Individual taxpayers may claim a nonrefundable personal tax credit for qualified residential alternative energy expenditures. The residential alternative energy credit generally is equal to 30 percent of the cost of eligible solar water heaters, solar electricity equipment, fuel cell plants, small wind energy property, and geothermal heat pump property. After 2016, the credit is available only for qualified solar electric property and qualified solar water heating property placed in service before 2022.

Solar electric property. A qualified solar electric property expenditure must meet these requirements:

  • an individual taxpayer must make the expenditure for qualified solar electric property,
  • the qualified solar electric property must use solar energy to generate electricity,
  • the electricity must be for use in a dwelling unit,
  • the dwelling unit must be located in the United States, and
  • the dwelling unit must be used as a residence by the taxpayer (but it does not have to be the taxpayer’s principal residence).

Expenditures for purposes of the credit include labor costs properly allocable to the onsite preparation, assembly, or original installation of the qualified solar electric property and for piping or wiring to interconnect such property to the dwelling unit. Generally, for purposes of determining the tax year when the credit is allowed, an expenditure with respect to an item is treated as made when the original installation of the item is completed.

Solar electric property panels, such as photovoltaic panels, are eligible for the credit even if they constitute structural components of a building, such as when they are installed as a roof or a portion of a roof. Conversely, qualified solar electric property does not have to be installed directly on the taxpayer’s home, as long as the panels use solar energy to generate electricity for use in a home that the taxpayer uses as a residence. Under certain circumstances, a purchase of solar panels that are placed on an off-site solar array may meet the definition of qualified solar electric property expenditures.

Caution. This credit should not be confused with the credit for nonbusiness energy property. For property placed in service through 2016, a tax credit is available for nonbusiness energy property that meets the requirements for qualified energy efficiency improvements (building envelope components) and residential energy property expenditures (furnaces, central air conditioners, water heaters, certain heat pumps, biomass stoves).


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