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How much is your home worth with solar?

Going solar is an expensive undertaking, so homeowners are often eager to know whether solar adds value to their homes and if they can recoup some of the investment when they sell their homes. The California Energy Commission released an online tool this week called Solar Advantage Value Estimator (SAVE) to help figure out these complicated details.

SAVE targets real estate brokers and appraisers, but the calculator has a simple setup that consumers can easily manage, too. Users enter information such as address, solar-system size, when the installation took place and whether the user owns or leases. The calculator makes use of weather data, local utility rates and data from two solar incentive programs run by the commission to calculate the energy savings.

It’s interesting to note that SAVE doesn’t pull data from California Solar Initiative, which is the biggest solar incentive program in the state, and it is overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission. So users will have to input some data manually, and this could lead to some fancy math to manipulate the results. The energy commission is working with the utilities commission on using the CSI data, said energy commission spokeswoman Amy Morgan.

The calculator spits out numbers such as how much users can save in energy costs (in low-, medium- and high-energy-use scenarios) over the remaining lifetime of the system. Each system generally lasts 20–25 years. You also get an annual energy-cost-saving figure for the current year. The idea with that is to use energy-saving figures to show a prospective home buyer how much she can save over time and therefore how much more she should pay for the home.

SAVE is a good starting point for consumers or real estate brokers who need some baseline numbers to work with. A solar-energy system is as pricey as a new car, and how much value that adds to a new or existing home is debatable and no doubt varies greatly depending on many factors, such as the home’s location and the quality of the equipment, installation and maintenance.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) also recently ran an analysis to quantify what premiums solar can bring to sales values of new and existing homes in California, the largest solar market in the country. The report showed that solar homes in California had been sold for a premium at between $3.90 per watt to $6.40 per watt. That spread amounted to an average

of a $17,000 premium for a fairly new (roughly two years old) 3.1 KW system, which is the average system size in the data, the report said. The premium began to decrease as systems aged.

The information you get from the energy commission’s new online calculator is simplistic and  may not be as useful as the LBNL study, however. Homeowners who are willing to spend the money on solar, whether owning or leasing the equipment, probably already have received some energy-saving estimates from their installer or have done their own calculations before investing in a system.

The tool could be more useful to people who bought new homes that have already come with solar. Builders sometimes bundle solar into the overall home price, and the Berkeley Lab report noted that builders might be willing to charge less for adding solar in order to speed up sales. So a buyer isn’t likely to know the price of their rooftop solar equipment. A new homeowner probably doesn’t receive a breakdown from her builders of how much energy savings she could get over time.

The calculator is not meant to help consumers who want to figure out the cost and benefits of installing solar. For that the energy commission has another online calculator called Clean Power Estimator.

Photos courtesy of Solmentum, GigaOM

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