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Old    David Williams (wakeworld)      Join Date: Jan 1997       07-18-2011, 11:50 AM Reply   
I recently had a guy come out and give me an estimate for solar power for our house. It's pretty damn expensive, but when you consider the fact that I can trade out the monthly payment I make to SDGE and instead start putting the same monthly payment towards a 15-year loan that pays for the solar installation, it starts to make some sense. That means that after 15 years I will no longer have an electricity payment and it also protects me from increases in energy prices, which are 100% guaranteed to happen over those 15 years.

Has anybody gone down this road? What are the pros and cons? Any input would be appreciated!
Old    SamIngram            07-18-2011, 2:11 PM Reply   
I have a cabin in AZ that was originally 100% off the grid (way up the mountain on the rim) and was powered by an old diesel generator, that I added solar to. I ended up completely covering the roof, patio, and workshop with panels. About a year ago I was approached by a neighbor who was going to bring power to their lot and they wanted to know if I would help them with the cost of burying the lines and bringing the grid to my cabin. I ended up splitting the cost with him and the cabin is now on the grid. I only use it maybe four or five weekends a year and it sits vacant the rest of the year. I worked with a guy out of San Luis Obispo, CA who helped me do all the paperwork and get me setup with Southern California Edison. I had to pay for one of their "smart meters" to be installed, but other than that it was pretty painless. The checks I get from SCE pay the water bill, yearly tax bill, and road maintenance bill for the cabin, with some to spare. I shopped around for several months for the best rate to sell my power at. From what I understand, it depends on your location, and local laws, if you can sell your power to whoever you choose, but if you can sell it openly there is a huge difference in what they pay you. I do have to pay a very, very small (less than 2%) fee to use the local power provider's grid in order to sell my power to someone in CA, but it is easily worth it.

As far as the panels go, I would make sure to check out panels from the same manufacturer that have already been in use for a couple years. I have a hodgepodge collection of panels and inverters and a huge collection of batteries. I have it set up so that the batteries fully discharge at 1PM onto the grid because I get the highest price at that time. The best panels that I have are made by Sharp, they have held up the best over the last 3 years and produce the most energy, the Kyocera panels are literally falling apart and will probably not last five years, let alone the 25 they are warrantied for.

Also, make damn sure to read all of the contract, if you have to sign a long term purchase contract. I was originally going to go that route with the local provider, Salt River Project. It turns out that the Arizona Corporate Commission runs the power utilities here in AZ. Their contract said something to the extent that based on AZ law they were required to make a profit in order to stay in business here in AZ and as the result of higher efficiencies and supplemental power, including solar, they would be charging more the power they sold and would be paying less for the power they purchased. It basically came down to that fact that no matter how much we lowered our consumption and increased our efficiency, the power company would charge higher rates, BY LAW, in order to make a profit. If I signed their contract the system would have taken 17 years to pay off.

I have a total of 4,912 SF of panels. I got most of them at an auction, but some online. The total system cost me around $65k to build, not including the batteries, which I already had. The system will pay for itself in 6.75 years at the current rate SCE is paying me. I originally sold an acre of land to finance the system, but recently bought it back for 1/4 of what I sold it for. I should be back to even after about 7.5 years

I will see if I can find my spreadsheet for you and the guy's contact info who designed and installed the system... he was a little strange, but actually has a PhD in electrical engineering. I think his fee was 10% of the total system cost, but I don't remember.
Old    Jason G (jason_ssr)      Join Date: Apr 2001       07-18-2011, 2:56 PM Reply   
I looked into it a few years ago. At that time I found early on that the battery cost vs. their lifespan would never get one ahead in the energy game if you live there and user power. Now if you have a cabin that mostly makes power without using it, then maybe its a different story, and maybe battery tech has improved and the cost gone down in that time.
Old    SamIngram            07-18-2011, 3:02 PM Reply   
Quote:
Originally Posted by jason_ssr View Post
I looked into it a few years ago. At that time I found early on that the battery cost vs. their lifespan would never get one ahead in the energy game if you live there and user power. Now if you have a cabin that mostly makes power without using it, then maybe its a different story, and maybe battery tech has improved and the cost gone down in that time.
My batteries are off a US Navy submarine that I bought at an auction in San Diego. They are huge 3 and 6 volt jobbies cost me more to move than buy.
Old    Jason G (jason_ssr)      Join Date: Apr 2001       07-18-2011, 3:10 PM Reply   
How many kwh (I think thats the right measurement) does your battery setup provide and what all do you run at the cabin? Im very interested in this as well.
Old    SamIngram            07-18-2011, 3:22 PM Reply   
Quote:
Originally Posted by jason_ssr View Post
How many kwh (I think thats the right measurement) does your battery setup provide and what all do you run at the cabin? Im very interested in this as well.
I don't have the numbers on me, I'm on the road today, but will try to post them when I get back. I think my system produces something like 3.5 watts per square foot on average because my cabin faces north and south and is an A-Frame so one side of the roof is either shaded or not in direct sunlight most of the time. The patio and workshop roofs are relatively flat and get good sunlight most of the day, except in the winter when they are covered in snow.

So 3.5 watts/square foot X 4,912 square feet = 17192 watts, but that is from memory, so don't hold me to it.
Old    David Williams (wakeworld)      Join Date: Jan 1997       07-18-2011, 3:31 PM Reply   
Thanks for the great info Sam! I'm not going to have any batteries involved in my system because we don't get enough blackouts to make it worth the cost and trouble of batteries. The plan would just be to generate electricity and put it back on the grid as it's generated.
Old    SamIngram            07-18-2011, 3:56 PM Reply   
Quote:
Originally Posted by wakeworld View Post
Thanks for the great info Sam! I'm not going to have any batteries involved in my system because we don't get enough blackouts to make it worth the cost and trouble of batteries. The plan would just be to generate electricity and put it back on the grid as it's generated.
My original system required the batteries to store the power since the cabin wasn't originally connected to the grid. Their only real purpose now is to be able to store all the energy up during the low paying times and sell it during peak hours. I think SCE is one of the only buyers that pays based on their system load, which is always the highest at around 1 PM. I think most of the others just pay a flat rate.

It has always been fun though to turn every light on in the entire place while my neighbors sat in the dark. The same goes for the AC on the hot days. Sometimes during a winter night or during a bad storm I would end up with the entire mountain at my house (probably about 300 people) because I was the only one with power, sometimes for several days. It always makes for a good pot luck!
Old    Akadirtbikingdad (wakeboardingdad)      Join Date: Aug 2008       07-18-2011, 8:54 PM Reply   
David, you are in the prime solar area in Cali, however, you may want to reconsider the 15 year and it's "free" idea. If I am not mistaken, the panels are only warranted for 10 years. I did a solar installation here where I live, in conjunction with the utility company I work for. It is pretty strange to hear the manufacturer say that a solar panel will never make the power it took to make - mainly due to degradation and failure. In other words, you never get paid back. You have to do it for the "good of mankind" if you are grid connected anyway. We have cheap power here, thanks to TVA. In your area, it may help save you a few bucks, but what could you do with the cash if you invested it?
Old    David Williams (wakeworld)      Join Date: Jan 1997       07-18-2011, 10:59 PM Reply   
That's my point though. The cash is already going out the door to my electric company and it's pretty much like paying rent; I get nothing out of it. If I do this system, I will be pulling no more cash out of pocket each month, but I'll be investing in a solar system. The panels have a 25 year warranty and it's a solid company, so I figure at the very least I should have 10 free years of electricity. This is all before you take into account that our president has announced that "energy prices must necessarily rise" and they've been going up 10% a year in my area, which means every year I will not only be save more and more, but I'll be protecting myself from the price hikes. On top of that, I'm in east San Diego County, so I've got sunshine coming out of my whazoo!

I think the only reason this actually pencils out is the 30% tax credit that you get from Uncle Sam, but I'm pretty sure that ends at the end of the year. Otherwise, it probably would take too long for payback.
Old    GD (diamonddad)      Join Date: Mar 2010       07-19-2011, 1:37 AM Reply   
I think the price per panel will shrink dramically as China gets into the game.

Quality and reliability are also getting better every year.
Old    Jason G (jason_ssr)      Join Date: Apr 2001       07-19-2011, 4:41 AM Reply   
David, without batteries, it is my understanding that you will still be paying a power bill if you expect to have power at night. Running only panels feeding back into the grid, you are only feeding back what you dont use in the day, but still taking from the grid all you use at night. I dont know that you can expect much of a surplus from a residential system running realtime if there is any activity in the house during the day. So, you can certainly reduce your bill, but not eliminate it. Is the heavy upfront cost plus occasional maintenance worth the modestly discounted electricity bill? Financially I think its a wash at best compared to just paying a monthly electric bill, but if lessening your environmental impact is your primary motivation, it certainly does that. Would also give you one of the only houses with daytime power in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
Old    SamIngram            07-19-2011, 8:34 AM Reply   
Don't forget about the guberment subsidy...
Old    David Williams (wakeworld)      Join Date: Jan 1997       07-19-2011, 10:31 AM Reply   
Yeah, I guess there is a 30% tax credit which runs out at the end of this year, so I've got that going for me, which is nice.
Old    David Williams (wakeworld)      Join Date: Jan 1997       07-19-2011, 10:38 AM Reply   
Jason, it all depends on how you set up your system. I can actually get a system so large that SDGE ends up sending me a check each year! However, I'd probably set something up that gets me close to paying nothing, but doesn't quite eliminate the bill. In my area, they will be going to smart meters in the next few years and they anticipate changing the rates to match load. That means the rates will be higher during the day when I'm putting electricity back on the grid, so I'll be getting even more money for each kw I generate. I think that makes sense.

Quote:
Is the heavy upfront cost plus occasional maintenance worth the modestly discounted electricity bill?
The idea is to replace my $287 monthly electric bill with a $287 monthly payment that goes towards paying the cost of the panels and installation (and any excess electricity bill). Therefore, I'm paying the same amount for the next 15 years as I'm paying today (even as electricity rates increase) and at the end of the 15 years I'm free and clear for at least another 10 (25-year warranty on the panels).

So far, nobody has talked me out of it, so I've feeling pretty good! Come on, somebody give me a con!
Old    P A (flattirenotube)      Join Date: May 2007       07-19-2011, 11:19 AM Reply   
Dave, my parents put a very small system on their house here in Denver to supplement what they pull off of the grid. After about 6mo's they decided to upgrade the whole thing to cover all of their needs and this is in Denver, where we do get snow, you would be sittin pretty in socal. I honestly think its a great idea. You are basically hedging against the cost of electricity, which we all know is going to rise, same as the price of gas. I think its a great idea, so no con's coming from me, and I've seen it in a slightly different climate.
Old    SamIngram            07-19-2011, 11:41 AM Reply   
Possible Cons:
1. The panels will not last 25 years and the warranty is prorated, so you will have to pay to have them replaced anyhow, not to mention the cost of labor. Also, how many companies will be around in 10 years when the panels fall apart to warranty them?
2. If CA is like AZ, it is law that the utility is required to make a "reasonable" profit. With this in mind, as more and more people consider doing the same thing the power company will begin to lose money and the law will require them to up the fees of their remaining services to offset the losses associated solar power.
3. Opportunity Cost - you are considering entering into a long term agreement regarding a "high-tech" industry that could and probably will change drastically over the next 10-25 years. In five years is there going to be new technology that would enable you to have a similar system that pays itself off in five years?
4. Will your home owner's insurance cover them in case of a storm, i.e. a hail storm? I don't know if you even have hail storms there, but my insurance company will not cover them and requires a large premium for an additional policy.

Those are the Cons that come off the top of my head. I would not have installed my system if I wasn't off the grid to begin with. As it is now, the grid has failed in my area four times over the last two years and my neighbors end up staying at my place. I will try to come up with more and post them.
Old    Small Light (stephan)      Join Date: Nov 2002       07-19-2011, 11:51 AM Reply   
I've got a few buddies that work for the company that Sam referred to in his first post. I know there are a few different ways that residential arrays can be financed. One of my friends was explaining a new organization that does some sort of co-ownership agreement. Anyways, the guys in SLO are great and expanding like crazy, give them a call - REC Solar.

Last edited by stephan; 07-19-2011 at 11:54 AM.
Old    Doug H (doug2)      Join Date: Jan 2004       07-19-2011, 12:10 PM Reply   
Potential con- increase in home valuation resulting in higher property taxes. TX allows you to maintain an "assessed" value pre array installation. Next owner won't be so lucky. A $40k array would potentially cost me an extra $1000 a year in taxes if this provision went away...

One question, are you "net metering" or selling back wholesale?? From your post above it sounds like wholesale? CA might be different, but I know the utilities here pay a penny or two while charging upwards of ten cents/kwh.
Old    David Williams (wakeworld)      Join Date: Jan 1997       07-19-2011, 12:11 PM Reply   
Nice, Sam! That's what I'm looking for!! I will look into all those areas. Thanks!
Old    David Williams (wakeworld)      Join Date: Jan 1997       07-19-2011, 12:21 PM Reply   
One of the "tax breaks" is that the county will not reassess the value of my home when this gets installed, so I'm covered there.

The metering is kind of complicated, so I will have to get specifics on that. I'm assuming I will be selling back at the lowest tier price I currently pay, which is about 5 cents. However, I've been told that when they go to smart metering, I will be able to get paid whatever they charge for the time of day I'm feeding the grid. That means when I'm generating during the hot parts of the day, I should be getting the highest price because that's when the greatest demand will be. Again, I'll have to double check all that. Thanks!
Old    SamIngram            07-19-2011, 12:56 PM Reply   
Quote:
Originally Posted by wakeworld View Post
One of the "tax breaks" is that the county will not reassess the value of my home when this gets installed, so I'm covered there.

The metering is kind of complicated, so I will have to get specifics on that. I'm assuming I will be selling back at the lowest tier price I currently pay, which is about 5 cents. However, I've been told that when they go to smart metering, I will be able to get paid whatever they charge for the time of day I'm feeding the grid. That means when I'm generating during the hot parts of the day, I should be getting the highest price because that's when the greatest demand will be. Again, I'll have to double check all that. Thanks!
This is how it works on my "smart Grid", which is why I utilize the batteries. I save the power all day and then dump the power back on the system when the highest fee is paid. I don't get anywhere near the rate that they would charge me, they only pay me about 20% or something like that.

Also, as an appraiser and a LEED AP, I can tell you that cost definitely doesn't equal value when appraising a home or business with a solar system. The only real accepted way of valuing a solar system is to analyze its effect on the Net Operating Income of the building.

Net Operating Income or NOI is equal to a property's yearly gross income less operating expenses.

In commercial buildings a solar system would lower the operating expenses of the building, increasing the NOI. The NOI is then "capitalized" using an appropriate "Cap Rate" to determine the value of the property. Therefore, the value of the solar system is equal to the amount the NOI can be increased due to the solar system, divided by the appropriate "Cap Rate".

In residential buildings a solar system is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it versus the same property without the system. This is true because residential properties are not regularly purchased for their income producing potential. The same theory would apply to the solar system as the commercial property but this rarely happens. In other words, a residential solar system will add minimal value to a residential property. As an appraiser specializing in litigation support and as an expert witness I can provide numerous case citations where a residential solar system was valued at less than 5% of its cost. Some of these cases are in the state of California that involve a tax appeal.

Greenies will argue that a solar system increases the value of the house in an intangible way that is "very real" because it attracts more buyers. This can not be quantified though and only represents an uneducated buyer or a buyer acting on feeling. In commercial properties this also holds true with the exception that other tangible effects on value are present, i.e. a solar system makes a commercial property viable for lease by a government agency with an Agenda 21 mandate on the books...

I could go on and on, but in summary, a solar system is worth very little on a residential property, and I can and have proven that fact.
Old    Jason G (jason_ssr)      Join Date: Apr 2001       07-19-2011, 1:55 PM Reply   
Have you looked into how big a system you would need to have to produce your daily KWh needs plus surplus to offset cost of on-grid use? To have enough panels to serve your highest demand in a day seems like it would be a huge array! I ask because I was going to put in a small system for emergency backup power (actually has some spare parts lying around, batteries, inverters, etc) but the system it would take to run my house would be massive (Dallas TX, running electronics, appliances, A/C, etc.) Are you already very optimized in that area?
Old    Akadirtbikingdad (wakeboardingdad)      Join Date: Aug 2008       07-19-2011, 8:24 PM Reply   
Financing solar panels? It's kind of like financing a computer isn't it? When it hits your desk, it's an antique. Right? Solar panels will be the same way. Technology will make them easier and cheaper to manufacture.

Here is how the TVA Green Power Switch program works here. The customer installs a system within their establishment and behind their existing meter. It is installed behind a "generation meter". My company reads both meters, sums them and then we charge the customer the going rate, which is roughly .06 per kwh. We send the generation meter to TVA and they then reimburse the customer at (I cannot recall the exacts) but let's say .12 per kwh. Of course, in this scenario, the customer does not have batteries and are grid tied.

A month or so ago, I considered buying some panels and using them to create cover for my patio. Good southern sun here and good shade for me. The panels have come down quite a bit since I did my 12kW install about 5 years ago, but the math just doesn't work out when my power is so cheap and our months of sun and sun angle not being as sweet as the western United States. Inflating energy costs to force consumers to "green" means is simply wrong.
Old    Dave Gast (nautiquesonly)      Join Date: Sep 2007       07-21-2011, 10:04 AM Reply   
Are these panels just screwed to the roof? What material is your roof made from? What happens down the road when that roof needs to be replaced? How much would it cost to remove the system to replace a roof the re-install the system? I have done my share of roofing and cringe at the thought of anything that is roof mounted. I wouldn't even let the satellite guy mount my dish up there. Lots of potential for leaks with extra protrusions. IF I were to ever think about a system like this, it would be mounted away from the house.
Old    SamIngram            07-21-2011, 1:52 PM Reply   
Dave,
The same thought went through my head! I grew up roofing houses in IL with my dad. I remember having to break a bundle of shingles up into quarters in order to carry them up the ladder when I was probably 10 years old. At my cabin the roof is made out of formed aluminium and I didn't want to put any extra holes in it so I mounted C-Channel with a bracket on the fascia board on the bottom and removed the original ridge cap and replaced it with a custom piece with holes in it for the top. Theoretically, the roof should last longer since the water and sun won't be hitting it. The roof on my workshop is 3D asphalt composition shingles and I ended up doing the same as the house with the C-Channel system.
Old    Joe C Sellers (joecs)      Join Date: Oct 2008       07-21-2011, 4:20 PM Reply   
We have a guy coming out tomorrow for a quote. This company has two options, lease or buy. With both options, the "salesman" said to relocate the panels, for roof replacement or moving to a different home, would be $350.
Old    David Williams (wakeworld)      Join Date: Jan 1997       07-21-2011, 4:25 PM Reply   
He showed me the mounting system they use and it looks pretty solid. It's hard to describe, but the base almost looks like a shingle and flows with the shingles even though it's mounted to the studs under the roof. The shingles go on top of the mount base. There is minimal contact with the roof and everything is aluminum or stainless. I think that's the least of my worries.
Old    Akadirtbikingdad (wakeboardingdad)      Join Date: Aug 2008       07-22-2011, 7:59 PM Reply   
Regarding mounts:

The sheet metal roofing is popular now. Both for home and business. On the system I managed, we used standing seam roof brackets. These "u-groove" mounts have set screws that mount the vertical seam and then the panels mount to them. Works great. However, our roof was a floating roof so it was a bit more labor intensive mounting the panels and forming the arrays.

For flat roofs you can buy stands which you bolt the panels to and then you place bricks or blocks in the stand to hold it in place.
Old    SamIngram            07-23-2011, 11:30 AM Reply   
I just saw this and thought I would post it up...

Solar Energy Flim-Flam
Old    David Williams (wakeworld)      Join Date: Jan 1997       07-23-2011, 11:48 AM Reply   
^^^ Terrible article because they really could have gone into better detail as to why subsidies don't make any sense, but I completely agree with the point. Subsidies are inefficient and a ridiculous attempt by government to be "green" that doesn't pencil out in the long run. However, as long as my taxes are being offered back to me in the form of a subsidy, I'll take 'em!
Old    SamIngram            07-23-2011, 3:54 PM Reply   
Did you read all the comments... it was a "Diary Post" which isn't really meant to be an article but more of conversation starter.
Old    H2O Pro Accessories (h2oproaccessories)      Join Date: Sep 2007       07-27-2011, 11:19 AM Reply   
what we need is stinking group buy on solar panels... I have wanted to do solar panels for so long..... but it just cost sooo much. Here in Alabama there are no state kick backs and even though you get the Federal 30%.... it is a toss up on if it actually saves money or breaks even. I would always have a power bill but the idea would be to make it as low as possible.

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