It is easier and more cost-effective to go solar than ever before! Here you will find trustworthy resources to explore solar options and payment plans that are best suited for you.

Seven Generations Ahead provides building assessments for on-site solar installations for interested parties. We also assist organizations by developing RFPs and gathering reputable project partners for many kinds of solar projects. We create support strategies to attain 100% renewable energy for institutions and organizations. Lastly, we implement solar energy education and subscription enrollment assistance for institutions and residents ready to go solar.  

Not sure where to start? Learn the basics of solar energy on this web page. Then reach out to Mark Burger, our solar consultant, about hosting one of our educational forums or to get answers to your specific questions.

 

Contents

Solar Energy Basics

The physics of solar energy

From the sun to the grid: How solar power is distributed AGL Solar Energy / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

Our electricity grid gets its power from a number of sources: fossil fuel or nuclear power plants, wind or solar farms, hydropower dams, etc. Once the energy output leaves the source and enters the grid, it goes to the nearest site that needs electricity. The energy output from various sites mix together in the grid.

An electric customer with an onsite solar photovoltaic (PV) system will be the first to use its output, with any additional needs for power getting pulled through the electrical box from the grid. Any extra output goes out into the grid. The extra PV system output goes out into the grid to the nearest site that requires it. This could be next door or further away. 

It is very unlikely that any energy output from a community solar installation or a wind farm will  make its way to a subscribing customer’s electrical box. However, the output of electricity from a distant site is paid for through the arrangement between the customer, the power seller and the utility. Without financing, the installation would not have happened, and its cleaner electricity would not enter the grid.

The finances of solar energy

Net metering is the method of keeping track of how much extra power your solar panels create and share with the grid. This energy is credited to your account. At night or times when there is less sun, your energy credits can be used and pays for the power that is needed from the grid.

Ideally your system can produce enough energy to directly power your entire system during sunny days as well as provide enough credits to cover your power usage from the grid when the sun is not shining.

Getting started with solar

Use Energy Sage’s solar calculator to explore options for your property and determine if your solar energy source can be on-site or off-site. 

Residential solar PV system installation in Illinois

SGA helps non-profits and businesses interested in building on-site solar PV systems. Contact Mark Burger for support with an initial assessment and procurement at no cost to you. 


For larger power needs (i.e. hospitals, school districts, and municipalities):

  1. Large scale solar PV systems can be purchased outright. Find a trustworthy professional through the IL Solar Energy Association.
  2. If you do not have the budget to purchase:
    1.  Arrange a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with an outside vendor.  The vendor will develop, design, permit, finance and install the system.  The vendor also takes care of maintenance.  The energy is sold to you at a set rate as you use it.
    2. Leasing from an outside vendor is similar to a PPS, but with leasing you pay a set monthly fee for the energy.   

NOTE: The PPA or leasing options do allow you to get federal or state tax credits. The company who installs the system receives those and is not required to pass on any of those savings. Also watch out for “cost escalators”. Companies sometimes include an automatic rate increase under the guise that it will match the normal utility increases.


For individuals with a residential site, there are a few different on-site options.

  1. First, you can purchase solar panels upfront. With this option, the customer both owns the system and has everything paid for right away. The owner can take full advantage of state and federal incentives as well. To search for residential solar panel installers based on location, visit the Illinois Solar Energy Association website.
  2. Another option is to take out a loan to pay for the solar panels. These loans allow you to pay for the solar PV system over time, while still having complete ownership of the system. With this option you can take advantage of state and federal incentives. More information on solar loans can be found through Energy Sage.  
  3. If you want solar on your property, but don’t want to pay to install or maintain the system, there is also the option to lease the solar panels. More information on how solar leases work can be found on the Energy Sage website.
  4. If you are a low-to-moderate income household (under 80% Annual Median Income), you can join the Illinois Solar for All program. This program helps low-to-moderate income household install solar panels on-site with no upfront costs, lower ongoing costs, and additional consumer protections. For more information on the program and seeing if you qualify, visit the Illinois Solar for All website.

For any questions regarding the differences between types of homeowner plans, please refer to this guidebook from the Clean Energy States Alliance.

Community solar PV system in Elgin

For small power needs (i.e. homes, small businesses,etc.): Community solar projects allow you to invest in solar energy when panels can’t be installed on-site.  Customers subscribe to a community solar project and receive energy credits that are applied to their energy bill.  The current community solar projects in Illinois are listed on the Citizen’s Utility Board website.  

For households that qualify as low-to-moderate income: The Illinois Solar for All program provides solar power and guarantees a savings of at least 50% on electricity bills. The Illinois Solar for All projects are listed in their directory, where you can search for vendors. Make sure to search “Low-income community solar”.

Want to talk solar?

Reach out to Mark Burger, SGA’s solar consultant at solar@sevengenerationsahead.org