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I can't believe I just bought a $38,000 (before massive subsidies) solar system!

Post in 'The Green Room' started by tradergordo, Sep 30, 2010.

  1. tradergordo

    tradergordo Minister of Fire

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    Never thought this would happen, but the economics of it finally just seemed to line up. Big federal subsidy, big state subsidy, big forced power company subsidy, combined with significantly lower cost per watt system pricing all finally added up to a good investment (for me, not the government, I figure I should cash in if I'm going to have to pay for this nonsense anyway as a tax payer).

    3.5 year's to break even. Possible 9% compound annual rate of return on investment over 20 years plus inflation protection.

    My state = Pennsylvania, and for what its worth, I don't think the subsidies that make it worth it, will last much longer with fiscal belt tightening on its way soon. No time like now to do it if you have the right roof (non-shaded, mostly south facing). I don't know what the forum rules are, but if you want more info PM me and I'd be glad to refer you to my installer - he tells me there is a $500 referral bonus to BOTH PEOPLE which is pretty substantial. I used the biggest and most reputable installer in the Northeast and these guys seem to be very professional.

    At any rate, I've just gotten started in the process, signed the deal, but won't have it installed for probably 3 months (the paperwork is all very slow). My electricity production is guaranteed for 20 years, all equipment has a full warranty for 20 years, and it should cover 100% of my annual usage (this is ON-Grid, with true ANNUAL net-metering (everything I produce over a full year is subtracted from everything I use over a full year). They do complete online monitoring of the system, and I can check my system output whenever I want over the internet. Its a 7.56 kW system that is projected to produce 9,300 kW/hrs annually (I only used 8,400 kW/hrs last year).

    If any of you are from Ohio, I happen to know that their deal is pretty much equally good if not better (my brother in Ohio is looking into it). They have an even higher state subsidy, although one other form of payback (srec's) over the longer term is not quite as good, they sort of balance out.

    My house is probably going to look ridiculous (don't worry, I'll post pics), almost all roof space in the front will be covered with solar panels, even my attached garage roof.

    At any rate, I'm pretty excited about this, always wanted to be energy independent. Not having to pay the man for heat or electricity is a beautiful thing!

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  2. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Awesome tg, sounds exciting. Have the camera handy and keep us posted.
  3. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    My wife would be all for it. She pays the electric bill. What the square footage of the collectors? How big is your house?
  4. Adios Pantalones

    Adios Pantalones Minister of Fire

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    Putting your money where your mouth is! I want to say thank you- people doing this keep the solar companies in business and developing improvements which might make it more affordable for all of us some day.
  5. nate379

    nate379 Guest

    Sounds like a pretty large house or big family. 8400 kw in a year is ~700 a month.

    I use about 250-300KW month, 1400 sq ft, 2 people.
  6. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

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    The return on investment with all the subsidies sounds great for solar. Does PA have a exemption for the value of solar systems on the property tax? This is an issue in many areas where the increased property taxes just about equals the savings.

    A suggestion is to take a good look at your roof prior to the installation and if its not in excellent condition and fairly recent consider replacing it before the install. Inevitably they are making lots of penetrations and patching them, but the guarantees usually dont apply to roof leaks and fixing a leak a few years down the road with a solar system in place is a major project. My approach was to strip the roof, install EPDM underlayment (Grace weathershield) and then installed 25 year shingles. When I installed my hot water system, I flashed in all the roof penetrations under the shingles with the same material plus used roof boots for all my piping. With that combination, I am not worried about leaks.

    Do note in some jurisdictions, the building inspectors at the request of the fire department are requiring additional installation techniques including roof mounted disconnects and clear spaces along the sides of the roof for roof access. Its rare but worth checking into befofe the install. Note a guarantee of a code compliant installation does not cover these issues as it a local requirement not a code requirement.

    Before the hardware stores run out of them, buy a roof rake and extension poles. If it snows you will know why.
  7. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    I think your roof will look beautiful. I see a lot of systems going up around here and I aplaud every one of them. Thankyou very much for reporting the specifics.
  8. Wallyworld

    Wallyworld Member

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    How many years to break even, if their were no subsidies?
  9. tradergordo

    tradergordo Minister of Fire

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    My house is around 2500 sq ft. My energy use is low compared to neighbors, I do run some computer equipment 24/7, and a massive HEPA filter as part of a clean room (hobby/business), other than that, just the basics - I suppose central air in the summer is a large percentage of my total annual use (my wife always seems to be doing laundry which is probably another major use).
  10. tradergordo

    tradergordo Minister of Fire

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    My propery taxes are already very high, but this will not change them, it is treated like an appliance.

    Yea, I'm really wishing they had those new lifetime shingles out when my roof was built 10 years ago. My roof is in good shape and I'm not worried about leaks from the installation, they went into great detail about how meticulously they install everything with multiple levels of leak protection, its also warranteed, if a leak forms as a result of the install, they will fix it. But I'm not really sure what will happen when my whole roof needs re-shingled. Some people only replace the shingles that are NOT under the panels, they say because the sun does not directly hit them, they do not deteriorate like the rest of the roof, but who knows...
  11. tradergordo

    tradergordo Minister of Fire

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    If you factor the opportunity cost of the money, it would never break even. On just a straight up savings on electricity every year basis, its possible to break even after about 17-18 years. It definitely doesn't make financial sense without subsidies although it will once conventional electricity rates go up enough.
  12. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    I went to your blog. Kudos again.
  13. nate379

    nate379 Guest

    Yeah I'd imagine A/C would suck some juice. Don't need A/C here thankfully! About the only thing I have that uses a moderate amout of power would be in the garage... welder, grinders, etc.

  14. benjamin

    benjamin Minister of Fire

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    Correction: Putting OUR money where your mouth is.

    I can't believe I just bought part of a $38,000 solar system either. But hey, get it while the getting is good.
  15. PastTense

    PastTense Member

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    Can you give us some more financial details? If you are using 8400 KWH a year, say at $.15/KWH that is $1260/year, which is $4410 for three and a half years. I can't believe you are getting subsidies which cut the price to this level.
  16. Wooddust

    Wooddust Member

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    Things do break even faster with other folks carrying the load.
  17. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm pleased that your fellow commonwealth citizens and our government have the foresight to help manufacturing and installation of these systems ramp up.

    Up here we don't have enough subsidies to make it worth it - but those which do exist are VERY quickly bringing down the cost per watt! That means an actual payback is within reach at some point in the near future.

    As a member of our towns energy committee, I have to suss these things out. In general, I warn against the idea of using PV as an option which makes economic sense. On the other hand, I am fully aware of how quickly the price per installed watt is coming down...and this is only because of the subsidies.

    Germany has had a similar program for the last decade and installed enough PV to replace a couple nuke plants.

    One could look at it either way - everything has hidden costs. Personally, I like the idea of all things going forward at the same time....and depending on technology and economics and the environmental aspects, the various products and methods will sort themselves out. This cannot happen without government help - because, for instance, 100% of nuke plants are government subsidized (effectively insured for free), etc.........

    So, kudos, Trader....one thing we can be sure of is that you did the math!
  18. Wallyworld

    Wallyworld Member

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    Wouldn't the money be better placed on conservation, IE insulation for starters, windows doors etc. I assume its a grid tied system so what happens when the sun doesn't shine? Does he alter his lifestyle or do the utilities still have to plan for his huge electrical load? If they have to plan for his load wheres the saving for the taxpayers who pay for part of this system?
  19. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes, Wally, the money is better spent on conservation which is exactly why vastly more IS being spent on that. I heard a call-in to a radio show the other day by a guy who worked at Andersen Windows - he said the entire company was about to be shut down, but is now thriving due to conservation credits! The same goes for a lot of similar industries.

    Conservation doesn't make the news as much and people don't get on here saying "I caulked yesterday", but it is happening big time....examples:
    1. The current tax credits and subsidies cover windows, upgraded heating systems and much more.
    2. CAFE standards went up for the first time in decades

    Here is just one of the Fed programs:
    http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index

    As you can see, it has a lot of conservation measures. Also, the PV and other such subsidies are usually limited (big time) to a certain pool of available money....so it's not like some giant pool of tens of billions being wasted. It is just enough to get the wheels of commerce turning, IMHO.
  20. Wallyworld

    Wallyworld Member

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    I have no problem with getting the solar industry jump started, if I had the money I'd do it also. What gets me is, the utilities still have to plan for his usage. So on a sunny day the generator is idling, on a cloudy day it has to put out, either way it costs the utility money, that we have to pay for. If he was battery backed and had to live within his own electricity generation then it would be a no brainer. Like to see pics of the completed install, I'm sure its quite impressive.
  21. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I think, Wally, it often turns out to be the other way around! As you know, the utilities have to plan for peak use - which always comes during a hot summer day.......or similar. So the solar would help in that way.

    But I think the truth of the matter is that the % is so tiny......that it is a non-effect. It would be like complaining about the Nat. Gas and Heating Oil industry saying "they have to provide nat gas to my house if I want to turn the furnance on, but since I don't (use pellets or wood), they are screwed".

    It really does not work out that way because all of these things happen very slowly.....time for everyone to adjust. Utilities, also, like conservation and all the other things which take off their peak load. I'm not familiar with the utility biz, but my guess is that they make more money from just plugging along with the existing plants...than they do going on a building streak.

    Obviously, every action has a reaction - but PV will phase in so slowly that it seems it would not impact the formula, just slowly reduce the need for new plants.
  22. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    How long would the payback on a sloar P.V. system be if all the subsidies and tax breaks and Corperate welfare were removed from competing sources of generation? How about if a carbon tax is imposed?

    Does anyone realize the actual lifespan of these systems and account for the decade or years of addition generation past the warrenty period?
  23. Wallyworld

    Wallyworld Member

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    Peak use for me is in the winter so what do I know :) . I think PVs and heat pumps would be a great fit in the south. The sunny hot days you get your AC, once the sun goes down you no longer need as much AC. You have to start somewhere so I guess its a start.
  24. benjamin

    benjamin Minister of Fire

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    I don't know, what will the lifespan of the typical current generation PV system be? I know that I have repaired and reinstalled several systems (mostly hot water) that were in use from one to five years before failure, abandonment, or disuse. Sure the PV panels are very robust, but what happens when an inverter gets fried, or the roof gets replaced? I doubt it will be economical to remove and reinstall an array of solar panels every 20-30 years, even with a carbon tax. The idea of replacing only the shingles that aren't under the panels is humorous, as is the idea that the installers will do an adequate job of sealing roof penetrations. Disregarding the importance of the common roofer led to Ronnie Reagan to be blamed for (or given credit for) taking the solar panels off of the white house, when in all likelihood it was some roofing contractor who didn't put them back up because he didn't have to.

    No doubt PV is an amazing technology that holds huge promise for our energy future, but I'm terribly skeptical of the current round of government subsidies. And I don't like the technology being steered by bureaucrats.
  25. benjamin

    benjamin Minister of Fire

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    As far as peak power is concerned, I have no inside utility knowledge, and certainly no utility likes net metering, but solar Photovoltaics would have to be one of the least objectionable sources for them.

    True, the yearly peak load is usually in winter in the northern part of the country (PV produces slightly more power in cold temps, but there's less sun in the winter) but the daily peak demand mostly coincides with the production from PV. PV production is also much more consistent and predictable than wind.

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