Reaching for the Sun

August 11, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Dreaming of Solar Panels - Watercolor

In the Arizona summer, air conditioners get a lot of exercise, and power consumption goes up quite a bit.  While that cost is somewhat offset by the low winter energy costs, it still puts a dent in the budget.  So this year I decided to Go Solar! 

Considering the plentiful sunshine here in Phoenix, you might think that just about every house would have solar panels, but it just ain't so - not yet.  But that is starting to change as solar technology gets better and cheaper, the US government and power companies offer significant rebates, and solar companies offer lease programs with no money down.

This spring, I ordered a 7500 watt system which was installed in July.  It took a few weeks for all the inspections etc, but yesterday the system was turned on.  Not much of an event - just turning a few switches, checking a few meters, and voila!  Power! 

Before I talk about the financial aspects, I'll tell you a little about the process.  It starts with a Solar City rep making a visit to describe the system and benefits.  Mostly stuff you already know, but they have to go through their presentation, blah blah blah.  A good time to ask questions if you are a novice.  Next, they collect usage data and other pertinent information to help them size a system.  My electric company has usage history available for download, so this was a piece of cake.

Once a system is proposed and you sign the contract, Solar City starts an engineering design for approval by the county. You may also need HOA approval. I was lucky that my roof surface area, pitch, and compass orientation were perfect for the number of panels required by my system.  If you aren't so lucky, your system may need to be located off-roof, or possibly downsized. 

I took advantage of a number of rebates being offered by the power company and the government.  These were all handled by Solar City, so I didn't have to do anything.  I like that.  Don't need more paperwork.

Installation itself took about 2 and a half days.  At times there were 5 or 6 guys climbing in the attic and on the roof.  I felt sorry for them, since it was 104 outside every day.  Lots of sweat.  I was told by the supervisor that they are required by OSHA to monitor roof temps and come down when temps reach 130.  I may have that number wrong, but it was something like that.  Yikes!

I have a tile roof, and they removed tiles to attach the panel brackets to the roof studs.  Then they replaced the tiles and flashed accordingly to prevent leaks.  We recently had 4 inches of rain in an hour and no leaks, so I guess they did a good job.  They mounted a new meter box on the side of the house, next to the other meter, and they mounted a converter in the garage.  All was done professionally with minimal interruption.

So, what about finances?  And performance?  My system cost me $12,000, which I paid in full.  Solar City offers an option where you pay monthly, with no down payment.  The monthly cost is guaranteed to be lower than the dollar savings, so it's a "can't lose" situation.  Since I paid up front, I have no monthly costs.  The system is guaranteed for 20 years. 

When the system was turned on at 8:30 in the morning, with the sun fairly low in the east, I was generating 2500 watts - about a third of my usage with the AC running.  By mid-day, I was generating 6200 watts.  When the AC flipped off, suddenly my power was reversed, and I was sending electricity back into the grid, building up credits.  In the winter, I will generate credits all day long.  What a nice feeling, watching the meter go the other way!

My typical summer electric bill has been around $350.  I expect that to go down to about $100 next summer.  In May and June, when daytime temps reach 100+, the nights cool off nicely and the AC doesn't run.  So, when I talk about $100 bills, I'm talking only about July, August, and maybe September. My winter bills have been around $90, and I expect those to disappear entirely.  As for total system payoff, I estimate about 6 years, assuming no rate increases.  Since rates only go up, it will likely pay off sooner.

If you have an interest in saving money on your electric bills, please do me a favor and contact Solar City using the following link:

Solar City Info

By requesting information through this link, instead of just going to their website, you help me earn a referral credit, and I thank you.

To me, this decision was a no-brainer.  Whether you pay the lease up front, or put zero down and pay monthly, you will save significant money.  Check it out.

 


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