Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Solar Estimator/Calculator

I get A LOT of questions about our Solar PV system, and even more since we added a Solar Hot Water System.  The question I keep hearing lately is, "Does it make financial sense or is it just to feel good about clean energy?"  My answer is both.  We're in it for the long term, looking at the big picture. We have no plans to move and we're looking to reduce our costs of living as we get older. Our house will be paid off in 9 years, our electricity bill is at a set price for the next 12 years then drops significantly after that, and in 7 years we break even with our solar hot water system.  All of that just at the right time because we'll have two children in college. 

The cost of our 40 photovolatic panel system back in 2010 was high.  Thank goodness for all the grants and the CT Clean Energy Fund - we wouldn't have been able to afford the system without them - in fact, we did it with almost zero upfront out of pocket expenses!  The monthly electric cost for our 5 BR house (with 2 working kitchens) is now a flat fee of $131 to the CT Solar Lease program and $16 to our utility company, CT Light & Power.  I think it's fair to say that we generate more energy now that we use and we're sending back more to the grid and earning credits.  Are we making money on the system yet?  No, I don't think so.  Perhaps if we had waited longer for the costs to go down? Possibly.  I have friends who just put in solar panels for about half the cost we did because theirs were done through an innovative program, Solarize CT , which picked their town for the pilot program, and the more people who signed up the better the price for all of them.  Phase I was a huge success and they're moving onto Phase II which includes the CT towns of Canton, Coventry, Bridgeport, Mansfield/Windham.
Our PV array before the addition of the Solar Hot Water System

With our solar hot water system, we have a pretty good prediction of when we break even.  (Our 113 year old house is heated by hot water and the goal is to reduce our oil usage.)  We paid for the 5 panel system up front and redeemed our tax credits afterwards.  One of the tools we used to see if this was a good investment was an online solar estimator/calculator.  While there are several online, one that was recommended to us is solar-estimate.org.  By entering our information it was able to calculate for us that our break-even point on the solar hot water system is 7 years - after that we're just saving money.  (I noticed yesterday that my husband was creating a spreadsheet of our fuel bills - I think he's working on calculating how much less oil we're using - I can't wait to see how it comes out!)  The online solar estimator works for other systems such as PV system, solar pool/spa heating, & wind turbines.  (Tip: Some of the best information that comes up is at the bottom of the page - so be sure to scroll down and read the whole thing!)

The sun is shining today (after a 2-day Nor'Easter storm that left us with 18 inches of snow!) and after this morning's "photovoltaic avalanche" (where all the snow comes crashing off the roof in a dramatic & loud roar) we are cranking out the solar energy & the solar hot water! 

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