Taking the Solar Plunge

I recently hired someone to install a solar PV system on the roof of my house. As with anything, the decision to actually go ahead and do it is the key. Once you are there, the rest is problem solving. The initial decision is the thing.

My decision was largely a leap of faith.  A home solar system is a long term, expensive project. It was not an easy decision for me. Well, in the end, it was an easy decision. But it was preceded by years of logical, intellectual, financial and even moral fumblings and scheming.

I had dismissed solar for a long time. Lots of excuses. It was expensive. Northern New Hampshire isn't Arizona. I'm a skinflint about electricity use. I heat with wood. Those ideas had been with me for pretty much my entire adult life.

However, even though I heat with wood, I have an ancient oil boiler in the basement of my house that keeps the pipes from freezing if I go away for a few days or a week in the winter. I doubt it would heat the house adequately, but I've never asked it to do so. My guess is that it has lasted this long because it gets used so little. Nevertheless, it is a necessity. So I had saved up a $10k fund over a few years in case of a mid-winter boiler transplant.

Last fall, I attended a solar workshop presented at the White Mountain School sponsored by The Ammonoosuc Regional Energy Team. There, two speakers stated pretty unequivocally that if you aren't doing solar, you are losing money. The first was Carl Martland who has a solar hot water system on his house in Sugar Hill. Carl is a numbers guy and a retired engineering professor from MIT. He clearly showed that the financial return on his system easily outperformed any available interest return on a bank CD or money market, and was more reliable and safer than the stock market.

The next speaker was Clay Mitchell, another professor, from the University of New Hampshire. He had a similar economic story, but added motivating and nearly scary passion to the tale.

I began to revisit my solar suspicions. Had solar progressed to the point where my long held beliefs were no longer valid? I decided that it had.

So, I spent the early winter planning the system. I decided the roof was the best spot; a ground mount didn't work for me. I measured, read the literature, surfed the web. A big decision was whether to do it myself or hire someone. I'm a major do-it-yourselfer. Hiring someone was against my inclination and history. I'm still somewhat embarrassed to say it, but I decided to hire someone. This represented a turning point in my bigger life, facing the reality that even though I believe I could have done the installation myself, letting someone else do it would be wiser. I was beyond the point of taking on the physical and intellectual challenge of figuring it all out.

Once that decision was made, it was easy to actually get it done. There are outfits out there that want your business. Nearly all of the preliminary work was done online. The address of the house allowed satellite views to assess orientation.

A house photo enabled a PhotoShop view of what the finished job would look like

A house photo enabled a PhotoShop view of what the finished job would look like

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All the calls, visits, estimates, and applications happened in the spring. I chose a son/father outfit, O’Meara Solar, from nearby in Vermont. I saw their ad and made a visit to one of their installations. The customer was very happy with them, knew the family, etc. The workmanship looked good, and I really was happy about working with a small, local family outfit. The guy on the phone, on the email and on the roof would be the same guy.

Since I was doing a roof mount, a new roof before the solar installation was part of the deal. My roofer was a school buddy from my teaching days. A great guy who does steel roofs. He arrived at the end of June and did the south facing slope first. A few days later, in early July, the solar guys arrived.

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The electricians were subcontracted. To qualify for the NH public utilities rebate, they must be NH certified. They were only here half a day, while the installation of the panels took most of three days.

All done! Looks very much like the original PhotoShop.

All done! Looks very much like the original PhotoShop.

It took maybe a week for Eversource to install the net meter. It's been making electricity since!

Author’s update - This piece was written in September. It is now January, and I have yet to pay for electricity since the installation in July. I have to pay a monthly customer fee, about $12, but anything that is usually charged on a kWh basis has been erased by what my panels produced. Said another way, the panels have covered all my electricity use to date, and I even banked some hours for darker days ahead. I believe this is the month I will completely deplete my banked power, but I missed producing during the first 6 months of last year, so I am pretty pleased. In 2014, I used 1733 kWh during the second half of the year, and my inverter says the system has produced 1932 kWh so far, so it checks out pretty closely.