The majority of the people that you talk to are clueless about solar power. While it’s supposed to be the most readily accessible alternative energy to tap into, there are still so many questions that are left unanswered… unless you ask. Most homeowners love the idea of installing solar power on top of their houses. The only thing is, how much does it take to get started? How long does it take to recoup your money? What are the pitfalls? What are the advantages? What sort of companies are even dealing with solar power in Buffalo? And how big should your roof be? Or your house for that matter? To answer some of these questions, we have asked South Buffalo residents Tyler and Alicia Uebelhoer (lead image), who opened Buffalo Solar Solutions in the Summer of 2015.
“In the Summer of 2016, we installed our first 25 solar energy systems, ranging from pole mounts to pergolas to rooftop solar arrays,” said Alicia Uebelhoer. “That allowed us to build a team that shares our passion for customer service and the environment. We train our employees to be educators, not salespeople.”
Recently, the couple moved their solar business out of their house and into a stand alone building (1212 Abbott Road).
The couple got their start by investing their life savings into the operation. Today they are on a growth trajectory. Let’s hear what Tyler and Alicia have to say:
How did you first get involved in the business?
We first got into the business based off of pure interest for renewable energy (mainly solar). Tyler got a job starting off as a solar installer to learn the overall process of solar installations and then then we slowly moved into doing it for ourselves.
“We both have a strong passion for helping others and the environment, and both felt this would be a great direction to head into,” says Alicia Uebelhoer.
Who is your ideal customer?
Our ideal customer would be someone whom has a general interest in solar panels and what it could do to benefit their family and the environment. It makes the process easy when they allow us to educate them in a fashion where it just makes sense to switch to solar. Our customers really understand what they are getting and why they are getting it! We make sure of it.
The great financial benefits for going solar are:
- Added property value by $4.00 per watt
- Tax exempt for 15 years in NYS
- Extended roof life by 10 years
- Home with solar sell 20% faster
How do you keep up with the technological advancements in the industry?
When conducting oneself in a business environment technology is always changing. Our company only wants to use what technology makes sense for our customers. We watch the market very closely and if something comes out that seems like a better option we will certainly entertain that, and test it before we feel confident to sell that product to our consumers.
What is the first step for someone considering solar panels?
The first step would be to show some interest in it and give us a call. We would then ask for a copy of their electric bill so we can size a system based off of their family’s electrical usage.
Are there tax breaks for solar customers?
There are several incentives and solar tax credits associated with getting solar. NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority)* is one of those incentives which is currently at .40 cents a watt. That means if you have a 10,000-watt system (10KW) installed the customer would receive $4,000 right off their bill — NYSERDA would give it to us as the installers and the customer would never see that cost! Then there is a Federal tax credit at 30 percent of the system cost and 25 percent or capped at $5,000 through the State of New York. Once the NYSERDA is given and those tax credits are recouped, it pays for around 65 percent of the system. (Note: Customer must talk with a tax professional to make sure those tax credits can be recouped.)
Will you be working with any Solar City products?
We always get asked the same question, “Hey, are you associated with that new company in Riverbend (Solar City).” The answer is no, we are a local family run business that has nothing to do with Solar City and feel like we have better customer service and are more personable than them. They are a very large corporation and do things different than us. Would we buy some of their products if it made sense for our customers to benefit from it? Yes! We certainly don’t discriminate against what works.
Is Buffalo’s climate well suited for solar panels?
Buffalo’s climate is awesome for solar. Just because it snows a lot in winter and is very gray doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from solar panels. We have what’s called net metering in New York State. This allows us to capture a lot more energy than we need in the summer months (longer days and the sun being a lot higher in the sky) and bank that into the utility to use it up during the snowy winter months here in WNY.
How do the panels handle winter conditions?
The great news is the solar panels we use are warrantied for 25 years – they are made to hold up to these snowy climates, even when covered with snow for months on end!
We also do a sight assessment of the decking thickness, rafter sizes and spacing and send that to our engineers who take into account the windiest, snowiest day in winter and let us know if the roof is adequate to support the weight or if the roof needs to be supported, and we will do that as well if needed.
We then receive a structural engineering stamp which gives us the approval to move forward with the installation.
Can customers sell excess energy back to the grid?
Selling extra energy back to the grid when having produced too much only happens in a form of a net metered credit which is on your bill. The whole idea in NYS is to size a system based on your electrical needs (usage history). We take your electric bill, add up all your kilowatt hours for each month for the year, and create your system based on your yearly electric usage. We need to do our job right and size your system correctly so you can have a net zero bill for the entire year, including winter!
Can customers store the energy in their houses?
A customer can store energy at their home. However, there are some roadblocks when considering that. 1. They have to ask themselves if they’re looking to get completely off the grid. If so, are they prepared to be extremely mindful about what they are running and would they consider a generator if they run out of storage in the winter? 2. Are they willing to replace those batteries every so often to keep them up to date? (This can be extremely expensive.) If someone wanted to be tied to grid and still store power that is certainly an option as well.
How long does it take to recoup the original investment?
A solar investment typically takes between seven to 10 years to recoup its original balance. Look at it like this … If you decided not to go solar right now and 10 years went by you would have already paid for a solar system through your electric bill!! We are giving money to the utility company every single month and getting absolutely nothing in return, EVER! With solar all you are doing is taking your electric bill, swapping it out with a solar payment that eventually ends. This almost always is the same price as what you pay for electric now anyway. A very appealing approach we have is a $0 down financing options to get the solar installed at no upfront cost to our customers. It’s a very comforting approach for our customers.
Why don’t we see solar panels on more houses in Buffalo?
Solar is an up-and-coming thing in the Buffalo area. There are a lot of unanswered questions people have about solar and they are just not educated enough to know it’s a good financial decision as well as doing their part for the environment. Believe it or not we are very behind with solar installs in WNY compared to other parts of the county including the Con Edison area of NYS.
What’s your best advice for someone thinking about going solar?
In our company’s efforts to be educators in the community about solar energy we strongly suggest for anyone who is considering solar to do research and narrow down what they are looking for in a company first. Second thing would be to ask questions … a lot of questions. Get multiple proposals because this gives you an idea of which is the right company for you. This might not always be a priced-based decision and a lot of people will pay for quality over price.
*NYSERDA – The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, established in 1975, is a public benefit corporation, located in Albany, New York, with regional offices in New York City, Buffalo, and West Valley. NYSERDA offers information and analysis, programs, technical expertise, and funding aimed at helping New Yorkers increase energy efficiency, save money, use renewable energy, and reduce their reliance on fossil fuel.
The Buffalo Solar Solutions team now includes solar technician Kyle Wojewoda, who also assists the business owners with day-to-day operations; electrician Clay Kummer and Joe Ferraro, two hardworking installers who have earned the nickname “The Dream Team;” and master electrician Jim Emser. Rounding out the team are chief solar educator James Wilkins, and office assistants and community educators Jacob and Anthony. And finally, there’s Solar the Husky, the Uebelhoer’s high-energy pup who serves as company mascot and often appears in Buffalo Solar Solution’s marketing efforts.
For more information on Buffalo Solar Solutions and the path to saving with solar panels, please visit www.buffalosolarsolutions.com or follow the company on Facebook for frequent updates.
Thanks to Joe Kirchmyer for the lead and background info