Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cre8 Your Own Energy: Documenting our Solar Project

Okay, so I am not building my own solar panels or anything, but the stars aligned for us this year and we are able to get solar panels on our home. I hope to document that process here a little bit.

Step 1 - Reduce Energy Usage
Of course the process started over a year ago for us. It started with an awareness of how much energy we were using and wasting. We only have electric available in our neighborhood - and boy, were we using more than our share! In the winter, our bills $400-$500+. So, being the geeky engineer-types that we are in my household, we immediately started tracking our usage and started an aggressive campaign to reduce our electric usage. We turned down our heat, turned up our AC, got rid of our "vampires", switched to CFLs, turned the lights off, among many other little energy saving changes. The results were dramatic! I would say we save about $1700/yr over if we had not changed our behavior. This graph is what we've been using to track our usage over time.

Step 2 - Cost/Benefit Analysis
So once we reduced our usage, we looked at the costs and benefits of installing the solar panels on our home. The up-front costs are very high, approximately $60K for the size system we are getting. Luckily, this year there are many state and federal grants and rebates that end up cutting the cost in half to about $30K. We are using a local company called Standard Solar that will take care of all the paperwork and permits for us. Now, we will expect $1200 cost savings every year on our energy bill. In addition, the energy company will pay us a credit for producing clean energy (like a carbon offset price). This system should (theoretically) also increase the value of our home by about $30K. The financial Return on Investment for us (minus the increase in home value) is about 11 years assuming energy costs stay the same. Now, if energy costs rise, our ROI will come much sooner.

That is just the financial benefit. There are also benefits that are not financial. One is knowing that we are not burning through as much natural resources to create our energy. Another is emergency preparedness. If our electric service became rationed or more unreliable, we have a good solid backup. Also, it is a great learning experience for us and the kids. So, overall, it was a go for me and my husband.

Step 3 - Evaluation, Planning, Permits, and Design
Now, this was the easy part for us because the Solar Company does all this work for us. Our solar rep came out and took a bunch of measurements and pictures of the house. They tested the sun exposure and determined that we would have 89% efficiency with the panels. The panels will be mounted on the east-facing back of our roof, so you won't even see them from the street. An engineer at the company then made up a bunch of technical design drawings for us to review and approve.

Now that the design is complete and the permits are pulled and the paperwork is filed, we are ready for our installation. That is yet to happen. I'll let you know how it goes...

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