“Hi. I saw the description of your solar panels on the solaroregon.org website. I live in Medford, OR and I have a few questions in addition to your useful bio on the Solar Oregon site … before I take the next step. Thanks for your time.” - Shad Keene
Thanks for your questions, Shad. I’ll do my best to answer accordingly.
As a Solar Ambassador, I do get emails from folks who ask me specific questions about our solar installation here at naturehouse. They want to learn more about solar photovoltaic energy, so thought I’d pick this email I received from Shad and answer his/her questions on my blog in order to get this information out to everyone who may have a similar interest.
Shad, the most common question is about cost and one cannot talk about cost without factoring in available incentives, so I’ll change the order of your questions and combine these two if you don’t mind.
Q: What was the total cost out of your pocket? What benefits/incentives did you receive for the solar installation?
A: In order to receive the incentives (which you do want), you’ll deal with two costs really … the upfront cost that you pay the solar contractor who does your install and the net cost which is what you’ve paid after tax credits and rebates. Both of these numbers are contingent upon the size and quality of the Solar PV system you install. In our case it is a 4100 watt (4.1kW) system using 20 Sanyo HIT 205w solar modules (the most expensive you can buy today), and a Fronius IG Plus 3.8 Inverter with a Datalogger (remote system monitor) kit. For us, the numbers are as follows:
Total system cost (invoiced) = $ 30,165.
Out of pocket cost (after ETO rebate) = $ 20,940.
Net Cost (after tax credits) = $ 8,658.
Therefore, for $8,658 we’ll have an average of 20% of our annual electrical costs provided by our solar system at a fixed cost for the next 25 years. In our area PGE is looking for a rate increase of 7.4% this year (with certainly more increases to come), so naturally these savings should also be factored into your purchasing equation, but more about this later as we’re talking about the cost to install in this question.
INCENTIVES (Oregon-centric): There are three major incentives you’ll need to factor into your equation…
- Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO) rebate
- Oregon State Tax Credit
- Federal Tax Credit
The ETO rebate is based upon the size of your system (and the rebate amount per watt available from your local utility for net metering) and is paid directly to your installer. This amount gets deducted directly from the top line (invoice) cost which reduces your out of pocket expense.
In our case … $30,165 minus ETO rebate of $9,225 = $20,940 which represents our out of pocket cost.
The Federal Tax Credit is 30% of this out of pocket cost … so for 2009 tax year we’ll get a credit worth $6,282. A tax credit is much better than a deduction as it comes directly off any tax liability you may owe. So, we reduced our $20,940 cost by $6,282 and the net is now $14,658.
The Oregon State Tax Credit is $6,000 but it has to be taken over 4 years ($1,500 per year). $14,658 minus $6,000 = $8,658 net/net after four years.
This is the real cost you are asking about.
To get a better idea re: payback period … take the net cost of $8,658 and divide by the amount of energy you’ll self-generate and reduce from your annual utility bill. Again, in our case this is estimated at $800 per year (current rates), so we’re looking at a full payback in 8-10 years or so. This payback can be accelerated if electrical rates continue to go up year over year, which is a distinct possibility, and also contingent upon what conservation measures one might make to reduce consumption and energy loss.
Q: How big (dimensions) were the panels that were installed?
Each Sanyo module (panel) is roughly 31” x 62” and is 1.8” thick as framed. They each weigh 35 lbs.
Our array consists of 20 such modules, 2 rows (series) in parallel, 10 mods in each series.
They are attached to our poolhouse’s composition roof via QuickMount waterproof flashing using UniRac SolarMounts.
Q: What was the process you went through (general steps)?
Hmmm… this broad of a question requires a multi-layered answer, so start with my blog posts on solarflareblog.com entitled “Solar Power at naturehouse, Intro” and “Residential Solar PV: How to get started” then check back with me with your more specific follow-up question(s).
Books are written to explain the totality of this question and I haven’t had the time to do so (yet).
Q: What has been the actual electricity generated (kwatts preferably) from the panels? I saw some estimates, but curious on what the actual numbers have been?
A: Since we installed last December (Winter is the worst time for solar access), it is way too soon to really know the answer to your question, however since El Nino has been kind enough to host above normal sunshine in February, our system is now humming along with about 10kWh per day = 10,000 watts daily. Over this past week, we’ve pushed a number of kWhs to the utility grid as we’re producing more than we’re using. Since we’re net metering, this will reflect back as a “credit” on our next electric utility bill (PGE).
Note: One kWh is produced when your PV array has produced 1000 watts for one hour.
Q: What will be/has been the maintenance necessary for the panels and how long do you expect them to last?
A: Little maintenance is required except to keep dust or debris from accumulating over time. I’ve only cleaned them once so far as our Oregon rain does a nice job of keeping our panels clean. This took about 15 minutes of my time.
These Sanyo modules are expected to last 25 years (warranty is 20 years power output). The Inverter will most likely need to be changed within 10 years, but that’s okay because this technology is changing so quickly that upgrading will be something we’ll want to do before then anyway.
I hope my answers provided some insight and are helpful in making your own decision on whether Solar Photovoltaic energy is right for you. Medford is a fabulous place to have a solar system. Keep in touch!
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