Being Local is about doing things closer to home. Well you can’t get more local than your own house, so when it comes to electricity, my Wife and I decided there’s no better source then our roof. Yes, this past week our photovoltaic solar panel installation commenced! We’re incredibly excited as this project has been a couple of years in the making. After much research we’ve chosen a solar lease arrangement, installed by a Frederick based company Sustainable Energy Systems LLC, and serviced by Sungevity, a national solar leasing company.
For those not familiar with Photovoltaics, here are the Tech and Cost basics.
A photovoltaic system consists of an array of inter-connected panels, made primarily out of silicon. These panels are placed in a sunny location, in this case our Sout-East facing roof on the back of our house. When light strikes the panels, the photons in the light knock the electrons in the silicon free. The free electrons become an electric current in the panels wires. That current is carried to an inverter, which changes the direct current (DC) created by the panels, into alternating current (AC) used in homes. This current is connected to our electric meter and circuit breaker panel, powering every electric device in our home. Pretty simple really.
Finally the system is connected to the utility by something called a net-meter. So when the panels produce more electricity then we’re using, we get credits from the utility. When we draw electricity from the utility (night time, cloudy days) we draw down against those credits. The end result is that, for our system at least, 95% of our power should come from the sun, and only 5% from Patomic Edison in the course of a year.
Here are some photos of the progress about mid week showing where the components described above will go:
Here are the first set of rails being mounted on the roof. Ultimately there will be 6 rails, which will hold the Photovoltaic Panels
The Inverter needed to be placed on the North side of our house, out of direct sun since it can get hot
This close up shows the inverter mounting bracket and switch box
However, since our utility hookup is on the south side, some wiring conduit had to be installed through our attic and across a lower roof..
… down the chimney …
… to the meeter on the other side of our house.
So that’s the parts of the system. Here’s how you pay for it.
There are two basic ways to have Solar installed, buy the panels yourself, or lease them. If you purchase, there is a large up-front outlay of funds, which are somewhat offset by tax and other incentives which you must apply for. The return on the balance of the investment comes from your savings in utility payments, and from something called Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), which can be sold through a special market. The payback period can be anywhere from 5 to 20 years depending on the size of the system, your energy use, fluctuations in the RECs market, and other factors.
The other option which is becoming increasingly popular is to lease your system. It this scenario a solar company covers the cost of installation and maintenance, handles all the tax credits and RECs, takes care of financing, and all you pay is a monthly leasing fee about on-par with your current electric utility bill. This is the option my wife and I have chosen. We liked not having to make a big initial outlay, having a maintenance contract included in case there are any issues, and having a fixed utility bill for the next 20 years, protecting us against future price increases as the cost of electricity produced in fossil-fuled plants continues to rise.
For those interested in exploring Solar for themselves, here are some links to companies that provide leases or purchased installations:
Banner Home Solutions (based in Mt. Airy)
Please come back and look for updated posts as our project progresses. To our knowledge, we’re the first solar panel installation in our neighborhood, so we’re very excited to share our experience with the Mt. Airy community!
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