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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

Plenty of Sunshine Headed Our Way: Minnesotans Go Solar

Feb 28, 2020 12:00AM ● By Candi Broeffle

Climate change is a global problem, but it’s also a Minnesota problem. It’s a trend that will lead to disruptive extreme weather events, devastating health impacts and the transformation of our state’s most distinctive biomes. In fact, in the Twin Cities, annual average temperatures are increasing faster than the global average. Some climate models predict that our local summer high temperatures in 2050 “could be 5.3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they were in 2000,” according to aJuly 2019 analysis by reporters at Vox.

Reducing our personal contributions to the greenhouse effect is important for so many reasons. The big fix to dangerous levels of carbon dioxide emissions won’t come from a single person; but a healthy sense of personal agency is necessary to fulfill our full potential as human beings, and asserting greater control over our individual dependency on fossil fuels nurtures our agency. One of the most empowering acts a person determined to fight against climate change can take is to explore renewable energy options for their home’s power system, and for a growing percentage of Minnesotans, that journey leads them to home solar power.

Minnesota may have a reputation for frigid temperatures, but we have plenty of sunshine to fuel solar panels which collect light even on cloudy days. Panels can be installed on a home’s roof, but if tree shade is an issue, they can also collect light from a ground-based solar array. It’s an affordable choice. The cost of solar has fallen more than 20 percent over the past five years, according to Energy Sage, a green energy marketplace. Some local governments and utilities offer rebates and incentives for homeowners installing a new system, and everyone can claim the 2020 federal solar tax credit, known as the ITC, to reduce their system’s cost by 26 percent. 

Luke Davis came to the conclusion that solar energy could be right for his family’s home in Apple Valley. “I wanted to do something to lower our carbon footprint, and it’s really cool technology,” shares Davis.

 A home solar system is still part of the conventional power grid—but it makes a carbon-free contribution to it. Energy from the panels is measured and transmitted to the local utility. At the end of the month, the utility compares the home’s consumption of energy to the amount it contributed to the grid. This could mean a substantially lower power bill, no bill at all or even cutting a check to the household for the “work” its solar panels did for the utility.

At the Davis home, their electricity bills went from $1200 per year to zero. “I also watch my energy usage on the smartphone app provided by my installer, and we make smarter choices in our house. We can see how much energy we’ve generated and how much we’ve used,” Davis explains.

There’s no need to be intimidated by the process which may seem complex. Solar installation companies with experience are capable of handling every step in-house. A good installer will offer a free site visit to evaluate a home’s potential. If solar makes sense, the company will custom design a system. If the customer needs financing for the project, there are installers that provide it. Most highly regarded companies use their own electricians rather than subcontracting out the work. After a system is installed, the right solar provider will take care of the daunting paperwork involved in identifying and claiming the relevant tax credits.

How much of a real-world impact will a system deliver? After the first year in operation, the average sized system in the U.S. will yield 7.94 megawatts of power, preventing the release of six metric tons of carbon dioxide—more than the amount emitted by the average passenger vehicle. Over the 40 to 50 year lifetime of a system, the environmental impact is substantial.

Even homeowners who need to move after installation aren’t likely to regret their decision. Homes with solar have been found to spend up to half as much time on the market compared to non-solar homes, according to a Zillow analysis. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab, solar panels increase a home’s resale value.

Best of all, taking action has a positive influence on others. Choosing renewable energy seems to set off a sustainability domino effect. A study in Marketing Science found that a major predictor of whether people will install solar panels is whether their close-by neighbors have done so. In Apple Valley, the solar panels at the Davis house garner a lot of attention in the neighborhood. Davis says he’s asked about them at least 10 times a month. “I have people drive up in Teslas and want to know how they can be more self-sufficient. I love telling people about it.” It turns out positive change can be contagious.

Michael Allen is the CEO and co-founder of All Energy Solar, headquartered in St. Paul and serving customers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts. All Energy Solar provides a full-service solar energy integration experience for residential, commercial, agricultural and government customers looking to make the transition to solar energy. The company provides accurate return-on-investment forecasting, direct financing and hands-on help navigating the incentive and rebate process. With industry-leading certifications and full electrical and building licenses, All Energy Solar installs quality solar power systems at competitive prices and monitors and maintains the systems after installation. To learn more, visit