Living in an area with variable rates for electricity depending on usage, Dane Ericksen decided it was time to take control of his costs and install solar panels. Though he had some concerns at first, he’s pleased with his savings and now only pays the grid fee, a far cry from his pre-solar experience.
As an electrical engineer, Dane Ericksen knew that solar power could run his air conditioner and keep him cool through the hot California summer, while stopping his electricity rates from hitting 47 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). His utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric, charges that high rate to people when they use the most electricity (the regular rate is 18 cents/kWh). That may not seem like a big difference, but it adds up to hundreds of dollars each year.
He also knew that thanks to a combination of Federal and state rebates/credits, the cost to him would be far less than the actual sticker price. (In the end, he paid a little under half the total price of installation.) The main issue for Dane wasn’t so much whether solar power worked as it was a worry about the potential damage it might do to his roof.
This is a common concern, and several of the home owners we’ve spoken to for these profiles have mentioned the issue. To alleviate his concerns, Dane used information from our site to help him to understand what problems to avoid. Armed with that information, he decided to get his roof replaced at the same time as solar panels were installed. That way, the risk of leaks and other issues with his roof were minimized.
“By year five of your installation, your contractor could be gone,” Dane said, “so you have to do what you can to avoid issues now.” To pick his installer, Dane interviewed three companies, and went with the one who made the best bid. “They were a fairly new solar company, very hungry, and they bid the job with a low markup. I thought they did a beautiful job.”
While things went well with Dane’s roof and panels, there was a small unforeseen problem with his system. The usage monitoring equipment he used was designed to be installed inside a plastic inverter case, as is used for solar set-ups in Europe. The metal inverter casing used in the United States shielded the monitor’s transmitting antenna. Once Dane complained to the manufacturing company, they fixed the issue.
Another thing Dane likes about his panels is their location on his house. “My panels are in the back, so you can’t see them from the street. I figure that if I go out of town, they’ll still be there when I get back. I’ve read about panels being stolen, so I’m happy to have that extra bit of protection” (he needn’t worry too much, though). For those who are more exposed in their locations, Dane notes there are special bolts you can buy as part of the installation if theft is a concern.
Overall, Dane describes his installation as “just about perfect.” He wishes he wasn’t charged for being connected to the grid, and it’s bothersome that when he generates excess energy, he’s paid at a lower rate (about 10 cents per kilowatt hour) than he’s charged if he needs to use his provider’s electricity (18 cents per kilowatt hour). However, fortunately, it’s far better than being pushed into tier four, and he’s had no net use of energy since 2009, when the system was installed.
Though Dane would be saving money even if he’d had to pay more of the cost, he does advise people who are looking into solar to do it sooner, rather than later, because many of the rebates that were available are disappearing. He also suggests going with one inverter for the overall setup instead of using a series of microinverters. “I looked into the panel-by-panel inverter, but I think it’s a bad design. You’re putting active electronics on the roof, where you can’t get to them easily. I think that’s a bad idea. I’m much more comfortable with a big inverter on the side of my house instead.”
As a final note, Dane recommends getting a monitoring system to ensure you’re aware of your energy generation and/or usage from the grid, especially any program that allows you to monitor remotely via the internet.
And while solar panels are great, he advises, be ready to get out there and wash your panels, too. “I get about ten to fifteen percent better performance after I wash my panels,” said Dane. It may be a dirty job, but for that extra cost savings, it’s worth it to him. Anything that keeps the higher usage tiers at bay is a solid investment—even a long-handled spray wand.
Last modified: December 21, 2014