Going Solar

The City of South Bend is working to make it easier, faster, and more affordable for residents, businesses and others to go solar.

[How to Go Solar]  [FAQ]  [I'm Ready, let's Solarize!]

Solar in South Bend

"Solar-Friendly" Designation

South Bend is seeking designation as a  solar-ready, solar-friendly community via the SolSmart program, funded by the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative

SolSmart Logo

Mayor Pete Buttigieg states this designation "will build upon nearly a decade of award-winning clean energy leadership...To make the basics easy, to deliver good government, and to invest in people and places, we will optimize City processes related to solar energy systems and seek partnerships with agencies and businesses that can support residents and business-owners seeking clean energy solutions.” Read the full Solar Statement here. 

Introducing Solarize South BendSolarize South Bend Logo

Solarize South Bend is a community initiative to help homes and businesses go solar in 2017. Participants get a fair quote and a discount on solar panel installation.  Attend an info session in July and August to take advantage of this limited program. Visit www.solarizeni.org. 

South Bend's Solar Growth

The number of solar energy systems in the South Bend region has increased rapidly over the last five years. The map below shows solar photovoltaic (PV) systems near South Bend as of June 2017. Visit the SIREN Solar Indiana interactive map to see how solar has grown throughout northern Indiana!

Solar Map Screenshot

How to Go Solar

The City of South Bend provides these resources from respected sources, however, information is subject to change and may be outdated. The City does not warrant accuracy of information unless describing direct City functions. 

Who Installs Solar?    

The City of South Bend does not endorse or represent specific products or companies, but we have tried to make it easier for you to find residential solar contractors who actively work in the area. View the Solar Energy Contractor List.

How Do I Know I’m Getting a Fair Quote?

Review consumer protection resources to make sure you understand any quote or contract you are provided. These resources provide important questions to ask and describe the pros and cons of different ownership models.

Where Do I Start?

To go solar, you or an installer will navigate several approval processes. For example, solar PV systems must comply with zoning code, may require a permit from the City of South Bend Building Department, and must be approved by the electric utility before interconnecting to the utility grid. Further, the Historic Preservation Commission needs to approve the project if you are in a Local Historic District or Historic Landmark. You may even live in a neighborhood with a Homeowner Association (HOA) with an approval process required by the covenant.

See this flow chart, Understanding Local Approval Processes for Solar, to guide you through these steps. If your system will be grid-tried, be sure to contact South Bend's electric utility, Indiana Michigan Power, before beginning the process with the City.

What Information Is Required to Apply for a Permit?

The Building Department has revised the permitting process to improve communication and distinguish between systems requiring simplified vs. standard review. See the Solar Photovoltaic Permit Application Guidelines to determine which information must be provided to the Building Department for your system to receive a permit.

How Much Do Permits for Solar Cost?

View the St. Joseph County/City of South Bend Building Department Permit Fee Schedule to determine your permit cost. 

How Do I Pass the Inspection from the Building Department?

Review the Inspection Checklist to understand the requirements that a rooftop solar PV system must comply with to pass the inspection from the Building Department.

How to I receive approval to interconnect the system with the grid?

Before a solar PV system can be connected to the utility grid, you must submit an Interconnection Application and Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) must approve the project. For projects less than 10 kW, see the Level 1 Interconnection Application. For more details, visit the Installing Generating Equipment webpage. It is recommended that you contact I&M before designing your system and prior to submitting plans to the Building Department to determine if the system meets all criteria and technical requirements to be interconnected.

What rights do I have as a consumer?

Recent state policy changes affecting distributed generation, including solar, provided a section on customer rights - see SEA 309 Sec. 23. In addition, Indiana Code previously established the right to access solar energy and permits private entities to enter into a solar easement voluntarily to protect access to sunlight for a solar energy system in the future.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Electricity Do Homes Typically Use?

Electricity consumption varies significantly between households, depending for example on the size of the home, how the home is heated, how much you use an air conditioner, whether light bulbs have been switched to LEDs, if the attic space is well-insulated, etc. 

In 2015, the average Indiana electricity consumption was 964 kWh per month and 11,568 kWh annually. In contrast, the average in Michigan was 649 kWh per month. See the full U.S. Energy Information Administration report here. A 9.3 kW system produces about the same amount of electricity that the average home in Indiana consumes in a year. However, newer homes may be much more efficient.

How Much Electricity Does a Solar PV System Produce in a Year?

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory tool called PV Watts Calculator is useful for estimating annual and monthly electricity production. Based on South Bend weather conditions, a 9.3kW solar PV system would produce approximately 11,400 kWh in a year.

How Much Does a Solar PV System Cost?

At the end of 2016, residential solar systems cost on average $2.93/Watt in the US according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory report found here. With this assumption, the cost would be about $17,600 before taxes and net $12,300 after the 30% Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit or 30% Business Energy Investment Tax Credit. 

However, the community-led "Solarize South Bend" initiative is organizing homeowners and businesses to leverage their buying power and secure a discount for systems installed before the end of 2017. To be eligible for discount pricing, attend a workshop in August 2017. Visit www.SolarizeNI.org for details and to RSVP!

How Do I Determine the Solar System Size for My Home or Business?

Review your electricity bills from the last 12-24 months to determine how much electricity (in kWh) you actually use. You may want to roughly estimate the cost of different sized systems that would generate 25%, 50%, 75%, or up to 100% of your annual kWh usage. Many people arrive at this decision by looking at how much roof or ground space is available, their budget, and the degree to which energy efficiency improvements could cost-effectively reduce total electricity consumption.

What Factors Impact the Financial Return on the System?

Many people look at the payback period - the time it takes to recoup the initial cost as the electricity generated by the solar system offsets the cost of purchasing electricity from the utility. Typical payback periods range between 10-15 years. Keep in mind that financial benefits continue to accumulate for the entire life of the system. Panels often have warranties of 20-25 years which guarantee the system will maintain 80% of the initial production at the end of that time frame. If the system "breaks even" at 12 years, that's at least 8-13 years of 'free' electricity. 

The payback depends on the grants and tax credits that affect the initial cost and electricity rates for a given home or business. Estimating the payback period requires assumptions about how much electricity prices will rise in the future, the rate at which the excess electricity sent back to the grid is credited to the system owner, and the rate at which production from the panels degrades, among other factors. 

I Want to Understand Electricity Production and Solar PV System Sizes but I Don't Understand the Difference Between kW and kWh.

The system size, or "capacity" of a solar PV system is stated in terms of kilowatts, or kW. This is a measure of the maximum potential power generated at any single moment, analogous to maximum miles per hour of a car. Kilowatts (kW) are often confused with kilowatt-hours (kWh) which are a measure of total energy consumed, analogous to total miles traveled in a car. One kWh is generated when a system produces electricity at a rate of one kW sustained for one hour.

How Much Space Would a Solar PV System Need?

A 6 kW system might be composed of approximately 24-26 panels taking up about 400 - 500 sq. ft. A typical panel is about 17.5 sq feet. Individual solar panels range between 255 W to over 300 W. A qualified solar installer will assist with design and sizing of a system.

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