An update on my solar power project – results show why I got solar power for my home (hint: climate change is not a reason)

My home solar

Solar panels on my home in California

UPDATE: I’ve answered questions from commenters below in the FAQs, and added additional diagrams – Anthony

Much to the chagrin of people who are sure I’m evil, in the pocket of big oil, and highly carbon positive, I’m actually an independent and pretty energy efficient guy, and I challenge any of my detractors to show their solar and energy efficiency projects. Put your money where your mouthpiece is, I say. For example, do loud climate campaigners Joe Romm and Bill McKibben have solar power on their homes? Do Jim Hansen and Michael Mann have solar power while telling us we all must cut back our energy usage linked to fossil fuels? Inquiring minds want to know.

Readers may recall last summer that I put up my third solar power project, my first being on my older home, then a large 125KW solar project I started as Trustee for the Chico Unified School District. My third project is doing quite well, and a number of readers have asked for an update on my original article as they are considering doing what I have done. This being the day of the electricity denying “Earth Hour”, I thought it would be a good day to write about how I’m beating my electric bill. You see, while many tout the supposed CO2 saving properties of solar panels, my impetus is entirely different: I’m hedging against California’s exorbitant green-driven utility rates.

For example, see below from my bill last year when temperatures went up in the summer, and tell me if where you live you come anywhere close to paying what I do.

PGE_rate_july22-23-2012

Above: my actual rate and costs from last summer June-July 2012.

Thanks to PG&E’s new smart-meter system, they can now gouge me more efficiently and on schedule, when I need electricity to keep cool the most. I doubt there’s anyone reading this entry that pays 93 cents per kilowatt-hour to keep their home cool in summer.

I (along with millions of others in California) pay what I call a “location tax” due to my living in California’s Sacramento Valley, where summer temperatures regularly hit and exceed 100F. The majority of California’s population, living along the coast, don’t see temperatures anywhere near that, and thus don’t have similar air conditioning issues.

PGE_weather_june-july-2012

And, with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) running amok with cap-and-trade regulation frenzy, with refusal of coal and nuclear energy, relying on green wind power mostly for the future, combined with a looming national Carbon Tax, finding a way to generate your own electricity is in my opinion, the best hedge against future cost increases. Climate concerns don’t even rate with me on this issue, I’m thinking more about my financial future and the health and comfort of my family, and that’s why I got a solar system – it’s a hedge against the green energy and climate madness.

Here’s how I beat the green menace and PG&E.

Remember back in December when climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann was so out of touch that he couldn’t even conceive that I could do calendars for myself (I sent him a  free one), but instead it must have been some nefariously funded production? Well, he probably can’t conceive of how I put up my own solar system either, since like the Josh Calendars, I did it using COSTCO and some sweat equity.

Here’s a few FAQs.

1. Did “big oil” or some other entity pay you to do this?

No.

Did you use government grants to do this? No. Did you get money from the WUWT tip jar or calendar sales to do this? No.

So how did you pay for this? Simple. I took out a low-interest loan against my savings account the contents of which was then converted to a certificate of deposit spanning five years. I’ll have the solar system paid for in five years, and the CD will be free at that time. Then I’ll have a solar system and my savings principal intact plus I’ll get interest on the certificate of deposit. Basically I’m trading my PG&E electric bill for a financing bill for five years.

How much did it cost?  About $25,000 and change, fully installed, plus shipping and tax on the hardware portion.

2. Why didn’t you get one of those “no money down” solar systems being advertised today?

I’m borrowing and adapting a popular credit card slogan to best explain this: “ownership has its advantages”. I looked into several of these other plans, and when I penciled out the entire scheme, it didn’t make much financial sense, and at the end of the lease, I either had to buy the system at “fair market value” (to be determined) or they come and remove the system. And given the number of solar company bankruptcy/failures out there (think Solyndra), I was concerned that I’d be straddled with a system that was orphaned due to the company going out of business and the debt purchased by some holding company, who could then argue that previous contracts were “null and void” due to such bankruptcy and “oh, by the way here’s your new payment schedule”. When you want to control your own destiny, relying on others is not a safe bet.

3. Grid-tied or battery storage?

It is a grid-tied system. Battery storage systems really don’t make any sense for a city dweller, as they are primarily off-the-grid type applications where you need independent power 24/7. This was primarily a financial consideration, not a power security one.

4. Did you get any government rebates?

No, there was a PG&E rebate program, which put about $1200 (based on my system size) back in my pocket, but as I said earlier, I got no government money related to this. There will be some small tax advantages for me.

5. Does it make any noise or heat?

No, the inverters are essentially silent, except for one small fan. The inverters do make some waste heat, but they are mounted outside, and not an issue. The solar panels actually help keep the house a bit cooler, as they absorb sunlight for a good portion of the roof space, which otherwise would have gone to heating the attic.

6. Has it saved you money?

Yes, absolutely. More details follow.

7. How does your power bill work now?

We get a quarterly summary showing our electric use/surplus, and a year-end “true up” bill to balance any difference. We still have to pay for natural gas usage separately.

8. How big is it? How much power?

36 panels, of 250watts each, for a maximum DC output of 9000 watts (9KW). Of course that’s under optimal sun angle and atmospheric conditions, and with DC to AC power conversion loss, the real max is closer to 6500 watts of AC power. Typical days run anywhere from 4500-5500 KW at peak sun. I opted for the better monocrystalline (blue color) panels rather than the polymorphous (brownish) solar panels as they are more efficient and longer lasting.

9. (added) How soon do you expect to be able to pay back your investment?

If I assume a linear payback rate, it would be about 12 years. However, I think it will be closer to 9 years based on my estimates of what the future holds. First, a look at recent rates by state:

us average residential electric rates

Source: http://www.pacificpower.net/about/rr/rpc.html

Now, look at the forecast for residential electricity prices. It isn’t linear.

residential_electric_forecast

Source: US Department of Energy

10. (added) What is your cost of capital?

The way my loan is setup, guaranteed against a certificate of deposit earning interest, the APR works out to 0.8%. Over 5 years, that works out to be $511.66 for the cost of the loan.

11. (added) How does the mounting system affect your roof integrity? Will you get leaks?

The installation was guaranteed to be leak free, and after this winter rains, I can testify to that. The way the roof mount works, the screws used to secure the rack support post are put under a metal “flashing” cone, and screwed in with a sealant applied to the screw threads. This guarantees that there’s no rain penetration because the flashing not only prevents the screws from getting rain in the first place, the flashing acts just like another shingle. Here’s a diagram I prepared showing how it works:

home_solar_UNIRAC1

See a descriptive animation here: http://www.unirac.com/video/animations/solarmount-i/index.html

12. Why didn’t you go with larger panels (like the 300 watt panels of the same size).

Because the volume pricing COSTCO had arranged (at that time) did not offer that size. Adding my 2% COSTCO rebate combined with the lower overall cost made the 250watt panels a no-brainer.

Specs on the panels are here: pdf_icon.png GRAPE SOLAR 250W MONO PDF

13. How was the system shipped?

It arrived by truck as two large pallets, plus a third long package of rails. I stored these in my garage, unpacked them, and hauled the shipping materials to my office dumpster.

14. What about possible hail damage?

The rated impact resistance: hail diameter of 28mm (1.1″) with speed of 86km/h. (53mph)

These panels are really tough. My installer says you can drop them from the roof onto the concrete and they’ll survive just fine (he’s done it by accident more than once). here is a video and a news item that suggests the panels are tougher than the roofing.

News item: 

Surprisingly little damage to rooftop solar panels

The epic hailstorm did surprisingly little damage to the tens of thousands of pricey solar-power arrays built on metro Phoenix rooftops in recent years.

http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/20110930biz-hailstorm1002solar.html

======================

Purchasing the system

As I mentioned, I used COSTCO to buy the entire hardware system. They resell from a  company in Oregon called “Grape Solar“. Here’s their largest package:

COSTCO_Solar5KW

I actually wanted more power than that, so I contacted Grape Solar directly, described my needs, showed my house roof plan and power bills, and they came up with a custom design for me at no charge. Here’s the line item summary of what I bought:

grape_solar_list

I did a lot of research on this system, and found it was well designed and likely to live up to its claims, 8 months in, so far so good.

NOTE: Detailed instructions on how to order your own system from COSTCO follow at the end of this article.

Here’s links to manuals (PDF) on the items above:

I particularly like the Kaco Blue Planet DC to AC PV inverters, which are compact, quiet, efficient, and good-looking to boot. Here they are (5000 watt and 3500 watt models) on the side of my home with the PG&E SmartMeter. DC power comes in at the conduit from the solar panels at top right, AC power exits at bottom left in the curved conduit to junction box to tie into my AC mains breaker box.

solar home grid tie inverters

=======================

Installing the solar system

While I “could” have done the entire installation myself, having mad electric and electronic skills, I opted to have someone experienced in this particular technology do it for me. The Grape Solar company contact gave me a list of certified installers in the area, and I called each of them up and asked them questions. The guy who held up under my intense questioning (A fellow in Redding named Baran Galocy) got the job.  For some of the installers, I knew more than they did, never a good sign. Choose wisely.

Plus, this fellow was willing to work with me to trade some sweat equity for a lower installation cost. Since a good portion of time is spent in transport, unpacking, staging, and disposal of packaging, I opted to perform those tasks in sync with his job schedule to save labor time and thus money. Check with an installer you might choose to see if they will do the same for you.

Permits, of course are required. The first step was getting a city work permit, so that the city could get their “cut”. I say this because their inspection was total BS, the inspector never opened a panel box or climbed on the roof to inspect panels. He was most interested in whether mandated warning labels like this below (to protect the stupid) were properly applied. Your mileage in your city may vary. Fortunately the installer handled getting these, keeping my blood pressure down.

IMAG0283

The next step was to put up the UNIRAC mounting system on the roof:

UNIRAC_install

This took about three partial work days to complete, since only mad dogs and Englishmen work on rooftops in the midday summer sun. Here it is completed:

UNIRAC_completed

The next step was placing and securing panels, while doing base panel wiring:

securing_home_solar_panels

Note the ladder contraption at the right. This is carpet remnants secured to ladder and rooftop. Shown in red to the left of the ladder is a nylon rope hawser with clips I designed that allows the man on top to pull up the panels while I push from below. This saves your back, plus virtually eliminates the possibility of dropping them and/or an injurious fall. The carpet prevents the panels from being scratched or damaged while they are pulled up.

This paneling operation took about two partial work days to complete.

Finally, the last step was to hang the inverters on the outside wall and to finish all the interconnect wiring. which took about another day.

Waiting for the city building inspector and for PG&E to “approve” the installation for grid connect took far longer than the actual installation. Then I discovered that PG&E changed one of their forms in the middle of the process, and we had to re-do the paperwork. While the install was competed in August, we didn’t actually get the final connect and switchover to net metering until December. Ain’t bureaucracy grand? I was just unlucky, you can figure about 2-4 weeks in most cases.

==========================

Results!

Here is a photo of my SmartMeter running today at about 940AM:

home_solar_meter 3-23-13

The 5.01 kW reading is my instantaneous generation, note at the right side it says “Received”. If I am using more power than I generate (or it is nighttime) that will switch to say “Delivered”. So now as I’m writing this, I’m 5kW net positive at my home.

At the top, in the big numbers is the summation of Kilowatt-hours over the lifetime of the meter. When the meter is delivered, it is set to read 00000. If I am using more electricity than I generate, it will show a net positive value (i.e 00234) if I have generated more electricity than I used, it will go backwards from 99999 and as this shows I’m at 99340, leaving a surplus of 660 Kilowatt-hours since the system was switched over in December. most of December and January was fairly overcast here, so my biggest gains have been recent, as shown in my SmartMeter summary online (highlighted in Yellow), I’ve now surpassed energy-efficient homes in my area:

PGE_home_solar_compare

My usage has gone negative:

home_solar_usage_feb2013

home_solar_usage_Mar2013

Nice to see the money flowing to me too, here’s my quarterly bill:

home_solar_PGE_bill_feb2013

Unfortunately, I still have to pay all those taxes and fees amounting to $4.66, even though I’m a net generator rather than a consumer, but I’ll take the deal.

================

How this works

The strategy is simple, generate/save as much electricity as you can during non-summer months, bank it (as shown on the meter) and then draw against that bank of generated energy during the summer or when you need power. Hopefully at the end of the true-up period, I’ll end up with surplus, in which case PG&E is now mandated by state law to send me a check. Amazingly, it didn’t used to be that way, and they were getting free surplus electricity.

If at the end of the true-up period, I used electricity, I pay for that then. Since I’m able to watch usage online and on the SmartMeter, it should be manageable to ensure we come out ahead (unless we have an extended heat wave). No matter what though, we are pretty much free of the tyranny of the 90 cents per kilowatt-hour in the summer when tiered rates kick in to punish us valley dwellers.

More info on the net metering program is here: http://www.pge.com/en/myhome/saveenergymoney/solarenergy/solarupgrade/index.page

=========================

Do you want one for yourself? Here’s how you can help yourself and help me in the process.

Since I’ve done all the work of documenting the process, the Grape Solar Company has agreed to offer me a finders fee for anyone who purchases a similar system through them via COSTCO. Here’s how to do it:

1. Contact Steve Bouton or Garret Towne at Grape Solar via telephone or by email:

Grape Solar, Inc. 1305 South Bertelsen Road, Eugene, Oregon 97402

Tel: 541.349.9000  Fax: 541.343.9000

Email: steven.bouton “at” grapesolar.com or garret.towne “at” grapesolar.com

2. Tell them you read this article, give them my name so they will credit me.

3. Give them your details, they will design a system to suit your needs free of charge. They’ll need your address, description of your view of the sky to the south (sometimes visible on Google Earth) plus your goals for electricity saving, (full replacement, supplemental, add as you go, etc.). Arrange financing if need be – note how I used my local bank to finance a loan against my savings account for a win-win.

4. Grape Solar will set you up with a custom order you can place on COSTCO.com that will include everything you will need. Then contact an installer. They’ll also supply a list of installers in your area if you don’t wish to do the work yourself. As I mentioned, you may be able to do some work yourself to help the installer to save money. Be sure to ask.

5. You’ll make the order with COSTCO, either you’ll need a credit card with a high limit or you’ll have to wire the money to COSTCO (which is what I did). BE SURE TO ASK TO HAVE YOUR COSTCO MEMBERSHIP NUMBER APPLIED TO THE SALE. This will ensure that if you have an account that gives you a rebate for year total purchases, you’ll get that year-end 2% cash back. 2% of a $20K system is $400, well worth the effort!

6. You have your installer get work permits and do the paperwork with your local utility company – this is key. Without these being done right, you are dead in the water. make sure your installer will do these for you.

7. Install the system – get it inspected and turned on. Submit final paperwork to your local utility company for any rebate programs they may have.

8. Keep all your paperwork for tax time – you may be eligible for tax credits – check with your tax preparer.

9. Enjoy a lower or zero power bill

============================

I hope this gives everyone who is interested the path forward. if you have questions about this please ask in comments. – Anthony

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Since the rest of us helped pay for your installation, we wish you the best of luck.

BarryW

One issue I hadn’t thought of before is that of roof replacement. Basically, it would seem that you would have to completely disassemble and reinstall the panels and supports if you need to reshingle the roof. Seems like it would make sense to have a new or reasonably new roof before you start a project like this.
The other question I have is whether your insurance covers damage to the solar cells. Doesn’t look like you have trees around your place but I’ve wondered about coverage for hail or debris damage to something like this. Extra cost? Rider?

I have been thinking of building a small cabin off grid, and going for the whole PV & battery (with NG back up generator) approach for it.
A fully off grid system, with a smaller PV footprint for weekends is the goal. Thank you for this update. Please give us another one in August, when the Dog Days of Summer are in effect.
Your example here is great.

I must say, very impressive operation. In South Florida, FP&L keeps our rates very low. My monthly average is $86.00.(1200 Sq. Ft home) I hope it stays this way, but I doubt it.

A C Osborn

Anthony, that is very worthwhile, what rate do PG&E pay you for your electricity.
As you have so much sunshine have you considered running any Peltier affect Cooling devices for the house.
I was thinking in terms of the Apollo cooling systems.

Jeff Alberts

Apart from grammatical errors, very nice and informative post.

nicholasmjames

Very nice.

bernie1815

Anthony:
Very interesting. Can you give a sense of your annual electricity bill for the three years before you installed your system?
I am in the NE with a customer friendly municipal power company and a Kwh all in charge of $0.138 and my annual bill is just over $1000. I have relatively low usage: forced hot air oil heat, no air conditioning but an in-ground pool. I do not see the payback for solar, though that might change if I install a geothermal heat system.

I pay 4.5 eurocents per kw/h low, 8.7 eurocents high tarif. Including all taxes i pay 9 eurocents per kw/h average. No way i’d ever install such system even living in an area with 300 days of sunshine.

GeologyJim

As usual, Anthony, your approach is rational, methodical, and well explained.
If I said you are more an engineer than a scientist, I trust you’d take that as the compliment I intend. Engineers get stuff done, and they have to pay attention to the bottom-line.
Maybe the slogan of home-generators like you can be “Speak JUICE to Power” and you can stick it to the PG&E Man!!
Power from the People is Power to the People.

Well done Anthony! Thanks for explaining the mysteries of producing ones own electricity from sunshine. If I lived in sunny climes and if I had a big roof facing south I could be tempted! I hope you gets lots of commission!

Ray Hudson

Standing applause from this aerospace engineer in SoCal, Anthony! I like to say “I was green before it was cool to be green.” I installed a 3.5 kW peak power, grid-tied solar PV system on my roof back in NOV of 2003. Much like you, I could care less about CO2 or carbon neutrality and for me it was all about future value of money (or in this case, the future value of my power bill from SoCal Edison). When I ran the numbers, I came up with an ROI buyback period of 10 years, and that was with a highly conservative analysis. My average ANNUAL power bill is now usually less than $100. I generate plenty of excess power during the summer months. And being in Huntington Beach, I do not have the air conditioning problem you have, I do own a pool and pool pumps/filters are notorious power hogs.
My first project has been so successful, that when I purchased my 35 acre ranch in SW CO in 2006, I decided that my first building I constructed on that project (an engineering lab with a 900 square foot domicile) was going to be completely off-grid. Since I only go there a few times per year, I went with a combined solar and wind turbine generation system with an augmenting propane generator of 6kW. We get decent winds at the high elevations of the Dolores, CO area so wind is quite practical given I designed the total electrical distribution system for the building to work in segments that can be individually powered based on need. My wind turbine is up and keeping my batteries topped off when I am not there, and this summer I will complete the solar panel and propane generator installation. Totally self-sufficient in SoCal and SW CO, and loving it!

Kon Dealer

How long will it be before it pays back your $25,000?

The second chart, “My Energy Use June 23 – July 22, 2012” is not immediatly obvious that it was BEFORE the installlation. A caption note may be of use.
I look forward to seeing the same chart and same format for 2013.
Please explain the “true-up” process.

If at the end of the true-up period, I used electricity, I pay for that then. Since I’m able to watch usage online and on the SmartMeter, it should be manageable to ensure we come out ahead (unless we have an extended heat wave). No matter what though, we are pretty much free of the tyranny of the 90 cents per kilowatt-hour in the summer when tiered rates kick in to punish us valley dwellers.

No doubt that you are banking KWh at low pricing tiers. You will be consuming “delivered” electricity likely during periods where other people are paying high tiers. Won’t you be charged at high tier rates? Granted, You are only being a delivered a small fraction of the total power you use.

I actually wanted more power than that, so I contacted Grape Solar directly, described my needs, showed my house roof plan and power bills, and they came up with a custom design for me at no charge.

Could you explain the basis of your design size? Why 36 panels, not 30, not 42?
When you sell back to PG&E, is it at the going rate or the highest rate? Under the “this is how it works”, it seems that all kWh are created equal? Are they under your plan?

Jeff L.

Anthony, if you dont mind me asking, Based on your past bills (pre-system), what do you think your payout period is on the system?

Klench Mychiques

So when are you going to thank all those environmentalists that have pushed for legislation to force breakthroughs in solar PV costs? 😛
Your system looks great, BTW. What brand are the solar modules? Chinese?
Another question: Why not use a battery system as a buffer so that you use more of your generated PV-power and dampen peaks on the grid (which unfortunately isn’t ready for the full transition to renewables yet)? There’s some interesting, increasingly affordable and more environmentally friendly technology, like lithium iron phosphate batteries. It would also allow you to use a smaller PV array (again to dampen the peaks). 9 kW is great, but more than enough to power two homes over here in Europe.

Kelvin Vaughan

Thanks for all the information Anthony. Very interesting.
I don’t think I will get a system here in the UK as I suspect they will be under a lot of snow during our winters to come. It’s getting colder each winter now.

TImothy Sorenson

IT would be nice Anthony if you provided us an estimate of how you expect the overall cost savings to occur during the 5 years. THEN in 5 years we can see how well you have predicted the future. Since CO2 shouldn’t affect it too much, and since the weather is the weather it would be fun to see how you faired, say compared to Hansen et al.

Anthony
Why did you use the 250 watt panels vs the 300 watt panels that Grape solar has that are about the same size?

eco-geek

I pay about $270 per month for my tiny hovel in the UK. Fortunately the government have planned to run out of generating capacity by cutting it so the bills might go down a little then…

RealOldOne2

Wow, $0.92/kwh for peaks & $0.20-0.30 for most of usage. Pv makes sense at those PRC(People’s Republic of California) rates.
I pay a flat rate of $0.04/kwh for all usage year-round. Plus a couple cents/kwh for distribution charge, and then a few $/mo for taxes.

Anthony, very interesting, but what is your latitude and summer average temperature? I presume the Winter weather is fairly mild and and all your excess solar power is needed in the Summer to power AC for your home?
There are a lot of homes here in the North East of England with roof mounted solar panels, the government provideds a grant for them. I have no desire to get one for the following reasons:
1) Very few houses have AC, our Summers are not well known for being unbearably hot and humid.
2) Solar Panels would be useful in Winter to generate electricity to warm the house, except for the fact that on 21 December the sun is only 11 degrees above the horizon on the few occasions when it is visible due to lack of cloud cover.
3) Our central heating is gas powered and our Winter bills are huge compared with the Summer so we pay a fixed monthly charge all year round, for both gas and electricity. This is currently £268 (about $405) but I would imagine it will be higher next year due to the cold Winter/Spring we are having.
If I was living under similar circumstances as yourself, I would do exactly the same and take exactly the same precautions. The homeowners here with solar panels are paid “rent” by the installation companies who then get the government grant. Too many loopholes for my liking!

David Ball

Anthony, I admire what you have done here, and the environmentally friendly way of life you lead. Unfortunately, you seem to have attracted an extraordinary number of assholes with this post. Sad.

tz

Ah, Califoronimics. Only there would such a setup be profitable. Yet you still have to pay what Taxifornia levys, including last years retroactive taxes. Most people (not getting government checks) runfor the border. Yet I applaud you (and the locality didn’t complain about zoning or some stupid permit!)

Steve C

93 cents per kWh is outrageous – obviously PG&E stands for Pathological Greed & Electricity. But your description of a pretty nice installation makes for an informative read – thanks. Those results look very promising, too – I assume either the smartmeter or you are going to be logging everything to check any long term falloff in panel output, etc. Further reports, please!
BTW, when you say the inverters are ‘essentially silent’, does that include radio noise? There are a few kW being switched there. Mercifully, as I live in a conservation area, there aren’t any solar installations near me (there are some optimists here in the UK, however), but I’ve read several reports that suggest some of them generate considerable RF interference. I guess you’d have mentioned it if there was much of a problem.
FWIW, I pay 15.834 UK pence per kWh of electricity, 5.0505p for gas (both including 5% VAT). Hmm. Might investigate gas generators, 32% efficiency to beat … 😉

jabre

Great post. I have a system that was paid primarily through municipal rebates. At the time they were offering 85% cash rebate (up to $50K) through the municipal utility (Austin Energy) and 30% federal tax credit. Every time I have a new guest to my home that lives in the same billing area I thank them profusely for my free power.
Interestingly, at the time I had told numerous people about the program (~5 years ago). Only one actually followed through and had it installed. All the others didn’t have the mental energy to think through the benefits even after having it spelled out.
The program is now long gone and rates have gone up significantly (booyah) although nothing like California..
My only feedback to others looking for a system is to be very careful of your choice of inverter as it is very expensive and the component most likely to fail. After trolling the forums and speaking to installers at the time I found SMA Sunny Boy inverters to be the most reliable. It’s been a while, so things may have changed. Also, I chose American made panels. I thought that since there is a 20 year warranty on the panels that it is most likely that I would be able to obtain warranty remedy with American vs. Chinese panels.

Sorry I forgot to add, our house is a detached house with 2,700 sq feet and four of us living here.

Willis Eschenbach

durango12 says:
March 23, 2013 at 11:02 am

Since the rest of us helped pay for your installation, we wish you the best of luck.

Durango, it’s not clear what you mean. As I read the article Anthony paid for it himself … except for a PGE rebate of $1,200 which came from ratepayers. I can live with that, and (sadly) I’m a PGE customer.
Fortunately, we don’t have air conditioning, which is the kiss of death for electric bills. So our monthly bill is usually well under $50, we’re way down on the low end of consumption.
Anthony, both well done and well described. I hope lots of folks take you up on the work you’ve done.
w.

Willis Eschenbach

Jeff Alberts says:
March 23, 2013 at 11:14 am

Apart from grammatical errors, very nice and informative post.

Now that’s just throwing mud and hoping it will stick, and it’s unpleasant behavior. Either tell us what errors, where, or don’t bring it up.
w.

John F. Hultquist

What an interesting post! Thanks.
I noticed a house about 10 miles away from me (either new or recently built) where they are in the process of installing a nearly full roof system. This is at 47° N. Lat. Most others around are free standing in the yard with just 6 to 10 panels. I’ll have to stop and see what they are doing. That house is in the town and I don’t know the rates and situation as their provider is not the same as ours.
Our 2013 electrical rate is $.0875/kWh; up a bit. That seems to be below your lowest rate. We get hydropower from the Columbia Basin dams.
Next week they are going to come and install a new digital meter but, so far, there has been no information about any price changes.
So, I don’t think the solar roof is in the near future. I’m very busy with garden/outdoor projects now, but later this year, maybe a weather station with camera, showing data over the image. There is one I like the looks of in NE Ohio but I don’t want to provide a public link here as I don’t know how robust these things are. It is listed on the wunderground pages. Some readers might not approve of a post about such, but I would welcome it.

Matt in Houston

Nice to see you winning against the tyrants Anthony.
The sad part is the fact that you have to spend $25k in order to protect yourself from the insanity of BAD GOVERNMENT. But I certainly give you 3 cheers for a hard fought victory aginst the slimeballs.
Have you ever thought about installing a misting system around your AC heat exchanger to increase it’s efficiency?

Sal Minella

Nice installation and documentation, however, I have a problem with the utilities paying for dribs and drabs of intermittent power being generated at tens of thousands of sites. It would seem that most of the power fed back into the grid in this way cannot be relied upon by the utility company and is, therefor, just dissipated making the cost of energy even higher for all ratepayers.

RACookPE1978

How did you get away with not needing a DC controller? They are almost as expensive as an inverter, and are equally likely to fail/cause system interferences, and “humming” in the area.
Was this not needed because you did NOT install a battery as a backup power supply?
2. How did the roof clips get attached through to the rafters (?) without damaging the shingles & causing leaks, flipping up and damaging shingle edges and ends?

Peter

Anthony, that is all well and good in a very warm, sunny place, but I can’t imagine gnerating much solar at 45 degrees north latitude near the ocean where we treat sunshine as an almost mystical phenomenon.

Betapug

Good to see your inverters are made in a wood burning heated plant and are:
“100% free of nuclear power
100% CO2-neutral”
http://www.kaco-newenergy.com/co2-neutral-manufacturing
Transmission losses for your own production/consumption will be obviously low. I wonder if anyone has calculated the net system benefit or loss of widely distributed feed in generation?
Would the computing power necessary cause brownouts?

kakatoa

Your rate schedule from PG&E must be an “E-1” with a Net Meter. PG&E’s “My Energy” web site does not provide any information under the “cost” tab for my E-7 Net Meter. At the moment PG&E’s databases are not capable of providing me information like you receive. It looks like you are on the Smart Rate program as “Event Days” show up on your bill. Have you ever wondered how PG&E figures out how many kwh’s you actually used on an Event Day? What happens in the data base algorithms at PG&E when the Smart Meter has a communication issue and it doesn’t send any information to PG&E’s databases for a few hours. When you are paying 90 cents a kwh lets hope they get the accounting correct.
Glad the new system is meeting your output and economic expectations!

DR

Where are the data available for hours of sunshine for each state? Anyone? Seems like the last time I looked into this, Michigan is not a good candidate for solar if the goal is to save money.
Having geo-thermal heating/cooling, our bills are quite low year round.

Stephen Richards

My biggest gripe about solar systems is that it is a method for making the poor poorer and the rich richer. It is an inverted Robin Hood scheme and that really bugs me. However, for all those that want to game the system I say good luck. I chose not to.
Good post though, Anthony

Bengt Abelsson

Well, when the sun shines, the production is high, and price is low. So the system allows you to swap a low-price kWh (at sunshine hours) for a high-cost kWh at night.
For the individual using the system – OK, but consider the case if all houses in the area had that kind of installation- who will deliver, at reasonabele cost, in overcast conditions?

Gary Hladik

Aha! Now, Anthony, we learn the real reason you’re against Earth Hour! Besides being in the pocket of Big Oil, you’re now one of the eeeevil power companies sucking the lifeblood from the little electric consumers and [choke sniffle sob] The Children! May the sun never shine again upon your sumptuous capitalist palace! /humor
Congrats on the new system, Anthony. Can we expect annual updates on performance?

Greg

Thanks for all the details. It’s good to see how this sort of thing weighs up financially. Now the all the feed-in rates and subsidies are subsiding, the market is swinging to people you are interested in energy autonomy.
If I had a roof that was pointing the right way , I’d do the same.
I’m sure this article will be help to many (and hopefully you’ll get some spinoff for you efforts).
Petrossa says:
March 23, 2013 at 11:19 am
I pay 4.5 eurocents per kw/h low, 8.7 eurocents high tarif. Including all taxes i pay 9 eurocents per kw/h average. No way i’d ever install such system even living in an area with 300 days of sunshine.
http://petrossa.me/ says:
This is one of the key reasons why Germans now pay the second-highest price for electricity in the developed world (exceeded only by Denmark, which aims to be the “world wind-energy champion”). Germans pay three times more than their American counterparts.
Fairly typical of anti-solar ranters, you pick and chose your “truth” to suit whatever point you are trying to make.

Stephen Richards

Post above, maybe. I refer to the methods used in the UK and Europe, of course.
Peter says:
March 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm
Anthony, that is all well and good in a very warm, sunny place, but I can’t imagine gnerating much solar at 45 degrees north latitude near the ocean where we treat sunshine as an almost mystical phenomenon.
Peter I’m at 45°N, Sw France. Temp today and yestrday around 20°C. Good sunshine today and about 2500hrs all year and we get 13% reduction on the materials. However, it is still not, IMHO, the solution to the world’s nonexistent problem.

Willis Eschenbach says:
March 23, 2013 at 11:57 am

Jeff Alberts says:
March 23, 2013 at 11:14 am
Apart from grammatical errors, very nice and informative post.
Now that’s just throwing mud and hoping it will stick, ….

I noticed a minor one (I think Anthony’s blood pressure is still being affected) – Fortunately the installer handling getting these, keeping my blood pressure down.
Lessee, what else? This is ambiguous: I took out a low-interest loan against my savings account which was then converted to a certificate of deposit. I assume the loan money wasn’t converted to a CD, but I don’t understand what happened to the savings account and how it could be used as collateral once it was converted to a CD. It’s not central to the story, so I just skipped it the first time through. OTOH, people still have savings accounts? I have one at my credit union, but the interest rate is so minuscule that there’s little reason to use it.
Is “mad” right in having mad electric and electronic skills.
Some people gripe about since/because, but I’m not one of them.
English men should be one word. Okay, should be “Englishmen”. “One word” wouldn’t work.
4. Grape Solar will you up…. They will what?
6… with you local utility company
All in all, nothing major.
REPLY: Rick Thanks. I was up against the gun this morning, as I had to drive a relative 95 miles down to the Sacramento airport to catch a flight. In my haste I missed these. All are fixed now. – Anthony

pottereaton

BarryW says:
March 23, 2013 at 11:03 am
One issue I hadn’t thought of before is that of roof replacement.
_________________________________
Most roofs in California are cement or clay tile and will long outlast a solar system. But, yes, if you have an old composite shingle or wood shingle roof, or a very old tile roof, it’s something you have to consider.
I would guess that most houses being built in the sunbelt these days have tile roofs of some kind.
I’m heating my pool with solar right now, but have not made the leap to a total system mostly because of a huge medical emergency in the family and because I may be leaving northern San Diego County before long. But my neighbor has a system, it’s at least ten years old and working fine.
The pool heats up regularly to 85-90 degrees in summer, which is okay because we have breezy afternoons.

TRM

“90 cents per kilowatt-hour” – For a second there I thought you had missed typed and you meant 9 cents per Kwh but then I read on and you are in Calfornia. Absolutely unbelievable.
Since cooling is the major draw in the valley has anyone tried burying 1000 feet of 6 inch pipes 10 feet in the ground and pumping air through it? Supposedly the air goes in at 100 and comes out at 55-60. I’m intrigued by this guys idea for heating/cooling “www.citrusinthesnow.com” and wondering if anyone in the valley has tried it?

Tom in Florida

I did notice the gas grill but did not see the MMS station. They are required to come in pairs aren’t they?
Love you calling out the “saviors of the Earth” to see if they put their wallets where their mouths are.

HankHenry

Fascinating. What makes more sense? Centralized power production or power production at the place it’s consumed.
I believe in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” and I think the PG&E’s smart-meter system must be a stupendous aid to getting that job done in a sensible and efficient way.
Having an older roof I wonder if there is any system yet that does double duty as both energy source and protection from weather.
Inquiring minds do want to know! … Al Gore, are you turning off those damn lights of yours.

Thank you for an extremely informative and helpful article.

Klench Mychiques

If we’re going to nitpick:
Amazingly, it didn’t used to be that way
Jeez…

Beware that many of the details here are NOT the same outside of California. “Net metering” is defined various different ways, almost always not like Califorrnia’s definition. And it probably will change in the future in California. Almost always, any juice you feed the grid can only be offset by same type juice (peak demand or non-peak demand). And the books are wiped clean quarterly – no carryover. Generally , solar systems produce non-peak demand power and consume peak demand, which you will have to pay for unless you have fed an equal amount of peak demand juice onto the grid. Last time I looked , the Feds provide a $1000 per kilowatt tax credit , up to $6,000. Inverters are expensive, even the cheap and inefficient centralized inverters used here (instead of microinverters). Micros are guaranteed for 25 years – central inverters don’t harvest all the power possible and usually last about 15 years and cost around $3500 per 6KW.
There is another (unmentioned) cost item here, and it’s a whopper : that roof will need replacement before the solar panels become deteriorated, which means a total uninstall, re roof and then re-install of the solar panels. That can easily more than double the cost of the system and destroy any savings. Unles you do the install yourself, forget about a rooftop solar array. Also, inversion penalties are 4 to 5 %, deterioration of the panels can be 1% per year, dirty panels produce far less and orientation and elevation of the array will make a significant difference – roof should point due south. Ratings of panels are phoney baloney STC not PTC, ratings – actual max harvest is at least 12% less than STC ratings.
Check local rules and regs for net metering before doing anything. And remember about the need to replace the roof. For that reason, I wouldn’t buy a house with a solar array if the seller wanted a higher price because of the array.
Overall, solar panel users are being subsidized by their neighbors – the power an array puts on the grid is uncontrolled power and has very little intrinsic value, since itt has to be backed up constantly by conventional power. In other words, the solar panel user provides the grid with junk and expects expensive, power on demand from the grid when he needs it. That WILL change in the future when the public gets alerted to the situation.