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rated:
I searched the archives and found some older solar threads from 04-05. I think it's time for a new one. The cost of solar has come down and the cost of electricity has gone up.

Currently there is a 30% federal tax credit for solar systems.

I'm going to be buying a house in Southern California soon and it's looking like it may be a good investment (CA also has some rebates that appear to be based on how much electricity the system actually generates).

Any advice/ideas/anything to be aware of?

I will probably just try to get bids from a few installers and try to get them down as much as possible. I'm thinking not as many people are installing solar now because of the economy.

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pietromoon (Dec. 24, 2014 @ 8:23a) |

Not sure if I already replied to this thread, but I owned a 2013 Chevy Volt and looked into solar. Charging the volt rea... (more)

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i would read that thread.

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rated:
In some cities there are fantastic incentives.

I believe Berkeley has one of the following programs:

1) you get the solar panel fully paid for by the city. Let's say it costs $30k.
Then, over the next 30 years, you pay an extra $1000 every year in property tax.
Your benefit: loan at 0%, full tax deduction, when you sell the house, the next owner assumes the payment.

2) you get the solar panel (partially) paid for by the city and the city gets (a portion) of your electrical bill savings.

I believe Berkeley has #1. Not sure.

I know that other cities have thought about similar programs. It sure would generate jobs and a LOAN of $30k per household may not be insurmountable.

I myself am thinking of buying a system too.

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Wow that's a nice incentive. Unfortunately the city i'm moving to is a small poor city and will not be doing anything like that. It looks like SCE has some rebates though as well. I checked a calculator and it said the system would pay for itself in about 10-12 years.

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Read this article recently, you might find it interesting: Going Solar: One Year Later

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If you have an HOA, make sure where you put the solar generators is acceptable to them.

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"you can see, the system generated 1,166KWh in July, but only 258KWh in December—down about 78%. By March, we were back up to 754KWh and May's power generation was 1,060KWh—the first month over 1,000KWh since last August."

Umm, I consume an average of 1600, as per my electricity provider. I would need more panels I assume?

"The eternal question of price/performance always crops up. Clearly, I'm saving money, but I also sank around $38,000 into the system. At $3,000 per year in savings (which assumes a constant rate for power cost and the same power usage pattern), that's a 12.5 year payback."

Ouch!!

Yeap, patience is a virtue.

rated:
Very interesting, thanks. I did notice that the 30% federal rebate was capped at $2k for 08 but for 09 has no cap. That's a huge difference when you're spending 30k+

Edit: but it looks like he doesn't have AC thus the low bills in summer. I work from home and will have to run the ac all summer. But I would expect in there would be more sun in the winter in the temecula area than in norcal.

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Cheapoking said: "you can see, the system generated 1,166KWh in July, but only 258KWh in December—down about 78%. By March, we were back up to 754KWh and May's power generation was 1,060KWh—the first month over 1,000KWh since last August."

Umm, I consume an average of 1600, as per my electricity provider. I would need more panels I assume?

"The eternal question of price/performance always crops up. Clearly, I'm saving money, but I also sank around $38,000 into the system. At $3,000 per year in savings (which assumes a constant rate for power cost and the same power usage pattern), that's a 12.5 year payback."

Ouch!!

Yeap, patience is a virtue.
I don't think 12.5 year payback is that bad, provided the system operates trouble free during the time.

rated:
In my area geothermal heat/cooling has a much faster payback and is pretty easy to do on new construction. By far the most cost effective thing you should do when building new is 2X6 exterior walls. Yes you lose 2 inches of floor plan but the energy savings will be far worth it.

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dmlavigne1 said: In my area geothermal heat/cooling has a much faster payback and is pretty easy to do on new construction. By far the most cost effective thing you should do when building new is 2X6 exterior walls. Yes you lose 2 inches of floor plan but the energy savings will be far worth it.

You could do geothermal, 2X6, *and* solar panels. Throw in some low-e windows and the place would qualify as an energy star certified house.

OP, make sure that you understand what's physically required for solar, and keep that in mind as you house hunt. Off the top of my head, that's a south or southwest facing roof, a roof angle that's about the same as your lattitude for optimum efficiency, and an electric utility that accomodates net metering (probably all of them in SoCal). Any shade on the roof will kill your efficiency, so try to predict if there are any trees that'll need pruning in the next 30 years. If they're on your neighbor's property that's too bad. There might be some law that neighbors have to maintain a "right of way" for sunlight to hit your panels but that's no way to make friends. A solar hot water heater would go great next to your solar panels, especially if you've got a pool. They're much cheaper than solar electric panels too.

Here's a database of energy efficiency grants: http://www.dsireusa.org/

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NV Energy has $2.20/watt up to $11000 rebate. Combine that with the federal savings...a 5KW, $30K system (do some of the work yourself) turns into 10K. Save ~2000 a year, and payback is in 5 years assuming everything stays flat.

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I read this a while back in Popular Mechanics. This was the part that was most interesting...

That means even the cheapest solar panels cost about $3 per watt of energy they go on to produce. To compete with coal, that figure has to shrink to just $1 per watt.

Nanosolar’s cells use no silicon, and the company’s manufacturing process allows it to create cells that are as efficient as most commercial cells for as little as 30 cents a watt.


So your post got me thinking again and I went to their website here and saw this....

Want to Buy Panels? We are presently already sold out for the next 12 months. We are working hard to scale our production capacity as fast as possible. Please sign up above to be notified of availability.

Sold out for the next 12 months?? 30 cents a watt?? Why are we not hearing more about this stuff??

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lot of scammers out there in this field.

I should know... I represented one in an unrelated matter.

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For those in CA, try sungevity. They'll quote you a system for free online.

EDIT:
Sungevity

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I believe a large incentive for me to go solar with my eventual house is to get completely off the utility grid. Not in a tin-foil hat way, but in a "power-outages" and inflation dont phase me kind of way (with respect to power at least).

What I discovered is that anytime you have a system thats connected to the power grid, its illegal to have it produce power when theres a power failure. This is a safety precaution because if the power company techs are up in a line trying to fix it, and they have your juice flowing back at them, they will die.

So the point is that if you want to be self sufficient during a power outage, you either have to illegally wire your system up. Perhaps with a second set of lines such that your power really doesnt go back through the main city line. Or completely cut yourself off from the power company and rely solely on solar with a backup diesel generator.

The biggest concern I have with the solar power is that my understanding is they use 12V car battery technology to store the power. So not only is this extremely inefficient, converting DC back to AC, but also it's relying on 120 year old lead-acid battery technology that hasnt changed much in the last century. I just know that after I invest in the solar system, some new battery tech will come out rendering it obsolete. Lead-acid batteries also need to be replaced over time so thats going to be an added expense as well.

I think right now, the best solution is to use separate solar cells for various things that can use them. Such as outdoor lights that have solar cells built in.

I personally would not waste the money on a solar system using todays technology unless the tax incentives were really worthwhile - which they may very well be for certain people in highest tax brackets.

rated:
tripleB said: What I discovered is that anytime you have a system thats connected to the power grid, its illegal to have it produce power when theres a power failure. This is a safety precaution because if the power company techs are up in a line trying to fix it, and they have your juice flowing back at them, they will die.

So the point is that if you want to be self sufficient during a power outage, you either have to illegally wire your system up. Perhaps with a second set of lines such that your power really doesnt go back through the main city line. Or completely cut yourself off from the power company and rely solely on solar with a backup diesel generator.


You obviously have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Just install a sensor that senses when there is no grid power. These are readily available. You'll still have the power you produce in your home.

Edit:
Crappy engrish.

rated:
Cheapoking said: "you can see, the system generated 1,166KWh in July, but only 258KWh in December—down about 78%. By March, we were back up to 754KWh and May's power generation was 1,060KWh—the first month over 1,000KWh since last August."

Umm, I consume an average of 1600, as per my electricity provider. I would need more panels I assume?

"The eternal question of price/performance always crops up. Clearly, I'm saving money, but I also sank around $38,000 into the system. At $3,000 per year in savings (which assumes a constant rate for power cost and the same power usage pattern), that's a 12.5 year payback."

Ouch!!

Yeap, patience is a virtue.


That also assumes you wouldnt earn interest on that money in those 12 years. In 12 years, you would need to have saved about $50k to break even on a $38k payment today. A more accurate break even is probably closer to 19 years.

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bbr said: I read this a while back in Popular Mechanics. This was the part that was most interesting...

That means even the cheapest solar panels cost about $3 per watt of energy they go on to produce. To compete with coal, that figure has to shrink to just $1 per watt.

Nanosolar’s cells use no silicon, and the company’s manufacturing process allows it to create cells that are as efficient as most commercial cells for as little as 30 cents a watt.


So your post got me thinking again and I went to their website here and saw this....

Want to Buy Panels? We are presently already sold out for the next 12 months. We are working hard to scale our production capacity as fast as possible. Please sign up above to be notified of availability.

Sold out for the next 12 months?? 30 cents a watt?? Why are we not hearing more about this stuff??
Good question. Nanosolar is not the only manufacturer undercutting the rest of the solar industry. First Solar is another example. IMO the industry has received a lot less press than it deserves, and with greater investment in production facilities these companies could achieve the perfect mix of both affordability and environmental friendliness.

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mttatkns said: bbr said: I read this a while back in Popular Mechanics. This was the part that was most interesting...

That means even the cheapest solar panels cost about $3 per watt of energy they go on to produce. To compete with coal, that figure has to shrink to just $1 per watt.

Nanosolar’s cells use no silicon, and the company’s manufacturing process allows it to create cells that are as efficient as most commercial cells for as little as 30 cents a watt.


So your post got me thinking again and I went to their website here and saw this....

Want to Buy Panels? We are presently already sold out for the next 12 months. We are working hard to scale our production capacity as fast as possible. Please sign up above to be notified of availability.

Sold out for the next 12 months?? 30 cents a watt?? Why are we not hearing more about this stuff??
Good question. Nanosolar is not the only manufacturer undercutting the rest of the solar industry. First Solar is another example. IMO the industry has received a lot less press than it deserves, and with greater investment in production facilities these companies could achieve the perfect mix of both affordability and environmental friendliness.


I think a problem is that there are big time scalability issues with all of the current solar technologies. Plus people never seem to want to count the installation costs of solar, which is usually more than $1 per watt. Thus even at production costs of $1 per watt you have at least another $1 per watt of installation.

rated:
My biggest gripe with solar is that the current panels aren't efficient enough for someone, like myself, who lives in a townhouse and can't really generate enough to be self sufficient (over the course of the year).

rated:

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OP: When you consider a solar system in SoCal, you want to take into account the rate structure for electric. I get my bills from SCE (though 25% of the power comes from my city). SCE charges customers on a tiered system. Tier 1 is .12/KWh, Tier 2 is .14, 3 is .24, 4 is .27, and 5 is .31. www.sce.com/tier

When my in-laws installed a solar system, they chose a system that would generate enough electric to cover most of their usage, but not the entire bill. They don't need AC because they are close enough to the coast, but they have a pool and several servers, which regularly put them into the 4th tier on their bill. So they got a big enough system to knock them back down into either Tier 1 or 2. By only paying to replace their more expensive electricity use, their break-even point will be much sooner than if they had installed a bigger one to also replace the cheaper Tier 1 usage.

You may want to live in the house for a year before installing the solar to see what your actual consumption is. Then you'll have a better idea of how big an installation you need (or ask the previous owner for their usage history if you want to meet deadlines for current rebate programs).

rated:
I looked at solar PV a little over a year ago. The fed and my state both offered 30% rebates. I planned to do all the installation and maintenance myself. We have low electricity costs, 10.5 cents/kwh in the summer (even lower in the winter). I couldn't make the numbers work. It would be closer if the prices dropped 20% since then, but still borderline for me.

A few obstacles or questions I could never answer definitively was: how will they be assessed for property tax? Home owner insurance implications? maintainence and reliability of all the system components.

Solar thermal was much more financially attractive at the time. I would still like to do a solar thermal project, maybe next year if the price continue to drop.

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You could have an extra income stream from selling renewable energy credits.

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Wow, 31 c/kwh will make you green pretty fast. The funny thing is people in our state (IL) went crazy two yrs ago when rates were deregulated and went from 7 to 10 c/kwh. It was anarchy in the winter when all-electric heat houses went from 1.5 c/kwh to 4.5 c/kwh. I couldn't convince them they had a sweetheart deal at 1.5 c/kwh.

rated:
How reliable are PV systems? Is there any maintenance to the system? It would seem that if there is an annual-type maintenance, your savings could be quickly eroded. Also, I'm guessing that you need a fairly new roof or else you'd have to have the panels reinstalled when you re-roof. On This Old House I saw solar shingles, which look cool, but it looks like it could be problematic (and expensive) with the intricate wiring for all the shingles. But if you could forego the cost of a new roof with these (at replacement time), that helps the equation. Anyone have any experience/knowlege with solar shingles?

rated:
bigdaddycincinnati said: Is there any maintenance to the system?
Keep trees from growing in the light's path. Keep them clean. Any dirt or bird poo will affect performance. Inverters may last less time than the PV cells.

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dmlavigne1 said: In my area geothermal heat/cooling has a much faster payback and is pretty easy to do on new construction. By far the most cost effective thing you should do when building new is 2X6 exterior walls. Yes you lose 2 inches of floor plan but the energy savings will be far worth it.

Geothermal is great, but its cost is highly variable. Where I am, it takes a rock hammer to go down 12" of dirt. It took 3 days to dig out a spot large enough for a medium septic tank.

Suggesting 2x6 walls is a good idea. Consider extending the additional 2" out so you don't lose interior space. The additional support may alter your requirement for distance between studs, so don't calculate it as a 1:1 replacement. I'd suggest that the other option here is to go to an increased R value of foam insulation. You can get a lot more insulation in a tight space by using closed cell foam.

In regard to electricity:
1) Right now, the federal rebate alone doesn't justify the cost, risk, and expense to me.
2) Consider that solar cells lose efficiency over time. The best cells lose less.
3) The cost of power likely isn't static, so this is to your advantage.

I found that the most cost effective thing that I could do immediately was use solar for water heating. Water heating cost can be 15% or more of total power bill. The same rebates apply (federal) to CERTIFIED solar water heating systems.

rated:
Great timing OP. I am having an installer come out tommrow to discuss Solar in PA. Incentives seem to cover ~60% of the cost. Payback can be in as little as 5 years with SRECs, however can I count on an SREC market continuing for 5 years, that Im not sure about.

Panel prices have come down due to the ramp up in manufacturing coupled with the recession so now their is a glut of them out there.

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bigdaddycincinnati said: How reliable are PV systems? Is there any maintenance to the system? It would seem that if there is an annual-type maintenance, your savings could be quickly eroded. Also, I'm guessing that you need a fairly new roof or else you'd have to have the panels reinstalled when you re-roof. On This Old House I saw solar shingles, which look cool, but it looks like it could be problematic (and expensive) with the intricate wiring for all the shingles. But if you could forego the cost of a new roof with these (at replacement time), that helps the equation. Anyone have any experience/knowlege with solar shingles?
We've had our 5KW solar PV system for about 2.5 years, and haven't had any maintenance issues with it. The solar installer came out last year in order to make sure the panels were still firmly attached to the struts on our roof. They were. We haven't yet had a build up of dust or anything on the panels that has reduced their effectiveness.

Our only electricity costs (family of three, 1500 sq foot house in the SF Bay Area, CA, electric clothes dryer, heat/cooling provided by electric-powered heat pumps -- although used minimally, electricity provider PG&E) for 2007 and 2008 have been the mandatory "transport"-type of charges for the privilege of being hooked up to the grid of about $8 - $9/month. We had around -$400 in 2007 and -$300 in 2008 in electricity consumption charges, but these are "trued up" each year, so you don't benefit from them. (Another reason why proper sizing of one's solar PV system is so important.) This year, we might end up with an amount slightly greater than zero, although I'm working on trying to prevent that.

We have a digital meter that goes backwards when the solar PV panels generate more electricity than is required at that moment, and we are on the E-7 TOU (time of use) plan, which were lucky to get at the time. I don't think it's available anymore, but less favorable TOU plans from PG&E are.

The PV system was scaled to meet between 70% and 80% of our electricity consumption over the course of a year. The solar PV installer took into account shading, roof angle and orientation, our physical location, and other factors when determmining the layout and size of the system necessary to achieve that 70% to 80%.

Because the TOU plan charges a much higher rate during peak times (between 12pm and 6pm, IIRC) when the panels are generating the most electricity, and a very low rate during non-peak times (Saturdays and Sundays are all non-peak time, a PV system that would have meet 100% of our needs would have been over-sized and thus wasted unnecessary money. Peak and non-peak rates vary by season: winter and summer.

The PV panels were installed as part of a new foam roof, which was formerly a tar and gravel roof. Specifically, the old roof was cleaned, loose debris being removed, wiring and conduits were laid out, the struts for the PV panels were attached, the new foam roof was sprayed, and then the panels were mounted on the struts. Of course, the inverter and necessary shut-off switch and related hardware was installed. Since we're on the electricity grid and can tolerate a power outtage, we didn't want to mess around with storage batteries and their costs, financial and environmental, associated with them.

We had the discretionary funds to do this, so even if the payback period is on the long side, that's fine with us. Since the panels have no moving parts, they should last a long time, although there will be some degradation in efficiency over time, or so I've heard. I feel fairly confident that electricity costs will continue to rise, and that will also reduce the payback period. I figure that the setup adds value to our house, but I can't quantify it.

ETA: We paid almost $48K for our system, which came to around $34K after the state rebate. We also received a $2K federal tax credit.

As mentioned in this post, our solar PV panels have a warranty of 20 years (which includes power output guarantees of 90% of the minimum module power for the first 10 years, and 80% of the minimum module power for years 10 - 20), and our inverter has a limited warranty for 7 years.

rated:
^^Thanks. I probably should be sure, but I don't think we (Cincinnati) pay different rates for different times (peak/non-peak). And my electric rate is pretty cheap here, compared to Cali. As far as sizing, Ohio allows for net metering, so wouldn't I want the biggest feasible system since I will essentially "sell" unused electricity back to the power company?

rated:
That's going to depend on a lot of factors. Some cities "buy back" the electricity at a wholesale rate - they don't pay you what they bill you.

rated:
Heard about this company: Sunrun
They have a website, but it doesn't really have a good explanation of details. They basically have lease plans for the solar panels for residential uses - 1) the company installs, maintains and owns the panels 2) you pay a monthly bill regardless of amount of electrical usage.

Sounds like a viable option that allows not having to pay a huge sum upfront. Cost savings may not be that huge for small families(comparing monthly elec bill vs. lease payment) BUT you get the benefit of 1) using a renewable energy source and 2) not having an elec rate increase.

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I've heard of something similar (not that particular company). It was a lease of a solar system. My memory is that they were MLM and taking deposits on systems they had yet to complete design and manufacture for.. Basically a vapor company. Dig before you drop a dime.

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glxpass: What are the insurance costs for the panels and did it raise your property taxes?

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fadippides said: glxpass: What are the insurance costs for the panels and did it raise your property taxes?
There are no specific insurance costs for the PV system, and AFAIK, the county didn't assess the system, or at least there's no indication of that. For us, assessed value is nowhere near FMV (fair market value) due to Proposition 13 and past appreciation. We've been in the house for over 15 years, so we really benefitted from "the good old days." Of course, if the decline in housing values continues for a few more years...

rated:
TX (no income tax here, so we have substantial property taxes) - there is an exemption for the value-add of solar heater or PV power generation.
We built a new home this year. Our panels are can't be easily seen from the road. Our tax bill did not include any itemization for solar power, so I did not apply for the exemption, as I figured it would trigger an increased assessment.

I don't know how long the exemption will last..

rated:
bigdaddycincinnati said: ^^Thanks. I probably should be sure, but I don't think we (Cincinnati) pay different rates for different times (peak/non-peak). And my electric rate is pretty cheap here, compared to Cali. As far as sizing, Ohio allows for net metering, so wouldn't I want the biggest feasible system since I will essentially "sell" unused electricity back to the power company?
For us, we aren't actually selling the power back to PG&E and receiving cash for it, but rather getting a credit against possible electricity costs. That credit expires at the end of the 12-month true-up period. So for us, getting a system that maximized electricity generated from the solar PV panels would be a waste of money. That's what I was talking about above when mentioning sizing of our PV system. It's oriented towards making our net electricity cost zero, not negative.

ETA: The cost per kilowatt-hour doesn't change for us at any given time; it's either positive or negative, depending on whether the meter is running forwards or backwards.

Correction: I don't remember what I was thinking when I made the above statement about the cost per kilowatt-hour; as stated in my initial post, the cost for us with the TOU is indeed higher during peak hours (when the meter is most likely to run backward, reducing our electricity cost) than during non-peak hours (when the meter is most likely to run forward, increasing our electricity cost). Sorry for any confusion the above statement might have caused.

rated:
Great discussion, but how many people worry about solar and geo-thermal but have poor insulation on their homes?

My parents just spent $16k on a geothermal unit yet still have the main floor joists without insulation.

Skipping 349 Messages...
rated:
RobInBoston said:   By the way, the Volt had tons of issues, and eventually got returned to GM under breach of contract. It was recently purchased by another poor sap for literally $20k less than the "msrp" when I purchased new in Sept 2013.
 

i would read that thread. 

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