Earlier this week, I wrote about how I am investigating a move to solar energy. I highly recommend reading that article first. There's a lot to learn about solar energy in general and this article builds on the information in that article. In addition, the decision to go with solar is highly dependent on one's specific situation and a lot of that information on my situation is there.
When I left you on Monday, I had just received a packet of information from a local solar vendor. The estimate was to put 24 panels on my garage, which would supply 83% of electricity we use each year (assuming that the last year was "typical"). Our electric bill would go from $1,522 to $309 in the first year. According to the company, we will keep 4.82 tons of CO2 out of the air each year, equal to 144 trees processing CO2 or avoiding burning 497 gallons of gas.
In short, we'll save a lot of money and do a lot of good for the environment. If I can't plant 3600 trees over 25 years, this seems like the next best thing, right?
The vendor wanted to meet and talk over the proposal. I was eager to the same. We met for an hour and a half and I got every question I had answered.
My biggest question was, why put the panels on the garage and not the main part of the house?
The answer came from measuring the solar efficiency of the roof. In order to measure a roof's potential they take four measurements from all the corners with a sophisticated device and average them together. In order to receive state grants the roof must be 80% efficient. In looking at the numbers from my house, I have two corners that were north of 95% efficient and one that was 79% efficient. The last corner was 47% efficient... a killer.
I had known that I had a tree potentially blocking part of the roof, but I didn't think it would be a big deal. I was wrong. As the sun gets lower in the horizon, it blocks more and more of the roof. The vendor and I went out to look at the tree and it actually looks a little dangerous, leaning towards the house. In a storm, the could hit our house and do some damage. Even if I didn't go with solar, it would be wise to have some tree people check out the situation.
I asked the vendor if I cut that down, would we be able to use the main roof for additional capacity? He said we definitely could and that it would probably be more efficient than the garage we were planning on.
We went from putting 24 panels on the garage (in a 6x4 arrangement) producing 83% of our energy needs to putting 28 total panels on both roofs producing 101% of our projected energy needs. The plan would be to put 16 panels (8x2 arrangement) on our more efficient main roof and an additional 12 (6x2 arrangement) on the garage. This would reduce our bill to $44 a year. It would be the equivalent of 175 trees processing CO2 and not burning 606 gallons of gas.
The solar panels get less efficient every year... on average 0.7% less efficient. After 25 years, the panels will be "only" 82.5% effective. That's still very good. Considering that projections are for 25 years, everything after that is gravy. It's kind of hard to think 15 or 20 years in the future, but we'll have half the space on the garage to build further capacity. Who knows what they'll sell then, but hopefully they are a standard size. Then I could buy 6 more and put them in the most efficient part of the main house and shift the older ones to the space on the garage. That kind of boost could extend the life of the whole system producing 100% of our power to 35-40 years.
The Cost of the Panels/Installation
As previously mentioned, there are two vastly different prices when it comes to solar: the actual price and the price after state and federal subsidies. In the case of the 24 panels, my original cost would be $28,380, but after state grants it would be $20,130. The solar company applies for the grants in our name and takes that money off the cost right away. (Let's pause to celebrate a big Lazy win!) That $20,130 is eligible for a 30% federal tax credit making the final price $14,091. The price is inclusive of labor, permits, wiring, etc.
The 28 panel that we are looking to go with would cost $33,110, but state grants bring it down to $23,485. The federal tax credit brings it to $16,440. The timing of the federal tax credit, is of course after filing taxes, so there's an area in there where about $7,000 is due to come back to us, but we have to foot the initial money. It's not ideal, but these credits come amazingly close to cutting the price exactly in half for us.
This all begs the question of "how do finance this move to solar?" It is far from a trivial question and is worth it's own article. So stay tuned for that.
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