Solar Electric – Initial Planning

I have some big plans in mind, and this post is just to get the rough idea down and keep a record of what should ideally happen and how.  But yes, the plan is to install solar panels on the house.

First, let’s hit the high-level numbers.  I want to budget $30k for the install.  This should give me a a $ loan payment for 5 years.  This should eliminate my $200/mo electric bill, so the cost is net $450/mo for 5 years.  There is a 26% tax credit for solar electric, so that should wipe away 1 year from my loan.  The end result is a $50 cost for 4 years, then $200/mo savings for the next couple of decades – let’s be real, for the rest of my life.

Now, some details on those numbers.  In most people’s lives, the two big debts are house and car.  Ideally, you want to have some sort of break between car loans where you actually still use your car without paying for it.  I do have an active car loan, but that car is my secondary car and I am still getting by on the car that preceded it.  So I can be assured of a long time before I will need another car loan.  So once that car loan is paid off, I will be free to begin another 5yr commitment.

It was my plan to go solar when that car loan was ended, but I was concerned about the sunset of the federal tax credit for solar, which is very soon.  I have recently had a fortunate windfall that can pay off my car loan, should I choose to use it for that.  Because I am debt-adverse, I will do so, regardless of those that say to drag out low-interest loans and invest the difference.

So, with car loan eliminated, I will need to gather quotes from solar contractors and decide on what is available to me.  With what tools are available to me, I was able to determine that my home electric usage ranges from 1200 to 1850 kWh per month, with an average of 1490 kWh.  That’s roughly 50 kWh/day.

According to Project Sunroof, a $200/mo electric bill means I would need a little over 16kW in solar to cover my bills.  From other sources, I found my roof has a max capacity to deliver 20kW in power.  One site says I need 50 panels to get 15kW.  Another says 30 panels will get you 10kW.  One metric cited is that it costs about 75 cents per watt, so 15kW is about $11k in panels (I assume no labor or connective bits).  Another site says ~$30k will get you ~14kW.  So far, we are still in the ballpark.

This does not cover any battery storage on site, which is enticing to me, but could be prohibitively costly, and some of what I’ve read suggests either you have storage or you feed the excess to the grid, not both.  That’s for the experts to educate me in.

Then the real battle becomes dealing with multiple sales people all wanting to sell you a product and a service.  That will be for a later post.  For now, I think this covers all the basic numbers.

Whole-house Surge Protection

A couple of weeks ago, my pool pump started failing.  The bearings were wearing out and it was getting louder by the day. So I discussed replacement with the pool guy and he asked if I had any house protection insurance, which I didn’t think I did.  He said that I should look into it because the new motor would be easily damaged by power surges.

To take a step back, it’s been a few years since you couldn’t get a simple, dumb, single-speed motor for your pool.  The law now says you have to have a variable speed pump.  It should save money because you can slow it down during off times.  Whatever.  They’re more expensive and more susceptible to damage because they’re chock full of circuit boards.

That got me to thinking of something I wanted to get on the house anyway – whole-house surge protection.  The electric company offers this as an option or you can install one yourself.  I looked up the one offered by the utility company and they don’t sell it, you lease it.  Like $30 for installation, then $8/mo for as long as you want.  Well, that’s never good in my book.  I need to own something, not lease it.  So I called a couple electricians to get quotes.

The first guy says he installs them, but not right now because he’s too busy.  He referred me to someone else and I set up the appointment.  On the call he said I could choose from a range of different devices.  He couldn’t give me much specifics on them, so I just said, what can I get for under $500?  He said, you can get this.  So we agreed on it, and off we went.

Just to mention, I do understand that $500 is like five years of leasing the electric company protector.  But ownership is very important to me and is just one more line item for if I ever choose to sell the house.  Apparently, this is standard for all new construction.  It should be!

On the appointment day, the contractor was pretty much behind schedule, like a hour and a half.  Whatever.  He looked over my breaker panel, which was full and said he could just install it on the meter box.  I actually preferred that option, so that was good.  Within half an hour, he was all done.  I came out, saw the new box attached to my meter and said, ok.  Now for the billing.

I had a recollection he quoted me on the phone something like $425, and so I assumed he would have labor on top of that, so I budgeted $600.  Nope, the total cost was $425.  Well, that’s not too bad.  I happily paid and off he went.

The new device is by SquareD and is the model HEPD80.  I went inside and researched the device.  It is very highly rated, which was great, but the cost of the device kind of hurt me.  It’s only $120 at the most.  So I did get charged for labor, but like $600/hr.  Just typing that out hurts even more.

But I try to keep everything in perspective.  The total was less than I expected.  I am helping an independent contractor survive and thrive.  The installation is not something I could do myself.  Well, I could, after watching a few videos, but I wouldn’t have a lot of faith in myself.  And the product is still highly rated and installed by a professional.  Hopefully it never needs to sacrifice itself for the house.

But, if it does, this device will save me from having to buy another $1500 pool pump, plus a $1500 chlorine generator, plus whatever appliances would get blown up, plus whatever UPS’s didn’t survive the blast.  For a $120 device, that’s pretty well worth it.  Next time, I’ll buy the device and just have the contractor install it.  Knowledge for next time.