Does Solar In Seattle Work? {Reader FAQs}

In early April, after about five years of deliberation, we had solar panels installed on the south and west facing portions of our roof. On April 15th our panels “went live” and since then we’ve had a chance to evaluate what it means to be solar powered in Seattle.

We’ve been sharing moments of our “Solar in Seattle” experiment on Facebook, and there have been a lot of questions about the process, technology, cost and more.

We plan on writing more about the practical, financial and technological aspects of solar panels in upcoming posts, but we thought we’d start by answering the most frequent questions people have been asking. If you have more questions please leave a comment and we will try to get back with answers.

Solar in Seattle

Q: Are the panels your main source of energy or do you still connect to the grid?

Our system is “grid-tied”. That means that we’ve got both the solar generating capacity and a traditional utility grid connection. If we require more power more than we’re producing (for example at night) then we can draw from the utility grid. If we’re producing more than we’re using (for example on a nice sunny spring day!) then we can actually push that excess back onto the grid, where it is used (statistically speaking) by people in office buildings. We only pay for our net energy use (more on that in a second) in any given billing period. Any surplus gets held on account by the utility as a credit against future needs.

In a stand-alone solar energy system, excess energy charges banks of batteries, which then supply energy when the solar panels themselves cannot. In a grid-tie system, the energy grid itself functions a bit like a big “battery bank.”

Solar in Seattle

Understanding net metering is really important to understanding how this whole grid-tied solar thing works. The net use is the difference between our produced energy and our consumed energy. If in one billing period, we use 900 Kilowatt hours but only produce 700 kWh, then our electricity bill is for the 200 kWh difference. But if we produce 1,200 kWh and use 900 kWh, we pay nothing and the utility holds the credit and applies it on a bill where our production is less than our use.

This means we can not only average out the day-night changes in productivity, but also the summer-winter ones. During our long, clear, mild Northwest summer days the system will be banking power, quite literally, against those dour Winter months when six hours of gloom is what passes for daylight.

Q: What happens in a power outage?

We don’t have a battery backup system. It just didn’t make financial sense given that we’re in an area with extremely stable utility service. While there’d be some comfort in having a short-term backup, the added cost and complexity (both quite considerable) outweighed the benefits of battery backup.

This means that in a blackout, our lights go out too…such is the tradeoff of a grid-tie system without backup. We may explore options in that direction in the future, but for this step battery backup just didn’t make sense.

Q: How many panels have you put up?

We’ve got 22, 270-Watt modules on the roof – twelve of them in one big array on a south-facing portion of our roof and ten of them facing West in three smaller arrays. (An array is a grouping of panels) We had to set things up this way in order to deal with our very weird, complicated roofline and to find the “sweet spot” of maximum generating capacity for the installation cost.

Solar in Seattle

The panels connect down to two inverters in the garage. The South-facing panels feed energy to one inverter and the West-facing panels feed to another. This allows the inverters to do their job of optimizing power delivery from the panels as the sun moves across the sky and the light falling on the different sets of panels changes.

Q: I’m curious how much you’ll save on electricity. Let us know in the future how it’s doing.

Before we installed the solar panels, we went into “conserve electricity mode.” Through basic conservation techniques like replacing most of our interior lights with LEDs, getting more efficient grow lights and being more diligent about line drying, we dropped our overall electricity consumption from an unconscionable 41 kwh per day average in 2012 to about 19 kWh/day at the beginning of 2014.

Solar in Seattle

When we installed the solar panels, we got an awesome monitoring system which allows us to watch our energy use on a moment-by-moment basis. This spurred yet more energy awareness and we’ve dropped down to using about 15-16 kWh per day. This isn’t too bad, for a home that is used heavily during the day, has multiple fridges and freezers and keeps four spoiled Westerners living in total comfort. With additional optimization of our own usage habits, we hope to get to a 14 kWh/day average and are on track to do so.

Based on our current use, our solar system should supply about 100% of our annual electricity use. So far we’re doing great. In the three weeks since we “went live” we’ve generated 56% more electricity than we’ve consumed, and that over a series of pretty typical spring-in-Seattle days of mottled clouds, drizzle, and outright bluster.

Q: Do you have an estimated payback period?

Yes, the cost of the installation will be paid off (through savings and various incentive payments) in about 5.5 years. This is a lot better than when we started looking at solar! Our first quote for installing solar back in 2011 had a payback period of twelve years even though the system would have received subsidies for three more years.

The reason for the change is that price of solar installation has dropped, the equipment has become cheaper and the panels have become slightly more efficient in the past few years.

We ran a lot of financial models (that’s sort of what I do for a living) on how the initial outlay would compare with the payback and how that would fit in with our particular savings situation and made the call that this was the right time for us to go for solar.

Q: I’m curious on the total cost to fit these. Also, were there any rebates? I know the government was offering them at one point. Do you get a tax break for next year for doing this?

Yes, there are considerable production and installation incentives at work which made installation economically advantageous.

In a nutshell, we get an annual production incentive from the State of Washington through 2020, a one-time installation incentive from our regional utility cooperative, and a one-time credit from the federal government. That’s on top of the actual savings for not buying electricity (or buying less of it) from the utility through net-metering.

Typical systems seem to run in the $20-30,000 range in this area, and ours was at the high end of that range. The finances of solar are quite complicated, with incentives varying regionally and by utility. There are also financing options available in many areas.

Solar in Seattle

Here’s how the numbers actually panned out for us:

$28,000 – cost of full system, installed

Over the next six years, we will see the following incentives and savings:

($17,700) – State of Washington production incentive*
($8,400) – Federal tax credit
($2,500) – Local utility credit
($4,000) – Six year electricity savings*
———
($4,600)

So what this means is, in today’s dollars, in 6 years we are ahead $4600. This assumes the rates for electricity don’t go up (good luck with that – if they do our numbers look better). The starred items are estimates based on the expected production of our system.

Now, to get finicky, you should also consider that the earned income spent on electricity is typically taxed, whereas savings on electricity through alternative production are not. In other words, we get to not buy electricity in pre-tax dollars.

Among these incentives is a federal tax credit of 30% of the installation cost. There’s a state tax credit (in income-tax-free Washington) where we pay no sales tax on the system. Our local utility company loves solar installations and cut us a check for $2,500 as soon as the system was inspected. And the big daddy of incentives is from the State of Washington, which pays $.54 per kWh for all electricity produced in the next six years because all the components of our system were made locally here in Washington.

Many of these incentives apply to other renewable/alternative energy options as well. It is a dynamic landscape, so be sure to check the latest for your region.

Q: What company did you use? I’d love a review on the solar installers you went with?

We’ve been researching the possibility of solar since 2009 and talking to solar contractors since 2011. We ended up selecting A&R Solar out of Seattle to install our system. A&R impressed us with a proposal that really looked at the unique characteristics of our weird roof and really found that cost/benefit sweet spot.

Solar in Seattle

We’ve been entirely impressed with A&R and would unhesitatingly recommend them. Their crews were professional, efficient, and absolutely committed to delivering a quality result. One specific detail that really impressed me was their willingness to go beyond the basics and do things like painting conduit to match our house so it is less visible and help remove shelving in our garage to make way for the inverters. I’m used to contractors only working within their specific brief (“I’m an electrician, Jim, not a housepainter!”) instead of showing some flexibility to get the customer’s needs met. This was a very different experience from that.

We would fully recommend A&R, and if you contact them, mention Northwest Edible and you’ll receive a “friends and family referral” discount of up to $500 on any system that they install for you.

Do you have a review of how the system is working?

Absolutely – we went live three weeks ago with our final connection from our utility company. By pure coincidence, this was the afternoon of April 14th and I’d pushed the button to e-file our taxes literally minutes before.

For the fourteen days since our first full day (April 15th), we’ve used 357 kWh of electricity and produced 556 kWh. That’s 199 kWh surplus “sold back” to the utility. At an average daily use of about 15 kWh/day, that’s a reserve of almost two weeks that we’ve built up. Now of course there will be times we need to use more (our tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants started hardening off outside and left their cozy grow-light crèche on the 16th, for example) and generate less (just wait for December…) but this is off to a great start so far.

Solar in Seattle

Our real-time monitoring system has done an incredible amount to raise our awareness of electricity consumption, not only on things like overnight “base” loads of refrigerators and deep-freezes and unnecessary zombie devices but also the waste of leaving a roomful of lights or a TV on (even our relatively small LCD TV consumes 150 Watts…fine if we are watching Edwardian Farm as a family but not ok if it’s glowing in an empty room!).

Q: Do you think solar would work for me?

The answer’s a big “it depends.” What I can say is that solar can work in the Seattle area – we do get enough sun to make solar panels a reasonable way to generate some of our electricity. Economically, solar still remains a relatively pricy way to reduce your “grid” electricity consumption. If you’re looking to cut down on your utility bill, identifying wasteful consumption, changing habits (line dry!) and swapping in LED lights and energy saving appliances as time and budget allows is going to give you energy reduction results for much less up-front expense.

But with that said, every Kilowatt-hour that you offset is a Kilowatt-hour you don’t pay for, so even a system that doesn’t completely offset your consumption will produce savings. Whether those savings are enough to justify the up-front cost or a financing option will depend on your site, your energy consumption patterns, your regional government incentives, your goals for cost and energy savings and your other values.

We’ve experienced a local utility company that is eager to encourage distributed solar, but I’ve read that some utility companies can be outright hostile to homeowners. The best advice I can offer is to contact a solar installer in your area (A&R was great) and have them take a look at your property. Using aerial photographs they can get an approximate understanding of the situation even without a site visit.

We know several families who’ve gone solar in the Seattle area – we weren’t even the first on our block to take the leap – and pretty much universally people love their solar panels. Get the info for you and make the decision that’s right for your life.

More Questions?

Got more questions? Ask away! Comments? Have you gone solar or thought about it?

Comments

  1. Steve Tracy says:

    Would you tell me the name of the real time monitoring system you installed . And did you get that before the solar system was installed or did it come with the solar system. I would like to know where to buy the energy monitoring system.

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      Sure Steve! It’s called “eGauge”…you can find their website here: http://www.egauge.net/

      We had it installed with the solar power system but it is an optional part. The system itself (through the inverters) logs what we produce, but the eGauge logs what we produce AND what we consume and does it not only with higher fidelity but in a way that can be accessed remotely (so I’ll be at the kids with the park, watch a sunbreak float overhead on a cloudy day, pull out my phone, and suddenly exclaim, “Wow, 6.5 kW!” which I think confuses the other parents sometimes.” It could be installed independently of a production system, for sure, though it really is assumed that it’ll be part of one. If you get fancier than we did, you can actually install multiple current meters across different parts of your electrical system and so could, for example, break out consumption of an air conditioner from the rest of the house or track production of solar and wind systems separately.

      • Steve Tracy says:

        Thanks,
        I have heard, in the past, that a UW student was working on software that could distinguish loads from the same data stream. In all probability, the refrig will not come on at the exact same time as the air conditioner and each would generate their own distinguishable spike going both on and off. Then the software would keep them sorted once defined. The only loads indistinguishable would be multiple LED bulbs with the same wattage, but you could tell the quantity of them being either on or off! :)

        • Homebrew Husband says:

          Fascinating…looking at the signature of each load! I’ve certainly managed to map out a few signatures…when we first installed the system Erica would get text messages from me saying things like “Are you running the washer?” because I’d have our monitoring display in a background window at work and had noticed something unusual. So far the rice cooker, the washing machine, and the coffee pot are the most distinctive because they’ve got clear duty cycle patterns. I’d be fascinating to see a software solution picking through the data to pattern match…probably a reasonable extension on various other pattern matching algorithms that are out there.

    • Steve, one other alternative that you could check out is The Energy Detective. I haven’t used it myself, but have heard good things about it. Their website is http://theenergydetective.com

  2. Very interesting breakdown. As a numbers guy, I appreciate you sharing.

    If you don’t have a small battery backup, you might be interested in building one. My setup was basically free as a friend who works at a hospital is required to replace perfectly good batteries every year for some of their equipment. I had some scrap wire around, but that’s uber cheap to purchase.

    I keep it charged up from the grid. In short term power outages, I can use it (with a $10 inverter) to charge cell phones and AAs, run some small LED lighting, and other low-draw stuff, like my scanners and ham radio for info gathering.

    I now have a 10W solar charger powering my electric chicken fencing. It certainly won’t power the house, but will recharge my little battery bank in a short(ish) time.

    I’ll be very interested to read more about your experience!

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      That’s roughly what I’m thinking about, Mike! Just a emergency backup to let us ride out a Big Winter Storm or other event…no need to automatically power the entire house, but just an outlet or two (though I’d love to have 15 amps) that we can plug key loads into. An combo inverter and charge controller from the local marine supply shop, some decent deep-cycle batteries, and a decent enclosure. Thanks for the inspiration!

      • I have a sneaking suspicion you and/or Erica might already be listeners, but here is Part 1 of 2 of a Podcast that does a decent introduction to a bare bones battery system:

        https://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/episode-1038-steven-harris-on-battery-back-up-systems-part-1-of-2

        • Homebrew Husband says:

          Erica’s an avid listener…and I think I’ve listened to that particular podcast too! High current electrical systems, particularly DC, have always intimidated the heck out of me (my comfort zone is extremely high voltage, low current stuff), but I figure if we end up in some sort of TEOTWAWKI situation, I’ve got DC coming down from my roof and I’ll find SOME way of turning it into something useful. Still, a non-integrated, homegrown battery backup is probably going to be bubbling around in the back of my head for a while…

  3. Thanks for posting all of this information. I’ll have to print this one off and make sure it gets in front of the husband. I think he’ll find it very interesting. This year I had him build me a chicken coop for Mother’s Day (almost done with that). Maybe next year I’ll make him invest in solar panels!!

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      Thanks, Barb! Glad you liked it and I hope your husband does find it interesting! My one suggestion if you’re looking at kicking off a solar power project next year is to do your figuring now and pull the trigger early in the year, particularly if you’re in the Northwest. Come spring, the backlog for installers really starts to stretch out as people suddenly remember that we actually DO get some sun around here and start to explore alternative energy ideas. But if you are willing to sign the paperwork in the middle of the dark and dreary months, you’ll be able to get things moving MUCH quicker!

  4. We seem to be on the same schedule – we went live a week ago. Our experience has been pretty much identical to yours. The monitoring is definitely very enlightening – who knew that a regular fridge draws 5KW when it is cooling (fortunately that doesn’t last for very long). Freezers on the other hand seem to be incredibly energy efficient.

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      What really surprised us is that our gas ovens use 200-400 Watts for the glow ignitors whenever the gas is on! That inrush load is pretty typical of simple electric motors…we see it on the garbage disposal, fridge, vacuum cleaner, etc.

  5. I’m from Niagara Falls, NY and wonder if we have enough sun to make solar power work because we seriously would love to get them!

    But if there’s enough sun in Seattle, then you gotta think….

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      I did some quick searching online and it looks like your average annual solar radiation is in the same range as ours…probably enough so that site/location specific differences are going to make more of a difference than our gross climate differences. Check it out – get a couple of local solar installers to offer you an estimate (like I said in the post, they can usually do it without coming out to visit, at least approximately, from overhead imagery)!

    • I’m just outside of Syracuse, and we put solar panels on the house two years ago. They make a HUGE difference in the power bill! We don’t, yet, produce enough to totally power the house, but we’re power hogs (and know it, its one of the things we’re slowly working on fixing). But in the summer, even running the central air, we get enough sun to offset a good half of our bill. It’ll take us a bit longer to pay it off than Erica, but still totally worth it!

      • Homebrew Husband says:

        Thanks for the story, Ruth! That’s something I wish more folks understood – it doesn’t need to cover EVERYTHING, just to offset some of your use…you’ll still save money and be doing some good with it. In fact, the estimates from our installers were that our system would only offset 45-50%, but we knew that was base on out-of-date numbers. Really it wasn’t until the things got installed and we could SEE what we were using that we got all “Eye Of The Tiger” on our electricity use and made it some personal goal to live within our production numbers.

        It sounds like you’re in one of those really tough areas for electricity production/consumption, too. Long cold winters AND summers hot enough that you’ve got an A/C. I don’t envy you that combination at all!

        • We knew going in that we couldn’t afford a system that’d power everything (at least with our current power hog ways) *shrug* but there’s roof space enough (between the house and garage) to double the number of panels eventually! Our goal is to have a battery backup system that’ll power the important things during an outage.

          Oh, something for people looking at solar to look for, our county has been running “Solarize!” programs for the last 3 yrs. In addition to an extra grant to help off-set the cost of the panels they also allow the installers to buy the product in bulk, helping reduce the costs even further.

  6. I’m curious about the lifespan of the system you had installed. Were you given any info about how long you can expect it to last, and what kind of maintenance costs it might have?

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      Maintenance should be limited to making sure that the panels remain relatively clean…fortunately we’ve got few trees high enough to rain anything down on the panels, and none of them that’d drop that horrid sticky pollen or sap! We may be able to rely on rainfall to keep them dust free, but apparently a quick wipe with a fleece cloth on a stick does well. Folks in dustier climates may need to spend more energy on wash/wipe treatments…I’ve seen recommendations ranging from “annually” to “every three years” to “never” mostly depending on siting.

      There’s really little to break – the inverters are loaded to a fraction of their potential capacity so they should stay cool and they’re solid state components with no moving parts save a couple of fans that only kick on when they get overheated. UV degradation of the collector modules is the biggest life-shortening risk…and there’s actually a fraction-of-a-percent annual loss in efficiency because of this that’s expected and factored in to the production calculations. The manufacturer’s warranty covers them for 25 years and is based around production numbers…so if this degradation goes faster than expected we’re protected.

      There’s some component suppliers with less-than-savory reputations, and a good installer will steer you away from those with poor track records for reliability. That’s one of the reasons we actually spoke to a number of contractors…there was a definite convergence on what manufacturers were recommended against. For the most part it seems to be “you get what you pay for” and so the dodgy imported panels with a five-year warranty will probably last exactly that long…

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      Another note on lifespan…ironically, what PV arrays really don’t like are heat or sunlight. In this way, the cooler temperatures and less intense solar radiation we get up here, as compared to the sorts of places one thinks of with “solar power,” are probably going to give us lower degradation and lower chances of failure. Obviously, though, the body of experience is still pretty slim…only really early adopters have had small scale systems in operation for a decade or more!

    • To throw in a dollar amount for maintenance, our solar installer charges $95 plus $5 per panel for cleaning. You can also just go DIY with a soft car washing brush.

      Last month I did a quick rinse (first wash in almost a year of having panels) with just a hose to get rid of some accumulated pollen and debris and it worked quite well.

      Apparently the biggest risk is that debris (especially fir or pine needles) can start to wedge into the cracks and then expand as it gets wet & starts to decompose, which then breaks the seal on the panels. Otherwise, they should be essentially maintenance-free and good for 20 to 30 years. Of course, by then you’ll be wanting to upgrade to a home fusion reactor… :D

  7. Congratulations you guys, that’s awesome! It’s really so much fun to watch your produced kWh ticking up while your electricity bill suddenly disappears. As if we don’t have enough reasons to be excited when the sun comes out in the PNW!

    One thing I noticed that you didn’t mention in your payback calculation is the value that your solar panels add to your home. True, this only counts if you eventually sell your house, but it might be a big consideration for someone on the fence about the big up-front capital outlay. When you add the fact that you’re getting a major home improvement that won’t depreciate in value very much to all the other great incentives and benefits, it’s really hard to argue against going solar.

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      An excellent point…we’ll see what it does do for us when we finally put this place on the market! We figured all our paybacks out to the 15 year point (when our youngest will be 18…that’s sort of a placeholder downsize/empty-nest time frame) but never really considered the resale value bump. I guess that in California and Colorado, where rooftop solar is somewhat established, there’s a reasonable expectation of what that resale bump will be (I was hearing figures of a few thousand dollars per installed DC kW), but it is new enough in the Northwest that there really isn’t much data so we did our models without it.

      It’ll be like an unexpected bonus, then, when we DO sell!

  8. What a great breakdown, I hadn’t even considered solar panels before now.

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      Thanks, I’m glad it was interesting! It can be a bit intimidating…there are so many options and the payback draws from so many different sources (savings, incentives, etc.)…it certainly took us a few rounds to feel like we understood the whole deal, and I’m happy to share.

  9. So what was the initial outlay in year one? I understand you’ll get credits and other incentives over the coming years but how much was the out-of-pocket expense to get it up and running? Was it the full $28,000 that you had to write a check for and then wait to get reimbursed?

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      Great question! The contractor gets paid up front, though various agencies and utilities may offer special rates on solar improvement loans.

      The check from our utility arrived literally a week after they connected us, the federal tax credit applies on the calendar year you installed in (so our timing was terrible in that sense – we’re basically “fronting” that money until next spring!). The state production incentives pay out annually over the six remaining years in the program based on what you produced in each year (though it is on a funky fiscal year schedule, not calendar year).

    • Travis,
      There are great financing packages available through local credit unions where you don’t have to come out of pocket for anything. I’m using PSSCU for my system.

  10. Margaret says:

    Did you consider solar hot water? In the. Northeast it’s supposedly a quicker payback than the solar electric. Then again I pay $3.25/gallon (~$3/therm) for heat and we are at 7100 heating degree days and counting, A next thing to look into!

    Oh and if you have in floor radiant heat the solar hot water can do heat too!

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      Solar hot water isn’t particularly popular up here, for whatever reason. Things like the solar-powered-ground-source-heat-pump seem to have some popularity, but we really didn’t look at it for this round.

      The reason?

      Our hot water heater had died about a month and a half before we kicked of the solar project. It was one of those “oh crap, our hot water heater is peeing water all over the garage floor and it is Friday and we’d better get this dealt with ASAP situations” so we just did a form-fit-function replacement gas unit. With a little luck, we’ll plan ahead before this one suffers a similar fate and have a chance to explore instant hot water, heat pumps, etc. That’d be my dream, though, some sort of super sexy integrated hot water storage tank that feeds radiant floor heat and domestic hot water…

  11. How difficult is it to get to your roofing shingles? I’m thinking–hail damage (or other storm damage–I’m recently from Texas, so I guess there isn’t as much hail up here), normal wear, some odd leak that develops? Especially the normal wear and tear type of eventual roof replacement.

    And thank you for sharing all this, it’s fascinating.

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      The panels sit on aluminum racks, six or eight inches above the roof itself, I’d guess. You can sort of tell in that one photo with the crew up on the roof installing the PV modules. The modules are clamped on to the racks and the electrics are all done with quick-release connectors of some kind, so I’m sure if you needed to get a module (or several) off to fix roof leaks damage it wouldn’t be TOO tough.

      That said, you definitely want to make sure that you’re installing over a healthy roof, one with many years life left on it. The work to remove-and-reinstall the panels if you need an entirely new roof apparently runs about a thousand bucks per installed DC kilowatt (e.g. it’d be around $6k for our system).

      But if it is falling-things-damage, don’t forget that the panels are going to be on top of the roof…so they might actually offer some protection to you. Now as for how they’d fair in a hailstorm, I’ve got no idea, someone local with experience with your particular weather could probably answer that a lot better.

  12. I know you need to have energy efficient appliances but how many appliances can you have? Can you still run a dishwasher? Mine can take up to 3 hours to run a load depending on the cycle. And it is a new appliance. I would like to get rid of gas appliances such as the dual fuel stove and gas clothes dryer. I also have an instant hot water thing on the sink for tea, cereal and that sort of thing. In general most people have small appliances like a food processor, toaster, blender, popcorn popper etc. Talk about spoiled Westerners. (We live on Whidbey Island, WA.) I have a vision of being on solar and living with oil lamps and hand washing dishes after a large family Thanksgiving dinner. Propane is going to do nothing but get more expensive as is natural gas. You didn’t mention what heats your home?

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      Most of our heat sources are gas, the stove and oven and water heater and domestic heat. Though an interesting discovery has been how much electric load there is from some of these things (e.g. the glow ignitors on the oven, the fans on the heater) even though they are primarily gas.

      Don’t forget that we’ve still got a grid connection…we can run as much as we could before without any problem, we just draw from the utility during those times, making up for what the solar can’t provide. Even if we only offset half of our electricity consumption, we’d still be saving a lot. But with the potential of living within what we produce, it has been VERY motivating and turned saving electricity into something fun, exciting, kind of a game.

      Now if you’re living truly off grid or have failed over to a backup battery bank during a blackout (and on Whidbey, even if you’re grid-connected, robust backup might make sense), then you need to be a lot more aware of what you are using, how much you’ve got stored in your battery reserve, and how long until you expect to begin charging again.

  13. I put up a similar-sized system that went live in October. It was fun watching it produce in the middle of winter. Though, I have to say, now that the sun is out, I understand the relative paltriness of winter production!

    Local utilities need to copy and paste your paragraph about how solar is paid back via 1) net metering and then 2) production. It took me three phone calls to my local utility to have someone finally explain it to me in a way I could understand. Which you did in about three lines!

    I love my solar. I have a heavy carbon footprint in another area of my life that I have virtually no control over at the moment. It feels good to take control over the quality of power used at home.

    I went with Sunergy and had a first rate experience. We are lucky to have a lot of people doing good work in our area!

  14. So my girlfriend and I bought a ’78 C-Class RV last year, so yeah, its old. We’ve been slowly making repairs and fixing up the interior. But it came with a solar panel and inverter. Problem is, I know almost nothing about solar panels. You know, other than the fact that they convert solar energy into useable energy. It didn’t come with an instruction manual, so I was wondering, where would be the best website or book, or anything to go to learn about it? For possible future repairs. Anyone?

  15. We just started getting quotes, and I’ll definitely get one now from A&R! We’re in Blue Ridge area, doing an extensive remodel with in floor hydronic heat. We’ve been a little hesitant, but I think your post has pushed me over the edge. Solar is just going to be sooo worth it. We have a bid from NW Wind & Solar, did you have any experience with them? Anything that you think tipped the hat A&R’s way? We’re also trying to decide whether we should finance it (we’ve even heard of some 0%) programs or try to pay all cash. Is my understanding of the federal rebate correct? It’s a credit, so you really get the entire amount of the rebate, right? Thanks for your very timely post!

    • Yes, it is a true credit. Which was nice on the tax return. It can also be spread out over multiple years if you can’t use it all in one year.

  16. Betsy True says:

    Kudos on a smart investment. We put our pv panels in about 6 years ago when the incentives weren’t as generous; our payback will be more like 16 years. Our initial cost was many times yours; panel costs have also come down a lot over the past years.

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