Going Solar Despite Rural Difficulties: Case Study

Sarah and David haalways been interested in going solar Sarah says:  I have always been interested in renewable energy. I had the conviction to go solar over 20 years ago, but I didn’t own a home at that time and moved around a lot without the financial resources to invest in solar installation.”  So, when they were finally ready to go solar, they gave Third Sun a call.  

Motivation for Going Solar  

Once my husband and I realized that we were “settling down” and had enough saved to invest in home improvement, we started talking seriously about installing solar panels. When we realized that the federal incentives for home renewable energy systems were likely to be reduced, we decided to go for it before the incentives changed. My hope is that incentives from the state will increase if more people purchase from locally owned solar companies, and that the state incentives will eventually compensate for lower federal incentives. “  

We certainly hope for the same things that Sarah does. State and local solar incentives can serve a role in making solar accessible for more people, make up for the decreasing federal incentives, support local jobsWith their installation, they’re on the right track to reducing their carbon footprint and helping the climate. 

What did they learn when shopping for solar?   

Something Sarah and David learned when they started shopping for solar? That it is easier now than it was 20 years ago to get a full turnkey solar installation. 

We couldn’t agree more. We’ve been in the business for 20 years and have seen the industry grow and change. Solar is in a much different place than it was just 20 years ago. More solar on more roofs everywhere is something we’re excited to see. But, as more solar installation companies pop up we encourage anyone shopping for solar to research and choose a reputable and long-standing solar partner. It’s more important now than ever!

Solar Growth Over the Years:

  • According to a recent Pew Research study,just 6% of U.S. homeowners say they have already installed solar panels at home. Another 46% say they have given serious thought to adding solar panels at their home in the past year.” 
  • According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), as of 2019, the United States has 2 million solar installations- on homes, business, industrial buildings, and utility-scale solar installations.  This reflects major growth in the solar sector in the U.S., which just 3 years ago reached 1 million solar installations. Additionally, the cumulative operating solar PV capacity is about 75 times more than what was installed at the end of 2008 (SEIA).   

What did they like most about their solar purchase?  

“We were able to work with Third Sun Solar to develop a customized solution for solar energy at our home that is simple to use. The team of people that installed the system are fellow community members that cared about doing the job right, and helped troubleshoot challenges related to the rural location.” 

What Obstacles were there Installing Solar in a Rural Location?  

Sarah and David’s solar project came with a few complications due to their site location. 

  • Their home is in the woods and the home is shaded by trees  
  • The installation site chosen was a barn in full sun, about 750 ft away from the hom 
  • There is a small stream separating the home from the desired solar location 

After pulling in some additional teammates like Project Management for input, it was determined that the long trenching distance and stream could be easily managed. Third Sun would be able to install the proposed solar system on the roof of the barn to power the shaded home.  

Despite the shade and difficult trenching situation, Sarah and David followed through with installing solar. They’re now the proud owners of a 12 kW solar array that will offset 90% of their annual electric usage.  

The Best Part  

Third Sun Solar worked with Sarah and David in 2019 to create a custom solar system that will generate efficient renewable energy and power their home for years to come.  

Sarah Says: The best part about having solar is that it reduces reliance on fossil fuels, thereby reducing the environmental impact of energy systems, and it supports jobs in the region that promote better quality of life for our community. 

We were so glad to work with Sarah and David, who are committed to environment and community. Whether your property is residential, commercial, or agricultural, we want to help you to reduce your impact on the environment. Request a free quote to go solar like Sarah and David. 

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Solar Momentum: Jaber Wahel, Shaker Heights Ohio

Jaber Wahel, who lives in Shaker Heights Ohio, began thinking about going solar in 2012.  2 years later, in 2014, he had Third Sun Solar install a 5.4 kilowatt solar array on the roof of his home. A flat roof on the south facing rear of his home is where the 20-panel array is positioned. Solar would offset 46% of his households annual electricity use. 

His motivation for going solar?  It was environmental mostly, but as with many things, the investment needed to make economic sense too. Most of the savings a homeowner sees when they go solar comes from the savings in electricity bills over that time, but a big portion for Jaber also came from the 30% Federal Tax Credit that he claimed in 2014. 

The Journey  

Jaber often travels to California for work. Over time, he saw more and more homes in the Golden State with solar, which indicated to him that a movement was buildingThis is what first sparked his interest in the solar movement.  

His first step when shopping for solar, like many homeowners just beginning their solar journey, was to learn.  

  • Solar in Cleveland? Jaber was first interested in how the climate effects solar production. Sure, solar was booming in California, but does solar make sense in Ohio? Working with Third Sun, he found out that solar, even in an area like Cleveland Ohio, despite getting far less sun time than places like California, still gets enough to make solar PV installation practical.  
  • Roof Slope: Unlike most of our residential customers, Jaber’s panels sit on a flat roof surface on the southern side of his home. He has the most uninterrupted, southern facing roof space on this roof  surface. In Ohio, anywhere between a 4/12 and a 7/12 roof pitch is just fine for solar. These angles maximize the sunlight captured in both the summertime and in the winter. Third Sun uses ballasted racking which angle the panels at a 10-degree tilt to get the desired pitch on a flat roof. Though panel efficiency does change a little depending on the tilt of your roof, the difference is minimal.  
  • Net Metering: Something else Jaber was surprised to learn was that he didn’t need solar batteries to go solar. He learned that if your home is connected to the grid, a solar system work seamlessly with your current electricity supplier to ensure that you have powerWhen it’s nighttime or snowy, the energy you use comes from the grid. When the sun is shining and you’re using power, that energy is coming from your panels. When the sun is shining and you aren’t using power, that extra energy is exported to the grid to power your neighbors homes and you’re credited for the energy you’ve produced. This is done through net metering (link).  

The Plunge  

When Jaber started looking into solar in 2012, he was getting quotes in the $50-60,000 range for his residence. Since then the prices dropped significantly, and paired with federal incentives, solar made financial sense.  

Reaping the Benefits  

The most surprising part of Jaber’s process was how fast the installation took – in his case it was just 1 day! For Third Sun, the typical residential solar installations last between 1-4 days. The electric company came out within the next couple of days to switch out his meter for one that understands how to work with the solar system. After that he turned on his system and started producing his own electricity!  

His favorite part about his solar array is that the system is totally hands off. He says: “You just set it and forget it – it’s plug and play–  you don’t think about it ever.” What has been the best part of having a solar powered home so far? According to Jaber, the best part is that it works!  He really is able to harness the sun to produce his own electricity.  

Solar in Shaker Heights 

When he walks around, Jaber says that he’s noticed maybe 10-15 houses in his community that have solar, though he doesn’t personally know anyone who also has an arrayThe City’s current Mayor has electric car and solar on his house. He does know a lot of community members who have thought about it  

Jaber believes that there is a lot of momentum in the solar movement: it’s a movement that is gaining speed. When asked what he thinks is stopping people from going solar he says: people think it’s complicated – for me it was such an easy thing.” He says that the hardest thing was filling the loan application, which Third Sun was there to help him with.  

He thinks the same is true of electric cars. While people are hesitant now, there is still a movement building. Once people overcome the anxiety, see that it’s a technology that works, they’ll be more willing to adopt it.  

According to Jaber, if you get out of Ohio and see how much it’s going up in other places– it makes the choice to go solar easy.  

The Solar Champion  

Jaber says– If you have a customer who is interested and hesitant give me a call – I would be happy to talk with anyone about it. 

Take Jaber up on his offer by reaching out. Or, we will connect you with someone else in your neck of the woods. We always welcome questions from folks who are just getting started on their solar journey.  Just give us a call! 

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Overcoming Solar Obstacles: Ray Stewart, Amherst, Ohio

Ray Stewart was the first resident in the City of Amherst to install solar after the city operated municipal utility installed bidirectional meters citywide.

What’s the story?

4 years ago, when the residents of Lorain County Ohio got together to organize a bulk purchasing deal for residential solar installations, Ray Stewart got excited. He was interested in getting solar for his home in Amherst, Ohio and attended the community meetings to get up to speed. A core group of individuals from the group evaluated and vetted different solar installers for the bulk purchasing program and ultimately chose Third Sun Solar.

Through the group buy program, Third Sun Solar Consultant, David Zelasko consulted with Ray. David asked Ray about his motivations for going solar, his goals and his available roof space for the solar array.  As David was going through routine processes, calling around to make sure solar was feasible for Ray and the proper permitting could be acquired, he discovered that the City of Amherst was not set up for solar. At that time the city was not allowing interconnection of solar PV systems into municipal power grid, which also means no net metering.

Some History

Because municipal utilities (and rural co-ops) are not regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, they are not required to offer net metering or allow interconnection for solar, though  many of them do. All the municipal utilities have their unique rules, so it’s important to have an installer like Third Sun who has experience with these utilities and takes the time to do their due diligence. The City of Amherst at the time operated a municipal utility that did not offer net metering. Oberlin, Cleveland Public Power and the City of Westerville are examples of municipalities who own the electric utility, do offer net metering, and where Third Sun has installed solar.

Next Steps

Ray lobbied his Mayor and Councilman, who were supportive of residential solar. Solar was something that the city knew they needed to prepare for. The Mayor responded that it would be necessary to update software and develop capacity in order to manage the change.

In 2019 the cities utilities department swapped all meters in their territory with bidirectional meters, meters that interact with residential solar systems and allow for net-metering.

Ray was able to install solar in June of 2019 and has been reaping the benefits of solar power ever since.

Going Solar

Since the instillation, Ray’s electric charges went down and have stayed down. He enjoys looking up at his roof and seeing the solar panels doing their work up there. He occasionally logs into his monitoring app to check on the data. Ray was lucky to have caught the 30% federal tax credit in it’s final year and is excited to get the tax credit when he files this year. (the federal tax credit has stepped down to 26% in 2020 – read more about the federal tax credit for solar here).

Motivation and Legacy

When asked what motivated him to get a solar system for his home, he says his motivation is to lower his carbon footprint.

Ray is a gardener, a composter, a recycler and a hybrid vehicle owner. When solar became possible for him, it was the natural choice. Ray is aligned with Third Sun Solar in his mission; he feels that, in the face of climate change anything we can each do to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and lower our carbon footprint is important.

As a former science teacher, Ray had his students read Aldo Leapold’s 1949 essay collection A Sand County Almanac. The essays convey the concept of “land ethic” and the ethical relationship that exists between people and the land where they live.

The signature line in his email reads:

“We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

― Aldo Leopold

Community members within the City of Amherst now each have the opportunity to lower their own carbon footprint. A case could be made that through Ray’s efforts, the community in which he lives will be treated with a little more love and respect as the community members can now make the choice to power their homes and lives with clean, healthy, renewable energy.


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