Wednesday, February 23, 2011

let the sun shine in

The desire to go solar is a noble one.  I grew up with solar hot water and a chemical engineer as a father.  Back then my earthly conscious was not developed.  Now I am a mother of 4, living in the environmentally conscious Marin County.  I'd really love to be 100% solar to spare the earth of our electric consumption.  Plus it's pretty cool.

Problem, even with rebates and such, we can't afford to install a system to cover our high end electric costs.  Plus, my dad advised that it would take too long for it to pay for itself.  Solution, LEASING!  There is a company (solar city) that installs solar for the cost of a lease.  It's a 10 year lease including maintenance.  Now, I can't imagine that in 10 years that they would come take the panels off of my house, but 10 years of green power is 10 years of green power.

Solar City came out to my house to explain their process.  They handle the calculations, system recommendations, engineering, rebates, installation, etc.  The lease would net me potentially $20/month savings.  Based on our family's consumption we spent approximately $90/month.  Our lease would be $70/month and 2/3 of our power would be solar.  It would replace our expensive power, leaving our less expensive power to come from PG/E.  To replace all of our power, it would cost us more than we were paying a month.  Looks like dad was right.  To have solar power 100% cover our usage it would cost more than we were paying.  Hmmmm.

We were able to capitalize on all of the rebates being offered and Solar City did all of the work.  We just provided 12 months of power history and set up automatic withdraw.

20 months later, this is how I remember it.  My main frustrations were that because we were a lease, we were less of a priority than their customers paying up front.  There was also a lack of communication in between steps.  The person who initially came to my house was no longer with their company.  I was told it would be a minimum of 6 months before installation due to the economic downturn.  But, I want it now!  Well, luckily we didn't have to wait so long.  It was kind of like Disneyland where they under promise and over deliver.  My last issue was that they did not consult us on how they were going over our roof and we had to have them come back and paint the conduit black to blend in with the roof color. That's it.

Overages in power produced are put back into our numbers.  We were moved to an annual payment and tracking plan.  Our meter was converted to digital to enable it to work positive and negatively.  We are sent monthly statements.  In summer, sunny months, we have the ability to produce more power than we need.  In the grayer months, we consume more power.

We've now got 1 year of history.  Did we save $20/month?  No.  We did break even.  We had no problems.  We had a home system plugged in tracking our performance.  We successfully replaced lots (a super technical term there) of our power with solar at no increased cost to us.  Yes, we have panels on our house, but I think they are pretty cool.  Oh, and dad originally agreed that this seemed to be a no lose proposition.  Looks like Dad is always right.