First year real-world solar power performance review

The first thing that people ask when I tell them that we installed a solar array on our house is: “how much did it reduce your electric bills?” Now that I’ve had a full year of utility bills, I’m going to lay out how much we’re paying now versus our historical electric bills.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of different factors at play, but there’s no doubting that the savings are substantial in spite of different weather, usage and billing rates. So let’s get to the numbers!

From August 2012 through July 2013 (my billing cycle runs from the 20th of the month), my total electric bill was $1614. Keep in mind that our house runs mostly on heat pumps, so that also includes much of my heating bill. We also have a pool, hot tub, second fridge, and freezer – we’re not living a super low-impact lifestyle, as much as I’d like to. But what we do have is all very efficient at what it does.

How do past years compare? Continue reading

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How good is solar electric production?

Now that I’ve had my panels installed for over a full month, do they really work as advertised?

The short answer is Yes! I’ve been very happy with the amount of electricity produced by the panels, in spite of the fact that this August has been quite rainy. Especially when compared to June and July which were sunny and hot! But that’s life in Eastern Pennsylvania. We have real weather here!

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Going Solar!

Two power inverters

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have been a hot topic of discussion for decades, but it hasn’t been until recently that they have become truly economically viable. Instead, they were purchased for a variety of other reasons. But now, it can be far better than money in the bank.

Last year, my wife and I started evaluating options for installing a solar system. We wanted something that looked aesthetically pleasing, was cost effective, and provided enough power to significantly offset our electric bills. Initially, we thought that we were going to go with “solar shingles”. These have really come a long way in the last couple of years both in cost and efficiency.

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Is solar efficient enough?

I recently overheard a conversation that made me think. A man, who was clearly respected by his friends as someone knowledgeable, commented that solar wasn’t ready for prime time because it isn’t efficient enough. But is this true?

The simple answer is “no.” Solar is plenty efficient. The solar electric panels that go on your roof are 15%-20% efficient. Solar hot water systems are about three times more efficient since they heat water directly. So the most intelligent system consists of a couple of solar hot water panels and a roof full of photovoltaic (electric) panels.

But still, you might be waiting for systems to get much more efficient. After all, semiconductors get faster and cheaper every year. If you did this, you’d be making  a mistake.

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