Who has Solar?

pixie_louJuly 3, 2012

We've been thinking of adding solar panels to our roof. We've had the sun study done and I met with the company and got my install quote today. The price is reasonable. The payback is ok - would be much better if we cut down the large silver maple in our front yard.

Does anyone have solar? pros? Cons? The biggest variable in terms of payback is how much $ you can sell your SRECs for. Does anyone have experience with that?

In some ways this proposal seems too good to be true. I'm wondering what questions I didn't ask.

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We have pole-mounted, not roof-mounted panels. I think at least some of the payback depends on where you live. Look into your utility's rebate program. They may pay for part of your system. There also may be state or federal rebates or tax credits. Different states may have different payment for any extra power generated. Does MA have net metering?

We haven't done anything with SRECs.

How much will the roof heat reduce the efficiency of the panels? Will the silver maple counteract some of this?
How will the panels clear themselves of snow or ice?
How old is your roof and if the roof needs replacing before the panels, how much will it cost to remove the panels (& perhaps the racking system - I don't know much about roof mounting) so your roof can be replaced? (This has the potential to be expensive.)
Are your panels going to be seasonally adjustable or are they going to be fixed?

"I'm wondering what questions I didn't ask." I'm not sure what you mean by this, but if you are relying solely on your solar installer for information, you may want to do some independent research. IME some solar companies and installers are better informed than others.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 10:22PM
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Definitely get a couple of estimates, and decide not just based on price but on the expertise you find. I don't have solar yet, but 2 close friends do, and I've talked to them a lot while trying to get ready for the first step.

One friend, who has a massive system in an all-electric house, recommended going with individual mini-converters, one on each panel, instead of a single large converter for the whole system. That allows the different panels to react to moving shade without effecting overall performance. That friend went with the installer (Cotuit Solar) who recommended that type of installation.

Great move, and thanks for posting this cause I'd love to hear about other people's experiences with solar electric.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 1:04PM
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Our town was recently selected to participate in the Solarize Mass program. My understanding is that this is the 2nd year of the program. Last year the towns of Harvard, Hatfield, Scituate and Winchester were chosen. I'm not sure which towns were selected for this year.

By working through Solarize Mass, I don't get to choose my installer. In a sense, it is a group buying contract. Our town contracted with AstrumSolar. I guess I could go out and find my own installer, but I won't be able to take advantage of the group buying power.

My understanding is the system is for solar panels only, no batteries. You collect solar, it goes thru some converter thingy, and I'm a little shaky on the mechanics of this point - but the solar energy goes out your roof to the utiity, but then it comes back into the house as electricity to use. The key factor here is that when the power goes out in the neighborhood, we will still have no power. Your meter is changed to a reverse meter - you are still charged for the electricity you use, but you receive credit for the power you send out to the utility.

Savings/payback are 2 fold. 1) since you get credit for the electricity you send out, your monthly electricity bill is reduced. 2) there are these things called SRECs - which apparently you sell back to the utility.

FWIW - I've been given a quote of about $8-9K to put the solar panels on my roof. And supposedly I'm looking at a payback of 6-8 years. Part has to do with whether or not I cut down my silver maple tree. But also there is the variable costs - how much does a kilowatt of electricity cost? And how much can I sell my SRECs for.

Then there is the whole green factor. Can I put a value on trying to feel good about generating solar power and reducing our dependency on fossil fuels? Will that put a smile on my face every day? What about the social factor - will my neighbors make fun of me and call me a hippie? If they do, will I care? Then - when the technology improves, and I want to get rid of these solar panels, will they be considered hazardous waste by the EPA. Then - how much will it cost me to get rid of the panels? And will the environmental impact of this hazardous waste disposal counteract the environmental benefit of solar power?

Those are a few of the things I'm thinking of right now. I should probably check the list of GW forums - there is probably a solar forum!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 8:32PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Solar panels do not magically wink into existence. They are a manufactured product, and like other manufactured products require fossil fuels for their manufacture. Ten years ago, the general wisdom was that photovoltaic solar was an even exchange - panels tended to produce about as much energy during their lifetime as it took to make them. So their big advantage was portability. It was a way of loading electricity onto a truck and hauling it into fairly out of the way places.

Supposedly, the technology has improved, and the payback is better. However, even today their big advantage is in tax breaks, utility subsidies, and other market manipulations. It's not like say insulation, where I spent $200 on attic insulation and the payback was 2 years, and that was 3 years ago.

The big thing I'd absolutely make sure you understand is the lifespan of the panels vs. the payback time. That and how the warranty works. I think they are still only supposed to be good for 15 years, which doesn't give a lot of leeway if payback is almost 10 years.

Hot water solar and passive solar I understand. Photovoltaic has always struck me as a bit of a 'borrowing from Peter to pay Paul' technology.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 9:29PM
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I just found the list of 17 communities that are currently participating in the Solarize Mass program this year:

Here is a link that might be useful: Solarize Mass Program Link

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 9:42PM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

My phone and broadband are behaving oddly today so I will be brief and hope this post doesn't get lost. I have had solar hot water for four years (?) which we purchased at the suppliers cost and my husband installed it. Even with those cost savings the payback wasn't our primary justification for installing it. I think we finally thought we had to put our money where our environmental mouth was. At the time our thinking was the house would stay within our family for at least a second generation which made the decision much easier.
By working through Solarize Mass, I don't get to choose my installer. In a sense, it is a group buying contract. Our town contracted with AstrumSolar.
I would strongly suggest you contact more than one homeowner who has used Astrum Solar. It drives me crazy that there are so many heating contractors out there that only install systems and when it comes time for repairs or tweaking they don't service what they install. As mad gal mentioned these are exposed to New England weather extremes and will likely need some servicing over the years.
Good luck and I hope you have as much pleasure watching the dials as my husband does.

Two hot water storage tanks


    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 11:23AM
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KT - Cute car! Is it an Austin-Healey Sprite? or an Alpine Sunbeam? or a Triumph? I'm envious!

Is the solar an evacuated tube system?

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 7:51PM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

The solar is indeed an evacuated tube system for domestic hot water. Our dog shed dormers cut up the south facing roof so much that photovoltaic wasn't a good option for us at the time.
The car in the above photo is one of my hubbies toys, it is a Triumph 250 (photos above where taken a few years ago) it is his true love, but frankly I am not happy ridding in anything without an airbag.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 8:45AM
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We signed a preliminary solar contract this afternoon. Mainly to lock in a previously quoted rare that expires today. We have a final meeting with the Sales Rep on Wednesday. And the deal should be finalized then.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 2:24PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

I've been following this thread with interest. I would love to get solar, but costs and my admittedly limited understanding of it has prevented me so far.

One point I wanted to mention is in reference to MG's valid points about manufacture of and lifespan of panels. I went to a seminar several years back and one of the questions I asked was about disposal of old panels. The speaker seemed stumped, and said that he's never had to deal with that. He said that he was aware of panels that were 30 years old and still working, and never dealt with disposing of old panels. Hmmm.

The other question I asked was the ability of the panels to withstand acorns. The acorns come flying down with a vengeance, dingng cars and hurting heads, lol. He couldn't answer that either, but I suppose he was thinking that if I had an acorn problem, then I probably had too many trees to have solar. Which is indeed one of my issues.

But do I cut down trees, which are environmentally beneficial as well as beneficial to cooling my house in summer and therefore reducing my electricity usage (and bill) in order to install solar? So far my answer to that has been no.

I comfort myself with the thought that having to wait till prices come down and till I take the initiative to educate myself will result in working with new and improved technology, as I believe the technology is getting smaller and more efficient (or at least, I hope what I'm reading is true about that!)

Pixie Lou, I would love to read a detailed account of your experience. Do you have a blog? Or would you consider posting here about it? Many could benefit from your experience, I believe, if you would care to share it.


P.S. As always, Katy, your house is simply charming! But all that stuff on the roof just for a water heater? I had thought it takes less than that. And love the car too!

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 10:32AM
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Dee - I don't blog, but I'd be happy to detail our experience on this forum. We have the meeting to finalize our contract tomorrow evening.

I feel like we are going into this with a lot of what it's and unanswered questions. To be honest, the only reason we are pursuing this is because our town was included in the solarize Massachusetts program. But in the end we decided that in the grand scheme of things, it isn't a lot of money, so is worth the "risk". And crazy as this sounds - its my way to get rid of the silver maple in the front yard so that I can get a white picket fence with roses and lilacs!

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 6:03PM
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