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Going Solar - Step by Step

Posted by pixie_lou 5 (My Page) on
Fri, Sep 7, 12 at 12:43

In a previous thread I mentioned that we were considering putting solar panels on our roof. We finalized our contract last night, and we should have solar panels on our roof by the end of the year. Our community was selected to participate in the Solarize Mass program. I don't know a whole lot about the program details, but I know it is a subisdized program to bring solar panels to residential homes in Massachusetts.

In my previous thread, Dee asked me to post about our experience with the process, so this is what this thread is about.

Contract Details:

We contracted for a 5 kW system. 20 Suntech 250 watt solar panels. It is estimated that 62% of our energy will be solar. It is estimated that we will generate 4,430 kWh our electricity annually.

We actually have a relatively small house. It is a 1950s center entrance colonial, with garage on one side and sun porch on the opposite side. Our house roof measures 14'8" x 30'8". We will put 16 panels on the roof of our house. Our (1 car) garage roof measures 10'8" x 11'8". We will put 4 panels on the garage. The enclosed porch is on the North side of the house and will not get any solar panels.

Pricing:

I thought a lot about whether I would mention pricing on this thread. But I decided that pricing is one of the biggest factors when people decide whether to purchase a solar system. Yes - this system is a lot of money. However, we consider it a "major improvement" to our house. So instead of just thinking about this in dollar terms, I start thinking about it in terms of number of mortgage payments. In our case, the system is about 2 mortgage payments.

Our contract price for the system is $8,655.39
This is for a 20 year lease of the system.
We made a 30% down payment last night. The balance is due upon installation of this system - which should be some time in December. There will be no additional lease payments.

Payback:
There are 3 factors to consider when calculating payback.
1) How much solar will your system generate?
2) What is the going rate for a kW of electricity?
3) How much can I sell my SRECs for?

1&2) We don't have the best orientation for our house. It faces South East. And we have a huge silver maple tree in our front yard. Our generation assumptions are made based on cutting down the tree.

The system is estimated to produce 4,430 kWh of electricity per year. We have a guarantee that our system will produce 4,209kWh of electricity in year 1. If the system does not produce that much electricity, we will get a rebate check from the manufacturer. We have an output guarantee for 20 years, with guaranteed output declining by 1/2% per year.

Right now the going rate of electricity is 16.9 cents per kW. Our rebate is based on that price, increasing by 3% per year.

On average we use 6,500-7,000 kW of electricity per year. Our average electric bill is $100. By generating solar electricity, we expect our bill to decline by $62 per month.

3) The SREC's. Solar Renewable Energy Credits. You receive 1 SREC for every 1,000 kWh of solar electricity your system generates. Thus we will receive 4 SREC per year for the next 15 years.

Utility companies buy SRECs to help them comply with the states Solar RPS requirements and help them avoid paying a Solar Alternative Compliance Payment.

The price of a SREC is all based on supply and demand, and they have an active trading market. Massachusetts has targeted the price of an SREC to be $285. Currently an SREC is being sold for about $225. After commissions, we would realize just under $200 per SREC. In July an SREC was selling for $270.

We have opted to pool our SREC's with our leasing company, they will be sold annually at the going rate and we will pay no commission. We could have opted to have a guaranteed price of $170 per SREC for the next 3 years. We are hoping the price will increase closer to the target rate of $285.

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Feel free to ask specific questions, and I will do my best to answer them. I am going to try to get some roof and tree photos taken as I try to document this process.

As for next steps - I should hear from the installer in the next 2-3 weeks to set up an installation time frame.

I need to call my tree man to arrange for the maple to be removed.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Wow, thanks for putting all this up, Pixie_lou!

I think the price looks very good. Not that I'm an expert nor are the people that I've talked to and our assumption was that it would cost about $10,000.

In fact, my sister recently had a house built from scratch and I was pushing her to find an alternative energy source. However, the builder talked her out of it. He told her it would cause her over $16,000.

So, congratulation on your new solar panels! And, I look forward to seeing pictures of the progress.

Tina


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Thank you Pixie Lou! And I'm glad you mentioned that you will try to post pictures - that's the first thought that popped in my mind but I thought I might be pushing it if I asked for that too!

First off, to me it seems that price is great! When I looked into solar about 5 years or so ago, (admittedly I did not look in-depth into it, but attended a seminar) with the rebate program then in place it would have been about $20K!! I don't remember the size of the system or the details, but the price definitely sticks in my mind. It would have been about $43K for the whole shebang, and with rebates and tax credits the price for me would have been about 20K. Which of course most average homeowners don't have lying around to spend on solar, so we passed. So 8K seems like a wonderful price.

I will have to reread your post - I just do not have a head for numbers and so I will have to go over it a few times to let it all sink in. I do have to say that I thought a system would generate more than 62% of your total usage, that I didn't realize the SRECs were a once-yearly thing (I thought you saw this monthly in your bill), and I also would like to know more about the decline in output (not necessarily asking YOU, just saying I would like to learn more about that).

I'm also jealous that your electric bill is so low, even without solar, lol, but that's another issue!

What happens after 20 years, when the lease is up? And I wonder if your price is so low because you DO have a lease, as opposed to *buying* the system? Will you be eligible for upgrades throughout this 20 years, if any become available? Since you are leasing, does the company pay for any maintenance needed, or damage to the panels? Did you happen to ask about acorns? (Okay, that last question was only semi-serious, if you saw my previous post in the other thread!)

Too bad you will have to take down the maple... or did you say you didn't mind that? Is that a separate action and cost or do the solar people take care of it for you, included in the cost? Maybe a dumb question, but it's very possible that they work with a tree company in doing these installations.

It seems you are not really getting your full value on the SRECs, no matter what course you choose to sell them....

Did you have to do anything to your roof before installation? I recall from my seminar those few years back something about having one or two roofs - if you had a second roof over a first one (which some people do to save money when re-roofing) that perhaps that was not allowable for solar installation. It's a very vague memory so I could be totally wrong. And are your panels raised off the roof slightly or directly on it? And how does this affect the roof if at all?

And lastly (for now!) did you have a choice in your installer or did you have to use someone the state designated?

Thank you so much for posting this! I think you are doing a great service for those of us who want to do this but need to hear some personal experiences, instead of only hearing from the companies who install the systems.

Looking forward to pics and more posts!

Thank you!
Dee


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Tina - I know that since we are part of the Solarize Mass program the pricing is subsidized. I did not contact any other installers - I went with the contract for our town.

We have tiered pricing - the pricing decreases based on how many people sign contacts - and more importantly, how many kWh of electicity is being generated. Our town has reached Tier 5 pricing - which is the cheapest. When I originally contacted the installed back in July, we were only at Tier 3 pricing. At that point my contract price was $9,675. So our price dropped over $1,000.

Dee - lets see how many of your questions I can answer right now. A lot of the numbers are a bit of a blur to me. I took pictures of my roof today, as well as my huge silver maple tree. At 10 AM, about 90% of my roof was in the shade of the tree. So the tree needs to come down.

As I mentioned, the solarize mass program is subsidized. So that definitely helps with pricing. When I first called the installer, I kinda had a $10K figure in my head. If I was quoted a price over 10K, I would not have even considerd doing this. Since our price was under, we continued to investigate.

The reason we are only going to generate 62% of our usage is 1) we have a small roof. Our house is small. 2) our roof faces South East. So we will not have any late afternoon sun. If we were building our house from the ground up, we could have sited it better for a solar install.

The decline in output is based on the efficiency of the panels. I guess, like everything, the decline in efficiency over time.

I'm also trying to learn about SRECs. To me (having a degree in finance) - that is my huge variable in payback. If I'm just looking at a $60 saving in my electric bill, I'm looking at a payback of 11-12 years. With SRECs I'm looking at 5 years. Granted I don't *need* to get my SREC money back yearly, and I have the luxury of waiting to get a good price. But I do want to get my SREC money. I'm counting on getting this money back. This money is key to my payback.

I called my tree guy today to have the tree taken down. It is our responsibility to remove the tree. I didn't ask if the solar people worked with anyone in particular. I have a tree guy that I use and am quite happy with. I don't want any old clown with a chain saw on my property. Part of me is sad about the tree. But on the other hand, the tree is right in the middle of my front lawn, the tree has been pruned heavily by N-Star since it interfers with the utility wires. And I have been fantasizing about a white picket fence with white lilacs, then some arbors with climbing white roses.

When we bought this house in 2007, we put a new roof on the house. We stripped the main house shingles and put on new shingles. We put a second layer of shingles on the garage and the porch. Mainly because we plan to redo both. We used 50 year architectural shingles. The installers did not mention anything about the 2nd layer of shingles on the garage.

We were given a new roof quote from the installers of $3,320. Meaning if we had to replace our roof during the time span of our 20 year lease, they will come out, take off the solar panels then reinstall them for a fee of $3,320. Since our roof is relatively new, we should not have to do that.

We were also quoted a relocation fee of $5,160. Which means that if we sold this house and bought a new one, they would remove the whole system from this house and install it on the new house for $5,160. But more realistically, if we sell this house in the next 20 years, we will sell the house with the panels and transfer the lease to the new owners. I have some info on what the solar panels do for resale value, but I'll post that info later.

We did talk about our upcoming garage rebuild. If we ever get up the nerve to go in front of the conservation commission. The plan would be to increase the garage from a 1 car garage to a 2-1/2 car garage, and then increase the panels from 4 to 16. I don't have anything in writing, but we were told that since we would be buying additional panels, they would remove the 4 existing panels and replace them at no charge during the install of the 12 additional panels.

I guess they lift up a roof shingle, install the solar panel and some flashing. There is a guarantee that the roof will not leak from the work. The panels sit a few inches above the roof. I'm told that the snow melts and slides right off the panels. So we will no longer have snow accumulating on our roof - or at least on the front where the panels will be. I had asked about ice dams - remembering the problems people had 2 years ago.

And I didn't ask about acorns since we do not have any oak trees on our property!

I'll be back later with some of the lease vs buy stuff, in addition the the lease transfer info/home sale info. I actually got 4 different quote options from the solar company - 1 purchase and 3 lease. And I'll get into what I consider the pros and cons and why we chose the lease that we did.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Thank you so much, Pixie Lou. I really appreciate you taking the time to write all this. It really is quite informative.

:)
Dee


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Here is a picture of the huge silver maple in my front yard. The tree man is coming to look at it tomorrow. As you can see, all the limbs on the road side have been removed courtesy of N-Star.

Silver Maple

And here is the reason the tree needs to be removed. These roof photos were taken at 10:00 AM on Tuesday.
House Roof

Garage Roof


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

It's been a busy few weeks here. Even though nothing visible is happening.

My tree guy came out. $1,025 to take down the silver maple tree. Which does not include stump grinding, which is priced per inch diameter of stump. I sorta consider this a hidden cost of going solar. When we get back from vacation at the end of this month, I will then contact the tree guy to take the tree down. I'm building a bunch of new garden beds out behind the pond, so I kinda want the leaves for compost/soil.

I was assigned a project manager and I met with him. The project manager works for Asasrum Solar and really handles everything for me. He makes the liason with Nstar so that I can "sell" my excess electricity to NStar. He works with the Building inspector in my town to get the building permit. He helps me with the paperwork so that I can sell my SREC's.

He also put a SolarizeMass sign in my lawn.
The sign

I'm assuming that NStar has approved us for a source of electricity. Since they came out last week and installed our net meter. How it works is that our solar panels generate electricity, during the day when it is sunny, when we tend not to be home using a lot of electricity. Any electricity we generate, first we use the electricity, then the excess is sent out to the grid. As the electricity is sent out to the grid, our new net meter will run backwards. Then at night, we generate no electricty, but use a lot. So electricity comes back into the house, and the meter will run forwards. At the end of the month, we are only billed for the electricity we used in excess of what we generated. If we were at the point where we generated more than we actually used, we would get either annual or semi-annual refund checks from the utility.

The only difference in our meter visually is the "net" sticker on the front. I thought it was pretty cool to see all the zeros.
Net Meter

Today my project manager came out to inspect the garage roof. I don't know all the details right now, but there is concern that our garage roof is not structurally sound enough to handle the solar panels. The PM was talking about somehow adding additional support to the garage roof. I have a meeting with him tomorrow to find out what is involved, how much it will cost, etc. 4 of my 20 panels are going on the garage, which is 20% of my panels. I want those panels. But I'm hesitant to put a lot of money into my garage roof when I have plans to tear the whole garage down soon. In a year or 2 soon.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Hi, pixie_lou

Thanks for posting an update. Very useful info especially about 'hidden' costs.

Sorry to hear about the garage roof. Wow on the price of the tree removal.

-Tina


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

I really need to come update this thread. A few days before we went on vacation we had our roof reinforced. While on vacation I got the e-mail that our building permit had been improved, so we have scheduled installation starting next Wednesday. I had intended to call my tree guy this week - but have decided to wait a bit - I figure my tree guy is a bit busy right now.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Today the solar guys are coming to start my installation. Typical contractors - "We'll be there in the morning."

I have to admit that I'm am less than thrilled with the installation process so far. I was assigned a project manager, I met with him, and he has been quite helpful. However, it is also quite obvious that he is overbooked. Last I had heard, our town contracted for more solar installations than the rest of the state combined. Our 3-town contract has more than 100 solar installation going in, and they all have to be installed by the end of December. So yes, the PM is busy. It's a bit tough to get him on the phone. But he is fast to answer e-mail. Yet it is difficult to have a real conversation on e-mail.

Case in point - back on the 18th I had to have my roof reinforced. Had an appt with my PM to come look at the garage roof rafters so he could get details to the structural engineer. Long conversation in the garage about the roof rafters, need to empty the garage to have the work done, need to remove the false ceiling. Talked about the fact that the solar installers will pay for the roof reinforcement, but they will not pay to reinstall the false ceiling.

The next day I get an e-mail requesting setting up a time to have the house roof rafters reinforced. I call the PM to clarify - this is the garage, not the house. I'm told that the structural engineer approved the garage roof as is, but not the house roof. I'm told that all along they knew they needed to reinforce the house roof. Apparently the solar company knew that, but nobody ever bothered to tell me.

So the house roof was reinforced. I'm no structural engineer, but my husband explained to me that the additional 2x8's attached to the existing roof rafters, the added weight prevents the rafters from warping from too much weight.

I never got an answer as to why they structural engineer was concerned about the house and not the garage - both roofs are supported by 2x8's. And I never got an answer as to how heavy the solar panels are. I'm told that with solar panels, the snow tends to slide off the panels, and slide off the roof. So part of me thinks that the roof will be bearing less weight with solar panels. But what do I know?

So here are my beautiful reinforced attic roof rafters.

Solar 1

Solar 2

And here are the unenforced rafters on the north side of the house
Solar 3

Beyond the rafters - does anyone notice anything else different between the 2 sides? The blown in insulation. Notice on the back side how pristine and flat the insulation is. And on the front reinforced side, notice how messed up the insulation is, and how we can even see exposed flooring. Another reason why Pixie is not a happy camper right now.

I saw the installer bringing plywood up to stand on as they were bringing the reinforcement rafters up. I was happy that they were not going to mess up my insulation - insulation that I paid for.

In the end, my PM has told me that they will need to access the attic again during the solar install, and I've been promised that they will do their best to even out the insulation at that time.

Which is why I am sitting here right now waiting for the installers to show up with a bit of trepidation. Bottom line, it is never easy to work with contractors. And this solar installation is no different.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

I said a while ago that I would talk about the different pricing options. All of this gets a bit confusing since so many proposals were placed in front of us. First we received proposals that involved keeping the silver maple tree in the front yard versus removing the tree.

Also, the contracts have tiered pricing - based on how many contracts are signed in your town. When we first talked to our installer in early July, we were at tier 3 pricing. When we signed the contract in late August, we were at tier 5 pricing.

Overall, 3 pricing options were offered. Outright purchase of the system. Lease the system and keep your SRECs. Lease the system and the leasing company get to keep the SRECs. Both leasing options involved one upfront lease payment - no annual lease payments. In late August, the installers stopped offering the option of leasing the system and keeping your SRECs, Instead they offered a low upfront lease option that involved annual lease payments.

I've adjusted all payments to reflect tier 5 pricing.

Option 1 - Outright purchase of system. Upfront cost $18,500. You will then receive federal and state ta credits of $6,700. Net out of pocket cost $11,800.
With this option you keep your SRECs. Payback estimated at 7 years

Option 2 - One time upfront lease payment, keep the SRECs. Upfront payment of $8,655. Payback estimated at 6 years

Option 3 - One time upfront lease payment, the leasing company keeps the SRECs. Upfront payment of $5,723. Payback estimated at 7 years.

Option 4 - Low up front lease payment. Annual lease payments and leasing company keeps the SRECs. Upfront payment of $2,000. Annual lease payments of $530. Payback estimated at 7 years.

I have no idea why outright purchase is the most expensive option. It makes no sense to me. The sales rep couldn't even explain it to me. My only guess is that the company is really in the business of leasing, and has structured their pricing the reflect that.

I'm going to post this now, and then continue in another post.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Payback is calculated on 2 factors. The electricity generated - you no longer have to purchase electricity from your local utility. We have NSTAR in our town. We used the assumption that electricity costs $0.169 per kWh.

In many ways, it doesn't matter how much electricity I use. My system is expected to generate 4,430 kWh of electricity annually. I will not have to purchase those 4,430 kWh. Anything I use above and beyond, I will have to pay for. I will save $748 annually by not purchasing the electricity that I generate.

When calculating electrical savings, we are assuming a 0.5% degradation rate annually. I can't find the exact number, but we also assumed that the price of electricity would rise by approximately 3.75% annually.

SRECs are a second factor in payback. You receive 1 SREC for every 1,000 kWh of electricity your system generates. No partial credit. If we kept our silver maple, we would generate 3 SRECs per year. No tree, we generate 4 SRECs per year. SRECs are traded on the open market and the price is based on supply and demand. We are being guaranteed a price of $170 per SREC for the first 3 years.

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Though finances did play a role in our decision making process, they were not the sole determining factor. For us, the project was affordable. We will receive the financial benefit of not paying for a large portion of our electricity from now on. We are taking a risk with the SRECs. We are counting on receiving a limited income from our SRECs. But we are not dependent on the SREC income. We had many conversations debating whether or not we wanted to keep our SRECs.

Our leasing company tells us that we are reducing our carbon footprint. By using solar generated electricity, this is the equivalent of planting 129 trees (I guess 130 since we are cutting 1 down?) and having 2 average cars replaced by a hybrid. Over 30 years this is the equivalent of 28 cars taken off the road, 0.8 railcars of coal not burned, 52 tons of waste recycled rather than landfilled, 2 tanker trucks of gasoline not burned.

We are also told that we can potentially sell our home fast and for more. A UC Berkeley study claims that our home will appreciate 20% more and sell 17% faster.

Of course all of this is hypothetical. The project fit in our budget, and fit in our lifestyle. Though we are having a few bumps in the road, overall we are happy with our decision.

As a quick update - the installers are currently here putting the framework on the roof. I also have an electrical crew working in my basement on my electrical box. We expect the building inspector here tonight to inspect the framework. The solar panels should be installed tomorrow. Tomorrow the electrical crew will be working on our wireless router - I guess we get some home monitoring system so that we can see how much electricity each individual solar panel is generating in real time. Unfortunately we will still have to wait to get the OK from NSTAR before we can hook into their grid and start producing electricity. I don't know how long that will take. I'm taking photos of this process and will post them later in the week.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Pixie Lou, although I'm not planning any solar panel installs, I have always wanted to. It's fascinating to be able to follow the whole process. I appreciate your efforts to share this thread with all of us.

I am however needing to add some insulation and I wondered what material you had blown into the house?

I was also wondering about the deadline of the end of the year for the solar panels. Is that due to credits not being available after that?


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

PM2 - insulation. We had an energy audit done by NSTAR. That was about 5 years ago - after we moved into the house. We contracted the insulation through the audit company. It was only insulation blown into the attic. The previous owners had blown the insulation into the walls. Let me know if you want additional details - I can then pull the files from the office.

Regarding the December - I'm pretty sure it has to do with the state. This is part of a state grant and we all know how the state sets arbitrary guidelines and deadlines. Also - when we signed our contract 31 Aug - our contract stated that our install would be done within 90 days.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Pixie Lou, I can't thank you enough for your detailed posts. This is really fascinating, even if it does seems to make me have MORE questions than less, lol.

My first thought with the house roof reinforcement, in terms of my own house, is that I have a cape with a dormer in the back, with thoughts of adding more. (The dormer roof slopes the same way as the existing roof, not perpendicular, if that makes any sense... perhaps it's not really called a dormer, now that I think of it, but the back part of the house was extended over the lower level to install a bathroom. We are considering extending the rest of the back of the house to enlarge bedrooms.)

Anyway, I wonder how they would reinforce that if needed? I'm thinking I would have to have my ceiling removed, rafters reinforced, and ceiling replaced. The only access to the rafters in this room is through the ceiling. Oy vey. Something to keep in mind if we do extend the rest of the house - perhaps a bit of reinforcement now in case of solar installation later...?

I have to reread the SREC part. That is the part that I am having trouble with - not just understanding it, but I don't know how I would make a decision on which option to choose.

Again, the time you are taking to share this project with us is very much appreciated! Thank you!

Dee


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Framework for the solar panels are installed. We need to get the approval of the building inspector before the panels are installed. The building inspector in our town only works on mon, wed, and fri. And Fortunately the building inspector is working closely with the solar guys - and we are allowed to schedule the inspection at the same time the work is scheduled. After all, there are 60 of these installations taking place in our town alone.

Unfortunately it is now snowing and the bldg inspector is not coming this afternoon. He will come first thing Friday morning. So I need to wait until Friday to have the panels installed. Only a 1 day delay.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Dee -SRECs are confusing. I still don't have my head around them. It's kinda hard to say why we chose the option that we did. We eliminated the purchase option up front since purchase is more expensive and does not come with support. We never considered the low up front lease option - mainly because it was proposed to us so late in the game. But also - it ends up being a lot of money out of pocket - $12,600. Since you would make a $530 annual lease payment for all 20 years.

We looked at the 2 upfront lease options and really debAted whether of not we wanted to keep our SRECs. The SREC market is confusing and I feel like I need to be an energy analyst to figure out the issues of supply and demand. But we ended up deciding to keep the SRECs. Why? This may seem like a crazy answer, but it is because the leasing company stopped offering the keep the SREC option. I figured that they are a leasing company - and they are looking to create an incoming cash stream. So I'm guessing that their finance people are bullish on the SREC market. They obviously think an SREC has long term value - otherwise shy would they want to keep the SRECs? They wouldn't want yo hold on go a worthless asset, right?


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Photo time. The support structure to hold the solar panels was installed on Wednesday. Due to the snow, the wiring inspector did not make it out to inspect. We are waiting for the inspector to show up this morning. And then the panels will be installed tomorrow. Since so many systems are currently being installed in our town, they normally install the framework in the morning, have the inspector out in the afternoon, and then install the panels the next day. However mother nature created a slight change of plans.

So photos of the support structure on my roof.
Supports 1

Supports 2

Supports 3

And lastly - all my new electrical boxes. I had no idea I would be gaining 3 additional electrical boxes on the side of my house. I wish I had known - I would have tried to find an alternate location for them.

Lots of Boxes


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

What about Wind Power?

Our town is serviced thru NStar. About 5 years ago NStar began offering a program whereby residential customers could choose to pay a premium and have their electricity generated by wind power. You could choose to have 50% or 100% of your power generated by wind.

To be honest, I never read the fine print on my electric bill to find out about this program. I only heard about it when my neighbor approached me. He saw our Solar sign in the front lawn and wondered why we opted for solar instead of wind power.

As I spent a few minutes reading NStars web site, I doubt I would have signed up for wind power even if the Solar option had not been available. First of all - you pay a premium for the wind power. My 7,000 kWh of annual electricity consumption would equate to ~$450 annual increase in my electric bill. There is no payback - my electric bill will never go down, it will always go up. Yes, it is cheaper than the $8K I'm paying for solar panels, but with solar panels my monthly electric bill is reduced and I have a hypothetical payback in 7 years.

Second - and maybe I'm being snarky here - but I feel that paying a premium for wind power doesn't give me the direct benefit of reducing my carbon footprint. The wind power is pumped into the NStar grid and distributed to all NStar customers. It's not like the wind power is being pumped directly into my home. Yes, the overall carbon footprint is being reduced. But not by me directly. To me it makes me think I would rather donate $500 somewhere so that someone else can drive the prius while I stick to my SUV. It reminds me of those carbon credits you can buy - the ones that help you reduce your guilt for driving your SUV.

Of course my solar is being pumped into the grid and at night when I'm not generating power but using it, most likely my power will be generated from gas, coal or nuclear. Theoretically I could add battery packs to my solar panels and take myself off the electrical grid. But I'm not quite ready to take that step yet!

Here is a link that might be useful: NStar Wind Program


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

I contacted Cotuit Solar, a local company that some friends have used, and we're in the process of getting an assessment from them. Our roof isn't ideal, because the roof line runs N/S and we have lots of dormers, but our detached garage might work. I just can't wait!

Thanks for your posts on this subject, pixie lou, you gave me the gentle shove I needed to get started!


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

DTD - I'm anxious to here what what Cotuit Solar quotes you. Feel free to post here. I may have started the thread, but in no way do I feel it is my thread. I *know* I would have never pursued solar if our town had not participated in the SolarizeMass program. Many of us need that nudge.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

The panels are in process of going up. The garage panels are done.

Garage Roof

They still need to trim the rails on each side of the panels.

I am getting very excited.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Awesome!!

Looks like you could fit another panel there on the garage roof, no?

Dee


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Dee - we can't fit another panel. If you look carefully, the top panel is more than half way over the center panel on the bottom. We have little clearance left either against the main wall of the house or the edge of the roof.

I'm happy with 20 panels!
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The rest of the panels are now installed. Took them about 3 hours today. Next step is the final inspection by the building inspector. I was told this final inspection could take a week or 2. After the final inspection we can make the application to NStar to officially hook up. We were already approved by NStar and our net meter was already installed, so it's really a paperwork approval. So looks like we will be using our solar power right around Thanksgiving. (We're lucky we already had the net meter installed. Due to the storm last week, NStar has told the installers that they won't be installing new meters for a few more weeks.)

I was told it would be 2-3 days until we receive our acct number and password so that we can monitor our panels online. I don't remember if it is 2-3 days from now or 2-3 days after we're hooked up. This is some function so that we can look online and monitor our panels in real time. Each panel can be monitored so we know how much power is being generated per panel ever minute of the day. As well, the system will be monitored by some robot somewhere - we will get automatic e-mails if some panel stops producing the expected amount of power. Personally I can't imagine myself monitoring my panels. But my husband is quite excited at this prospect. He's a computer guy, so I guess things like this excite him.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Pixie Lou, I had noticed that the top panel does go past the center, but I wasn't sure if there was enough room toward the house to skooch a second panel in the top row. Just wondering!

I have to say that I would probably be on-line monitoring my panels, lol! At least for the first few weeks. I think it would be fun to see how they are producing.

As a side note, I wanted to refer to your post on wind power. Every month or so in our electric bill there is a flyer enclosed. We are able to choose our... is it our generator??? We have no choice in the company that delivers electricity, but we have a choice in who - not sure if the word is generator or provider (provider may be the same as deliverer).

Anyway, my point is, I called when they first started enclosing these flyers a few years back, because I found them misleading. They talk about certain generators(?) supporting and developing "clean" energies such as wind and solar, etc., and it made it seem like if you chose these generators, you would be getting electricity actually generated by such practices. But something didn't quite sound right, so I called. Turns out, the electricity you received would still be the same old stuff (most likely generated by dirty sources) but part of the extra money you were paying would go toward "developing" clean energy practices/methods, etc. This kind of ticked me off because I felt the consumer was being deliberately misled into thinking they were actually using clean energy. I obviously have nothing against supporting the development of clean energy, but between the fact that my energy would still be "dirty", and the fact that "supporting clean energy development" was so vague, I declined, especially as I wonder how many people think they are getting (and paying for!) clean energy when they are not. Just left a bad taste in my mouth....

So, can you set up a battery storage system with system? Is that doable in the future? And is it possible to be totally "off the grid"? My memory is foggy, but I recall that there may be restrictions against being totally off, although I can't remember what kind or why. Or maybe it had something to do with restrictions on having battery back-up and *HAVING* to be off the grid - it was something about line workers being endangered if they were working on lines during a power outage, but any power still being generated by your house could harm them if they were unaware of it. Sorry, guess I'm rambling now and I should have checked my info before posting.

By the way, thanks for making me feel better about the SRECs, lol! Even if you were just being polite, I feel better about having difficulty in understanding them, lol!

Dee


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

We just turned our panels on!


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Congratulations! When we first got our panels online we got such a charge (pun intended) out of watching the meter go in reverse.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Congrats, pixie lou!


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Well Done! It has been informative and interesting watching your progress. Good reporting, PL, and the very best of luck. May your meter always whiz backwards!


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Whoo hoo! Congratulations!

:)
Dee


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Thanks every one for the kind words. I'm happy that people have found this information useful. And I'm happy that I'm finally generating solar electricity.

Now - back for an update.

The building inspector came out on Friday to do the final inspection. Everything was approved. So now we can apply to NStar for permission to hook into the grid. But - since we already have the net meter installed, we turned our panels on anyway. Oops. So right now we are generating power, and any power we use during the day while we are generating power - we use that and are not charged for it. Since we don't have approval from NSTAR yet, any power we don't use and send into NSTARs grid, unfortunately we are not getting credit for it. And won't until NSTAR approves us as a provider. So right now we are technically giving free power to NSTAR. But at the same time, we are getting our own "free" power. According to our PM, it takes NSTAR about 2 weeks to come thru with the approval.

And I've become that nerd. I sit there and watch my power output online. I've already offset 5 lbs of carbon! (And nobody has to quote me from my last post when I said I couldn't imagine myself doing that. I'm eating my words.) I'll try to do a screen capture to post here. I'll have to figure out how to edit it since it has my name, address, etc on the web page.

So this is my meter turned on. I wasn't supposed to move it to the on position until NSTAR said OK. Ooops.
ON

And this is my solar meter - I took this photo right after we turned the meter on, so I had not yet generated a kWh of electricity.
Solar Meter


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

I just realized that I never posted a picture of my main roof with the solar panels. So here it is.
panels on main roof


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Here it is 1 week later.

So far I have generated 43.6 kWh of electricity. I'm told that is enough power to electrify your typical house for a whole day. Though in reality we use about 20 kWh a day, so I've powered my house for 2 days.

I've also offset 59 lbs of carbon, which is the equivalent of planting 1 tree.

I'm still that nerd. I keep my enphase window open on my iPhone all day do I can check my energy generation multiple times a day.

Still awaiting final approval from NSTAR. Still need to schedule tree removal.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Thanks for all the info on the roof reinforcements. We're in the process of getting a proposal for PV panels on our garage, and it's seriously under-built compared to the house. We had to go with the garage since it has the only well-oriented span that's big enough to hold enough panels to be worth the installation. I know it's going to be a royal pain to empty it out, but actually that's because a clean-out is seriously overdue. Now at least I know a bit about what I should expect.

And re the extra electric boxes - that's going to be a problem for us, because our box is squeezed into a small corner between the main house and one of the extensions - I have no idea how they'll be able to deal with that.

The guys who came out from Cotuit Solar were great - they had cell phones and photographed not only the garage roof, but the interior structure of the garage, the electrical panel in the basement, and everything else that might be a factor in the proposed installation. I just hope they got a photo of the corner where the external electric box is located.

Thanks again, PL!


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Yesterday I received the contract from NStar to sign. We signed it and FAXed it back to our PM. Yes, it has taken a bit over 2 weeks. But that is what happens when you apply to the utility a few days before Thanksgiving.

I'm surprised at how well the panels perform on cloudy, rainy, snowy days. When we had the snow this weekend, we still generated 1.5 kWh of electricity. Granted that is not a lot. But it is still clean electricity that I don't have to pay for.

Overall my electrical generation is lower than I had expected. But - we are nearing the winter solstice and our days are quite short right now. We are expected to generate less electricity in the winter months.

Turns out that I get monthly e-mails about my energy productions. I'm cutting and pasting out of my e-mail. (Sorry but I don't know how to format the table for energy production) (FWIW - We turned the panels ON on 16 November)

Enphase Energy maximizes your solar energy production and keeps you informed about your system. Your monthly energy report shows how your system performed and how much you contributed to offsetting the global carbon footprint.

Week Peak Power Energy Produced
11/01/2012 - 11/07/2012 0 W 0 Wh
11/08/2012 - 11/14/2012 829 W 259 Wh
11/15/2012 - 11/21/2012 1.80 kW 33.5 kWh
11/22/2012 - 11/28/2012 1.63 kW 29.6 kWh
11/29/2012 - 11/30/2012 1.84 kW 11.0 kWh

November 2012 Total: 74.4 kWh
Previous Month Total: 0 Wh
Year to Date: 74.4 kWh

Your Carbon Offset for this month: 113 lbs

You have offset the equivalent of: 1 Tree


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Note to Dee - The whole idea of the new systems is that you don't need batteries; those are expensive and difficult to store safely. Mainly, though, they tipped the scales against solar power from an environmental standpoint - more negative impacts from manufacturing and disposal than benefits from the solar panels themselves. My DH recently worked at a home where the owners wanted batteries - not sure what they were thinking - and it was a real disaster in terms of permitting, safe enclosure, etc. The 'breakthrough' in solar power, aside from tax incentives, was the federal regulation that forced power companies to purchase electricity back from homeowners at retail rates; without that the numbers just wouldn't work.

We have a fair amount of work to do before we can install our system - shoring up the garage structure, re-roofing, and digging a trench to bring the line into the house. I really can't wait to get started.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

I'm still waiting to figure out the impact on my electric bill. I posted a copy of my November energy generation report. At that point I was not officially connected with NStar, so I was not getting credit for any energy I was generating and sending out to the grid. I was officially approved on 10 December, and on 18 December I was officially hooked up to the grid. At that point my Enphase Energy account was zeroed out so my December energy report shows I only generated ~34kWh of electricity - which is what I would have generated from 18-31 December - when my solar panels were covered in big heaps of snow!

So I'm now trying to figure out the impact on my electric bill. My latest bill from NStar covers the period 27 November - 22 December. My Enphase Energy report covers the period of 1-31 December. The 2 reports are not in synch. Nowhere do I get a report of I used x kWh of power, I generated y kWh of power, so I need to pay for z kWh of power. All in the same time period. I know I"m probably being petty. But I guess that's what happens when you have a degree in Finance.

Bottom line - I was billed for 408 kWh of power. Previous Decembers I've been billed for closer to 700kWh of electricity. I do notice that this was a short billing period - only 25 days. And I know that we were late putting up holiday lights. All I know if that I've never had a $65 electric bill in December before!


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

"...Note to Dee - The whole idea of the new systems is that you don't need batteries..."

DTD, can you clarify please? About the new systems? I'm not sure what you mean. I'm thinking that one might generate a lot of power in the day (when it might not be used due to no one being home) and then at night, when everyone is home, no electricity is being generated. So I would think then is when you'd want to used stored power. That, and obviously during gray wintry days and power outages (although I'm not sure power outage usage is allowable if you are still hooked up to the grid). So I'm not sure of how the new systems negate the need for battery storage. I certainly get the environmental angle in regard to the batteries - although I wonder if the storage of solar-generated electricity (and not using other "dirty" electricity) makes up for the battery usage...?

Pixie Lou, I can see how you'd like nice, synched reports to look at - it would definitely make it easier to track your usage. However, a $65 bill is pretty sweet! Mine is about 2 & a half times that, and I'm always running around the house turning things off!

Dee


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Dee - let me see if I can explain this properly. During the day you generate lots of electricity. You use whatever you need. The "extra" is sent out to the grid and your electric meter runs backwards. You get "credit" from the electric company for that power you don't use. Then at night when you are not generating power, you pull power off the grid. You first use up your credits. Then you buy the excess. Does this make sense?

And unfortunately in a power outage, the grid sends a signal to your panels and your panels shut down. I was told that without knowing the cause if power outages, the grid cannot accept electrical inputs. So I would love to see an advance In technology so that I could at least have daytime power during outages.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Ah, I think I get it. When you are not generating electricity, and are using electricity from the grid, you are using up your credits first, before you pay for the off-the-grid power... but wait.... don't you get paid for the excess? Isn't that the SRECs? Certainly they don't pay you for your excess and then let you use credits as well?

Please enlighten me! (no pun intended, lol!) I tried to go back and skim the posts but just couldn't focus at this time (doing three things at once at the moment). I'll try to reread again later.

If I recall correctly, the reason the panels shut down in an outage is so that they are not sending out power to the grid, where it could hurt workers trying to deal with the outage.

Dee


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Yes - you're right. When you pull off the grid, you first use up your credits. Then you either buy additional power from the electric company. Or, if you generate more power than you use, you get paid for the excess by the electric company. I'd have to check my notes - I think it may be annually. If you think about it - the days are longer in summer, so you will generate more power. Days are shorter in winter, you generate less power. So you most likely will pull more power off the grid in winter, pull less power in summer. So things would even out over a year.

The SRECs are completely different. And I still don't have my head completely wrapped around them. They are Solar Renewable Energy Credits. The utility companies are required by law to generate a certain portion of their electricity by solar. They buy these SRECs to comply with this requirement. If they don't have enough SRECs they are fined.

From srectrade.com

In SREC states, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires electricity suppliers to secure a portion of their electricity from solar generators. The SREC program provides a means for Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) to be created for every megawatt-hour of solar electricity created.

1 SREC = 1,000 kWh of solar electricity = 1 MWh of solar electricity
10 kW solar capacity = ~12 SRECs per year

The SREC is sold separately from the electricity and represents the "solar" aspect of the electricity that was produced. The value of an SREC is determined by the market subject to supply and demand constraints. SRECs can be sold to electricity suppliers needing to meet their solar RPS requirement. The market is typically capped by a fine or solar alternative compliance payment (SACP) paid by any electricity suppliers for every SREC they fall short of the requirement. The sale of SRECs is intended to promote the growth of distributed solar by shortening the time it takes to earn a return on the investment.

Once the installation of a solar system is complete, the system must then be certified by the state(s) in which it is eligible to sell SRECs and then must create an account with the tracking platform used by that state. Once registered, every month, the tracking platform will issue SRECs based on the generation of your system. In some states, estimated generation is used for systems under 10kW, while all other systems are required to submit generation on a monthly basis. One SREC is created for every 1000kWh of electricity created. For example, a 10kW system can generate approximately 1 SREC per month. However, it is up to the solar installation owner to decide how to manage the SRECs that are produced.

Some states will certify solar electric systems from out-of-state and allow the SRECs from those facilities to count towards the RPS. The map above shows what state individuals can sell their SRECs into.

Here is a link that might be useful: srec trade dot com


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

I just got my April electric bill. For 13 cents!


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

That's awesome!!

Dee


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

I decided I would post an update since I have now had solar panels on my roof for about a year now. Though I've only been hooked up to Nstar for 11 months.

I was guaranteed 4.21Mw of electrical generation per year. So far in 11 months, I have generated 4.75Mw. So quite a bit higher than the estimates. Though we didn't have much snow last winter and there were only a few days where the panels were completely covered in snow and generated zero power.

I'm hoping that I hit 5Mw of electrical generation before December 18. SRECs are based on megawatts. at. 4.99Mw of electrical generation I get 4 SRECs. at 5.00Mw, I get 5 SRECs. Since an SREC is worth $300, that little bit of power makes a difference.

There were only 2 months where I generated more electricity than I used. That was in April and May. In April I had an excess of 18kw. In May is was 94kw. In both months, Nstar credited me ~15.3 cents per kWh. A bit lower than the 16.9 cents we used to calculate our payback.

I have also found out that no matter how much electricity you use, you have a flat fee of $6.43 per month called a "customer" charge. Which is why I never ended up with a "negative" bill.

My electric bills and my solar reports are not in synch datewise. But I have figured out how to run custom reports on the solar web site so I can figure out how much solar power I generated during the electric billing cycle. And then I can compare my monthly electrical usage year to year.

I never realized how much electricity air conditioning uses. In June July and August, I generated a ton of power. But I also used a ton of power. Its that air conditioning.

Regarding SRECs. I have not received any SREC reimbursement yet. I received notice in May 2013 that I could deposit SECS generated through June of 2012 into an auction account. So it looks like there is about a 1 year delay in posting SRECs.

If I used the 15.3 cent kWh rate for electricity (the rate NStar paid me) It looks like I have saved $725 in electric bills over the past 11 months.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

It looks like this has been a success for you. We have overall been quite happy with our panels.

"I have also found out that no matter how much electricity you use, you have a flat fee of $6.43 per month called a "customer" charge."

Be grateful for that. Ours is about $22 per month that we pay for having a meter. We get our reimbursement for excess power generated once a year.


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Thanks for the update, pixie lou. Believe it or not, I actually do think about your solar set up fairly often! So I'm happy to hear the update and happy to hear also that it seems to be working out for you.

Dee


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RE: Going Solar - Step by Step

Yes, PL, thanks for the update. We got an estimate for solar panels on our garage, and then we got stalled, discussing whether we should rebuild the garage before we proceeded.

Our house is a really well built cape, with many sections of roofline, all with the same pitch, but the garage is poorly built, with a flatter roof and not enough space overhead to store what we need to keep there. I still kick myself for not talking DH into rebuilding the garage and installing the panels.

Thanks again for the update. I'm so glad this worked out so well for you!


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