Let there be light

We installed solar panels on the house. It’s a great long term savings, I encourage everyone to look into it if you satisfy the following conditions:

  1. PG&E is your electric company
  2. You spend more than $150/mo in electricity
  3. Your roof can support them and your house has good sunlight

More on these:

1: PG&E

The biggest thing I learned about this whole process is that PG&E’s pricing is way out of line with what it should be. In nearby Santa Clara where people use Silicon Valley Power, the prices are way less. I knew this was the case because of all the data centers in Santa Clara are there because of the power prices, but I hadn’t ever looked at how much of a difference it is. The base rates of SVP are about 1/2 of PG&E. And it gets worse for energy hogs like me. The top of PG&E’s tiered pricing at $.55/kwh is more than 5x the SVP pricing of $.08/kwh. I hate PG&E now. I wish we could switch power companies.

2: Spend $150/mo

I’m not really energy conscious I know. I let my pcs run overnight. I do laundry when I want. I put a lot of stress on the grid. I’m ok with that. What solar does is offset the super high tiered pricing I pay at $.55/kwh. My solar system won’t ever get me to 0 usage or to return credits. I am all about getting value for my investment, and the best value is in just reducing the high tiered pricing. If you spend $150/mo you’re into high tiered pricing and solar systems will be a much better value. If you’re only spending $75-$100/mo it might not be worth it.

3: Good sunlight

Obvious, no explanation needed.

Here’s some of the rough math. My 5.9Kwh system will save me about $170/mo forever and cost me $33k-$12k tax credits = $21k. So the payoff time is somewhere around 11 years. But after that it’s about $2k/year free. The ROI is far better than anything I could do in the market and much lower risk, something like 16%.

Other thoughts:

The tax credits are super-huge. The federal tax credit is 30% of your system cost. So they reduce the payoff time significantly. They expire in 2016 I think, so do it before then.

I am all about practicality and value for my money. I am not a super green person who is going to spend the money to get to 0 emissions(it’d cost a lot more and the payoff time could be like 20 years). I went with a system that is the best bang for the buck. It’s possible to go with more complex, bigger systems to get to 0 cost, battery backed or off-grid, but it’s really not worth it.

Also remember that it adds immediate value to your house. Finance if you must, but avoid leases, leases are deals for suckers because the solar company will want you to sign over the big tax credit to them. If you are extremely cash flow sensitive and can’t afford the $50/mo it’d cost to finance solar panels, maybe a lease could make sense I suppose, but strongly avoid that.

To me, an important indirect value of solar power generation is that it’s a permanent hedge against energy inflation. No one would be happy with 10-15% annual energy price increases, but solar will soften the blow.

The panels are the most expensive parts, but the rest of the system is not cheap either, so to amortize the cost of the rest of the system I went a bit larger than I had to.

I used Renewable Power Solutions and was pleased with them, but I was also considering using SolarCity. Both seemed good. My panels are from SunPower, they are the standard efficiency models, running about 14% efficiency. The high efficiency ones are about 20% efficient, but cost around 2x as much, so they generally aren’t worth it, unless you are space constrained.

PG&E hasn’t approved my system to connect to their grid, but I’ll try to give some updates on it after I have a couple months of power generation.

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