Menu Close

Living With Solar Panels, Why It Is Not A Big Deal

In 2006 our utility sponsored a crazy great deal on grid tied solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems. We bought a 2-kW system and then qualified for the state and federal tax credits. I love a sale and couldn’t believe what a great deal this was.  The only catch was that the system included all the parts and pieces but did not include the permitting or installation. I did the permit drawings and fortunately, we have a friend who is an electrical contractor and he and my husband installed the system over a weekend.

We’ve been happily living with our very affordable solar system ever since. Except for the low utility bills and the panels on the roof, there really is no difference between living with or without solar PV. System

Components:

A solar photovoltaic system includes solar panels, a mounting system like a rack, an inverter and a meter. Panels themselves are not very heavy and the racks are straightforward to assemble. An electrician needs to do the heavy lifting to connect the inverter and meter to the system.

Solar panels are quiet.

Yep, no noise no nothing. There aren’t any moving parts to a solar system, it just sits there and makes electricity day in and day out. Even when it’s cloudy we still get production. We forget that we are living with solar panels because it’s so quiet.

Solar panels last a long time:

Most manufacturers will warranty their systems for 20 years. The expected life is 30 years. Could be more, but no one is willing to say yet. The weak link in the PV system is the inverter. We had one that misbehaved for a few months and then died. Our utility quickly replaced it and we have had no problems since.

The bills:

It seems that every utility across the country has a different approach to how they bill for solar. Ours does an even-steven debit and credit thing and cleans the slate at the end of the year. Other utilities will pay for excess production, while some will buy the power produced at wholesale prices and sell you power at retail prices. Because of this, it’s worth checking with the local utility to see what their deal is.  Our utility charges a base monthly fee no matter what, so for us there is never a $0 bill, but the cost is about the cost of a good lunch.

Utilities are getting nervous about how popular solar is becoming. As more people install their own power generating stations that are connected to the grid, the utilities are looking at how they are going to make money. They are looking at charges they might levy on PV system owners to cover their infrastructure costs. An alternative if their fees are too onerous are batteries, but battery storage has space and temperature requirements that make it less attractive than a grid tied system.

Solar Panels look cool:

I love the way solar panels look. They have this weird techy thing about them and they are also a very clear expression of our values. As solar becomes more developed there will be more options than there are currently. Already there are building integrated photovoltaics in the form of shingles.

Solar carport anyone:

The roof is where most people, include us, put their PV systems, but it isn’t always the best spot. If the roof has to be replaced before the panels do then removing and reinstalling the panels is a big headache. A metal roof being the exception since it has a longer life typically than panels. Solar carports make a lot of sense because the roof isn’t as vulnerable to leaks. If there is a leak in a carport who cares?

Investment:

The upfront cost of a solar electric system can be a pretty big barrier and the reason most people don’t look into it. It’s like buying a car. If you can afford the cost out of pocket that’s the best scenario. If you have to lease the system or get a loan, get the lowest possible rate you can. Do the math to figure out how the system will pencil out over it’s life. I bet that it will put money in your pocket.

It’s a safe bet that the cost of power is only going to increase and buying your power now locks in the cost forever.

How To Save On PV:

Shopping around for the best deal and service is important.  After that, looking at ways to reduce energy use can have a potentially big impact on the size (cost) of the system.   For existing construction, there are no-brainer things you can do.  For new construction, it’s all about high performance.

Living With Solar Panels

Solar electric systems are not like the electric system in a house, instead they are more like another appliance. They are easy to install and living with them is seamless because there is virtually no maintenance and no noise. They pay for themselves over time and then they go and put money in your pocket. How great is that?