VIEWS: A Solar Panel Story - Part I

Dispatch from SSC Consultant, Lorre Walker

This series of blog posts covers my parents’ decision to install solar panels on their house in Dallas, Texas, the trials and tribulations of the process, and lessons learned after installation was completed. 

Background

My parents recycled long before the city picked it up at the curb…I remember trips to the recycling center to sort the cans from the paper, the white glass from the brown glass, and “1” plastics from “2” plastics. They always had a garden and have been composting for at least 30 years, maybe longer. They have converted most of their lighting to CFL and LED wherever possible. So when they told me that they had decided to install solar panels on their house in Dallas…it really didn’t surprise me. Actually, they completed four "green" projects with the house.

  1. Installed ten, 2' x 5' solar panels and meters
  2. Replaced a wind turbine roof vent with a solar powered roof vent (a stand alone, not connected to electrical wiring)
  3. Added a radiant barrier in the attic
  4. Replaced the Freon in the A/C unit with hydro carbons (HC 22)

Costs

The quoted costs for these projects were:

Solar panels - $25,500

Solar powered roof vent - $1,325

Radiant barrier - $3,330

Freon replacement w/ HC22 - $800

TOTAL - $30,955

Why Did They Do It?

Many think that setting up solar panels for power generation is not “cost effective” because it takes a period of time to “pay for itself,” but they see it differently. Here are some of the reasons driving their decision and the planned or unplanned results.
  • Home improvement (like the remodeling of the kitchen)
  • 30 % combined federal tax credit and Oncor rebate to help pay for it 
  • Reduce the drain on the public utility 
  • Increase the value of the house
  • Help the environment
  • Take responsibility for our power consumption
  • Reduce our power consumption
  • Feed power into the electrical grid 
  • Get paid for excess energy
  • It also resulted in bringing the electrical panel up to current code
  • It’s the right thing to do

They decided to go solar because it was something they wanted to do for years and to take advantage of the 2009 tax credits. It was unclear what would be available in 2010. The Dallas, Texas area is not as advanced in solar thinking or experience like the Austin, Texas area. The City of Austin owns the power utility—Dallas does not. And each region has a different set of entities that are involved in the process and approval of installing solar panels. Oncor handles the power lines and servicing. TXU Energy is the power utility. Though Oncor and TXU are related they have entirely different functions and responsibilities. Then there is the service provider that my parents had to work with to define technical specs, submit the technical details of the system/incentive application to Oncor, and construct the solar system.

Though not clueless, my parents did not do as much research as they later realized they could have done. They did not know anyone who had gone solar and they were the first in their neighborhood to do so. They did not know about all the parties involved, but that popped up along the process. In short, it was a big learning curve. They researched on the web, but did not realize that Oncor had its excellent website and were the responsible party to deal with. My parents knew about the Oncor rebate incentive and one of them works in the tax field. The installer was running ads for solar power and they sat down to discuss it with this service provider to do the installation. They should have taken bids from several service providers before committing. Unfortunately, they did not know of other providers.

In short it was a learning experience.

What Did They Get?

What they thought they had at the end of the installation was the capacity to produce electricity that can be fed into the power grid, in the future. They found out that they are actually producing some excess power that gets fed back into the electrical grid now. In 13 days, they had produced 6 KWHs more than the house could use, that went into the grid. The way the systems are set up, if more power is produced than they can use, the excess power does go into the grid and it will earn them money. Right now, they don't expect to be "selling" power yet. If they add more solar panels or a wind turbine, they may be able to put more into grid than they use for a 24-hour period. They did not opt to have a battery system to store excess energy. They expect to reduce their electrical grid consumption by about half.

Local Tax Credits

The solar panels and other energy measures installed in 2009 will give them credits totaling 30 percent for the 2009 tax season. The credits include those from Oncor. Sadly, it appears that the local rebate must be deducted from the federal tax credit. Oncor handles the delivery service of TXU Energy. 

Oncor’s incentive level for 2009 was $2.46 per watt. The solar panels had to be coordinated with Oncor and approved. The installation had to be inspected and approved by the city of Dallas, Texas with a building permit. For more information about the Oncor program, click http://www.txreincentives.com/opv/netmetering.php.

Next…

Check back in a couple of days for my mom’s personal journal of her solar panel installation experiences. To continue the discussion on the SSC Consultant Discussion Board, click here.

For SSC clients, it may or may not make sense for you to consider installing solar panels or making other energy-saving additions to your building. We can help you figure that out by conducting an energy audit or a green audit. For information about our products and services in this area, click here or contact us at info@sustainabilityconsulting.com.