We get lots of questions about our solar panels. Here’s the story!
In October of 2009, my old college roommate posted a status update on FaceBook about a program that our state was doing with a link. I went to it on a whim to see what it was all about. There was a finite amount of money available(I forget how much) that was allotted to encourage people to install renewable energy systems(solar and wind for this program). If you wanted to do it, you had to fill out an online worksheet and if approved, you would get a reservation for a rebate. I asked for a 20kw solar PV system and it was approved. The amount of the rebate was $2 per watt for the first 10,000 watts and $1.75 per watt for the next 10,000 watts. In order to claim the rebate, the system would have to be up and running in 6 months.
Over the next several months, I researched equipment, talked to the power company, and met with a guy locally who had installed a PV system on his house.
I was able to find a great deal on thin film panels for only $.98 per watt which is less than half the cost per watt than mono crystalline panels. The downside to thin film is that they require more area to produce the same amount of electricity than a smaller mono crystalline panel could produce. This meant that I couldn’t get 20kw on my roof but at half the price, at least I could make it work financially. By completely filling up the area I had to work with, I could get 220 panels to fit. At 60 watts per panel, that equals 13.2 kw.
Next I needed to figure out how to mount them. Unfortunately, the cost of racking specially designed for solar panels is pretty spendy. The cheapest I could find was going to cost nearly $20,000. Since we had just finished an addition to our building that included the use of bar joists, I climbed up on a ladder to see if I could find anything that identified where they came from. Sure enough, there was a tag from the manufacturer which turned out to be just a couple of hours away from us. I determined how much the panels weighed and how much additional we need to allow for snow load and then called the company to get a quote. I also asked them if they could galvanize the joists for us since they would be outside. They told me that they could get them galvanized for us or we could just buy the joists and get them galvanized ourselves. They gave us the name of the company who could do them for us so that’s what we did. I paid $3,000 for the bar joists and another $1,000 to have them galvanized plus about $700 to a guy with a rollback for picking them up, taking them to them galvanizer, and then bringing them to us.
After buying inverters, wires, combiner boxes, fuses, disconnects, bar joists, solar panels, and paying for all the freight on these items, we ended up spending about $30,000. I hired a general contractor to install the bar joists and mount the solar panels for another $5,000 and an electrician to hook everything up for another $5,000 so we ended up with $40,000 in the whole deal.
Over the two year period since going “Live” with the panels in May of 2010, we have generated 55% of our own electricity. Some months in the spring and fall, we generate 100% of our energy comes from the sun. These months are ideal because there is ample sunlight and our energy use is low due to moderate temperatures and not having to run our air conditioniong. The power bill that we just got in the mail this month was for $37. Not too shabby for an 8,000 sf building, huh?
We’ve also taken several other steps to lower our energy costs. For my next post, I’ll share those as well.