Rat
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What do I tell my friends?

Sun Sep 01, 2013 12:55 pm

I don't have solar at my house. As an EV owner I'm all for it in theory and appreciate its clean contribution to the grid, but I don't think it makes financial sense for me. Recently we reroofed and several of our friends (who have solar) urged us to put in solar at that time. We didn't. I had several reasons, but my friends didn't seem to buy them. I don't know much about solar so maybe people on this thread can tell me if my reasons were legit or just rationalizing.

Reason 1: our electric bill is already low. Even with 100% of my Leaf charging done at home it's only about $60/mo in the summer and maybe $80-90 in the winter. I've read that solar doesn't make financial sense unless you're paying at least $100/mo or more for electricity. I do expect to continue living in the house for 20 years or more (if I've inherited my father's longevity genes). Also, construction costs here are more expensive than most places and I am not willing or capable of doing any of the work myself.

Reason 2: Our house is situated with N-S the long way. The southern end is hipped, but not very big. Most of the roof area faces either due east or due west, getting most direct sunlight when the sun is low. To get maximum coverage a large percent of the panels would have to face the street.

Reason 3: I think solar panels are ugly. I don't want them on the front of the house (see reason 2).

Reason 4: We have a lot of trees around our house. This one may be a copout. We do have large elms in front and back and our next door neighbor has a very tall pine in his back yard, but these are all situated far enough from the house so they don't cast shadows on the roof except in the early morning sand at sunset. We used to have a very big liquid ambar overhanging the southern exposure of the roof, but we had to take it out because it was dropping limbs dangerously and roots and fruits were both problems, too.

Anyway, the real reason for us is #1, which I consider dispositive of the question, but my friends seem more receptive to #4, despite its dubious underpinnings. So what's the consensus here about the financial breakeven point - does $100/mo sound right? What about the house's orientation? Does that make a difference?

QueenBee
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Re: What do I tell my friends?

Sun Sep 01, 2013 1:28 pm

Rat wrote:I don't have solar at my house. As an EV owner I'm all for it in theory and appreciate its clean contribution to the grid, but I don't think it makes financial sense for me. Recently we reroofed and several of our friends (who have solar) urged us to put in solar at that time. We didn't. I had several reasons, but my friends didn't seem to buy them. I don't know much about solar so maybe people on this thread can tell me if my reasons were legit or just rationalizing.

Reason 1: our electric bill is already low. Even with 100% of my Leaf charging done at home it's only about $60/mo in the summer and maybe $80-90 in the winter. I've read that solar doesn't make financial sense unless you're paying at least $100/mo or more for electricity. I do expect to continue living in the house for 20 years or more (if I've inherited my father's longevity genes). Also, construction costs here are more expensive than most places and I am not willing or capable of doing any of the work myself.

Not really sure what the logic behind what you read was. If you are already frugal with your electricity usage then that just means you will need a much smaller system. While a smaller system will cost more for each kilowatt generated a system to cover 100% of your usage would not be tiny. Your electricity rates might be low which would have an impact on the decision though.
Rat wrote:Reason 2: Our house is situated with N-S the long way. The southern end is hipped, but not very big. Most of the roof area faces either due east or due west, getting most direct sunlight when the sun is low. To get maximum coverage a large percent of the panels would have to face the street.

Solar PV will work on every roof face. Panels facing east/west will produce less than panels facing south. Putting in solar does not require maximum coverage. For example My roof is heavily shaded, and I only had room for 22 panels on my southern roof. My east roof is actually a bit less shaded so the other 36 panels are actually near what the southern ones produce.
Rat wrote:Reason 3: I think solar panels are ugly. I don't want them on the front of the house (see reason 2).

So don't put them on the front of the house. Put them on the back roofs...
Rat wrote:Reason 4: We have a lot of trees around our house. This one may be a copout. We do have large elms in front and back and our next door neighbor has a very tall pine in his back yard, but these are all situated far enough from the house so they don't cast shadows on the roof except in the early morning sand at sunset. We used to have a very big liquid ambar overhanging the southern exposure of the roof, but we had to take it out because it was dropping limbs dangerously and roots and fruits were both problems, too.

Sounds like you've already done enough of a solar analysis to determine that this will have minimal impact on production.
Rat wrote:Anyway, the real reason for us is #1, which I consider dispositive of the question, but my friends seem more receptive to #4, despite its dubious underpinnings. So what's the consensus here about the financial breakeven point - does $100/mo sound right? What about the house's orientation? Does that make a difference?


Please provide your source for #1... How much your monthly electricity bill has no real basis in this question. I suspect the only reason it's even being talked about is it is a lazy way to get at two numbers that do matter. Your monthly electricity usage and how much you pay per kilowatt hour for electricity. Generally it doesn't make sense to produce more annually than you will use as most utilities either keep the extra on an annual basis or pay you a low rate for it.

Yes, the houses orientation does matter and does make a difference.

My recommendation is that you have a real solar path analysis done. This will provide you with real numbers on how much production you can expect from your non street facing roofs. Then at the same time get a quote for installing a system. This will give you the most important number that you have not asked about. How many years will it take to break even.

If it was only going to take 5 years to break even wouldn't you say that all your reasons are silly? If it was going to take 15 years to break even then solar PV is probably not for you as you'd have to have some serious dedication to self generated green power. If it's less than 10 years than you have a legitimate question that only you can answer. Is 10 years too long? Are you going to be in the house long enough? Is there something better you could invest that money in? etc etc.

Based on the answer to the years till break even question will determine what you tell your friends. Certainly anyone would be understanding that you couldn't stomach a 15 year break even and if it was 5 years than you just tell them you are have trouble making the right decisions ;)

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DeaneG
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Re: What do I tell my friends?

Sun Sep 01, 2013 1:28 pm

Hi Rat,

The solar PV system with the quickest payoff period is one of zero size. It's already paid off.

After that, payback time is driven by your tiered cost per kWh from PG&E. At the most, you want to offset (generate) only enough power to keep you from paying rates above tier one very often. Tier 1 power is cheap enough that you'll never earn back the incremental cost of making your PV system any larger.

West-facing installations generate only a little less power than south-facing over the course of a year, because the bulk of your power will be generated in the summer when the days are longer. The sun will be generally overhead then anyway, not so much in the southern sky, so a western exposure is OK. That's what I did, also because I don't like to look at the panels from the street.

Some minuses for solar PV: It's one more thing on your house to break (inverter or microinverter failures), and one more thing to maintain (those panels don't wash themselves). You'd want to use microinverters if your panels get shaded by trees sometimes through the day.

All in all I'm glad I installed a small PV system of 2.5kWac, though I wish now (1) I'd done it two years later after panel prices fell substantially, and (2) should have bought the higher-efficiency US made panels rather than the cheap Chinese ones - I'm still hitting PG&E tier 2 pretty regularly, and tier 3 in a bad month.
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DeaneG
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Re: What do I tell my friends?

Sun Sep 01, 2013 1:31 pm

I forgot to say, those who completely offset their power usage through a PV installation must have some personal reason for doing so (saving the planet, etc), as it doesn't make sense financially.
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Boomer23
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Re: What do I tell my friends?

Sun Sep 01, 2013 1:45 pm

I agree with everything QueenBee says, especially about having an analysis done to see what your costs and benefits would be. It does sound like you have low electrical power use, lower than mine, I'm quite sure. My 5.2 kW DC solar system on an unshaded south facing roof in Southern Ca covers most of my 11,500 kWh per year usage and with TOU rates, gives me a zero electric bill, including my LEAF charging.

I'd just add a couple of things. From what I've read, Enphase inverters, which are small inverters attached one per panel, give better results in shaded situations than a single central inverter will. Secondly, a decision like this is a personal decision that brings into play all of the factors that you've mentioned. If your friends are really friends, they'll respect your decision and if they don't, well you know.

I suspect from having read one of your books that you're someone who has a strong level of self esteem, so I doubt that this is really about what your friends think of you, even though you've chosen to title your thread that way, right?
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LeftieBiker
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Re: What do I tell my friends?

Sun Sep 01, 2013 2:28 pm

Unless you get your electricity from coal, the efficiency gain from using an EV will cut your carbon footprint - a lot. Even if you do have 'coal power', you will be polluting 10-20% less than you would with a gasoline or diesel car. If coal is your power source, I suggest you look into "buying green power." What this actually means is you pay to increase wind and solar generating capacity elsewhere (usually) as a way to "offset" your own consumption. If your power source is "grey" like natural gas or fuel oil, look into other ways to reduce your impact, like home insulation improvements and more efficient appliances. I'm one of the lucky ones: my power comes from a 100 year old hydro plant 3/4 of a mile from my house. Still, I'm stuck with oil for furnace heat, so we have a high efficiency furnace and use a *lot* of electric heat, plus a bit of solar.
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RegGuheert
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Re: What do I tell my friends?

Sun Sep 01, 2013 3:31 pm

Rat wrote:I don't have solar at my house. As an EV owner I'm all for it in theory and appreciate its clean contribution to the grid, but I don't think it makes financial sense for me. Recently we reroofed and several of our friends (who have solar) urged us to put in solar at that time. We didn't. I had several reasons, but my friends didn't seem to buy them. I don't know much about solar so maybe people on this thread can tell me if my reasons were legit or just rationalizing.
I will say that installing solar after reroofing is a good time to do it.
Rat wrote:Reason 1: our electric bill is already low. Even with 100% of my Leaf charging done at home it's only about $60/mo in the summer and maybe $80-90 in the winter. I've read that solar doesn't make financial sense unless you're paying at least $100/mo or more for electricity. I do expect to continue living in the house for 20 years or more (if I've inherited my father's longevity genes). Also, construction costs here are more expensive than most places and I am not willing or capable of doing any of the work myself.
The key item here is that you plan to live in your house for 20 years or more. Given that, your system should pay itself back. To me, it is an investment which sits on your roof and makes electricity rather than one that sits in the ether and provides (or takes) money.

I suppose the idea that a small power bill does not justify solar must be based on the assumption that electricity rates are tiered. That is not a valid assumption everywhere but probably is where you live. In any case, I doubt the cost of electricity is so low in your lowest tier that it will not pay itself back.
Rat wrote:Reason 2: Our house is situated with N-S the long way. The southern end is hipped, but not very big. Most of the roof area faces either due east or due west, getting most direct sunlight when the sun is low. To get maximum coverage a large percent of the panels would have to face the street.
As others have said, the loss from putting panels on a non-south-facing roof is not as bad as most people think. Please have a look at this tool which will make it clear how much impact putting the panels on the back of your roof will have.
Rat wrote:Reason 3: I think solar panels are ugly. I don't want them on the front of the house (see reason 2).
I agree! I would have preferred to have put the panels on the back of our house, but it faces north. East was another option, but at the cost of panels three years ago, the 15% hit was more than I wanted to take. I decided to put them on the south side facing the road. You can see them in the photos in the link in my signature. They're not terrible.
Rat wrote:Reason 4: We have a lot of trees around our house. This one may be a copout. We do have large elms in front and back and our next door neighbor has a very tall pine in his back yard, but these are all situated far enough from the house so they don't cast shadows on the roof except in the early morning sand at sunset. We used to have a very big liquid ambar overhanging the southern exposure of the roof, but we had to take it out because it was dropping limbs dangerously and roots and fruits were both problems, too.
I don't see this as a cop-out, at all! If you have enough shading, then your production can drop to a point at which your system will NOT pay itself back over time. This is even more true if you choose to install on the east- or west-facing roof, since you depend more on generation in the mornings and evenings with that type of installation.
Rat wrote:Anyway, the real reason for us is #1, which I consider dispositive of the question, but my friends seem more receptive to #4, despite its dubious underpinnings. So what's the consensus here about the financial breakeven point - does $100/mo sound right? What about the house's orientation? Does that make a difference?
At the end of the day, I suspect your situation is marginal in terms of payback. If you have cash that you can apply to solar, it will likely be just as well spent on your roof as in the investments where it currently resides. Only you can decide whether you would rather it sit on your roof producing electricity or in an investment somewhere.

Good luck with whatever you decide!
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surfingslovak
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Re: What do I tell my friends?

Sun Sep 01, 2013 3:49 pm

Russ, everything that's been said already, plus a small anecdotal aside: if you live in Santa Clara proper, Silicon Valley Power charges $0.10/kWh with no tiers. It's an incredible deal, which is hard to compete with. Incidentally, they also offer a pretty generous solar rebate, and encourage residential installations.

After a prolonged shopping and evaluation period, we were able to find a solar lease (power purchase agreement or PPA) from SolarCity. It's prepaid with guaranteed power generation at $0.06/kWh. It's installed on a purpose-built carport in the back of the property, which is not visible from the street. It was hard to say no to, and as an added bonus, SolarCity upgraded the electrical panel from 100A to 150A. I don't regret this at all, since I feel that it was a sound investment. Our electricity bill was lower than yours, and even with an EV, it's not very high.

Solar leases can make a lot of sense in this situation if you can get away with a small upfront payment. To get a lower rate, you might have to prepay the lease, which raises other questions. Still, it might be worth considering. Another possibility is a renewable energy program the local utility might be offering. In our case, the program we subscribed to earlier carried a $5 monthly fee and a modest per kWh surcharge. The municipal utility would use this to help fund solar installations on city buildings, such as the library or the senior center.

This could be another interesting option to consider, but it will not lower your utility bill, it will increase it instead, and should not be considered an investment in the strict sense of the word. Personally, I do care about what's happening to the planet, and this is one of the reasons why I think we need to push these technologies forward now.
Last edited by surfingslovak on Sun Sep 01, 2013 6:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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UBUYGAS
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Re: What do I tell my friends?

Sun Sep 01, 2013 4:26 pm

I don't blame you for not wanting to get solar. If I only paid $800 to $900 per year like you I wouldn't do it either.


Here's a chart of what my costs have been from 2009 to July 2013:

Image

I figure that with the LEAF most likely my bill should climb back to $2300 for the year, That's $183 per month

Most likely I will install solar in a couple of years, My Parents got solar two years ago. They have 36 panels all on the back of the house directly pointing south. The roof produces 1,550,000 watts per month. They need 550,000 watts per month to run their house, they sell all the rest. They make $300+/- a month, It's crazy, In 7 Years the roof will be paid off.

For me my rear roof also points directly south, no trees at all, should be able to fit 20 to 24 panels. Should be able to run my entire house off those panels, not sure about selling any.

I just joined http://www.viridian.com which should save me $192 per year.

Sal


Rat wrote:Reason 1: our electric bill is already low. Even with 100% of my Leaf charging done at home it's only about $60/mo in the summer and maybe $80-90 in the winter.
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johnrhansen
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Re: What do I tell my friends?

Sun Sep 01, 2013 4:28 pm

I'm wondering... are there investment funds where a guy can invest in a solar farm somewhere? That might be a more efficient use of your green dollars. This way the panels are put in an ideal location, you don't have to see them, and you have a very large economy of scale when a huge system is installed instead of hundreds of smaller ones.
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