We are extremely excited to have completed our new solar installation! We hired a company to do a 4.5kw install in 2011. It was enough to offset our farm's energy usage for 2 years, but as we've grown, so has our consumption. I've been itching to do another installation since then. Last year I started researching and designing a new system. I built a workshop with a perfect pitched roof for our latitude to get maximum solar gain and started to get quotes on different systems. I settled on a 5.5kw system with microinverters and a monitoring system so we can see real time performance of every individual panel and to maintain maximum out put of the system at all times. I decided to do the installation this time to save money. As of two weeks ago, I finished the installation and we went live. We are now overproducing energy!! Our farm is once again creating significantly more energy than it is using!
Lots of people have expressed interest in the last two weeks, so we thought an informative blog would be appropriate. Here's the main questions most people ask....
Do you have batteries?
No. There are pro's and cons. For us and our specific situation though, the cons outweighed the pros. It's expensive. It requires maintenance. it requires lots of storage space. It requires throwing away lots of batteries and buying a lot of batteries every 7 years or so.
Our goal is to be environmentally responsible. We can achieve that and meet our power needs without a large battery bank.
Was it expensive?
Prices on panels have dropped dramatically in the last 5 years. 4.5kw installed in 2011 was a $20,000 investement that was quite difficult to stomach.
Our new 5.5 Kw system was only $8,200 for materials (self installed).
So, we got a much larger system for less than half the cost!
In addition. There are healthy incentives. As a farmer we applied for and were awarded with the REAP grant for both installs. That's 25% back within 1-2 months of install.
There's also the federal tax credit of 30%. We opted for the 1603 treasury grant in 2011 in lieu of the tax credit and recieved that 30% immediately. That means we got about $11,000 back almost immediately.
We also got a 35% tax credit from Georgia for the first install (though the funds have been exhausted and this grant is to be discontinued). Also our income is still low enough that we haven't received much from this credit yet.
Finally, our power provider offered a 20 yr contract where they pay us 13 cents per kilowatt hour for everything we produce and we pay about 11 cents for what we consume. This program is competitive and lottery based and comes with some monthly fees that chip away at the benefits, but it is still a fairly nice deal. Sadly it has become more competitive and with much smaller rewards in the last 5 years and we are not a part of it for our second solar install.
(Disclaimer.. All of these benefits are subject to political winds and whims, so investigate each one further and don't assume any of this is still current if you are reading this post in a few months or years.)
So for our current system, we are due to get over $2,000 back within a month or so from the USDA's REAP Grant.
We then will get another 30% as a federal tax credit. Though, since I did the labor, 3 Porch Farm will pay me for my labor, and that sum will be added to the 30%. Hypothetically then, if my labor amounted to 3000 bucks, we'd get 30% back on 11k instead of 8k.
That would be 5 grand back on an 8 grand investment. Putting us out of pocket around 3 grand for a pretty big solar array. Additionally our power bill will be zero, so there is a good monthly savings there leading to a system that pays for itself in just a few years.
Was it hard?
Not really. It took alot of time to plan, but I take a lot of time to plan important things in general. I wanted to get all the details of the system right. The actual installation took some basic carpentry skills and a fair knowledge of electrical wiring. The panels and micro-inverters are mostly just plug and play these days though (no wiring needed). I just needed to wire up junction boxes, a combiner box, a service disconnect and a main breaker in the service panel and to run it all through conduit. You can easily hire that part out to someone and they should be able to do it in a day. (Disclaimer...Solar panels have their own array of electrical safety concerns that are different from traditional house wiring, so hire the work out if you aren't familiar with the dangers, or study up and become familiar with them before you begin the install.)
If you aren't a rural farmer and want to go solar.....city's can be even easier. There are companies like SolarCity http://www.solarcity.com/ which install solar systems for free in certain areas!! Look up the details.
So that's it in a nutshell, but I'll leave you with some parting thoughts. People commonly spend 10-40 grand on a new car all the time, yet somehow convince themselves that 8 grand for solar is too expensive to think about. That car is gonna lose half its value when it drives off the lot. That solar is going to pay you back quick and provide clean energy for the next 20 years. Everyone should hop on board. If you have a business....it'll be good for your brand. If you have children or grandchildren....it'll be good for their future.
If you have stress, it provides piece of mind, which is pretty valuable in itself. It is a financial investment, yes. But, it is the ultimate expression of community too. It's an investment in everyones' future. And that type of investment far surpasses the returns of any portfolio your adviser may float across your desk. The good excuses are running out. Click a link ( http://www.solarcity.com/, http:/www.solarcrowdsource.com/projects/solarize-athens/ ) and join us.
If you are in the Athens area, you must look up Solarize AThens immediately!! www.solarcrowdsource.com/projects/solarize-athens/
They are gathering tons of local people to make a huge purchase of solar equipment at vastly discounted prices right now!!