Corrales residents are so primed to get solar electric panels installed for their homes that Corrales Solar has a hard time keeping up with demand. Founder Tom Woodard said he’s installing up to 16 photovoltaic systems a year now, not just in Corrales but in the East Mountains and Santa Fe as well.
“The cost of solar panels has come down dramatically since I started in 2009,” the solar electric specialist said. “The cost of each panel is less and you now need fewer panels to get the same output.” Woodard thinks much of the increased demand comes from homeowners being shut in due to the pandemic. “I’m super-busy now. Last year, I thought business would slow down a little because of the pandemic, but it never really did.
“People seem to hang around their house and decide ‘You know, we really need to get this done.’ So last year, it was busy, and this year it’s crazy busy. “And what I’m finding in general is that every time I go to the supply house, I’m seeing another solar company I’ve never heard of. So now there are many, many, many of them around. And that’s okay, I can’t get to every roof in town.”
On the other hand, Woodard said some of the newer entrants in the solar energy market have already departed, especially those that proposed lease arrangements with homeowners. “I’m still very much anti-lease, solar lease. I think it’s a really foolish thing for a homeowners to do, but that’s my opinion. Sales people will tell you whatever they need to tell you.”
He said most of his installations are for panels connected to Public Service Company of New Mexico’s electric distribution grid. “It’s mostly grid-tied. I’ve had a few people ask about stand-alone systems, but I usually say I don’t do that. “I did a couple of stand-alones when I was starting out, but it was such a god-awful experience that I decided I really didn’t need to do that anymore. Then there’s what they call a hybrid, which is grid-tied with battery back-up. I did one of those a while ago, and it was a pain in the ass.
“But the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will, is that the electricity inverter companies and the battery companies are now all talking to each other. They’re developing some pretty plug-and-play approaches to storage which is really nice because three or four years ago, it was very complicated and a whole lot of trouble. “Now it’s far simpler, although it’s still not inexpensive.”
Homeowners and businesses that installed grid-tied photovoltaic systems years ago were delighted that PNM paid them monthly for the electricity that their panels generated. But that perk for early-adopters is running out. “There is still an incentive, but it’s very small. For a small system, which would be 10 kilowatt-hour and under, which is almost any residential situation, you will get a quarter of a penny for a kilowatt-hour.”
In contrast, Corrales Comment has been paid 13 cents a kilowatt-hour since its 1.8 Kw PV system was installed in 2009. Monthly checks from PNM range from $20 to more than $30. Back then, at least 37 solar electric arrays here, mostly homes, were now generating power. Now there are hundreds. (See the Corrales Comment series on solar electric systems starting Vol.XXV, No.14, September 9, 2009 through November 11, 2009, “Corrales Generates Electricity.”)
While renewable energy credit incentives from PNM have all but evaporated, motivation now is the huge drop in the cost of solar electric panels. “Panels are getting more powerful. In addition to getting more powerful, they’re getting less expensive. “When I put mine in in 2008, the panels were roughly $700 a piece and I needed 24 of them. Now, I can buy for under $300 —now, that’s at wholesale— I can buy a 370-watt panel, which is well over twice as powerful for less than half as much money.” Woodard said most of the PV panels he has been installing lately are produced in Asia, primarily Korea, China and India, and assembled in southeastern United States.