Author Topic: Installing Solar - Worth it?  (Read 704 times)

Longwell

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Installing Solar - Worth it?
« on: September 19, 2017, 09:06:30 AM »
Since I purchased a house last December, I have been very interested in getting solar panels both for the environmental and hopefully monetary savings. However, after getting some numbers from Solar City it doesn't look like it might be worth it from a monetary standpoint.

My house runs on all electric heat/AC. Generally right now in the winter I am paying $300 a month and during the summer it is $100 a month (1066kWh average). Their proposal is for a system that would cost $20,000 (9.1 kWh size) with options for 10 years at 2.99% or 20 years at 5%. My concern here is that during the winter months the solar panels won't be producing nearly enough to cover my usage so I will have to be paying the $225 a month to the solar company and then another $100+ to the electric company and I'll be spending more during the summer months as well. However, I guess you could argue that eventually the panels would be paid off and once they are you would eventually breakeven, though I'm not sure what the maths are on that. And then I also have concerns of the technology being outdated quickly which could lead to the possibility of hurting resale value. I'm assuming/hoping that someone on here has done some in-depth research into this. Help!

Edit: I live near Philadelphia.


« Last Edit: September 20, 2017, 07:01:37 AM by Longwell »

Valhalla

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2017, 09:12:27 AM »
Based on what you've said it doesn't sound like solar will help that much.  Solar is hot in areas like San Diego where the utility is poorly run and charges one of the highest rates in the nation, and it doesn't get so cold that you need gas for heat that much.

If you're really interested in solar I'd suggest getting half a dozen solar company estimates and do a cost comparison to utility costs. 
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GuitarStv

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2017, 09:37:22 AM »
Where do you live (specifically, what are your winters like)?  Are you able to physically get to wherever your panels are to clear snow off of them in the winter?

Our solar panels produce roughly 1/3 of the output during winter months that we get during the summer months.  They're on our two story relatively steeply sloped roof, so I don't bother attempting to climb a ladder and knock the snow off them . . . which means that if we have just the right mix of conditions (wet snow, followed by very cold temperatures) the panels will be completely covered for a month or two and we make effectively no energy.  Most years though, the temperatures aren't too cold so snow that we get will melt and run off the panels so they don't stay fully covered.  This is fine for us, as we just resell back to the power company.

As far as solar technology being outdated . . . meh.  Panels lose some capability over their lifetime, but most are still well into 90% efficiency after 20 years.  You should probably budget for new inverters every 10 or 15 years, because they do die out.  The main changes in solar that I've seen over the past five or ten years have simply been price reductions, not leaps and bounds technology changes.

Side note - If you get solar panels on your roof, you need to arrange for some kind of catching mechanism.  The snow will let go and slide off your roof very suddenly . . . and it's downright dangerous/scary to have 200 lbs of icy snow come down unexpectedly next to your house.  Not something I ever thought of before we installed the panels.

Drifterrider

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2017, 10:24:03 AM »
Since I purchased a house last December, I have been very interested in getting solar panels both for the environmental and hopefully monetary savings.

There are web sites that tell you how many "sun days" or "sun hours" you get per year.  Which way does your roof face?

I watched a show years ago that included Larry Hagman (TV's J.R. Ewing for those of you younger people).  He as describing his solar powered house and extoling the virtue of paying only one $15 charge to the electric company for the year.  Then he casually mentioned the set up cost.  $750,000.

Get the information, do the math.  There are places where solar makes sense and places where it doesn't.  There are areas where you allow a company to install panels on your roof and you get a benefit (and they do) and they don't charge for the panels.  From what I've read about Solar City, they are about selling you the panels which you now own:  best of luck.

Solar doesn't work on heat:  it works on light.  Find out if you get enough of it.

effigy98

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #4 on: September 19, 2017, 03:28:52 PM »
For comparision: I'm getting mine installed soon. It has a 7 year payoff in cloudy seattle WA with the new tax credits. Before the end of the month, no state sales tax and you get paid $0.16 per KW hour credits for everything you produce that you get to keep just for being green. On top of that your meter spins backwards if you produce too much and you get credits on your power bill to use later when you actually need to "buy" electricity from them.
« Last Edit: September 19, 2017, 03:36:47 PM by effigy98 »

WSUCoug1994

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2017, 04:45:20 PM »
So we installed a 48 panel ground mount array this summer here in Norther California.  This was half for utility cost reduction and half for environmental reasons.  We paid cash so we don't have to justify the payment aspect as you do.  We are producing close to 80 kwh a day during the summer - that has dropped to 55-60 kwh in September.  I am interested to see how things go as we move into the winter months but we are planning to have this system break even in the 7-8 year range if you consider the tax benefits.  If you do the simple math - it likely breaks even at best over a 20 year horizon if I had left that money in the market.  We have plans to invest in a battery back up as we are "off the grid" essentially where we live and we like the positive environmental aspects.  We will likely cover our utility costs all year with some exceptions for hot summers and/or cold winters.  We are thrilled with the system and the installation and it feels good not to pay the utility bill every month.  We also overbuilt our system to accommodate electric cars and potentially some lines of business we might run off our property in the future.  So for now it is overkill but it has been a good investment for us.  I will tell you there is a BIG difference between what my solar system tells me it generates and the credit I receive from my utility for the power generated.  I don't really care so much but it is as high as 15-20% less on a daily basis that the utility gives me credit for.  Just an interesting detail to consider.

I wanted to add one more thing. PGE essentially charges me between $.22-.28 per kwh (non-peak vs peak) when I buy electricity from them but they only BUY electricity from me at $.08 per kwh.  This is the same amount they pay all energy producers.  That, my friend, is whack.
« Last Edit: September 19, 2017, 07:02:13 PM by WSUCoug1994 »

Longwell

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2017, 07:04:02 AM »
What's interesting is that none of the literature or the lady I've been talking to from solar city has mentioned the energy company buying the extra produced electricity back from me. Which seems strange since if they did you would think that would be a big selling point...

Cadman

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #7 on: September 20, 2017, 07:31:27 AM »
1. Will this be roof mount or ground mount? If roof, you're pretty much fixed in angle and surface area. If ground, you could take advantage of 'multiple strings' of panels facing a couple directions to maximize power generation (many inverters support multiple strings at little additional cost). Note: If you have multiple roof planes you could also do this, but it tends to be much more expensive than MPPT on ground racks.

2. With that decided, go here to estimate the power the system will generate and try different scenarios: pvwatts.nrel.gov/ This will help size your system and give you a reality check compared with what an installer is suggesting/selling.

3. Talk to your power company about solar connection costs, meter fees and buy back pricing. Also 'renewable energy' rebates. Consider the state and fed credits (some state credits are being reduced/phased out quickly).

4. What will your jurisdiction allow? Can you do any of the work yourself (to defray costs), or must it all be done by an installer? What type of permits do they require? This should all factor into the financial picture to see if it's worth it for you.

5. In lieu of installer financing, is it possible to use a no-fee, 0% CC?

WSUCoug1994

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2017, 09:00:36 AM »
What's interesting is that none of the literature or the lady I've been talking to from solar city has mentioned the energy company buying the extra produced electricity back from me. Which seems strange since if they did you would think that would be a big selling point...

I am sure that your utility will buy the extra energy back.  Here in CA our local utility only rationalizes our bill once a year.  They allow you to "bank" your extra kwh from the good solar months to be utilized in the low solar months.  If at the end of 12 months there is a surplus they pay you if there isn't you pay the utility for what you have used. 

Aegishjalmur

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #9 on: September 20, 2017, 09:26:11 AM »
Make sure you have a good, unobstructed, south facing view. If you have trees, if even a portion of the panel is shaded, you will lose a majority of the power output.

http://roadslesstraveled.us/sailboat-solar/

They installed solar on their boat, but the same issues would apply on a house. I have seen many people who install solar panels on their roofs, but they, or their neighbors have tall trees that would obstruct the panels for the majority of the time, so the panels become an expensive roof ornament.
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GuitarStv

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #10 on: September 20, 2017, 09:38:53 AM »
Make sure you have a good, unobstructed, south facing view. If you have trees, if even a portion of the panel is shaded, you will lose a majority of the power output.

http://roadslesstraveled.us/sailboat-solar/

They installed solar on their boat, but the same issues would apply on a house. I have seen many people who install solar panels on their roofs, but they, or their neighbors have tall trees that would obstruct the panels for the majority of the time, so the panels become an expensive roof ornament.

This is true if you use string inverters.  If you use micro inverters shading of a single panel doesn't impact any other panel.

Fudge102

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2017, 10:05:20 AM »
Hi I work for a solar company here.  So I can help you out a little bit.  The big answer is, it depends.  Not all solar is the same in every state.  Here's a resource guide:

https://solarpowerrocks.com/pennsylvania/

This will cover all the basics of solar and incentives in Pennsylvania.  Not all utilities buy back power.  In New York, they don't buy the power, they credit you for the generation in summer and you work off those credits in winter.  It sounds like you have full 1 for 1 net metering in PA.  That means your bill should balance out.  Now by starting in Winter you will have both a power bill and a solar bill.  That's because you don't have any solar credits.

If Solar City pitching you a lease deal or a ownership deal?  There are three general methods of solar:  Leasing, Power Purchasing, and Owning. 

Leasing and PPAs are very similiar.  Big picture, you don't own the panels, are back to square one after the terms are up, and only gain a slight initial savings compared to owning a system.  They are also a pain in the ass to deal with when selling a home.

Owning means the system is yours.  The payments are a flat rate.  Eventually they go away.  If all is planned well, your yearly payments should match your yearly utility payments the first year.  You'll see small savings over time as utilities go up an average of 4% a year but that solar payment is the same.  The real savings don't kick in until the system is paid off, 10-20 years depending on terms.  At that point, a system will easily pay for itself in the next five years of savings.

Solar is about the long game if you want savings.  The short term plans all sound good, but they don't pay off as much in the end.

spokey doke

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #12 on: Today at 08:22:14 AM »
Just going to jump in here and say that I LOVE the idea of solar power and have long wanted to have a solar setup at my house in the sunny desert of the intermountain west... buy an electric car, have my small business running off of electricity...the works.

I also am willing to spend (not just invest) because of the environmental value of solar power.

Further, pretty much every year for more than a decade, I have heard nothing but "solar prices keep dropping like crazy."

But...every time I run the numbers, it is still strikes me as really expensive, and has a breakeven point at well over 20 years (in my state the incentives are crap, but we do have lots of sunshine and my house is on a good site for exposure).

Still waiting for it to seem reasonable...
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GuitarStv

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Re: Installing Solar - Worth it?
« Reply #13 on: Today at 06:09:39 PM »
We will break even by the end of this year (6 years after putting the solar panels up).  But we got a pretty sweet resale price as part of Ontario's MicroFIT program.  :P