the residence has had a 7.9 kW solar PV rooftop system for 12 months. In that time the solar panels generated 9.6 MWh of electricity. (As stated above, this value is not on the bill and only available from the solar system or the contractor.) The bill is for July. (1) It shows that in that month 539 kWh was supplied by the grid to the home while the solar system supplied 494 kWh back to the grid.
Adding up 12 months in the column on the left part of the bill (2) indicates about 4.4 MWh was drawn from the grid over 12 months. Since there is a net credit of $293.31 (3) the solar system must have sent back to the grid energy equal to the 4.4 MWh plus energy equivalent to the credit, about 1.7 MWh. Therefore, over the 12 months the solar system sent about 6.1 MWh back to the grid and about 3.5 MWh (9.6 – 6.1) of solar power was used at the house itself.
In those 12 months, this residence consumed 7.9 MWh of electricity (the 4.4 and 3.5 from above). Thus the solar system has saved ~ $1370 in avoided electric bills, generated a current credit of $293.31 and earned $864 in Renewable Energy Credits from the state (approx. $90 per MWh). The net investment for the system (cost – Federal tax incentive) was about $20,700. Not counting the current credit, the return on that investment is about 11% ((1370+864)/20,700).
The 11% return calculated above is roughly equivalent to a 9-year payback. However, according to a survey by Zillow, a solar PV system raises the resale value of a home by ~ 4%. For a $500,000 home, this returns almost all the original investment when the house is sold. Thus a payback period is not necessarily the right analysis; your solar PV system adds value to your home at the same time as it generates savings for you.
Bring Clean Energy Home!
Make a Plan with Madison's Clean Energy Coaches.
This solar energy website is aimed at the most common type of solar energy system, photo-voltaic (PV) panels used to directly generate electricity. However, there are several options, alternate types of systems, and emerging technologies that one should be aware of. Battery storage systems are becoming more common in Madison. The others listed below are not often found in Madison today, but with advancing technology may become more common in the future.
We can’t provide complete descriptions of these options here, but they may be worth discussing with your installer.
Storage Batteries are becoming increasingly more popular. There are several different ways you can use a battery storage system:
- In Battery Backup Mode the batteries store power to be used during a power outage. The batteries will take over when the power goes out. They will have a limited capacity ranging from 6-20 kilowatt hours (kwh) for a typical home. This is not enough to power an entire home for very long, but the backup can be dedicated to just certain essential circuits (e.g. refrigeration). In addition, the batteries keep recharging when the sun shines.
- Off-Grid Mode. Even when the grid is operating stored power can be used with your solar output, permitting operation independent of the grid, especially if restricted just to essential circuits.
- Peak Demand Shaving is the use of stored power to offset utility demand charges. This is not yet an issue for homes in NJ, but many western states have tiered rates and anti-net metering laws. Using stored power in peak demand late afternoon and evening hours can be less expensive than using grid power at those times.
For more information see a FAQ from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Solar Water Heaters use the sun’s energy to heat household water either directly or via an intermediate heat transfer fluid that is plumbed to a heat exchanger where it heats the water. These units generate no electricity (but see Hybrid Solar units, below). Some solar water heaters are configured to heat swimming pool water.
Hybrid Solar Water Heaters are systems that combine Photovoltaic Electric Generation along with water heating are now becoming available, especially in California.
Most web-sites introducing solar energy don’t cover some technical basics that can help you understand the sizing and performance of a PV system. Let’s try to remedy that with a little basic physics!
A photovoltaic (PV) cell captures some of the energy in sunlight and converts that to direct current (DC) electricity. Each panel is a collection of cells. PV systems include electrical inverters that convert the DC power into AC power compatible with your electrical supply.
What determines the power rating of a panel or a system, and then what determines how much energy that system produces in a year?
- Keep in mind the difference between power, which is the rate at which energy is produced or delivered by a system and energy, which is equivalent to an amount of work or heat that results from some power level being delivered for some time interval.
- A solar system will be described by its DC power rating (the sum of the power of the panels) or its AC power output (somewhat less than the DC power due to the inverters not being completely efficient). The units of power will be watts or kilowatts or megawatts.
- The production of a solar system is the electrical energy delivered by the system in some time, usually taken to be a year. The units are typically kilowatt-hours (kWh) or megawatt-hours (MWh).
If the sun were straight overhead and there was no atmosphere in the way and you could capture all the power of the sun falling on a square meter area you would have 1380 watts of power (this is known as the Solar Constant). The earth’s atmosphere reduces this by ~20% and we thus collect ~ 1100 watts on our one square meter at the earth’s surface.
There are several technologies for PV panels. They go by names such as poly-crystalline, mono-crystalline and thin film and have different efficiencies and costs. The efficiencies typically range between 15% and 23% with monocrystalline silicon at the top of that range. A 23% efficient panel of 1 square meter would thus produce about 250 watts of power if the sun was directly overhead on a clear and cloudless day. This is how the power rating of a panel is calculated. A typical panel today is 1.66 square meters and is rated at 1.66 x 250 ~ 415 watts
If the earth didn’t turn and the sun stayed directly overhead for a year (8760 hours), the 1 square meter panel would produce 2,190,000 watt-hours (8760 x 250) or 2.19 MWh of energy.
- The earth turns and the sun is rarely (if ever) directly overhead.
- There are plenty of cloudy and rainy days, and often some tree shading
- The mounting of a panel will be determined by the structure of the roof.
To accurately estimate the annual production from our 1 sq meter, 250 watt panel in New Jersey all these factors need to be considered. This is usually done with software your installer has. However, if we seek a rough estimate for an average system in New Jersey, the Bureau of Public Utilities uses a factor of 1200 instead of the 8760 we used previously. With this factor our 1 sq. meter 250 watt panel will produce 0.3 MWh of energy in a year.
Finally there typically is a 10-15% reduction due to the efficiency of the DC-to-AC inverters.
Madison has joined the US Department of Energy’s SolSmart program to help residents install and access solar energy. Our goal in SolSmart is to make it faster, easier, and more affordable for Madisonians to install solar energy systems.