Solar photovoltaic ("PV") panels are made up of solar cells that convert light energy directly into DC electricity. The word "photovoltaic" comes from the word "photo," meaning light, and "volt," from Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), a pioneer in the study of electricity. So "photovoltaic" literally means "light-electricity".
"On-grid" solar PV systems are connected to the electric grid, allowing you to use utility power at night or when the sun isn't shining. When your solar panels generate more electricity than you use, this electricity can flow back onto the grid if your utility has an active net-metering program. This allows your electric meter to spin backwards for a credit. NorthWestern Energy electric customers can get more information about net metering by contacting the utility directly. If you buy your electricity from an electric cooperative or from Montana-Dakota Utilities, contact your energy provider for information about their net-metering policy.
"Off-grid," or stand-alone, solar PV systems are not connected to the electric grid, and typically rely on batteries to store the power generated by the solar system.
What size system do I need?
Most residential PV systems in Montana are between 1 and 5 kW in size. The more you conserve energy in your home, the smaller the renewable energy system you need, and the lower the cost. So before investing in a renewable energy system, focus on conservation! Check out our conservation resources.
How much will it cost?
Typical residential PV system costs range from $10,000 to $20,000, including installation. However, thanks to incentives and tax credits, you may be able to reduce the cost of your system by as much as 50%.
What incentives and tax credits are available?
Federal Tax Credits are available to cover 30% of the cost of a renewable energy system, with no maximum amount. Federal tax credits will remain at 30% through 2019, after which they will slowly decrease and eventually expire on December 31, 2021. For more information, click here.
Montana Tax Credits of $500 per taxpayer, up to $1,000 per household, are also available. For more information, click here.
Low-Interest Loans are available from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality through the Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program. For more information, click here.
Where can I find more information?
- Montana Green Power's Solar Power Information
- US Department of Energy, Homeowner's Guide to Going Solar
- Montana State University Extension E3A Solar Electricity Fact Sheets
Photo credit (this page): Lincoln Electric Co-op