Why I Went Solar features homes and businesses that have chosen to go solar. If you would like to feature your home or business in this column please email our Community Manager.
Name: Julianne and Mark Noonan
Occupation: Software Analyst and Software Engineer for Healthcare Software
Location of panels: Boyertown, PA
Why did you go solar?
For years we’ve tried to be good stewards of the Earth; maintaining our property 100% chemical and pesticide free, growing our garden, grapevines, strawberry beds and fruit trees the same way, contributing to soil health through composting and even the introduction of vermin-compost into our environment to further keep food and compostables out of the waste stream. We’d thought about installing solar for several years, but the cost and our roof’s East/West orientation made it hard to make it become a reality. About 2 years ago we decided the time had come to further reduce our impact on the environment so we did more research on solar. The state of Pennsylvania and the Federal incentives helped make it a financial possibility. We spoke with a number of installers and finally found one we felt really comfortable with. The company (RMK Solar) came up with a 12.88 KW ground based system, in the back of our 3-acre property. It was anticipated to produce about 89% of our energy usage. At last, our roof orientation issue could be affordably overcome.
The second reason was financial. Electric rates in Pennsylvania were recently de-regulated. Power companies in the area were going to be able to regularly re-adjust their rates, which in most cases had not been done in many years. Each company hit the “de-regulated” date at various times. We saw some power companies increase their rate by 30% just in the first year. We didn’t want a surprise when it was our power company’s turn. And surely over time rates will just continue to increase.
What’s the best part about going solar?
In addition to feeling good about doing our part to help the environment we’ve seen financial benefits. There is nothing like the first time you see your electric meter run backwards as you put your excess energy back into the grid! Due to the placement of the 56 panels in 2 arrays positioned south facing at a 39-degree angle, and the improvement of panel efficiency in the few short months between contracting and installation we actually generate over 100% of our electric generation. Although not the norm, in our best month ever we sent over 1000 kWh back to the grid!
Our electric bill? Since we installed it the only bill we get from the power company is $9.12 per month for transmission fees and taxes. All the extra power we generate goes back into the grid and once a year the power company writes us a check; all for just collecting the solar rays floating around the environment!
Our system came with a web monitor. From home, we can pull up the monitor and see exactly what the panels are doing real time any time of day. While away from home, as long we have Internet access we can get production information periodically through the day.
Psychologically, now that we know we’ll get money back for the electricity going back to the grid we’ve even become more conscious of our electricity usage! We are more likely to remember to turn off unused lights and appliances, run only full laundry and dishwasher loads and even forgoing the use of the laundry dryer whenever possible. Obviously, this also contributes to our panels being able to meet all of our electric needs and then some.
What would you say to the naysayers who don’t believe it would work for them?
“Does it really matter to the environment that much?”
We feel good about what we did. We are doing our part to keep Mother Nature happy.
“But we have long cold winters. “
Living in southeastern PA we can be subject to long cold winters too. Some folks questioned if we’d get enough sun to produce electricity in the winter. The fact is our best generation months are February, March and early April. The panels love the cooler weather, and while the sunny portion of the day isn’t as long as in the summer, there is no haze to block the rays. And as a bonus, with the ground based system, when there is snow on the ground we get the added benefit of the sun’s rays being reflected off the snow to the panels. And even on the cloudiest days we’re still kicking out a few kilowatts.
“They’ll be outdated before we see any return.”
We often heard the panels wouldn’t be worth the investment because the panels would be dead and gone long before they make up for the cost. We are anticipating a full return on our investment in about 12 years. This takes into account the money we get from putting power back into the grid and the small amount we get from Pennsylvania’s SREC program. And the fact is, the panels are guaranteed for 25 years at 90%+ efficiency and it is anticipated they’ll last far longer than that.
“But how do they look?”
They are a neat feature of our landscape and we still get a bit of a thrill looking at them and all they produce. Many would say they look better than a lot of jungle gyms and backyard sheds found in most suburban neighborhoods.
“Geez, another thing in the yard to maintain.”
The fact is they are virtually maintenance free. If you live in a real dusty environment maybe you need to hose them down occasionally, but we’ve found the rain does just fine removing the occasional bird dropping. And when it snows, the slightest bit of sunshine melts a small area and the rest of the snow slides right off.
What tips do you have for others who want to go solar?
Most importantly, do your research to find a company that you can count on. Our installer was amazing. They provided us with options that would work best for us, helped us with the township zoning process and worked through some difficulties with our local power company since the power company was sort of new to net metering.
Make sure you understand what you are getting. We wanted to be sure we did the right thing for the U.S. economy as well. We chose to go with a company that used only U.S. made panels – while it may have been a few dollars more for the materials we know we installed quality panels, from a company that has been around a long time and the warranty behind them will protect us if we ever do have an issue.
Also, figure out the zoning requirements of your township and if there are any solar access protection laws in place. If there are get written commitment that they will enforce those solar access protections laws in the future if need be. You might find that your township doesn’t even understand laws it might have put in place based on US Department of Energy suggestions, so you might even be educating them! It helps to have a solar installer versed in this area.
The American Solar Energy Society will hold the annual National Solar Tour this fall where there will be many opportunities to show your home, host a tour or go on a tour. More details on the National Solar Tour will be available in the near future.