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Solar-Powered Homes and Businesses - Solar U-C 2.0

Installing solar panels on your business may seem risky, especially due to the complexity of the market, or just a trend of Fortune 500 companies. However, solar panels and power are not just for the big businesses anymore. Businesses of all sizes are capitalizing on the financial and economic opportunities of installing solar power because solar is a key strategic decision that guarantees a solid return for your business.

Over the last five years, as energy prices have continued to rise, the cost of purchasing and installing solar panels has dropped considerably. Businesses and home owners who install solar power systems receive multiple benefits, such as lower energy bills, higher home values, and lower carbon footprints. Solar panels last about 25-35 years on a business, and with available incentives, many businesses pay off their systems in anywhere from 4-9 years, enjoying free electricity for the remainder of the life of the panels. Not only can solar power affect your pocketbook drastically, it can help you win more customers that are environmentally-minded.

Also, there is a growing number of college graduates that want to work for companies who are active in environmental issues. According to a 2016 study from Cone Communications, 79 percent of mature millennials consider a company's social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work. Many companies choose to make a commitment to environmental sustainability not only to reap the economic benefits, but to attract and retain top talent. Solar panels are a powerful way to demonstrate your company's commitment to sustainability, if it makes sense for your company. How do you find out if solar is a good option for your company? There's a great place to start, right in Champaign County.

The Solar Urbana-Champaign 2.0 program is a partnership between the City of Urbana and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, allows individual home and commercial property owners to access lower prices for solar installations through the power of volume purchasing, making installing solar more affordable than ever. Through the Solar Urbana-Champaign project in 2016, Champaign County installed over 605 kW of solar at 81 homes and businesses throughout the county, with a combined energy cost savings greater than $67,000, offsetting over 1.1 million lbs of CO2. Due to the success and interest in the first solar purchasing opportunity, they have decided to open a second bulk purchasing opportunity.

There's no harm in exploring whether solar panels are right for your business. Every solar installation is unique, so it is important to understand the specific incentives and opportunities for your business or property. You can always decide not to install solar panels, even after an assessment. Here are some valuable tips and points to consider when exploring solar power for your home or business:

- Get an on-site assessment: A site visit usually starts with a phone call or email exchange. After an installer has visited your property and assessed the potential opportunity for solar panels, you'll receive a report that aligns with your goals, budget and energy needs to help you decide on investing in solar energy.

- Energy Needs: Ask your provider or installer how much of your energy needs can be covered by solar. Additionally, review the proposal to understand how much energy savings you will realize and help you determine how long it will take to recoup your investment.

- Maintaining Panels: Generally, solar panels require very little maintenance and last for 25-30 years. However, panels should be inspected annually for any dirt and debris to ensure they are collecting as much solar as they can. If they need to be cleaned, use a hose either early in the morning or late evening to avoid cracking hot panels with cold water.

Solar panels are a viable option for many businesses and demonstrate a strong commitment to efficient businesses, cleaner communities, and smart investing. Are you interested and want to learn more about how to get solar at your home or business? Attend an upcoming Solar Power Hour to learn more! For information on the program and upcoming solar power hours, visit Solar Urbana-Champaign 2.0's website at:

Guest columnist, Cassie Carroll is the Co-Founder, Illinois Green Business Association; Executive Director, Green Business Engagement National Network, and can be reached at

CUTLINE: Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District's Solar Array, which has 1,212 solar panels.