Our Solar Journey

By John Ausink

This is not about billionaires’ vanity projects in space, it is about the process of getting solar panels on our roof and dropping our electric bill to zero. Arlington County has, on average, 201 sunny days per year. Why let that sun go to waste?  Why not use it to save money and reduce your carbon footprint?

Our solar experience began when my spouse saw a sign in a neighbor’s yard with the name of the company that had installed their panels. I chatted with the neighbor and then contacted the company. 

To my initial irritation, the rep wanted our home address before we could set up an appointment. However, in our first Zoom call with the company, they produced an image of our home’s roof, showed the exact panel design, predicted the impact of the growth of our trees on energy production, and determined the exact cost–all in the first meeting!  We signed a contract in February, and the system was installed in May – a 10kW system with 25 panels. 

The Feds still allow a 26% tax credit for solar systems, so comparing the cost of the system (minus the credit) to our annual electric bill allowed us to calculate how many years it would take to “pay off” the upfront cost of the panels. There are two ways your personal electrical production can save you money:

  1. You will remain connected to your power company, but your electric meter will be changed to a “net meter.”  If your panels produce less electricity than you use, you will still draw (and pay for) power from the grid. If you produce more power than you use, the net meter puts it into the grid and your next bill will be reduced by the value of that electricity. In other words, you won’t get cash for over-producing, but you will get credit.
  2. You will be invited to sign a contract related to Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). SRECs help utilities meet state regulations that require a certain percentage of electricity be produced from renewable sources. Power companies buy and sell them, and SRECs allow you to sell credits for the energy you produce.

Our system is easy to monitor with a cell phone application. Despite what my wife says, I do NOT check our energy production rates every day. Well, maybe sometimes. 

Be aware that several considerations will affect the financial impact of a solar system. First, since the panels have a guaranteed 25-year life, our company required a roof inspection before installation to make sure the solar panels won’t outlast the roof. Second, our house was built in 1920, and our electrical panel required an upgrade to accommodate the solar panels ($1800). Finally, we added an electric vehicle charger to the system ($2200) so the sun can power our future car as well. 

You can explore savings on your own by going to this website: https://www.novasolarmap.com/. Simply enter your home address and a map will show an image of your neighborhood, your roof, an estimate of annual savings on your electric bill and the reduction in your carbon footprint. I hope you will check out the website and consider how you might help the environment and your pocketbook.