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Thread: Solar electric...what's up with that?

  1. #1
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    Solar electric...what's up with that?

    I told a salesman he could come over and pitch his solar electric system. Can anyone give me some real world advice?

    Is it worthwhile? Do you ever make back your investment? What type or brand is considered the best or most efficient? What questions should I ask? Do they need maintenence, like cleaning? Buy or lease?

    Sorry for the shotgun approach, but I know very little about the real world viability of a solar electric system. Years ago I went for a solar water heater, and it never paid for itself before becoming problematical.

    I do have a roof that is large enough and situated well for solar panels, and I live in SoCal.

    Thanks,
    Rick Potter

  2. #2

    I went through the same song and dance...

    SolarAmerica pitched their product to me.

    It's important to note two things:
    the ROI in years and if your utility pays you for the extra power you generated.
    Massachusetts has "net metering" so I only get rebates equal to my usage.

    If you're running an airconditioner, it may suit your plans to check your actual consumption.
    My total electric consumption, for a full year, is less than $1200. It didn't make a strong case.

    If I owned an EV for daily driving, I would reconsider the installation.
    It just doesn't make dollars and sense to spend nearly $55,000 (including the retail price of the car)
    to drive the 30 miles I travel, daily.

    Your situation should consider your total electric consumption, and the value of any power you generate.
    Compare how long it takes to break even (ROI) to the amount of time you hope to spend in your home.

    Projected payoff for the array on my roof (considerably further North than yours) was 14 years.
    It's not the risk for rain infiltration over this period to install at the current cost for electricity.

    There is also some sort of "coupon" affiliated with Carbon emissions regulation with utilities that can be sold off by the homeowner
    to offset the cost of installation. It might also make you feel good to contribute in this manner.

    http://www.dsireusa.org/solar/solarpolicyguide/?id=13


    I would be more inclined to consider a retrofit of an air conditioner with an integrated solar array.
    The idea is clever - sunshine is most abundant when the air conditioner is most in demand.

    Let the sun help do some of the cooling for you...

    http://www.lennox.com/solar-solutions/
    Last edited by Jim Matthews; 12-22-2012 at 9:27 AM.

  3. #3
    Solar panels aren't for every one. A friend of mine did a panel for his house in eastern PA and he is doing well with the pay back. However, he got in when the subsidies were at their highest so he only paid for about 40% of the cost.

    We have an all electric house and I considered getting solar panels, but in the decided not to. The sales people show the pay back to relatively quick, but that is only if you have the cash to pay for the system out right. If you have to borrow to pay for the system, then the pay back gets pushed out pretty far. There used to be some federal and state programs that paid up to 50% of the system cost which helped tremendously, but those are pretty much gone now. In the end I was looking at at least a 15 year break even which would have made me 75 years old. I also wasn't too keen on erecting a billboard in my back yard. Instead we upgraded our geothermal heating system to be a heating/cooling system with a more modern unit. It dropped our electrical usage about 10% and will pay off in less than five years. Plus we were able to cool our house the first summer at a constant 74 degrees using the same kilowatts we had used the previous summer running fans and a dehumidifier.
    Lee Schierer - McKean, PA

    My advice, comments and suggestions are free, but it costs money to run the site. If you found something of value here please give a little something back by becoming a contributor! Contribute

  4. #4
    My buddy did it. Family of 5 with a normal electric bill of $400 to $600 per month through the summer. The 20 year lease of the solar is $280 per month plus he is generating enough juice to get a credit from the utility as opposed to a bill. Once the credit reaches a certain level, he must pay the extra to the solar lessor(?). Read your contract . . . .

    There is a formula to see if your current average monthly will make you a good candidate. Cheesy sales guys will try to push you on future rising costs of electricity. I would steer clear of these guys. The technology can sell itself based on your current costs and the nature of the lease / payback contract. Make sure you understand what you are signing up for. As in all trendy technologies, there are the solid players and then there are the bottom feeders who were selling aluminum siding, fire-proof tuxedos or 50 year paint last summer.
    “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” -- George Orwell


  5. #5
    I'm looking into solar electric right now, also. The problem is that we don't use much electricity except for a couple of months in the summer so what I'm looking at is a small system that will generate excess electricity during the year except for those summer months. And if your electricity charges are like mine, you're on a tiered system and electricity costs per kWh are really high in those higher tiers (tier 4 costs are $0.29/kWh and tier 5 costs are $0.33/kWh - that adds up pretty quickly). The solar guy tells me that we should change to "time of day" metering if we go solar because the highest charges are during the time when you're generating the most electricity.

    I haven't got far enough to know if it makes sense yet but I should have a financial analysis in a few days. There's still a federal tax credit for solar but the CA rebates are pretty much gone.

    Mike
    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 12-22-2012 at 1:00 PM.
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  6. #6
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    It's a great idea when govt. subsidies are helping pay for it.

  7. #7
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    Mike,

    I'd appreciate it if you can let me know what they come up with.

    My bills are all over the place from a low of $120 to a one time bill of $850 when we had the son's family living in my shop, running the AC constantly. Normal summer high is $250-300. They finally got a house again after 5 months of having three families living here.

    Basically I live in a duplex, with two of everything. We built a 'Casita' (newspeak for granny flat), 1100 sq. ft. with it's own furnace and AC, kitchenette etc. which my daughter and family live in.

    I am 70, and it will have to pay off fairly quickly, besides...I want an all electric car before someone in gov. figures out they pay no road tax.

    Rick P

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Potter View Post
    I am 70, and it will have to pay off fairly quickly, besides...I want an all electric car before someone in gov. figures out they pay no road tax.

    Rick P
    I'll let you know what I figure out, Rick. I've heard people say that they no longer buy green bananas, but never that the have to have a fast payback on solar

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by glenn bradley View Post
    .....with a normal electric bill of $400 to $600 per month.....
    Holy kilowatts, Batman! That's insane.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Potter View Post
    Is it worthwhile? Do you ever make back your investment? What type or brand is considered the best or most efficient? What questions should I ask? Do they need maintenence, like cleaning? Buy or lease?

    Sorry for the shotgun approach, but I know very little about the real world viability of a solar electric system. Years ago I went for a solar water heater, and it never paid for itself before becoming problematical.
    There are multiple ways you can get solar power:

    1) Buy the whole thing outright (maybe with financing). You can "sell back" electricity to the grid. Note that you only get credits on your bill... you don't get a check from the electric company. This is typically the only option where you'd get tax credits. With this option you also get to control everything about the install (number of panels, equipment used, etc.). Battery storage, etc. can drive up costs & complexity (plus you need room for everything).
    2) Company installs for free and owns the equipment, you buy electricity at a rate lower than the local grid. The company decides how many panel's they'll install (i.e. they may not install enough to get 100% of your home's energy usage covered). *Some* companies offer a buy option @ the end of the lease. Of course at this point you're sitting on 10-15 year old panels... I'm not sure if this would make sense. The company handles all equipment problems during the lease period.
    3) Buy solar energy from your electrical company directly (for a premium).

    The newer panels allow individual cell failures (parallel system) without the entire grid failing like a serial system. Thus, your efficiency goes down but the panel is still useful until you pay $$$ to replace it. There is little maintenance required for the system.

    As far as "making back your investment" it depends on your locale (amount of sun), the amount of energy your house uses, and costs & incentives. Let's say you pay $15K out of pocket ($25k - tax incentives). In 15 years, how much money have you saved versus sticking $15K in a decent money market account? Assume that efficiency would decrease over the years and you'd need to replace all the panels in 15-20 years (they'd probably be cheaper then). I ran the numbers for my location in Oregon and it didn't make fiscal sense even though it was cheaper than option #3 (green energy purchase from the Electric Co.). I didn't like the "do what they want to my house" aspect of option #2. If being "green" is important to you then I think it's worth considering... just don't think you're going to see a large financial return on the investment. Obviously LA is a completely different climate so the numbers will be different.

    IMO, find someone in LA that has a system and ask them about the costs. There is probably an electric car club nearby... a lot of these folks also have solar arrays.

  11. #11
    Not worth it. I had them installed on my company a couple years ago. Here's my experience:

    1) The REAL money in this was supposed to come from the solar credits for each MW that you generate. You can sell these on the open market. The price when I signed on was about $600/cred. The price has since plummeted in NJ to below $100. No solar company will build a similar market 'collapse' into their models of payback. My payback went from 4 years to 10+.

    2) They DO generate about 70-80% of my electrical power, which was as advertised. However, somehow, my electricity prices aren't about 70-80% less than they were. They are about half. NOBODY can explain to me why. The power is all routed back to PSE&G and we have a bidirectional meter which keeps track of what comes in and what goes out. We are supposed to be billed for the difference, but it doesn't appear to add up. It feels flimflammy and I feel powerless (no pun intended) to understand why.

    3) Our standing seam roof leaks. The installers keep coming out to fix the umpteen leaks but more appear. It's a pain.

    4) During a power outage, the system shuts down to avoid 'overloading the circuit and causing a fire'. This logic is also above my head. And the irony of it kills me.

    If I could do it all over again, I wouldn't.

  12. #12
    We are looking in to putting panels in - but since it's winter now, nothing will be done 'til spring - so I've got lots of time to do research and get another bid or two or three.

    We will be able to sell our excess power back to our utility. The company proposed to mount on our roof, but I said 'no'. We have a acreage, and it's wide open to the South, so if we do it, the panels will go there.

    The company presented it's bid in parts....the first part seemed resonable (panels, mounting racks and a inverter to convert the DC power to AC), then we learned that the battery bank and charge controller for the batteries (for when there is no sun/outages, etc), is not included - then it got spendy - in a hurry.

    The Fed 30% tax credit was/is available at the time we got the bid (about a month ago), but who knows what the outcome of the tax debate in Washington will be.....

    Jim

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by glenn bradley View Post
    My buddy did it. Family of 5 with a normal electric bill of $400 to $600 per month through the summer. The 20 year lease of the solar is $280 per month plus he is generating enough juice to get a credit from the utility as opposed to a bill. Once the credit reaches a certain level, he must pay the extra to the solar lessor(?). Read your contract . . . .

    There is a formula to see if your current average monthly will make you a good candidate. Cheesy sales guys will try to push you on future rising costs of electricity. I would steer clear of these guys. The technology can sell itself based on your current costs and the nature of the lease / payback contract. Make sure you understand what you are signing up for. As in all trendy technologies, there are the solid players and then there are the bottom feeders who were selling aluminum siding, fire-proof tuxedos or 50 year paint last summer.
    We live as a family of 4 and have an electric bill of around $120 per month. We use propane for furnace and stove, electric hot water, window air upstairs and downstairs. Why in the world would you have an electric bill of $400 - $600 per month? Just wondering. We watch a movie every night on a 36" screen, two laptops and a desktop, telephones for each member, I-pods, Kindle, cameras, lighting, $120 per month.
    "Falling in love-you should go with it, regardless of whether or not your heart gets smashed. You'll be a better person." (Sandra Bullock)




  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Moses Yoder View Post
    We live as a family of 4 and have an electric bill of around $120 per month. We use propane for furnace and stove, electric hot water, window air upstairs and downstairs. Why in the world would you have an electric bill of $400 - $600 per month? Just wondering. We watch a movie every night on a 36" screen, two laptops and a desktop, telephones for each member, I-pods, Kindle, cameras, lighting, $120 per month.
    LOL

    Family of 2 here, we balance our bill over the year and we pay $475/month. 3600 sf 2-story house, swimming pool, workshop that gets used a lot. Natural gas heat, gas hot water, gas dryer.

    The primary difference will be the location - southeast Texas. Those summer bills remind us of where we live all year round. This house was built in 2001, and is not near as well insulated as my last house that was built in 1969 and used R5.6 in the walls.

  15. #15
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    Well, I just signed up for solar.

    I found out a neighbor had a solar system installed 2 years ago, and asked him about it. Turns out he is a retired electrical engineer, and interviewed 10 different solar companies before deciding on one. I told him I was not interested in leasing, and he told me he felt the same, he just wanted to pay for it and have it done with no payments. Well, he ended up leasing, and I followed suit.

    What I did is kind of a hybrid deal. The good thing about leasing is that you get in for little down and a 20 year contract for a guaranteed level of efficiency, with all maintenance and repairs included. The bad thing about leasing is that you are paying for 20 years, which basically means you are paying interest on the initial cost for 20 years, and the leasing company gets any rebates and payments for surplus energy you may produce. If you buy, you are responsible for any maintenance and repairs, and the initial price is more than the initial price for leasing, not quite sure why, but two companies told me the same thing. You get to keep rebates and surplus energy.

    So.........I went for the hybrid deal, it's a lease, 20 years including all maintenance and repairs etc, but I am paying for the whole 20 year lease immediately. This saves me all that interest, they get the rebates, I get the surplus. My net cost is 26% less than buying it outright, and my payback will be in 4 1/2 years.

    I got a system that should cover about 98% of my total usage for the year or better. We figured this on this years bills which, as I said earlier, were WAY up because of the extra family living here for 5 months. I am getting 46 panels, and I have to put them on two roofs, which are situated great for exposure. It also includes a main panel upgrade to 200 amps.

    I found out that there are different efficiency ratings on panels, even through the same manufacturer, kind of like a 3HP or 5HP table saw. The ones I got were 140 watts each, not the highest, but pretty good. The inverter is another big deal. Older style inverters are used with the panels wired in series, so if one panel goes bad, it slows down the whole system. The newer types, which I am getting, have panels which each have their own built in micro inverter. If one goes bad, it does not affect the others.

    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. At the end of the 20 year lease, what happens? Well, the contract says that if they choose not to remove the system, and I do not ask them to remove it, they will convey the system to me at no cost. Note that the panels and the inverters are guaranteed to produce 80% of their original power for 25 years. As the salesman says, "do you think the company is going to spend money to remove and sell or dispose of a 20 year old system?" I also have the option to purchase the power from the system for another 5 years at 6 cents per kw. if they do decide to remove it after all.

    Now we wait for their engineer to come and make sure what I signed up for will work on my house. If not, we renegotiate.

    Rick Potter

    PS: Interesting facts: The system has it's own Edison meter, that keeps track of what you produce and how much goes back into the grid. It shuts down in a blackout, or line down situation so an Edison employee won't get shocked by my juice when the grid is supposed to be off. Edison has a habit of waiting about 9 weeks after the system is installed and approved before they allow you to turn it on. You decide...are they that far behind, or do you think they are squeezing some extra weeks out of you before you go rogue? My 20 year contract starts when it's turned on.

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