My Solar Experience

Discussion in 'Clarity' started by jdonalds, Dec 10, 2018.

To remove this ad click here.

  1. jdonalds

    jdonalds Well-Known Member

    I'm submitting this in case anyone is contemplating having solar installed on their property. This is my almost one year experience. Everyone's situation would be unique. This is just ours.

    Why did I install solar? I've had a couple of people ask me that and I had to think about it. Reasons might include saving money, going green, going off grid to screw the utility companies, prevention against unreasonable rate increases, or reducing foreign oil imports. I finally decided in my case it was 80% just wanting to move a step ahead in technology. It just made sense to me. The other 20% was to cut costs but that takes time.

    It isn't easy computing the payback of a solar system. In the long run it may not have been a good thing economically. If I simply take the cost, subtract all the government incentives, and compute the lower power bills it looks like it would pay for itself in about eight years. But it isn't that simple. The money to buy the system has to come from somewhere.

    I could lease the system but that does not appeal to me. I could borrow the money but then I'd have a loan to pay with interest; and we don't have any loans in our family. I could use cash but that means that amount isn't sitting in the stock market where it can easily double in less than eight years. In the end it wasn't about money after all. I just wanted it.

    We live in Redding CA which NOAA says is the 2nd sunniest city in the U.S. after Yuma AZ. We get intense sun for six months, and lots of sun the other six months. Perfect for solar. Our house was consuming about 880 kWh per month in 2017. Due to city restrictions and practical roof space we ended up with a max 7.3kW system which, in the best conditions, can power the house 100%+ for about three summer months. But the other nine months we have to buy some power from the grid.

    Where do we stand after almost a year? In 2017 we consumed 10,573 kW without solar. So far in 2018 we consumed 3,155 kW a saving of 7,418 kW. At our rates that is $1,112.7 annual savings. Apples to apples? Not at all. The solar system produced much more than that 7,148 kW because it also charged the Clarity all year. We've never charged away from home.

    In 2017 we were driving a 2015 Toyota Prius so our auto fuel consumption was already low. We have a 4Runner but only drive it when we have to (only 71,128 miles on a 13 year old SUV). The above figures of electricity consumption are not just the house for 2018, but also include 100% of the charging for the Clarity. As for auto fuel savings at the pump we saved $1,017 this year. So the solar is working it's butt off for us. Total electricity and auto fuel savings $2,129.69 for 2018. Things should be slightly better in 2019.

    The solar installer underestimated the capacity of the panels we selected and installed an under-powered inverter which was clipping at 5kW. That was corrected but we lost some potential power generation for three months.

    We also had heavy smoke from the huge Carr fire for six weeks. Not only did the smoke partially block the sun, it also coated the solar panels. I had to wash them three times.

    I was disappointed to notice late afternoon shade on the solar panels this week. We have two 50 foot and growing redwood trees that catch the low angle sun. The cost of topping those trees would never be returned in solar savings. Most of the year the sun is high enough so those trees aren't a problem.

    The dramatic swings in power generation from the roof solar surprise me. Peak power is about 52kW per day midsummer when the days are long and the sun is high in the sky. A full sun day in December might produce 20kW. We've had days of near zero production when there is full overcast and rain. Surprisingly the system always manages some watts even on the worst days.

    This chart shows grid power readings from our electric meter (net metering). Up slope means the solar system needed more help from the grid. Down slope means we were feeding power to the grid. We balance with the electric company once a year.

  2. To remove this ad click here.

  3. petteyg359

    petteyg359 Well-Known Member

    I've had a 4 kW system a bit more than a year now, and expect a bit more than 5.7 MW generated for 2018. Bought outright with cash, and expecting it to pay for itself in 11-ish years, sooner if per-kWh prices spike. There are only a few REPs in Texas offering net-metering, but I've found that a "free nights" plan is much better, even though I get paid nothing for excess generation. Thinking about investing in a battery system to mitigate that handout to the electric company at some point.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2018
  4. Richard_arch74

    Richard_arch74 Active Member

    @jdonalds, thanks for your detailed presentation. IMHO, With you being located in one of the most sunniest locations in the US, it's almost a no brainer provided that you can afford the initial expense and that, if anything goes wrong with the array, your solar manufacturer stands by their warranty, and/or they are still in business for many more years.

    In my case, here in Michigan, (certainly NOT one of the more sunny places in the US) it was a more difficult decision and calculation. As a retired architect I ALLWAYS looked at life cycle cost and number of years for payback of your investment. If I was strickly looking at payback and life cycle cost I could not recommend the array to myself. As you said "I wanted to move a step ahead in technology", I feel the same way. Sure my carbon footprint maybe a bit smaller, but having the cool technology, is what it's all about for me. Having the Clarity is in that same vein.

    My array is 13 months old, is 8.3Kw, and manufactured by SunPower. My calculations tell me that, between not paying for my electricity useage (in fact I have a credit that can continue on year after year) and paying for most of my driving in the Clarity, I will have a payback in about 10 years. When our electricity provider, Consumers Energy, decides to go away from net metering (by state regulations it can't be sooner that 10 years from now) I will have to go with onsite battery storage. I have to believe that battery storage will be cheaper and much more effiecient when that time comes.

    Things to look at when looking for an array:
    1. Array manufacturer's financial strength
    2. Local installers that are authorized installers for that manufacturer
    3. Warranty, length and proration of warranty
    4. Site considerations: south facing roofs, pitch of roof, trees that will shade array, solar radiation for your location
    5. Electricity provider: do they have net metering?
    6. Is Federal tax credit still available? The time where the tax credit is no longer available is rapidly coming.

    @KentuckyKen, your array up and running?

    Sent from my Chromebook 15 CB515-1HT/1H using Inside EVs mobile app
    Remarksman and KentuckyKen like this.
  5. KentuckyKen

    KentuckyKen Well-Known Member

    All hooked up and waiting for electrical inspection and utility to reprogram meter to bidirectional. Hope to go live on Wed 12/13/18. Will post details then. Grandfathered in for 25 years of net metering and 2018 date guarantees the 30% Fed tax credit. My ROI is also 10 years.
    Can’t wait!
  6. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member


    Thanks for your detailed report! Something everyone contemplating a home solar power install should realize is that there are a large number of factors (and variables) to consider. Your report really brings that home, so it should be a valuable contribution to any discussion of the subject.

    Sometimes I wonder if it might be better if it was recommended that people do a solar install in a frame in their back yard, if they have sufficient room, rather than on their rooftop. That would both make it easier to clean the panels when necessary, and also allow the house to be shaded by trees without reducing the amount of energy harvested. (Depending, of course, on the exact placement of the trees and whether or not those would also shade the solar panels.) It would also allow the panels to be installed with the most advantageous geometry, rather than having to conform to the direction and angle of the home's roof.

    The down side would be that putting the panels at a lower location would increase the likelihood or incidence of shading from nearby trees and other houses/buildings.

    Last edited: Dec 10, 2018
    EmZ likes this.
  7. To remove this ad click here.

  8. insightman

    insightman Well-Known Member Subscriber

    Thanks @jdonalds, for your detailed report. Very disappointing to read that your installer didn't correctly calculate the power-generating capacity of your solar array. How difficult is it to wash smoke from your solar cells on the roof? Can you just spray them off from the ground or do you have to get on a ladder with a tiny solar-cell brush made of super-soft sable? How about a photo (or a link if you've already posted one).
  9. insightman

    insightman Well-Known Member Subscriber

    People in my town are battling for the right to put up solar arrays in their front yards. The city has a moratorium on doing that now, but it may come to pass.
  10. Sandroad

    Sandroad Well-Known Member

    Here is the link to my solar charging post last June. As you can read, I went with an off-the-grid 3Kw system using ground mounts for the panels. In June, near the summer solstice, I was able to run the car (used daily) with just solar power. Now, near the winter solstice and east of Lake Michigan (warm water generating winter clouds), I’m using utility power for the car almost exclusively. On an annual basis, I probably go about half solar and half utility for car power. However, I’m expecting this week an estimate on installing 7Kw of grid-tie panels on my garage roof. If that works out in ‘19, it will up my game a lot!
  11. jdonalds

    jdonalds Well-Known Member

    We have a 1/2 acre lot. Half of the lot is a slope facing south so would have been perfect. But that portion of our lot is an easement for the city and they would not allow us to put a structure on it. So we had to go with the roof. That brought up the subject of the age of the roof. It was supposed to be a 30 year roof but with our intense sun not likely to last the full 30 years but was now about 20 years. So we had to replace the roof. It would have had to be done soon anyway but the solar install pushed that date sooner. Fortunately the roof was included in the federal tax credit for just that reason.
    Sandroad likes this.
  12. To remove this ad click here.

  13. Candice

    Candice Active Member

    We installed a ground mount array just about 4 years ago. At the time, it was supposed to cover approx 90% of our electric use. The first year, we over produced by a small amount and earned $20. The next year, we under produced and owed about $30. In 2017 we under produced by about $150. This year, with the purchase of the Clarity and an extremely hot summer and only 2 sunny days in November, we have already used up our reserves. We consume an average of 400kw per month with about 600kw per month in the winter months. Our year ends in March so we will be paying for the full months of Dec, Jan and Feb out of pocket. Because of the Clarity, we are installing more panels in Feb.

    On our original panels, we paid up front, using a one year, interest free loan so we could have time to submit for our tax rebates. Our break even point was 5 years so we have one year left and then it will be all profit. Our new panels will have a break even point of about 6 years.

    We are thinking about getting a Sense monitor to see where we waste the most electricity to be more efficient but will we save the extra $300 it will cost us? Maybe not, but it will be fun to try like it is fun to track EV usage on the best car in the world.
    insightman likes this.
  14. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    I didn't dare even suggest using the front yard for such a practical purpose. My home is unfortunately located in a HOA neighborhood which bans solar panels from roofs. :(

    I'd be very, very happy to see the practical needs of solar power installations triumph over the importance that far too many people place on appearance. I'd love to see solar power installations front yards become commonplace. But I don't expect that to happen; humans are very poor at long-term planning.

    "Times change. People don't." -- John Caples

  15. jdonalds

    jdonalds Well-Known Member

    That's a shame that the HOA doesn't allow solar panels on the roof. I actually don't think they look that bad and I also think people's eyes are not naturally drawn to the roof of houses. I believe California has laws clearing the path for roof installations so the HOA might not be able to rule against them. Not sure about the details though.
  16. jdonalds

    jdonalds Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure if this is part of net metering or not but our city will subtract from our bill any extra power we pump back into the grid, and will then charge us that same amount per kW when we draw from the grid. So to me the city power is a free battery.

    At the moment I looked into installing a battery but the commercial (not home brew) ones aren't economical. Also the batteries will wear out faster than the solar system.
  17. insightman

    insightman Well-Known Member Subscriber

    Perhaps they wouldn't notice a Tesla Solar Roof?
    jdonalds likes this.
  18. petteyg359

    petteyg359 Well-Known Member

    In what state? Tons of stupid HOAs all over try to claim that, but in many places they're not actually legally allowed to prevent you from installing panels.

    Yay for solar panels being "ugly" but the stinking Fart Extrusion parked in the HOA manager's driveway being not ugly.
    leehinde likes this.
  19. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    I'd love for State laws to make it impossible for a HOA to ban solar installations of any and all types.

    Unfortunately, the Great State of Kansas isn't exactly the most enlightened or forward-looking of the States in the Union. :( (But we actually managed to elect a Democratic governor recently, so at least there's some hope. There are very few things I'd thank the Orange One for, but I'll thank him for his political blunders in "helping" ultra-right-wing Kansas politicians, which helped make that possible! :D)
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2018
    MPower likes this.
  20. Richard_arch74

    Richard_arch74 Active Member

    Here in Michigan HOA's and condominium associations can definitely ban solar arrays if their deed restrictions or master deeds prevent them. There was a HB introduced a couple of months ago that would require HOA's and CA's to allow "energy conserving structures". This bill as written, however, doesn't grandfather HOA' ot CA's into the provisions of the bill. I don't expect the bill to go anywhere. Buyer beware: read and understand your deed restrictions before you buy.

    Sent from my SM-G955U using Inside EVs mobile app
  21. petteyg359

    petteyg359 Well-Known Member

    If you ask them, then you'll find out that it was never actually "aesthetics" they were complaining about in the first place; they just can't stand people who don't understand the benefits of belching black smoke...
  22. leehinde

    leehinde Active Member

    California's Energy Commission recently instituted a rule requiring solar roofs on new home construction. I'm hoping that in the next few years that will help drive the component prices down.
  23. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    I believe that would be okay, yes... for those who can afford it! Tesla solar roof tiles are pretty expensive, not to mention they are in very short supply; very few people have gotten them installed as of yet, and there's a long waiting list.

    Funny you should ask, though. As long as we're on the subject...

    Our HOA requires that all roofs be composed of wooden, slate, tile, or "composite" shingles. No asphalt shingles. A few years back, a contractor came and knocked on my door and said he had a petition he wanted me to sign. He said that he had started to install a tile roof on a home in our neighborhood, but someone filed a complaint and had the work stopped, despite the fact that it says (as he showed me) right in the HOA that tile roofs are allowed! So he had to waste his time going around getting this petition signed. Well anyway, that was the story he told; I never heard of any other side to the story.

    Anyway, that shows just how petty some people can be and how intrusive those HOAs can be when you have narrow-minded people involved.


Share This Page