Just signed the paperwork yesterday. We're going to have solar panels put on the house and apparently even with shading from some trees, we will be able to have enough power provided over the course of the year to offset 95% or so of the power we currently buy through the local power company, Xcel Energy.
Over the doodle-whattzit for details if you'd like
We're going with the company REC Solar, which is kind-of a front for Sunrun, a California company. We're getting the materials through Costco, which also provides for referral bonuses if we're able to get others to climb on board with us (we're looking to provide referrals, hint, hint).
We considered Solar City, which is a fast-growing startup with backing by Google amongst others, and they provided the cheapest solution. I liked the powerful software which allowed the salesman (not engineer) who came to the house to virtually put in the panels, adjust them for angles of sun and roof, and add in heights of trees to determine how many panels would be needed. I wound up being a little concerned because while they were cheapest, there were a few details that concerned me - issues with being able to pay it off at really any point in the future, with the installation (they seemed to have a few details that weren't covered where the other companies would install critter-guard fencing to keep birds and squirrels out from under the panels, the fact they wanted to use two roof surfaces rather than the one of the other companies, the monitoring required a hard-wired port to our home network - wireless would have been better, but it wasn't an option, and would be a pain if we switched or had an outage), and just some other things that made me think it's do-able, but maybe cheap as opposed to just inexpensive.
We also considered Namaste, which is a long-time Colorado installer who has done work for friends and even my church. They have all the progressive values I like to support - local, everyone is an owner of the company, the CEO makes no more than 4 times the wages of the lowest worker, they donate plenty of materials and labor to help low-income people be able to afford solar, and other good deeds. Namaste also seems to use the highest quality panels of the three - they're still from foreign sources, but Mexico as opposed to China. They're from Sun Power, and their higher efficiencies would allow for fewer panels (24 vs. 31) to supply the same amount of power. They say they do put on the critter guard, but I had to ask about that and installations of theirs I looked at didn't seem to have it in one row of low-income houses. To work with Namaste, we'd be buying the system. It would be more expensive, though with higher quality materials. Still, the other two companies were offering total coverage for 20 year leases, and over the course of the 20 years, we'd be able to expect the power inverter to go out, which would be an additional cost of about $3000 or so for the purchased system - something we wouldn't have an issue with for the leased system. It would be nice to have something at the end of the 20 years - our own panel setup, but we could buy it from the lease company or just renew the lease (or just have them remove it if we have cold fusion by that point).
Our choice wound up as REC Solar. As I mentioned above, they're doing this through Costco, and I am a fan of Costco and their reputation for customer service as well as being a blue company. The panels will be from Yingli Energy of China, 250W. I had asked all three companies about using panels made in the US and none even had that as an option. We will have the option to buy down either the remainder of the lease at any point or to purchase the system for an amount above the lease price, but then we get to be responsible for maintenance. We'll be fine having 20 years of service and monitoring (done without needing access to the home network) since I won't want to be climbing on the roof to figure out which panel is having issues or dealing with hail damage or the like.
Xcel Energy has incentives available for Solar customers. They're in tiers that are steadily decreasing. As they get their capacities filled for one incentive level, they move down to the next incentive level till that gets filled up, then lower, then lower. The levels are at http://www.xcelenergy.com/... and currently they have a rebate/credit of 8 cents/KWh for personally owned systems and 5 cents for third party owned systems. I think this would qualify as third party, but that's for REC Solar to know. Basically, I'm leasing energy from Sunrun and they guarantee that the panels will produce a certain number of KWh's of power per year. If I produce more because there are a lot of sunny days, I get to keep whatever is extra (and Xcel will pay me if I produce more than I consume, though it's pennies at best). If I produce less than the level REC Solar has promised, then Sunrun, the real owner, will pay me for the shortage, since I'll have to buy that power from Xcel. In any event, I'll have some months where I produce extra, and some months, like the summer, where air conditioning will mean I'm likely to produce less than I consume. The totals are measured annually, and balances are squared after that. I'm hoping with conservation improvements, to use less than I have so I don't have to pay for much, if any power. The amount, with the lease and all, will still be about 85% or so of the current electrical payments I make over the course of the year, so we'll be saving 15% off the bat. Since we committed to a bit more up front, we also will never have our cost go up over the life of the lease, while I expect Xcel to raise their electrical rates as their coal plants get more expensive and they just get greedier.
Xcel is doing this in Colorado primarily because the state (through ballot initiatives) has been pushing requirements that Xcel have 30% of their power from renewables by 2020. Xcel says company-wide, they produce 17% already. They're looking to phase out the incentives soon, so I wanted to get this committed while we still had incentives. I'm also mad at them because with all the much cheaper natural gas prices, they're still wanting to increase the rate to customers to build a pipeline to get it here (I know we're talking solar, but it seems they'll increase rates any way they can).
I will still have some utility bill since I'll be still connected to the main power grid. This is not an off-the-grid setup. In addition, I will not have battery backup for power outages. We've had outages, but when those happen our house will be disconnected so that power flowing to the grid won't electrocute workers who are trying to fix the lines. Maybe somewhere down the line we might be able to get a setup where we'd be able to get power during the day, but so far in three years here our outages have been a few hours at most. Not enough to worry about losing food or sleep.
I'm going to feel very, very good when my house becomes a power producer, not a power sink. I've been way too wasteful with energy for my tastes and this will be one very good way to try and balance out my carbon deficits. Now if we could just do something to eliminate the need for natural gas (the heat source)...
5:54 PM PT: Obligatory thank you for the rec list. First time here without being a substitute diary and piggybacking on the Cheers and Jeers mojo.
Here comes the sun, do do do do. Here comes the sun, and I say, "It's allright"
5:58 PM PT: Oops. Mistake on that update, but I'm still appreciative of the Rec list. It's very, very rare.