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This is my first time writing a diary here, and decided maybe this one would not inflame too many souls even though it is a hot topic.

I was motivated to write this after reading about  solar panels going back up on the White House.

We, as a country really need to think more about Green Energy/Clean energy and so thought I would share our experience in making the decision to go solar.

My husband and I own a house in Central Texas we purchased for $19,000 a few years back.   The man who sold it to us had priced what a dumpster would cost to have the place torn down and hauled away.  We chose to keep the place and fix it up.  We both took early retirement and this was going to be a place to keep all our family heirlooms and "things we couldn't part with".

There is a saying, "if you can't stand the heat, get the hell out of Texas."  We had not planned to use this as a permanent place to reside.  We spend at least 6 months out of the year traveling and the rest split between the place in Texas and a small condo we own in Santa Fe. We live within our little teacher pensions and travel every chance we get, including three months in our tent in four African countries last year.

We have always been interested in solar but had never followed through with any plans.  My brother-in-law got laid off from his high tech management job along with 700 others a couple of years ago.  He is an industrial engineer by training, and was interested in solar and decided that with the election of President Obama   there was momentum to go for it.  He took a class on solar installation, passed the test and was put on the list of solar installers in the Austin area.  We had received a payoff on a property we were financing on the Texas coast and so it seemed things were falling in place to go solar.  The incentives the Obama administration was offering was another plus for doing something at this time.

My husband spent endless hours on the internet researching information about solar panels, installation, and any other topic that could be useful.  We began pricing the various items necessary to install a solar system on our house. We were looking, if possible, at US companies to buy the various pieces of the solar.  Though we did not find the panels of the specs we wanted that were made in the USA, we did find a US made inverter and batteries.

We had several things we had to consider when deciding where to put this solar system.  The house is about 130 years old so it was built before electricity was found in homes. The house is also single wall construction, with sheetrock nailed to the old lap and gap. My husband jokes that the house is still standing because of the very thick stucco, which acts as an exoskelton to hold the house upright.

 In fact, most of the wiring is fairly new but was retrofitted in many of the rooms in the original part of the house is in the door frames.  We had replaced most of the wiring to the major appliances but realized that we were going to need a larger main distribution panel and a new meter head from the main distribution panel to the power lines from the electric company.

Unlike, the solar installation going on at the White House, this was going to be a diy job except for hooking into the grid of little city where the house is located.  We applied for a permit, where  Brother in law was the solar installer. and we were his assistants.  I have always considered working on electricity, "f***ing magic" so I was the one to get supplies, read the manual to husband and brother in law and offer any advice I could. The city required us to get a certified electrician to sign off on the final hookup. Luckily, this person also was on the city council. More about that later.

Looking back through my personal journal, I realize that it was almost one year ago to this very day we began all of our research, pricing and getting it together for this project.

We did not work straight through start to finish on this project.  We had to wait for parts to arrive etc, and it took us two months to get it done.  

A few things come to mind if people are thinking about this type of project.

Research and discuss with others online about problems, ideas and solutions. This really helped!
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Plan where you are going to put your solar panels and insure that they will get the maximum sun.

   We didn't really want to put our solar panels on the roof of the old house because we felt it would ruin the "old house" look.  We had a space in the backyard we thought we could build a garage and put the panels on top of it.  We placed markers in the four corners of where this garage was going to be.  Not good.  Because of the trees we would only get about 4 hours of full sun in winter and slightly better in the summer.  On the roof, we were going to get about 6 full hours in the winter and 8 to 9 hours of full sun  in the summer.  My brother in law also had device he could place in the location you were looking to place the panels and it would show you how many possible hours of sun, what might block the sun from a portion of your panels, etc.  Pretty neat!

Keep a good attitude when you have to change directions or plans.  Things didn't always go the way we planned and we had to do some improvising as we went.  When we decided to have battery backup, we now needed a place to have them arranged where they were accessible but not likely to be run into or touched.  Plus the fact, each battery weighed 96 pounds and we had 16 of them.  Did manage to get them placed and connected.

Laugh.  We had to run a wire from the panels on the roof, down the side of the house, into a trench in the ground and up into the room where the solar charge controller was and it was through various lengths of pipe.  We learned the hard way the easier way to pull wire than what we originally did.  Laughed at ourselves for that.

Go slow and stay focused on what you are doing.  We only had one bad incident during the entire process.  We had decided we wanted battery backup to our solar in case the city was without power for a week or more.  We had lived on the Texas coast and experienced short power outages and knew from friends there after Hurricane Ike, it was over a week before things were restored. Batteries are dangerous and the wiring is complicated and you need to safeguard against explosions.

It always costs more than you thought in the beginning.  The  batteries, solar panels, charge controller, inverter/charger, system control panel, power distribution panel  were all pretty straight forward charges.  It was the extra wiring, cables and other items that you found you needed.

We finally finished the project and were putting energy to the grid by December 5, 2009.  What an exciting day to go out to the electric meter and see it actually running backwards!  Of course it does not always run backwards, especially when we are running our window unit air conditioners.  If you are interested in seeing some pics on our pages at traveljournals.net, click here: Powerful Roof Solar with Vast Blue Sky

Since we installed the solar, we have spent 45 days in the house, the longest period being 20 days in the spring.  We also spent  a week during the heat of June and July.  We have been here now for two weeks and we are experiencing lows of 49 and highs of 86 at present.  We also put radiant barrier over our south facing windows in the summer which also helps cut down on the heat into the house.

Glad we did it, you betcha!  Since we installed and were selling to the grid we have had a total utility bill  though we were in residence for  45 days - $94.29.

It must also be noted, this city owns it own utilities, so there is a minimum charge no matter what.  We have convinced them, our minimum charge should be $5.00. Of the $94.29, $20.00 was for four months we were not using any electricity but were actually giving electricity to the city to sell. Too bad they won't pay us, but we do get the satisfaction of producing some for ourselves!

 We did have to let the ladies in the utility office know we had solar because they had changed one of our readings, thinking the people who read the meters had made a mistake!  The next day, the linemen for the utility company came out and were amazed the see the meter really running backwards.  Final analysis:  December 10, 2009 meter reading 16284----October 7th, 2010 meter reading 17056.  In this period we have been charged for 772 kilowatt hours and the rest has been solar!  Sure, we were gone in the hottest months but we have used air conditioners.

Given all of the bad news, gloomy projections for the future,  I have to say I am glad we have a way to exist if the economy all goes to hell.  We remain optimistic, but have opted for a little prudence as well.

Originally posted to Jakkalbessie on Thu Oct 07, 2010 at 02:45 PM PDT.

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