SOLAR forum: Roof of Different Color - Solar Electric

 
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Steve812
Apr 25, 2011 11:11 PM CST
Name: Steve
Prescott, AZ
Three years ago I believed that solar electric power was not a good economic choice; but last year my wife and I decided to put solar electric panels on the roof.

We saw a salesman at Costco who told us that their company had installed several large solar electric installations on the rooftops of Costco warehouses. We talked with him for an hour or two and a week later signed a contract with REC Solar for a 4 kW system. Several weeks later some people came out to evaluate our site. Turns out that our house is oriented axis E-W, and there is a large area facing about eight degrees west of true south. They told us it's a perfect orientation. They also evaluated the site for shading and found that not to be a problem. They filled out the rebate paperwork and submitted it to out local utility APS.

APS, at the time, was offering 50% of the initial cost of a system. After they had approved the application for rebate, we went to Costco to pay for the solar system. The checkout people were stunned to see someone putting $15,000 on their Amex card, especially when the cart was empty; but sometimes the best stuff doesn't fit neatly in a shopping cart. And by doing it that way we go our 1% cash back on the purchase.

The system was installed in July. Mostly, things went smoothly. They were supposed to install a monitoring system called TED, the energy detective. And they did. But the readings were all screwy - mostly because they installed one or more of the transducers backwards. They kept sending out technicians who were clueless. And it kept on being broken for about three months.

In September they sent out the only person in the organization who knew anything about the TED system and since then it has worked marvelously. It measures the output of the system and it measures electrical usage in real time. It stores the data, and it displays the information in a web browser window. When it works it is fantastic; it changes the way I think about electric power and gives me a great tool to manage usage. When it breaks, however, it can be breathtaking. At one point it reported that we had used $15million worth of electricity one minute. Then it went dead the next. It has a little trouble sometimes when electrical storms pass overhead. (There was not, however, any problem with metering by APS. It reported our usage correctly and we got the full economic benefit of the power we generated.)

The economics of the system really works for us. Besides the 50% rebate from APS we got a 30% tax credit on the balance. So the system cost us about 30% of the retail price, or about $10,000. It saves us a little more than $100 per month on electricity. That means we're getting something like a 12% to 14% return on investment. It should pay us back in seven or eight years. And if it lasts thirty years it will pay for itself almost four times over.

Part of the economic success is due to our power rate structure which is Time of Use. We pay $.15 or $.175 per kWh during daylight depending on the season, but just $.05 per kWh at night. For most of the year we generate more power during the day than we use, selling it back to the utility at the rate we would pay to use it. But even in the summer when we use more than we generate, the power we generate during daylight hours is worth $.175 per kWh because of the rate structure we're on. It turns out that this rate is no longer offered by APS, so not everyone will have quite so supportive a rate structure. (It's not a very friendly structure to people who have huge air conditioning loads but no solar panels. I suppose that is why it was discontinued.)

There are a few minor issues. The output has gone to zero during the day when the panels are covered in a few inches of snow. When it warms up, the snow melts and there is an avalanche. Our house is on the side of a hill and the panels are more than twenty five feet in the air. When the avalanche falls, it creates quite a racket. But when the snow is gone the system returns to normal. Another minor problem is that in December and early January the sun is low enough in the sky that there is some shading in the late afternoon. We had anticipated this and had REC Solar change their installation drawings to correct this problem, but the installers installed to the unrevised print. So we did not get quite as efficient a system as we would have wished.

We were asked by a neighbor about the system. He had a friend who had difficulty with the paperwork and a year or so after deciding to install a system has no panels on his roof. And of course there are horror stories about companies that took huge down payments and went bankrupt before delivering anything. We were fortunate enough to have chosen a reputable and financially stable company to do the work. I don't know if our approach might have been more expensive; but even if it was I think we got a better deal.

It seemed like a lot of money to spend, at the time. And it seemed like a scary proposition to take on a fairly new technology. But the system has been very reliable - even the inverter. We like the idea that even if the grid lost power for days we'd at least be able to run a couple of refrigerators and a computer or two. And recharge portable device - maybe one day even a car. We also like the idea that the power we generate does not create pollution or add to global warming. It seems like a socially responsible thing to do. We feel very fortunate that we can do the right thing and still get a good return on our investment.

Here in Arizona where sunlight is abundant at just about the same time that hot weather makes air conditioning necessary, solar electric is a great economic choice for "peak shaving." Solar electric power generation is an economical way for utility companies to postpone building expensive coal or gas powered generating plants and operating them for just part of the day. With the price of fossil fuels increasing and the price of solar panels falling, and with healthy rebates and tax credits being offered, this is a great time to consider adding solar electric panels to the roofs of a lot of houses, especially in the south and west, maybe even yours.

---- copyright S.R. Brubaker 2011 ----
ImageAguane
Apr 25, 2011 11:33 PM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
Steve,
Thanks so much for sharing your very honest perspective of your new experience with solar. I do appreciate this endorsement. Thrills me to know this is working so well for you!

The one thing I think is so important as regards a departure (whether is be total or partial, depending on need) from fossil fuel is that the solution most conducive to a region be utilized. In our case, here in the southwest with an abundance of guaranteed sunlight and BTUs, we can depend on solar technologies and applications. Plus, the fact that our utilities and Fed will work with us with rebates, tax credits, etc. is very beneficial financially and environmentally in lots of ways, as you point out.

One thing that troubles me. The influence of HOA and negative view or prohibitive view of solar panels on our roofs is daunting. We live in a state with 90% sunlight year round and in some neighborhoods solar panels are forbidden. I've done a lot of conversing on this issue in my neighborhood. Many of us have and I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Thanks again, Steve!
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
Steve812
Apr 25, 2011 11:59 PM CST
Name: Steve
Prescott, AZ
Susie,
Thanks. The issue of HOAs and local governments restricting solar installations is troubling. We were lucky in several respects. We installed before the city required approval. And we live in a place that does not have an HOA. Only two of our neighbors can even see our solar panels. We, ourselves, have to go into a neighbor's back yard to get a look at them.

I happen to believe that the dark blue shade of solar panels is a great color. And I think that it can go well with a house. The stucco of our house is painted nearly-white and there are terra cotta colored trim areas. The roof is a pale pink terra cotta. The cobalt blue panels shimmer jewel-like on the rooftop. In our case it is the icing on the cake.

My hope is that HOAs would develop aesthetic standards and/or aesthetic approval processes.
Imagebsavage
Apr 26, 2011 11:02 AM CST
Name: Brenda
Dolores, Colorado
Interesting stuff. Perhaps it should be noted here that all three of the motorhomes that we have had or currently own have had solar panels to supplement the power supply. And the oldest one, the one we still have, was built in 1996! As we know, this is not new technology, but it certainly has not had the support needed to make it commonplace. I hope we are evolving into accepting and promoting better ways to provide energy.
ImageGardenGuyAZ
Apr 26, 2011 11:11 AM CST
Name: Alan
Chandler, AZ; 85225
Sunset Zone 13
I remember the first solar lights I bought for out in the garden, maybe...what, 10 to 15 years ago. You were lucky if they lasted 4 to 6 hours, even in Arizona's incredible amount of sunshine. I'm pleased to say, the ones I received as gifts recently...are far superior. They all operate from the time the sun sets to the time it rises, without even shutting off till sunrise. So, I guess the technology is there, it's just a matter of it getting cheaper. My house faces south with the roof in full sun all day long. I would love to put solar across my entire roof, but for me, it is still cost prohibitive, even with the rebates, and it would take longer than I might live to pay it off I think. I need to do some more investigation, or hope the price keeps dropping more. You would think electric companies would rent space from us to put solar panels, enough that our electric was free, and they could use the rest to supply those who aren't so nicely pointed toward the sun.

Alan
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~Hellen Keller
Steve812
Apr 26, 2011 11:23 AM CST
Name: Steve
Prescott, AZ
Actually, by paying for part of the installation, utility companies are paying you rent up front. And by buying electricity back at the retail rate they are paying a premium over wholesale rates.

There are companies (though I don't know if they operate in the area) that will install and maintain the panels. In return, you agree to buy a certain amount of power per year from them for a long time. Not sure about the details, but it is a way to hedge against rising utility costs.

My guess is that in the case of driveway lights the big change in technology is the use of LED lamps which are more than ten times as efficient as incandescent lights. It is true that the payback on changing from incandescent lights to either compact fluorescent lights or to LED lights inside a house is much more economically attractive than buying solar panels. It's doubly true in areas where people use a lot of AC because not only are incandescent lights inefficient, but they generate a lot of heat that must be removed by the AC system.
ImageAguane
Apr 26, 2011 11:24 AM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
We are moving in the right direction! I had an older home with a pool in 1975-ish. The IRS was offering a $1,200 tax credit with installation of solar panels on the roof to heat the pool water (Northern California). I think the panels were $2K+. Oh Yea! Those panels did their job and then some. Allowed us to use the pool year round without a heater. The cost was in running the filter system which we needed to do anyway.

It's all good. Sometimes I think our brains are like rubber bands. We stretch them out to welcome new ideas and then the little demon comes in and says "hey, you can't do that". Yes, We, Can.

I was thinking earlier today that I have no idea what the global politics or policies with crude oil are but if a nation or a species puts their minds to work and commit, we can overcome this addiction. Let's go back to "putting a man on the Moon". Some would ask "why" ... because we can. I think that if we in our daily lives considered the "alternative" and weighed the costs in we could find a way to opt for the alternative.

Let's keep looking for positive applications and use alternatives when possible.
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
ImageAguane
Apr 26, 2011 11:27 AM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
Good points, Steve. I installed LED lights outside, too. I'm so interested to see if my new A/C Heat Pump, the addition of my two solar attic fans, 3 new major appliances will reduce my bills. The notion of becoming an energy utility is fabulous!
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
ImageGardenGuyAZ
Apr 26, 2011 12:05 PM CST
Name: Alan
Chandler, AZ; 85225
Sunset Zone 13
Love my LED lights, and now they have LED night lights that are perfect for ambiance in my antique lily lamps. They put out the same light as the 7 watt incandescent lights, so should save me some money. I have two lamps, and each lamp has 18 bulbs...lol!

alan

Thumb of 2011-04-26/GardenGuyAZ/3ecea2
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~Hellen Keller
Imagebsavage
Apr 26, 2011 12:16 PM CST
Name: Brenda
Dolores, Colorado
Alan, that lamp is lovely! We had solar panels to heat our pool in AZ as well, and they worked great!
ImageGardenGuyAZ
Apr 26, 2011 1:10 PM CST
Name: Alan
Chandler, AZ; 85225
Sunset Zone 13
I feel bad, we are getting off topic since this is suppose to be the solar forum. We need a chat forum! =)

The lamps are very old. I've never been able to find out too much about them. I bought them at an estate sale in Colorado for $400 a piece about 15 years ago. I really do enjoy them. One is on my end table in the living room. The other is on a very old antique Victorian parlor table by the front door. It's nice to know we can put LED lights in them and not ruin their value, huh? =)

Alan
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~Hellen Keller
ImageAguane
Apr 26, 2011 1:23 PM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
You asked for it Alan! Good idea!
A chatting place.

http://cubits.org/EnergyAndPower/thread/view/55127/

Back to Steve's beautiful blue roof!
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
[Last edited Apr 26, 2011 1:23 PM CST]
Quote | Post #635741 (12)
Steve812
May 6, 2011 3:26 PM CST
Name: Steve
Prescott, AZ
Alan,
That's a good looking lamp. I have a chandelier that uses ten sixty watt incandescent lamps. I joke that I can keep the food on the table warm with it. That's going to be one of the next places to conserve - maybe one of the first places to install LED lights here. As it is now, it's turned on maybe six hours per year. Are your LED lights dimmable?

BTW my TED software is saying I'll generate $150 worth of electricity this month. And if this were typical of the system performance, the return on investment would be closer to 18% than 12%. That's a great return under any financial conditions. Especially when there's little speculative component. Sometime in July I'll measure the total kWh on the special meter provided and see how we did.
ImageGardenGuyAZ
May 6, 2011 6:02 PM CST
Name: Alan
Chandler, AZ; 85225
Sunset Zone 13
Since the lamp is not on a dimmer switch, I do not know the answer to that question. But I don't see why they wouldn't be. They make LED Christmas lights that dim and brighten and change colors...so I'm going to say yes :)

Alan
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~Hellen Keller
Steve812
May 6, 2011 6:07 PM CST
Name: Steve
Prescott, AZ
Thanks Alan.
Imagebsavage
May 7, 2011 10:05 PM CST
Name: Brenda
Dolores, Colorado
Steve, can't you attach a rheostat to it to dim it? I might be wrong, but I kind of thought you could wire any bulb to a dimmer...
Steve812
May 8, 2011 9:55 AM CST
Name: Steve
Prescott, AZ
Brenda, Some fluorescent lights cannot be dimmed. And some that are "dimmable" don't dim very effectively - they're still pretty much on or off. I know this from experience. The reason has to do with the physics of how they make light. It's different from the way incandescent bulbs make light. But LEDs make light in a whole different way again. Come to think of it, LEDs in things like clock radios and car dashboards have for years been designed to dim automatically in dark conditions. So it should be possible.

I guess when it comes to replacing the ten bulbs in my chandelier I'll have to buy one bulb and test it. It would be embarrassing to spend a fortune on bulbs and discover that they don't quite work as intended.
Imagebsavage
May 9, 2011 8:44 AM CST
Name: Brenda
Dolores, Colorado
Huh. I did not know that!
ImageGardenGuyAZ
May 9, 2011 9:16 AM CST
Name: Alan
Chandler, AZ; 85225
Sunset Zone 13
I did some searching, and I don't think LED's will run on a dimmer switch either:

Q: Do LED Lights work with dimmer switches?
A: No, some LED lights will work with dimmer switches. However, lights that run on 120V AC are not dimmable. They do not have a heat sink design that takes the heat from the LED Light. The dimmer switches waste so much energy that the LED Bulb will glow or flicker when they are turned off, if the LED bulb is alone. There won't be a flicker if you have LED lights in a series though. Dimmer switches leak because of the TRIAC which is why so much energy is wasted.

http://www.ledlight.com/LED-Information.aspx

And also this link:

http://ask.metafilter.com/57312/Will-dimmer-switches-dim-LED...
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~Hellen Keller
[Last edited May 9, 2011 9:17 AM CST]
Quote | Post #650836 (19)
ImageAguane
May 9, 2011 10:06 AM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
Alan,
The ledlight link is a good one! Lots of good information. I had know idea dimmer caused such waste.
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER

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