A Local Solar Success

The following is the experience of Nate Rose, a Rosemont resident, who installed solar panels and a solar thermal hot water system in his home.

I have installed two solar systems in my home.  I had both installed in late 2010 by Primal Energy Systems, which is a Richmond based company that specializes in solar work.  I went to school with the founder of Primal, and work in renewable energy finance, so I knew that the quote I was given was reasonable. However, if I was not in this situation, I would recommend getting two bids before any work is done.

System 1 is a 1.665 kW solar PV system that sits on my roof and faces south (the optimal direction for collecting solar energy in the Northern Hemisphere).  The system has 9 Schucco MPE 185 panels (each is rated at 185 watts) and a 1 SMA Sunny Boy 300 inverter.  The system converts sunlight into electricity that is fed directly into my home.  Any excess electricity I produce gets fed into the grid and my meter spins backwards.  However, the system is small enough that over the course of a year, I will never be selling electricity back to the utility.  The system is estimated to produce about 2,000 kWh of electricity a year, which is roughly 15% of my annual electricity needs.  The system cost about $12,000, and I will receive a 30% tax credit on my tax return this year, which is about $3600.  I am also able to sell the "green" attributes of the system into the DC or PA market, which will yield about 25 cents per kWh.  Combined with the value of the electricity I am not buying from Dominion VA Power, the system should produce cashflow of about $700 a year.  The system should then pay back in about 12 years.

System 2 is a solar thermal hot water system that is installed in my home.  The system consists of two collector panels on my east facing roof, and piping that runs from the roof to my basement where the hot water tank is.  The installation also included a new hot water tank that uses the heated liquid from the collectors to produce hot water.  The tank uses electricity as a backup when the sun is not strong enough to heat the water.  The system cost about $8000, and also has a 30% tax credit.  The system should produce the equivalent of around 2000 kWh a year, and should produce cashflow of around $700.  This would lead to a pay back of about 8 years.

I have also done about $2800 of energy efficiency work with an energy efficiency contractor.  I had them insulate and seal my attic, seal the exterior of my home, and seal my doors.  $1800 of the job will get a 30% tax credit, and I expect the work to save about $300 a year.  This work will pay back in about 7.5 years.

Overall, it took two trips to my house for Primal to make a firm proposal on the systems, and then the installation of the systems took 3-4 days. I expect to have a home that uses considerably less energy than comparable homes, and the upgrades to reach this level will have cost me nothing in about 10 years.  I am also very happy to be consuming less energy and helping reduce CO2 emissions.

I had to register my system with PJM, which is the electricity distribution network for Pennsylvania, Jersey and Maryland (PJM).  It also extends to Virginia, DC and other states.  Once my systems were registered, it automatically keeps track of my production, and periodically I produce an SREC (Solar Renewable Energy Certificate) which is then something I can sell on an online system.  I haven’t produced my first SREC (comes after 1000 kWh of production), but plan to sell them on SRECTrade.com.

If anyone has questions about the process and my experience, you may contact me at nrose@hannonarmstrong.com. I am passionate about energy efficiency and renewables and am happy to help others if I can.


About the Author
Heather Schaefer is the Founder and Executive Director of Go Green Alexandria, dedicated to environmental education and outreach. Find out more on Go Green Alexandria.


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