Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bitten by the (Sun) Bug

It’s almost been two full years since we’ve installed solar and I’ve had this in my pending posts lists for almost as long. Sorry for that, but it’s still worth the read.

We’re pretty frugal. We keep the lights off when we can (sometimes so much I feel like I live in a cave), use compact fluorescent bulbs (now experimenting with LEDs), and keep the thermostat at 64° during the winter (and wear a sweater). We use natural gas for heating, cooking, hot water and drying. We recycle our trash and generally tend not to waste things. Doing pretty good overall. We use National Grid as our energy supplier and they send notices once in a while telling us about our energy usage compared to our neighbors and we are almost always using less energy (probably because we’re just two people in the house most of the time). Some people in our church have begun to go beyond that, however. Some are investing in solar energy, some in electric vehicles, some both. The idea of solar power has always intrigued me, but even with the rebates, there was a pretty steep investment (depending on how you do it) to be made.

Then one day I was looking at my electric bill. Really looked at it. Here is what I saw:

Delivery Service
  • Customer Charge (We need to pay to be a customer?)
  • Distribution Charge
  • Transition Charge
  • Energy Efficiency Charge (What the heck?)
  • Renewable Energy Charge (What the heck?)
Supply Service
  • Basic Service Fixed
What I discovered is that the cost of the Delivery Service was almost the same amount as the Supply Service, meaning I was paying almost as much for the “delivery” as I was for the actual electricity! That really bothered me. Then my daughter came to me and said, “Dad, you need to think about going solar. These rebates aren’t going to be around forever.” So I went to my wife and told her about the bill and the rebates and asked her what she thought. I barely had the words out of my mouth and she said we should do it! She is way more in tune with the world of politics than I am, so in addition to what I discovered, she was hearing that in our current political climate, the cost of electricity was also likely to increase (by 35%, which was made official by National Grid a very short time later). That cinched it. We were going solar.

My friend Paul had recently gone through this experience with a national company called SolarCity. Their arrangement with them was that the panels would be installed for free and they would pay a discounted rate for electricity and they energy they generated would pay down the cost of the panels, but they wouldn’t be able to accrue SRECs (more on that later). Paul passed my name onto them, but even after I tried contacting them, they never responded. I probably would have gotten better results if I went through official channels, but it still wasn’t very professional. My daughter and her fiance once again came to our aid, because they love learning about this stuff. They suggested we look at SunBug Solar, a local company. “Dad,” she said, “they have such a cute website!” And well, they did, but they had much more than that.

Sales/Evaluation
I filled out a form online and they contacted me promptly about setting up an evaluation. Mike Ozog was the sales person, and I could tell from listening to him that he was enthusiastic in regards solar energy as well as SunBug the company. He explained the whole process, was patient with my questions and never once did I feel I was being pushed or led to commit to anything. He checked my downstairs, attic and roof to make sure there were no potential problems and did a shade projection based on our roof’s orientation and surrounding structures/trees.

Installation
Bakhu and his team were scheduled later in November, but we were lucky and someone cancelled their install and they showed up the very next week. The work was completed professionally in two days. Bakhu made sure that I was kept informed of each step of the process. Also I want to give special nod to the electrician who came up with the perfect location for the inverter which kept it out of site and produced the least noise, we never would have considered it. There was one miscommunication regarding the documents which were to have been left in my mailbox after the install. They weren’t and there was a little confusion on my part as to whether I needed to get them prior to the electrical inspection by National Grid. But no worries, Matthew brought the papers with him and the inspector was very impressed with the work they had done and signed off without complaint. Nice job!

Commissioning
Mike came back to close the deal, bringing us a packet of brochures and warranties that covered the components of the entire system. We went over few more questions and also discussed SRECs and the business of selling them. We signed up with SRECTrade and now just need an energy audit from MassSave which we scheduled in early January to finish off the application. Unfortunately, I wasn’t made aware of that earlier in the process, which would have allowed me to schedule it sooner.

Results
We are generating about 7.5 kilowatts a year, each kilowatt generating one SREC, each SREC generating about $300. Plus, we’re building up credit with National Grid for when we actually need to pull from the grid. The downside from being on the grid is when the grid goes down, we lose all electricity, even the solar. That’s due to safety concerns for workmen and others on or around the property. The only other complaint is that you can’t store energy, which with new technology developments like the Tesla Powerwall, may be in our near future.