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Solar Insight for the Valley

Solar—is it right for you? Check out our new Tennessee Valley Solar Calculator, which uses regional information to calculate rates, your real investment, system performance, payback period and more to help you decide the best way you can harness the power of the sun.

JANUARY 4, 2018—Mitesh Patel is a man with a mission. A program manager who works with TVA’s Business Development & Renewables group, he is out to simplify the world of solar for Tennessee Valley consumers who might be considering putting a panel or two (or 10 or 20) on their rooftops.

“Renewable energy has a bright future, and we want to make sure it [solar] is available to everyone who wants to use it,” says Patel. “That’s why TVA has committed about $8 billion over the next 20 years to support renewable energy in the Valley.”

According to Patel, there are a lot of misconceptions about solar power, and he wants to make sure the public has the truth—about installation costs, production rates, depreciation, payback periods, when and where solar works, how to get the most from your system and more.

Patel knows that until now, Valley consumers who wanted solar had to grasp for information from disparate sources, and cobble together a guesstimate at best: “The average Joe had to rely on media or generic internet calculators that don’t really tell you what is going to happen at your house in the Tennessee Valley.”

Calculating the Truth

Many online solar calculators rely on national averages, which are heavily influenced by western U.S. data, which doesn’t represent what happens in the Tennessee Valley, Patel says. “Out west, you get more sunshine and solar panels produce more energy than in the Valley. In addition, electricity rates are typically much higher out west than what Valley residents and businesses experience. These and several other factors have significant impacts on the payback of a solar system in the Valley compared to other areas of the U.S,” he explains.

“We don’t want people to get sticker shock when they can’t achieve the results they heard on the radio. Because of the big difference, we wanted to give folks an apples-to-apples comparison so they can determine if solar is right for their lifestyles.”

Seeing an opportunity, Patel—through extensive collaboration with internal and external business partners—led the development of a customized calculator, one that would draw on the Valley-specific performance data gleaned through thousands of solar systems throughout the region.

The calculator considers a local solar capacity factor and numerous other Valley-based variables in order to determine the size and performance of the solar system. It also uses electricity rate data specific to local power companies in the region, where it is available, in calculating costs and payback periods.

Hence, the resulting Tennessee Valley Solar Calculator is tailored not only to the Tennessee Valley, but to YOUR spot in the Tennessee Valley.

Simply choose your local power company, type in the average cost of your electric bill, modify the inputs within the “advanced options” if desired—and the calculator will generate the size of the system you need, how many solar panels you’ll have to buy, the cost of those panels and how many years it will take to pay off your investment both with and without participation in TVA’s  Green Power Providers program.

Smarter Solar Consumers

“With this tool, and together with our local power companies, we can simplify information so consumers can make an educated decision about solar energy and select options that best meet their budget and needs,” says Laura Duncan, senior program manager of Business Development and Renewables. 

Becky Williamson is a strategic marketing coordinator for Memphis Light, Gas & Water, collaborated on the Tennessee Valley Solar Calculator project. “I think it’s a good place to start for those who don’t have any idea how much investment or space it takes,” she says. “We are giving them a balanced and realistic perspective. We don’t want misinformed people to be surprised later on.”

Along with the calculator itself comes a very detailed solar FAQ, designed to provide as much education as analysis. Created with the end user in mind it answers common questions such as: when you’re generating most, what happens when it’s cloudy, what happens if you go “behind the meter,” how long a system lasts, what type of warranty is provided with a system and what solar rebates and incentives are available.

The solar calculator also provides additional resources and links to help you better understand your solar options and to find certified solar installers in your area.

“Ultimately, solar energy is complicated, and we want you to have all the facts so you can make the best investment possible,” Patel says. “Work with us and with your local power company, and you have somewhere to go with questions. You have somewhere to go to help you solve problems.”

The bottom line when it comes to solar? “We will support you!”

Rooftop Solar