Rooftop Solar Costs Less than You Think

Picture yourself typing $4.50 in your online bill pay service for your August electric bill using a tablet or computer powered by the solar panels on your roof. Install rooftop solar now and this could be you next year.

We are in our second year of generating electricity from our rooftop solar panels. I thought it might be useful to share our real life experience in hopes of convincing others to go solar.

Row Houses with Rooftop Solar Panels in South London, England - Photo: Steve Cadman / Flickr
Row Houses with Rooftop Solar Panels in South London, England – Photo: Steve Cadman / Flickr

Home Rooftop Solar – Pay It Forward

While the allure of free electricity a few years down the road was appealing, that was not the reason we decided to put solar panels on our roof.

This may sound silly or overly dramatic, but it is true; we invested in solar panels for the good of our children, your children, and everyone’s children. We, and by we, I mean everyone including me, cannot continue to burn fossil fuels and still have a habitable planet to live on. We must switch to clean renewable energy sources, not in a few years or the next decade, but right now—today.

Putting solar panels on our roof was a major step towards our goal of running our home and life with clean renewable energy. Sure, we have a way to go, but we are moving forward and momentum is a powerful force.

Imagine if there were solar panels on every home, office building, apartment complex, manufacturing plant, and retail store. We literally could power the world using the sun.

Solar Panels on Multi-Family Housing in Wuxi, China - Photo: Zhenfa New Energy
Solar Panels on Multi-Family Housing in Wuxi, China – Photo: Zhenfa New Energy

We Install Solar Panels on Our Roof

I chronicled our initial installation in Go Solar with Home Rooftop Photovoltaics – We Did. Two surprising and interesting things occurred during the project.

The first surprise was the cost of the system.

Our rooftop solar system cost less than we had anticipated. Interestingly, most people we have talked with about our project pegged solar panels at double their actual cost. There are articles aplenty stating the cost of solar has decreased dramatically, yet it seems the solar industry has not succeeded in conveying how truly affordable rooftop solar is today.

Granted, our rooftop solar system was not inexpensive and it will take several years to recoup the project cost, but then electricity will be virtually free for the next 15 years or so.

The second surprise occurred during the installation.

As a former project manager, I have been on many construction sites and worked with umpteen contractors. In addition, my spouse and I have completed several home maintenance and improvement projects over the years. We have had good, not so good, and horrendous experiences with construction projects and contractors.

We chose a solar installer, A.M. Sun Solar, recommended by a homeowner we had visited and duly checked their license and other references. We felt comfortable with the people and the company from the first meeting and all throughout the contract and ordering phases. There was no reason to believe the installation would not go well, but still, I was wary. As it turned out, I was amazed at how smoothly the installation went.

3 Additional Solar Panels on the South Facing Side of the Unlikely Environmentalist's Roof
3 Additional Solar Panels on the South Facing Side of the Unlikely Environmentalist’s Roof

Our Electric Bills Plummet

Our solar panel system is grid-tied, meaning it connects to the PG&E electricity grid. When our solar panels generate more electricity than we are using, the excess power goes into the grid and we receive a credit. At night or on days when cloud cover is excessive, we buy electricity from PG&E.

We are on PG&E’s net energy meter (NEM) program so receive monthly bills for about $4.50, which include costs for transmission, distribution, public purpose programs, nuclear decommissioning, DWR bond charge, on-going CTC, generation, and an Energy Commission tax.

Once a year, there is a “true up” statement; the total electricity we used from the grid is subtracted from the total electricity we sent to it. If we used more than we contributed, we receive an additional bill. If we used less, we receive a credit (PG&E does not issue refund checks).

In our first year, we sent more electricity to the grid than we used so we ended up with credit. We’ve been working it off since our April 2014 bill and it will be exhausted in November.

Homes with Rooftop Solar Panels at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, AZ - Photo: Solar City
Homes with Rooftop Solar at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, AZ – Photo: Solar City

Tax Credits and More Solar Panels

When we installed our solar panels in 2013, PG&E was offering a rebate. We signed our rebate over to A.M. Sun Solar and they took the amount off the contract cost.

We took advantage of the 30% federal tax credit for renewable energy projects by submitting information about our solar investment on our 2013 IRS tax form. This resulted in a refund check.

Our initial goal had been to produce enough electricity to break even. After receiving the refund check, we decided to use it to max out our system by putting additional solar panels on the remaining sunny parts of our roof. That way the system would be able to handle an electric vehicle or larger family in the future. It made sense to purchase the equipment now so the entire system is approximately the same age.

We emailed Glen from A.M. Sun Solar and were pleasantly surprised to learn that we could fit another six solar panels on our roof and they would cost slightly less per panel than last year. How many things can you think of that go down in price instead of up? Since we were adding to an existing system, we did not need an additional permit. This time I knew the installation would run smoothly and it did.

IE Ponce Family Rooftop Solar Installation in Upland, CA - Photo: GRID Alternatives
IE Ponce Family Rooftop Solar Installation in Upland, CA – Photo: GRID Alternatives

Find Out if Rooftop Solar is Right for You

We live in a relatively sunny town with an average temperature of 65-75° during the warmer months of the year. We do not have any air conditioning equipment. My spouse and I both work out of our house so we use electricity at home all day long. Solar penciled out as a good investment for us, so it could be even more economically attractive for someone living in a sunny and hot climate with central air conditioning.

The federal tax credit expires on 12/31/2016 so there is still plenty of time to purchase and install your own rooftop solar panels and get the 30% tax credit. Find state incentives on the DSIRE website, and ask your electricity provider about available rebates and incentives for solar power projects.

I realize not everyone has the money to buy solar panels or may choose not to purchase them. Fortunately, there are other options available including leasing, purchase power agreements, and solar loans to name a few. Low-income families can get help from organizations like GRID Alternatives.

To find out if your home is a good candidate for solar panels, what a solar energy system would actually cost, and how much you could save on electric bills, pick up the phone, send an email, or go online. Locate a solar installer in your area by typing “rooftop solar” and your city into your web browser. It’s easy to get started.

Homes with Rooftop Solar in Japan - Photo: Kyodo / AP / PA
Homes with Rooftop Solar in Japan – Photo: Kyodo / AP / PA

Join the clean energy movement and become one of the millions of people all over the world generating their own electricity from a clean renewable energy source—the sun.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

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