Learn About Solar Electricity

Solar electric systems, also known as photovoltaics or PV, convert sunlight into electrical energy through an array of solar panels that connect to a building's electrical system or directly to the electrical grid. Solar electricity may be a cost effective way for homeowners and businesses to reduce their energy costs while reducing their environmental impact. A brief review of the policies and incentives available to Massachusetts solar electric system owners is provided below along with a review of solar electric technology.

Massachusetts is a national leader in solar energy and has some of the most ambitious solar goals in the country. Since 2007, the number of solar installers in Massachusetts has grown from 50 to more than 270, and there are currently more than 36,000 solar systems installed in the Commonwealth. For more information on solar technology and how to get started installing a system, please see the MassCEC’s Residential Guide to Solar Electricity and review the Finding a Solar Electric Installer page. For more information on solar financing models, please see the Clean Energy States Alliance Homeowner's Guide to Solar Financing. If you live in a condo or multi-family home, you may also find the Department of Energy Resources'  Solar Guide for Condominium Owners and Associations helpful. 

Solar Electric Equipment

Typical solar electric systems include several components wired together and connected to a building's electricity distribution network. These components can include:

  • Solar Panels are the basic building block of any solar electric system. Each panel is made up of a series of individual solar cells. These cells convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. The more intense the sunlight striking the cell, the greater the amount of electricity produced.
  • Solar electric Arrays are made up of a series of solar panels. A solar electric system can be a single array or can have multiple arrays.
  • Inverters convert the direct current (DC) electricity produced by solar cells into the alternating current (AC) electricity that is used in your home. Inverters include a range of technologies, from central inverts that convert the electricity from many solar panel to microinverters that are attached to each individual panel in a system. In grid-connected systems, inverters are designed so that if power from the utility goes down, the electric system will shut down as well. This is an critical safety precaution for utility workers.

More information about solar electricity and other clean energy technologies is available at energysavers.gov.

Solar Electric Ownership Models

In Massachusetts, there are a variety of solar ownership and financing options for residents and businesses. These options include direct ownership, solar leases, or power purchase agreement (PPA) contracts, in which a homeowner purchases solar energy from a system located on their property. Consumers should thoroughly review any solar electric financial arrangement and be comfortable with all the clauses and assumptions in any solar electric contract they sign. In particular, consumers may wish to explore the costs and benefits of multiple solar ownership models before moving forward with a project to understand which is best for them.

Solar Incentives

Solar electric systems installed in Massachusetts can benefit from a number of state and federal incentives as well as savings from reduced energy consumption from the grid. The section below reviews some of the currently available incentives.

Tax-based Incentives

Solar electric system owners that choose to own their system may be able to benefit from the following tax-based incentives.

  • Federal Tax Credit: A 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is available for qualified residential and commercial projects
  • Massachusetts Personal Income Tax Credit: The lesser of 15% of the total cost of the solar electric system or $1,000, for qualified clean energy projects
  • Five-year Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS): Business owners can depreciate solar electric systems over a five-years schedule

For more information on incentives that are offered for clean energy projects, please visit MassCEC’s Financing Clean Energy Projects page or the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE).

Production-based Incentives and Benefits

Solar electric system owners can also realize long term economic benefits based on the production of their systems. These can include:

  • Avoided Electricity Costs and Net Metering: Solar electric owners can utilize the electricity produced by their system to directly offset their electricity purchases from the grid. System owners may also be able to export power onto the grid when their systems produce more electricity than they can use. This process, called net metering, allows system owners to benefit from the unused electricity by applying bill credits from any excess electricity generated in one month to a future month’s bill. For more information on net metering and interconnection, please visit DOER's Massachusetts DG and Interconnection web site.
  • Solar Renewable Energy Certificates: Solar electric owners can generate income from the sale of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) generated based on the production of their systems. These are tradeable certificates that can be sold to retail electricity suppliers in the commonwealth. Retail electricity suppliers purchase these certificates in order to meet their state-required renewable energy targets. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) qualifies eligible solar projects, allowing the owner to begin selling their generated SRECs in the market. For more information about SRECs, visit DOER's About the RPS Solar Carve-Out II Program web page or the RPS Solar Carve-Out II Program Overview.

Solar Electric System Maintenance

As with many appliances, solar electric systems require maintenance over their lifetime. This generally includes making sure the solar panels are clean, ensuring the panels are receiving unobstructed sunlight, and replacing the inverter generally once during the life of the solar electric project. Most systems have an expected system life of more than 20 years. Installers should provide a minimum five-year labor warranty to protect your equipment against defective workmanship,  component breakdown, or significant degradation in electrical output. In addition, the solar electric equipment should have appropriate manufacturer’s warranties.

Additional Resources

Solar PV Systems in MA Report: This report includes all Massachusetts solar electric systems that are registered in the Production Tracking System (PTS), with sortable project information including installer, total cost, and town.