My Experience With Solar Panels

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After making sure that the attic was well insulated, that windows were caulked and drafts were blocked, and getting my family to pay attention to how the thermostat was set, I was ready to try a bigger, and consequently more expensive, experiment.

I decided to install solar panels on my home.

Was it worth it? Well, here are the results.

My home is fairly large, a little over 4,000 square feet (we have a big family that needs quite a bit of space), so the photovoltaic solar panel array that we installed was commensurately large. Where I live, our electricity usage is charged in three tiers. The lowest tier covers what is considered a small baseline usage, the first 250 kilowatt hours in a given month. The second tier comprises the next 500 kilowatt hours, and the third and priciest tier is everything over tiers one and two. The solar panel array was sized to target and largely eliminate the third tier in the summer months when the air conditioning would be running the most. In months in which the solar panels generated more electricity than we used, we got a credit for the power we sent back to the grid, effectively selling that power back to the utility. I admit, I really enjoyed those days when I could go out and see my electric meter spinning backwards.

I went through a year of actual utility bills and separated out just the charges for electricity, and compiled the comparisons of the costs, both BSP (before solar panels) and ASP (after solar panels).

In the 12 months BSP, our electric bill was $4063. In the 12 months after the installation of solar panels, the electric bill dropped to $1176. That was an overall savings of $2887. That’s not chump change. The huge benefit came during the warmest months, when I would have used a lot of tier three-priced power due to running the AC. I could readily see from looking at a year’s worth of electric bills that air conditioning is an incredible energy hog, having far and away the biggest impact on my bill. (It is regularly 100 degrees Fahrenheit and more during the summer where I live.) I also note that during the four months of February through May, my electric bill was a grand total of $8. Just $8! That compared to $1294 in the prior year over the same months.

So, were the solar panels worth it? Here is the calculation. After the rebate offered by my city and the tax credits, my cost for the photovoltaic solar panel array was $29,299. Savings of $2887 gives a payback of about 10 years. But a better way to look at the cost-benefit is calculating the return on investment. In this case, it is 9.8%, which is a lot better than I can get most anywhere else right now. And as electricity rates rise, as they inevitably will, that return will grow.

Bottom line: I think my investment in solar panels was well worth it. And I still get the non-financial pleasure of watching my electric meter spin backwards at certain times of the year.

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December 2010
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