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Journey to Solar – Part Seven – First Year Savings

Now that we’ve had our solar panels for over a year, we have a better picture of how much energy they will produce/offset during the various seasons and daylight hours throughout the year.

Solar City, our solar provider, makes it easy for customers to monitor and understand their energy generation through their Solar Guard monitoring service. I can go online anytime and see our panel’s energy generation…

…by year


…by month


…or even by day


Along with a running tally on the bottom of the screen, showing how much carbon dioxide we have offset with our system. To date, we have offset 16,599 pounds, the equivalent of 7.9 mature trees. I love that!

And while the carbon offset alone puts a smile on my face, what makes me smile even bigger are the savings, which I calculate at $3287.92 during the first year of our panels.

Here’s how I arrived at that number. The year prior to our solar panel installation, we paid $4956.49 to Southern California Edison. I know!! Can you see why we were very motivated to go solar?

Keep in mind, we did not have the roof space and elevation (this is all analyzed by Solar City’s engineering department – you don’t have to worry about this) to offset our entire energy bill. Solar City did make it clear that we would still have a bill from SCE each month. Some months the bill is almost nothing, and other months – like over the holidays with short days, Christmas lights and lots of parties – it’s higher.

All together, we paid $2203.37 to SCE during our first year of solar panels. However, this number needs some adjustment.

Our post-panel energy use is skewed higher because at the same time we installed our solar panels, we also added an electric car and charging station in our garage. This is not an energy expense that we had prior to installing our panels. All other things remaining constant, this should be backed out of our total energy expense to generate a true comparison.

Using a basic online calculator – which estimates that our car costs $.0382 per mile to charge in California – driving 14,000 mile in our first year – our car had an energy expense of $534.80.

Once you subtract this new, additional expense from our $2203.37, the total is $1668.57 in the first year with solar, as compared to $4956.49 in the year prior to going solar. Overall savings $3287.92!!

Not to complicate the numbers, but I think its worth mentioning that the $534.80 cost to drive 14,000 miles is a separate and additional savings. If you compare it to a car that gets 30 miles per gallon on average and gas cost of $4 per gallon, an equivalent gas-powered vehicle would have been $1866.67 to drive the same vehicle over the same time period.

If you do not back out the expense of charging the car, and instead you take $4956.49 paid to SCE and $1866.67 spent on gas, you get a grand total of $6823.15. Compare that to $2203.37 we paid for electricity in the first year (including cost of charging the car), that’s a savings of $4619.78.

Also, just as important to me as the savings, that is $4619.78 not spent on dirty, non-renewable, fossil fuels. Woo-hoo!!

Of course, our solar panels do have a cost. As I mentioned in previous posts, we chose Solar City’s pre-paid program, where we pre-paid our energy for the next twenty years. The total cost of our panels was $18,784 – total cost for all installation, warranty, maintenance, and energy generation for the next twenty years. We will never owe another dime for our solar energy. If you are interested in more about financing and paying for solar, I have lots more information in this post – Journey to Solar, Part Two, Financing.

So, our initial $18k investment will be paid back in five and half years with our current savings. Everything after that is pure money in our pocket. Keep in mind that is calculating no increase in utility rates during that time – which we know is never the case.  In fact, fossil-fuel energy prices rise by 39% on average over a ten-year period.

Our savings will begin to skyrocket over the next twenty years, as solar remains constant, SCE raises their rates year over year, and I continue to look at every nook and cranny of our house to find ways to reduce our energy consumption. I only wish I had a roof large enough for us to go 100% solar. If you do, do it. Do it now. Even if you only have room for a small system, the savings – in terms of the environment and cash in your pocket – makes it worth looking into for almost all homeowners.

If you have any other questions, ask away in the comments below, email me, or just stop me next time you see me. I LOVE talking about solar.

For more information about installing solar panels in your home, here is a link to view all the posts in my Going Solar Series.

11 responses »

  1. Truly inspiring! I’m 3 weeks into my Great Energy Race to lower my consumption. Would love to get some solar panels myself too! Amazing results. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Hello again.

    I would like your take on the following situation we have in Texas concerning net metering.

    Here, we have the ability to choose our electric provider. As it is, there are 3 electric providers that allow net metering: TXU, Reliant, and Green Mountain Energy.

    For each of these providers, they will purchase up to 500 kwh at the retail rate (the rate they charge me), and then, purchase the rest of the solar energy at the much lower wholesale rate. In addition, for me to be on a net meter plan, it looks like I would need to be on a month-to-month plan, which means they could change my rate. UGH!

    In addition to your thoughts on this program…would you happen to know how many kwh you use directly from your solar panels?

    Thanks in advance for your comments

    • Thank you for your question. We generate about 700-1200 kwh per month with our solar panels. It varies depending upon the season – obviously lowest in Winter and highest during the long days of Summer. I am not familiar with the rates and net metering in Texas but in general I would say to try to match your system to your energy use. I wouldn’t buy more than you need in order to sell back energy to the grid. If you can cover all of your energy use, with possibly going slightly over during the summer months, selling back to the electric company, that would be an ideal scenario in my opinion.

  3. We’re glad you were able to see great savings! Here are a few more resources on Solar in the OC

  4. Dale Borgeson

    Do you have a “cycling device” on your air conditioner installed by SCE? If so, do you still earn that credit even though you now have solar panels installed?

    • Yes, I do and the discount is the same as it was before I had the panels installed.

      • Dale Borgeson

        Thanks. We just installed our panels with Solar City last October and I was curious if we would continue to receive that credit. I believe it’s based on the fact that out SCE use must be high enough to cover the credit for the cycling device.

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