Solar Update – April 2017

solar-panels

My favorite time of year has come! The days are longer, the snow seems to be gone for good, and birds are chirping on my way to work. Spring is upon us. I’ve always loved spring and summer, but now I have even more reasons to embrace the seasons. No, not just because the kids are out of school and there will be less traffic. Because it’s sun season! As you know, we got some solar panels last summer and we enjoyed many months of free electricity. It was truly a sad day when I had to pay for my first electric bill in months after the start of a frigid winter. These things will spoil you…

But the sun always shine eventually and, boy is it shining! My March 2017 electric bill was $38. We are retiring the heating for the season and thus expecting a much lower utility usage, until late June when we have to kick on the AC. Even then, I’m thinking that the 12-13 hours of sunlight that summers in New England graces us with should be sufficient to offset the worse of the damage. I might have reached the electric bill break even point. If so, I am looking forward to negative balances (I don’t say that very often) for many months to come so I can run my heat for free in November.

Let’s raise our glasses to sunny days, tax credits, and free electricity.

Advertisements

Solar Update – January 2017

solar-panels

Ever since I got my solar panels installed, I have noticed a troubling change in my behavior… I am excited to get my electric bill! Can you blame me? I’ve been getting the energy hook up from the heavens themselves and giving the proverbial middle finger to the utility company. It’s nothing to sneeze at.

However, things are a little different this time around. I am still losing sleep anticipating that electric bill, but the source of the anticipation is not the same. It is more of a nerve wracking anticipation than the joyful one I experienced with the looming summer solstice. The difference is that this time around, I am working with much shorter days and significantly more energy use to try and offset the nasty effects of the New England winter. This was my first full month of winter and also the first billing cycle when I did not have a left over credit from the previous month.

The daylight savings time kicked in and now the sun is fully below the horizon by 4:30 pm. Unlike the summer when it is bright until 9 o’clock at night, we no longer have 12 hours of sunlight keeping our appliances running. To make things worse, the last of the left over summer credits were eaten up by the December bill. But I did not have long to wait. My email pinged mid-day yesterday announcing that, with just a few clicks, I could find out if the cold and dark days of old man winter were going to keep burning a hole through our household budget or if renewable energy was worth the time and money we put into it. Lo and behold, our bill was $57 cheaper than it was this time last year.

Although $57 might not seem like a lot of money, we were saving over $150 a month by not having electricity costs all summer. If one of the colder months of the year can still yield us a $57 saving, I will put a check mark in the win column. Particularly since we haven’t even gotten our 30% tax credit yet.

Get Rich with Solar Panels

Ok, maybe you won’t get rich. But you’ll like the money you’ll save and you might even save enough to invest in a high-yield dividend fund. Before I even get in the weeds of it all, I’m going to show you some info my most recent bill from my electric company (NStar or Eversource, whatever they’re calling themselves these days) so you can see the real life example of what renewable energy can do for you.

homepage

Home Page View of Account

 

comp

2-month Comp.

 

cost

Charges

 

usage

Year-to-Date Usage

The first image is what I see when I log into my account. That’s not a piece of lint on your screen. It’s a minus sign. They owe me $50. I won’t see that money in cash, but it will be kept as a credit on my account to off set any bills I may have, which will inevitably happen in the short winter days. Yesterday (9.26.16) would have been my due date, but since I don’t have a balance, I didn’t have to make a payment and I got to keep that $150-190 I normally would have paid them. Maybe I’ll put it towards my student loans

The second image is a 2-month history (this month and last month) of my account activity. It helps me compare my previous usage and bill to the current charges. I’ll reiterate: this is not a drill! My usage for the 2 months you see is indeed “0”. Technically it’s a negative number but for their billing purposes, it’s zero.

The third image is the cost of my electricity. They charge you a delivery fee as you have their equipment (meter) and are still connected to the grid. However, at 18 cents/kWh and me producing 300+ more than I’m using, my credit exceeds even the delivery charge granting me the credit.

Finally, you see the YTD history of my usage. The solar panels were installed mid-June and had to go through an inspection before they could be turned on in the last week of June. This makes my first full month of “free” electricity July. As you can see, I haven’t had any usage since. As the days get shorter and the weather gets nastier here in New England, I anticipate that I’ll be paying again soon, maybe sometime in late October, early November. However, as long as there is sun, I will never be using as much power as I’ve used before.

Here are my estimates for 2017 which will be my first full year of having solar panels (I’ll be estimating an average of a $50 credit for the more fruitful months, break even for the lean months and an average of $175 for all full bills):

Jan – Full Bill

Feb – Full Bill

Mar – Full Bill

Apr – Break Even

May – ($50)

Jun – ($50)

Jul – ($50)

Aug – ($50)

Sept – ($50)

Oct – Break Even

Nov – Bill fully covered by accumulated $250 in credit

Dec – Bill partially covered by remaining credit balance

Yes, things are looking good. With a 30-year warranty on the panels and a 15-warranty on the inverter, this may very well be my life until 2046: $600 in electricity costs. When are you taking the plunge?

Here are some important notes about my usage:

  1. We moved into the house Christmas week, which shows an artificially low January total.
  2. Yes, I am aware that I use a lot of electricity (pre-solar), however I am still below the average American household which was estimated to be 911 kWh/month in 2014. Despite that, my house is bigger than the average house at close to 3,100 square feet and my entire house runs on electricity (electric range, washer, dryer, boiler, pump for the well, central AC, hot water heater, etc.) meaning that even when I do something as routine and necessary as flushing the toilet, I use electricity.
  3. This year sucked almost as bad as last year. Despite the minimal amount of snow we had, there were some really cold days in the single digits and even in the negative. So we ran the heat longer and higher than we normally would have.
  4. Finally, a new home means some adjustments. We had to learn the house because we had just moved in. We often had lights on that we didn’t know were on because we didn’t know they existed. Sometimes, we couldn’t even figure out how to turn them off. We would hit 4 or 5 switches before we figured out which one was the flood light on the side of the garage. This year we hope to do better to maximize our panels.

If you want to see pictures of the actual project, visit my Instagram page @karibefrost

We’ve Taken the Plunge!

After a lot of thought, number crunching an sleepless nights, we decided to bite the bullet and hop on the solar panel bandwagon. While it seems like a no brainer to get “free” electricity from a renewable resource, it requires a significant upfront investment. It is often said that to make money you have to spend money. Apparently, in some cases, to save money, you also have to spend money.

 

solar20panel

 

As much as we have tried to cut down on our electric usage (turning the lights of when we aren’t in the room, turning off the HVAC when we’re at work, and maximizing our use of the dishwasher,) we can only do so much. The refrigerators have to keep running, we use an electric boiler to heat the house, and living in the northeast means we can’t air dry our clothes for 8 of the 12 months of the year and we are forced to use the energy sucker known as the clothes dryer. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the national monthly average for electricity consumption was 911 kWh in 2014. Over the past couple of months, we’ve used an average of 870 kWh or $195 a month. While it may seem like a lot, I want to point out that we buy food in bulk when they’re on sale, and as a result we have 2 refrigerators. We have no gas line in our town, so we have an electric range, which we use almost every day since we don’t eat out often. Yet, despite the fact that our house is bigger than the average house in this country (3,100 sqft v. 2,600 sqft), we’re still using less than the national average. When the summer comes around and we aren’t using the boiler or the dryer as much, I anticipate much lower numbers.

 

I know you’re wondering what my laundry habits have to do with the solar panels. The installer who provides a quote for the project will try to maximize your roof space to eliminate as much of your bill as possible. They can’t do that unless they have a solid idea what you use over the course of the month. In our case, we happen to live in a house that faces north, meaning that the movement of the sun from east to west gives the roof continuous exposure to the sun until sunset. In other words, if we load up our roof with enough solar panels, we can cover 100% of our use annually. I say annually because in the winter months when the days are shorter, the sun doesn’t shine enough to cover a day’s usage. And in the summer months, you produce more electricity than you need as a result of 12-hour days. The average energy produced over the course of the year ends up being equal to your total energy use.

 

How is it measured, how does it work?

Part of the solar installation involves adding a 2-way meter. A regular meter only tells the electric company how much energy you’re using so they can send you a bill. A 2-way solar meter not only tells the company how much electricity you use, it goes a step further by telling the company how much electricity your panels are producing. During sunny July months, you will be producing more electricity than you will use. The company will keep track of those numbers (which should be reflected on your bill) and, on dark December days, will allow you to use those excess credits (read about net metering here). Once the credit runs out, you are now back to paying for electricity. Our plan will be to minimize our use in the summer to increase our credits and use them on shorter days. That should be easy since I’ll be air drying clothes and the house will not be heated. This should reduce our electric bill from approximately $2,000 to less than $300 a year.

 

How much does it cost and is it worth it?

If you’re looking for a bargain, this is not the project for you. It’s not cheap. My system, which is intended to cover 100% of my use for the year, and has a 20-year warranty, is going to cost $39,500. “EEEEKKK!!!” was the same sound I made when the company rep gave me the quote. I’m sure her ears are still ringing. I hope her insurance covers hearing aids. But, fret not because Uncle Sam has my back.

We will get a tax credit equal to 30% of the cost of the project next year when we file our federal taxes (this incentive is in place until 2019). In addition, our state will give us up to $1,000 credit on our state taxes. If you’re keeping track, the number should be $12,850. Note that these are credits, not deductions. I bet it sounds pretty good. But, it doesn’t end there. Have you ever heard of SREC? It stands for Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (read more here). It’s a program that pays you a certain amount of money per 1,000 kWh produced, quarterly. The amount of money depends on your location, in our state it’s between $200-250. You can go on their website to find out the prices for different states. Based on our system size and capacity, we are estimating our quarterly payments will average to about $200/month.

 

It doesn’t get any better… unless it does! Since I’m no Mrs. Moneybags, I have to fund this some other way besides writing a nearly $40,000 check to the contractor. Mr. Government man swoops in to rescue the damsel in distress once again. We have a program called Solar Loan * that is subsidized by the Massachusetts clean energy commission. Not only does it allow people to get the loan at a lower rate from local lenders by subsidizing the difference, it also allows the borrower to re-amortize the debt once over the life of the loan at no charge within the first 18 months. The purpose of that policy is to give people enough time to file their taxes, get a nice check, courtesy of the IRS, which they can use to pay the debt and recalculate the loan. Now, I know that some people will go out and buy a nice car or get a new tattoo and some gold grills with their tax return check. But the rest of us financially savvy people know that the money will be best used paying off debt and will take advantage of our 18-month window.

*You have to use an approved lender and an approved solar installer to get the loan at the preferred rate.

While it may seem like I’m replacing one payment with another (electric bill with loan payment), the long term financial benefits are undeniable. My loan payment will be fixed over the life of the loan until I restructure the debt, which will lower it, not increase it. That’s more than I can say about what the electric company will charge. Furthermore, part of the initial cost is subsidized by state and federal governments. The loan will also be for a shorter period than the life of the panels, meaning that they will give me nearly free electricity for longer than I have to make loan payments.

 

I am looking forward to instant savings and the chance to earmark what used to be the electric bill money to other areas that will be more beneficial to our family. We are scheduled to be installed before the end of summer, so be sure to come back for updates!