by Phil DeVita
Recently I installed a photovoltaic (PV) solar system on the roof of my house to generate electricity. Some of you may be thinking “I have always thought of putting in a solar system but the costs seemed too high.” I had similar reservations until I recently read an article in the Boston Globe about a west coast solar company (SunRun) which was offering to install and operate solar residential PV systems for minimal money down. What’s the catch? You have to buy the power generated by the system from SunRun at a fixed price over an 18-year period. I thought this was an interesting concept, but I was still skeptical and had a lot of questions.
First, we should step back and see how this all came about. When I bought my house many years ago I knew there was good potential for solar, evidenced by the annual baking of my backyard. The main roof is oriented to the south with minimal shading during the late morning and afternoon (ideal solar production hours). I thought this would probably be a great place for a solar PV system. I researched a couple of systems but the price was a little too high. Other priorities took precedent, so I put the idea on the backburner for a few years until I came across this article on SunRun.
After reading the article, I was intrigued and made an appointment with Alteris Renewables (the local representative for SunRun). Alteris came out to my house and looked at the orientation and pitch of my roof, surface area, solar resource, shade, etc. and confirmed my initials thoughts that my roof would be an ideal candidate for solar. Alteris took my last couple of electric bills and made some calculations to determine the adequate size of my system (kW) which would determine the number and size of the panels. The results were computed on the spot and out popped a 5.5 kW energy plant, enough to power approximately 80% of my electricity needs. This is great you say, but what about the price? With SunRun, you have the option to purchase the system out right or with a little money down, SunRun will install and operate the system and the homeowner purchases the electricity at a set price over an 18 year period (also known as a power purchase agreement). I was familiar with the PPA option through our research developing the FAA Solar Guide; however, I had not heard the concept applied to residential applications. This seemed to be a much more affordable option; however, by not owning the system, I would not reap the total benefits (i.e. free electricity and RECs). I sat down with both options and laid out the pros and cons of each.
Owning the system
- You get free electricity (i.e. no PPA) and net metering benefits (i.e. spinning the meter backwards for electricity generated but not used);
- Tax credits available from the Federal Government along with state incentives to subsidize the costs; and
- Additional revenue potential from generating renewable energy credits (RECs) produced by the system which can be sold on the trading market.
- You own the system. Responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the system;
- The inverter alone can cost $5K to $10K and is good for about 10 years; and
- High investment cost.
Leasing the System
- 3rd Party is responsible for the operation and maintance of the system;
- Guaranteed production from SunRun and stable electricity costs each year;
- Lower investment costs.
- Do not get credit for the RECs;
- 18 year PPA commitment.
I did some additional research and carefully weighed each option and decided to pull the trigger on the PPA plan. It was an attractive plan for me where I would not have to worry about the maintenance of the system (peace of mind), minimal investment upfront, guaranteed production, fixed cost for my electricity (lower than what I was currently paying), and still have the net metering capability.
Alteris ordered all the equipment and the system was installed over a two day period. My system consists of 30 panels which are tied together and run to an inverter in my basement which is then tied to my utility meter.
Having the system has been a great learning tool for my kids to teach them about renewable energy and climate change. It is also a talking point in the neighborhood where people come up to me and ask about my system and how it’s operating. Many of my neighbors say, “Hey I like your system, I want to get solar panels for my house”. Unfortunately, solar is not for everyone. You need to have good southern exposure and unimpeded sun during the peak hours for it to work efficiently.
My system has been operating for about 7 months and to date I have generated over 3,576 kilowatt hours of electricity, equivalent to operating a television for 25,007 hours, the energy to power 26 computers for one year, or the energy to power 99 homes for one day.
Even though I do not care for the summer heat, I do realize that when it’s hot and sticky outside, that hot summer sun is helping to offset my utility bill and reduce GHG emissions, which are good things.
So let the sun shine!