Why solar for small business? Benefits of installing solar panels include:

  • reduced energy costs;
  • good press; and
  • providing a model for other small businesses considering solar.

The initial investment depends on whether you purchase or lease the solar panels. The cost of purchasing and installing solar panels for commercial use varies greatly depending on the size of the system, usually in the range of $3-$6 per watt (for reference, it takes about 4,000 watts to provide for the average-sized home). Of course, the cost per watt goes down as you install more solar panels and the income from excess electricity generation goes up.

To view solar purchase rates near you, visit Go Solar California.

It typically is a matter of days to complete the actual installation process. However, the permit process can take several weeks or months. Most solar companies are willing to assist with obtaining permits since they have both the expertise and incentive to get permits.

The benefits of purchasing include:

  • increased control over the type of solar installation;
  • direct tax incentives (on average, incentives cover 30% of the installation cost);
  • avoiding long contracts forced by solar leasing companies;
  • the possibility of receiving tax write-offs for installing energy-saving equipment;
  • the potential of eliminating your utility bill altogether and selling excess energy back to the grid; and
  • added flexibility when selling property, as you are not locked into a lease.

On the other hand, leasing offers the better deal if you prefer:

  • a zero money down initial investment (compared to the 10-15 years solar panels usually take to recoup the full purchase cost by which time your solar technology may be obsolete);
  • the cost of maintenance and installation to be included in the lease; and
  • the ease of not dealing directly with the power company or other contractors.

If you lease your business space and want to go solar, you’ll need to notify your landlord. The solar panel system impacts the building’s overall utility system and title, as the solar lien is recorded against the owner.

Rebates are available through the California Solar Initiative. You (or your client) are able to apply for these rebates if:

  • you buy electricity from:
    • Pacific Gas and Electric;
    • Southern California Edison;
    • San Diego Gas & Electric; or
    • some publicly owned utilities (including the City of Riverside Public Utilities, which is going to begin accepting applications to join the rebate program on July 1, 2014, and covers up to 50% of the cost of installation); and
    • you have access to unobstructed sunlight from 11AM to sunset, year-round.

If you are unable to install solar panels due to lack of available space or inadequate access to sunlight, you may be able to participate in a new statewide program as soon as Fall 2014.

The Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program, expected to go into effect fall 2014, allows residential and business utility customers to access offsite solar panels for their own electricity needs. Customers are still going to have to pay a to-be-determined renewable generation rate, but they’ll also receive renewable energy credits for using the program.