Name: Adam Caplan
Location of panels: Cameron Park, CA
What made you go solar?
I have been asked a few times why I decided to go solar. I am not someone that has ever been considered an environmentalist. I leave that to my sister. However, I can say this decision was all about green. As in money.
A few years ago, we moved from Folsom, CA to Cameron Park, CA. A distance of about 12 miles. In Folsom, we had natural gas for heat, the clothes dryer, the stove, and the hot water heater. In Cameron Park, we are 100% electric. In Folsom, electricity was provided by SMUD, in Cameron park it is PG&E. I never knew what a difference it makes. Our combined gas and electric bills in Folsom rarely exceeded $200 a month, and were often half that. My first power bill in Cameron Park exceeded $600. Talk about sticker shock.
We did what we could to reduce the electric bill. I replaced the 15 year old AC unit with a brand new one. I was promised 20% savings on electricity the first year. It was more like 5%. Not good enough. Electricity prices kept increasing, and my monthly bill remained way too high. I kept hearing ads for solar on the radio promising savings, but I didn’t think it was real.
I called a few companies, and had them come give the sales pitch to us. I did the math, and the payback periods for buying the system were long. I am an engineer, I put the data in spreadsheets, I ran projections. Even with the government incentives, the numbers didn’t pencil out. I dropped it for a few years. More ads came along, promising new pricing models. I took a look again.
This time, the numbers came out closer. I could achieve $60-$70 a month in savings with no upfront costs. This was better, but would require me to commit to a long term contract. Another company came in, and the numbers were similar. I was on the fence. Then, Real Goods came back with a new promotion. I could get the same pricing they had offered before, but the first year would be free. Now, instead of saving $60-$70 a month, I would be saving over $200 a month the first year. I finally pulled the trigger.
How has your life changed since you went solar?
Results so far have been in line with expectations. One thing I learned is that PG&E net billing method calls for me to pay only some of the taxes each month, resulting in a bill of about $12. At the end of a year (I assume after my February bill), PG&E will send a bill for the net cost of what I used. This essentially means they are providing me with a free loan. Another side benefit.
What tips do you have for others who want to go solar?
The key thing I have found is to take a look at all the data the salesmen throw at you, and make sure to do your own analysis. Your savings can vary quite a bit depending on the plan you pick and how much you invest. Sometimes, investing a little more actually lowers your savings quite a bit. Always run the numbers, and figure out where your break even point is.
Adam Caplan writes his own blog about Goin’ Solar.
ASES will hold its annual National Solar Tour this fall where you can show your home, host a tour or go on a tour.