Solar on our House

I did an interview with the tech news website ArsTechnica about the costs and benefits of installing solar panels on our home in Denver (which we now rent out) and the article just went live a couple days ago: https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/02/solar-power-is-it-for-you/. It isn’t really RV related but we’re still pretty proud of being featured and we’re proud of our solar panels both on the house and the RV.

TL;DR: Solar panels have been around for a long time, but solar on your home is cheaper now than ever before. In many places solar generated power is cheaper than grid power assuming you just tie into the grid and don’t do a battery backup system. It will depend on tax and production incentives, how much sun you get, and how expensive grid power is. Many people who go solar get a lot of non-monetary benefits out of it like saving the environment. You should at least look into installing solar on your house as you might be surprised by how much you can save while burning less fossil fuels to power your house.

The article has a lot of information about the financial details of our system, but here is a bit more information about our experience going solar.

In 2014 we got quotes for a 3.125kW solar panel system for our house. In Colorado we get “net-metering” which means that if we generate more than we use in a month like July when the sun is shining for a long time we can “bank” a credit for that power and use the credit to cover our usage in a winter month when the sun doesn’t shine as long. It definitely helps on the cost front as otherwise we’d have to sell the extra power to the power company at wholesale rates which are about 1/6th the amount we pay. That sized system would cover about 80% of our home’s usage.

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Right after they turned the system on our new net meter spun backwards past zero. It was really fun to see it continue to go down from there all the way until the winter.

We went through SunRun solar and had a pretty good experience. We got quotes from multiple vendors and SunRun won hands down (they were about 20% less than Solar city and gave us a better interest rate). We own our panels outright and have a loan at 2.99% fixed interest but whether you own or lease will depend primarily on the current incentives in your market. I hear that if we bought today, we’d likely want to lease because the power company is (today) giving a better incentive to leased systems.

If anyone would like a referral (usually comes with a discount depending on the current promotion) to SunRun, please let us know ([email protected]) and we’ll get you in touch with our friend Erik Bruner who also happens to be a senior account manager for SunRun in Colorado. He’ll treat you really well.

One question we see a lot is what happens when you need to replace the roof on your house? We actually went through that this year as a hail storm damaged a lot of the roof (the panels were completely fine). The insurance quote included a line item to have the panels removed and re-installed so we didn’t need to pay any additional for it ourselves but if we were just replacing the roof because of age, it would have cost about $1700 for the remove/re-install compared to our original purchase price a little under $8000 after tax incentives (Note though, that if you have a bigger system it will cost more to do the remove/re-install process).

The biggest bit of advice we give to anyone thinking about going solar is before you spend money on solar you should spend money on decreasing your electricity usage. We got a more efficient washer and dryer, replaced every single bulb in the house with an LED or CFL, replaced our fridge, added insulation and weatherstripping around windows, doors and electrical outlets on exterior walls, we replaced our inefficient laptops with ultrabooks and replaced the external monitors with new efficient ones. Every one of those things paid for itself WAY faster than the solar panels will. The second biggest thing our house had that I will put on every house I own in the future is window awnings. They allow sunshine in during the winter when the sun is low but you need the heat and keep the extra heat out in the summer when the sun is high. The combination of those things put our average monthly usage between 300 and 350 kWh before we ever got solar panels. That is about 1/3 of the US average electrical consumptionย and about 1/2 of the average Colorado household consumption. Sure there are only two of us, but also remember that I work from home every day leaving lights on, making more dishes, preparing food, and running a computer. Decreasing your electrical usage is a much much better plan from both a cost perspective and an environmental impact perspective than adding solar panels to your house. It also means that if you do eventually decide to go solar, you don’t need as many panels which saves you a ton of money on solar too!

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Now that I have my own panels, whenever I see this many panels on someone else’s house I think “They must have a really inefficient home.” This array is about three times bigger than ours.

Overall, going solar on our house was a great decision for us for a number of reasons. It forced us to be conscious of our energy usage. It means that much less of our energy comes from coal thus reducing pollution deaths, reducing radioactive particles in the air, and decreasing the amount of greenhouse gasses we put into the atmosphere. It will eventually save us money on electrical bills, and if we sell the house before that, we expect the house to sell for more than we would get without the panels, thus making back most if not all of our investment. And lastly, it set us up to put solar on the RV.

7 thoughts on “Solar on our House

  1. Great point about tackling energy use/demand before production/supply. I feel like a lot of people (myself included) get caught up in the technological wonder of solar panels when there are many simpler improvements that should be made first. Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. It was pretty eye opening when we started doing the math. The difference is solar panels have rich marketing departments that can pay for in home consultations and TV ads and $400 referral fees where window awnings and weather stripping don’t. Doing the math when we first moved in though made us hold off on panels for a year while we worked on other things and those improvements allowed us to shrink our solar array by about 30%.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In my mind, you have neglected to provide the single most important figure in this post as it pertains to someone considering to install solar in their home: how long it will take you to recoup your original, after tax, $8,000 investment, plus the 2.99% interest you are currently paying? Could you provide that, if possible? This is the one and only factor I would consider in making a decision to make such a hefty investment.

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    1. Most of that information was in the arstechnica article so I didn’t repeat it all but the gist is, we’ll be able to sell our house for about $8000 more with the panels on than with them off so we don’t expect to ever lose money, they are an asset. Outside of that, we got $544 of value out of the panels in year one which works out to 7.09% per year minus the loan at 2.99%. We expect the $544 in value to go up as energy prices from the utility will go up faster than the decrease in performance of the panels (panels are expected to still produce 80% in 20 years while energy prices go up 2% per year minimum every year). So given the assumption that we’ll make back most of the money when the home sells in the next year or two, (a big assumption we know) it’s an investment with much less volatility than an index fund of stocks with slightly lower returns.

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