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Solar Case Study – Ed Arthur

Avatar for Ben Zientara
Written by
Published on 11/04/2014
Updated 11/05/2014
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Before he even moved to solar power for his home, Ed had planned to do his part for the environment by purchasing an electric car. He committed to alternative energy after watching the tragic disaster in Fukushima, Japan and charges his car as often as he can from his own array, minimizing his use of the grid.

Ed was watching television the night of the tragic nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan in March of 2011. When an earthquake triggered a tsunami, the dangers posed by the proximity of a nuclear power plant to a chain reaction of natural disasters became clear to him. “At the rate things were going, I expected Godzilla to show up next,” Ed told us, using humor to diffuse discussion of a serious issue that stuck with him.

“I knew after that, I wanted nuclear power as far away from my family as possible.” But how? “I could chain myself to something and protest, but that wouldn’t get me too far, to say nothing of having a family to support.”

Ed’s solution was to investigate, and then install, solar power. It was a way to take a step away from reliance on more mainstream energy sources, giving him a measure of control. Since he was already planning to get an electric car in 2012, Ed wanted to see how much of a difference going solar made in his current budget, before adding fuel costs into the mix. Working quickly, by July of 2011, he was up and running.

Solar had been on Ed’s mind even before the events in Japan. He’d worked with someone who went
solar early, but due to the costs and lack of credits, anyone going solar then was looking at thirty years before installing the panels became a net positive. “Doing it at that time was a great gesture, but it wasn’t economically feasible.”

Flash forward to 2011, and things had changed dramatically. Ed contacted someone after hearing an ad for solar power, and by the next day, there was a person on his roof preparing an estimate. He didn’t go with the first person (it always pays to research) but soon enough, Ed had his contractor after four companies submitted their bid. Like many that we’ve profiled, Ed had a preference for a local installer. He does advise against researching too deeply, however. “With so many options, I froze up.”

Though he trusted his installer and is pleased with his set-up, Ed does note that it pays to be involved every step of the way. For example, instead of going with the standard, cheaper panels, Ed was advised by an electric car enthusiast to go with a “Cadillac” model instead. When he approached Alteris (now Real Goods Solar) about using them, they said “Sure” and noted they were more aesthetically pleasing as well as being better for generating solar power. “I wanted the best,” said Ed. “After all, these things are going to be up there for a long time.” In looking to keep their bids affordable, places may opt for lower-end materials. Keeping an eye on the parts may make the difference between having to replace an item later and having a system that works, day in and day out.

We asked Ed about why he opted to buy instead of leasing. He explained that after helping his father-in-law sell homes, watching delays drag things out, the last thing he wanted was to be tied down to a contract in case he decided to sell the house down the line. Should that happen, since he will have recouped the initial costs in a few more years (Ed estimates that it will take him six years from the installation date to start showing a profit, counting the Federal tax credits and a rebate from Massachusetts), he’s hoping for a nice return on his investment.

But lower power bills aren’t the only factor in Ed’s savings plans. Because he also owns an electric car, whenever he is able to charge it directly from his solar array, he’s saving on transportation costs as well. The chance to do so is limited to weekends and summer early mornings and evenings (since he’s at work during the weekdays), but any time he can use the solar power for himself, it’s in his best interests to do so. While NStar does pay him for unused energy, the payback amount only includes the generation charges not the transmission charges. Someday, Ed hopes he can use solar batteries to store the excess power he creates, but that’s not cost effective at this time.

With his only problem being an Ethernet glitch that made him think he’d lost the ability to generate power, Ed hopes that others will soon join him in going solar. Every person that does so puts the possibility of another nuclear plant–and the risks involved to those who live near it–that much further away. Once, someone doubted Ed’s ability to succeed with solar power. “Good luck with that,” the person told him sarcastically. Based on our conversation, it seems that Ed has had good luck indeed.

Last modified: November 5, 2014

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