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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

OCGreenMama_Solarbyyear

…by month

OCGreenMama_Solarbymonth

…or even by day

OCGreenMama_solarbyday

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.

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Journey to Solar – Part Six, A Month to Month Comparison

We’ve been solar almost six months now and are getting great results. Once we have a full year of experience, I’ll do a complete breakdown of costs and energy generation.

But, to share some perspective, I want to demonstrate how our electric bill breaks down for the month of August – generally our highest bill of the year.

Our electric bill for August 2012 came in at a whopping $464.60, and that includes the discount we received by participating in SCE’s Summer Discount Plan.  In total, we used about 2126 kwh (kilowatt hours). Yikes!

Now, compare that to this August 2013. Our net usage from the grid was 434 kwh. Our current electric bill for August is $14.19! (Again, participating in the Summer Discount Plan generates additional savings.)

The bill for August of 2013 also includes the monthly cost of operating our electric car that we did not own last year. So, when you factor in about $150 we spent in gas last August for my husband’s car, that brings our total monthly savings to $600! In one month!

We drew 938 kwh from the grid this August, sold back 504 kwh to Southern California Edison, for a net usage of 434 kwh.

In terms of charges from SCE for solar customers, here’s how it works – when your solar panels are working during the day, your energy generation goes first, to supply electricity to your own home, and second, back to the grid. If you generate excess energy during the day beyond what you consume, you sell it back to the grid. At night (when solar panels sleep along with us), you draw your electricity from the grid.

If the amount you draw from the grid during the month is more than that you sell back, you owe SCE. If it’s the reverse, the electric company owes you.

Solar customers are placed on an annual billing cycle, where charges and credits are accumulated throughout the year, and you true up at the end of one year of solar energy generation.

So for the month of August (technically from July 22 – August 20th), we generated 1168 kwh from our solar system and drew 938 from the grid for a total usage of 2104 kwh. This is pretty close to our overall usage last year, but the difference is that 100% of our usage last year was from the grid and now the majority is coming from solar.

Of the 1168 kwh of solar energy we generated, we used 664 and sold 504 back to the grid.

Bottom line – a $14 electric bill!

So for now, I’m basking in my $600 savings for the month. Even more reason to love the sun. Keep it coming!

These babies really are a beautiful sight …

SolarPanels

Related Posts:

Journey to Solar – Part One, Making the Decision

Journey to Solar – Part Two, Financing

Journey to Solar – Part Three, Auditing and Evaluation

Journey to Solar – Part Four, Rebates and Approvals

Journey to Solar – Part Five, Installation, Inspection and Flipping the Switch

If you have any questions at all about going solar, ask in the comments below, email me, or find me on Twitter. I want to encourage more people to take their own journey to solar, getting off the grid and saving money. Less money, less guilt. You can’t go wrong.

Journey to Solar – Part Five, Installation, Inspection and Flipping the Switch

The day was finally here we had been waiting for – installation day.

Our solar panel system is fairly large (7.2kw) so installation actually took two days.

Installation was a breeze. The hardest thing was keeping my dogs from freaking out while a crew of people stomped across our roof.

Now that it’s all done, our home looks like this:

SolarCollage

If we were overly concerned about hiding our system, we could have limited it to the panels on the side of our house that are virtually undetectable. I had a hard time even photographing them – in the photo to the left above. Because of the elevation of our house, you can barely see them from the street.

Our main concern was generating as much solar power as our roof and the orientation of our house would allow, so we decided to maximize our roof space by using the area over our garage as well.

Those visible panels don’t bother me at all. Where some may see “unsightly” panels, I see beauty (not to mention big energy savings – cha ching!). It’s all in the eye of the beholder after all.

Unfortunately, once our installation was complete, we couldn’t just turn on the system and start generating our own power. There were still more steps to the process.

First, an independent inspector had to come out to the house to review our entire system and submit a report to the utility company.

Fortunately, the inspector was here within the week, our installation passed with flying colors, and he filed his report quickly with Southern California Edison (SCE).

Solar City had warned me that SCE was taking about three weeks on average to clear solar systems for operation. I was pleasantly surprised, when just about a week after inspection, we got the go ahead from SCE to turn on our system.

Now that we had the thumbs up from SCE, I called Solar City and they walked me through a couple of steps. First, I needed to turn on the switch on my inverter – which is in the garage and looks like this:

solarinverter

Next, I had to connect the monitoring device (that communicates information from the inverter to Solar City) to my wireless router. This allows me to monitor my solar generation online through Solar City’s SolarGuard program. It also allows Solar City to monitor my system to ensure it is running smoothly and operating at full capacity. If there are any issues, Solar City will alert me and fix the problem.

After a few minutes on the phone, we were in business. Solar energy started flowing into our system!

We are a few weeks in to generating our own power now. It feels so good to know we are running our home from the sun. It gives me one more reason to smile on beautiful sunny days like today.

And saying goodbye to large electric bills for the next twenty years or so is going to feel pretty good too.

We are coming to the end of this journey but there is still one more step – the results! I’ll report back in a few months and let you know how it’s going.

Thank you for following me on this journey up to this point. Hopefully I inspired a few of you to consider powering your home from the sun too. If you have any questions about the process, just leave a comment below or send me an email. I’d love to help you begin your own journey to solar…

Related Posts:

Journey to Solar – Part One, Making the Decision

Journey to Solar – Part Two, Financing

Journey to Solar – Part Three, Auditing and Evaluation

Journey to Solar – Part Four, Rebates and Approvals

Journey to Solar – Part Four, Rebates and Approvals

We finally got our solar panels installed last week. They aren’t operational yet…more steps in the process I will write about later.

But first I need to catch up on the process so far.

In my “Journey to Solar” series, I wrote first about the decision to go solar. Next, how to pay for it. The third part of this series discussed the engineering and energy audit process.

Next in the series is step four – submitting rebate applications and applying for approval through the homeowners association.

Government rebates (local, state, and federal) are still available. They can save you up to 50% off your system – but you’ve got to file the paperwork correctly and in a timely manner. Luckily, Solar City prepared everything for us. All we had to do was sign and send back the papers. They even factored the rebates into our final cost so we don’t have to wait for reimbursement. It was a piece of cake.

The homeowners’ association approval, on the other hand, was not so easy. Through a combination of issues, the process took way too long.

Here’s the thing about the association approval, it’s simple a go-through-the-motions approval. In California, an association’s power to deny or alter solar applications is limited.

The California Solar Rights Act of 1978 protects a homeowner’s right to install a solar energy system by limiting an HOA’s ability to object to such installations through its CC&Rs.  The Act does permit CC&Rs to include provisions that impose reasonable restrictions on installations. “Reasonable” restrictions included those that: 1) do not significantly increase the cost of the solar system, 2) do not significantly decrease the system’s efficiency or specified performance, or 3) allow for an alternative system of comparable cost, efficiency and benefits. “Significant” is further defined as those restrictions that increase the system’s cost by over 20 percent or decrease the system’s efficiency by over 20 percent.

Basically, the HOA can not deny your application. They can require you to make changes, provided that those changes do not increase your cost by more than 20% or decrease the power of your system by over 20%. But while the HOA can not deny your application, you still do need to go through the formal approval process. A California couple learned that lesson the hard way, when they had to remove panels not approved by their association in advance of installation.

For us, HOA approval meant filling out the application, submitting our plans, and getting the signatures of our neighbors on all sides of our house (front, back, left and right side).

Two of our neighbors are the easy “where do I sign?” and “thumbs up for solar” type. They signed right away. One neighbor I’m a little afraid of so I put it off, and put it off, and then finally made my husband go knock on their door. Luckily, he caught the husband in the garage and he signed right away. No questions asked – phew! Just one more to go.

The last set of neighbors was a little more challenging. They needed “time to think about it” and were concerned the panels would be “unsightly”. They wanted to take a picture of our house, print it out, compare that to our plans, and draw the panels from the plans onto the photo (no, I’m not kidding). After that, they could assess just how “unsightly” the panels would be and decide if they would sign off or not.

We said okay and gave them time and our phone number. We delicately explained that their approval was a courtesy more than anything and that we wouldn’t be offended if they checked “do not approve” on the project.

About a week later, the last set of neighbors called and said they were ready to sign. They are and older couple, actually quite sweet. I feel a little bad because I think we caused an argument between the two of them – when the husband signed off on our plans, the wife was grumbling in the background about the “unsightly” solar panels that would soon be on our roof.

We got out of there quickly, and with a last thank you, we had the signatures we needed and were able to submit everything to the association.

Unfortunately, we submitted our application at the end of November, just before the holidays put a delay on everything, including HOA meetings. Our application was not presented to the board until January. After that, it took weeks of calling for me to finally get an answer.

In the end, we were approved with no modifications or adjustments and were able to proceed with installation. While we were hoping to have the panels installed before the end of the year, we are only about a month off and happy that this step of the process is behind us.

Installation was a breeze – I’ll cover that in part five. Then, inspection, approval, and the last step, turning the switch from fossil fuel to solar energy. Can’t wait!

solarcityinstall

Related Posts:

Journey to Solar – Part One, Making the Decision

Journey to Solar – Part Two, Financing

Journey to Solar – Part Three, Auditing and Evaluation