Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Cheapest Way to Get Solar for Your Home

What's happening everyone?  I'm back!  I know I've not written a post in a while but I have a good one for you today.  I've been considering installing solar panels on my home to save on my electric bill.  Like anyone, I went online and searched for a comparison of leasing a system versus buying one, or easier yet on my cash flow, financing one.  Then I remembered I had an expert on solar energy in my network of associates and family: my father-in-law, Travis.

Travis was in Hawaii a couple of years ago working with the state on a potential project to build a solar installation in Maui.  Then the utility company got wind of it and exerted its muscle to shut him and all of his investors down.  He's helped me navigate the world of solar and come up with a plan that will save me, and you, a ton of money!  Here are the steps to install solar at your home without bending over and taking it from any company out there.

1.  Get your bill and analyze how many kilowatts you are using in a month on average.  Your bill should tell you that information.

2.  Figure out how many panels you need to cover the bill each month.  Say you are using about 900 kilowatts a month.  That is 900,000 watts per month and depending on the wattage you buy (the lower wattage panel is cheaper obviously, but they take up more roof space) you will need an X number of panels.  900,000 watts a month is like 30,000 watts a day give or take.  250 watt panels generate that amount of wattage per hour.  25 of those will generate 6,250 watts per hour.  Five hours of daylight will generate, therefore, around 31,250 watts per day.  Enough to cover your usage.  However, most people do not have the roof space to place that many panels in their optimal location (facing South in So. Cal) for fully direct sunlight.  Before buying any panels, give an installer your address so they can use their software and calculate how many panels they could potentially fit on your roof. You could also reduce the number of panels needed by buying 300 watt ones.  A little more expensive though.

3.  Hire an electrician who installs solar systems to come to your home and do a site survey.  They will measure out your roof space, look at your breaker, water heater, and water line to ensure you are equipped for an easy installation.  They will also do a plan for you that you can submit to the city for approval.  The plan has to be approved by you before an installation can take place.  Let me suggest to you that you have your inverter installed inside of your garage, not on the outside near the breaker where anyone can steal it.

4.  Where to buy panels?  I'd go with a wholesaler like Civicsolar, a company with offices in Oakland, Austin, and Boston.  You can buy a brand name 245-255 watt panel for around $250.  You can of course try to find them cheaper elsewhere.  Total costs thus far, just for the panels, is $6,250.  If you sign up to receive their emails, you will get notifications on deals.  For example, the other day I received an email from Civicsolar advertising panels for .79 a watt.  On a 250 watt panel, you would be spending just under $200!  That's a great deal, even if the panels come from Korea.

5.  Buy a string inverter or multiple micro-inverters.  The inverter converts your DC power to AC.  The type of inverter you will need depends on your roof orientation.  Micro inverters offer multiple arrays on different roof spaces.  A single (or string) inverter works best when there are no shading issues.  You will pay between $1,000 to $2,500 for an inverter.  Contact the people at for advice on your needs.

6.  Once you are approved for installation by your city, hire a solar installation electrician and a crew he may work with, for the roof job.  They will need to place the racks down, run conduit, etc.  These guys are always willing to take side jobs when they're not working for their company (Solar City, Sungevity, etc.).  Once the installation is complete, you will need permission from your utility company to turn on the system.  It usually takes around two weeks for the utility company to allow you to turn the system on.  You can probably get the instal job done for $1,500.

So, going at it like this, I'm confident you can have solar for under $12,000!  That is not bad.  If we do a breakdown of what you pay in this case per kilowatt hour for material, permitting, and labor, it comes out to be around $2.60 per Kwh.  That's pretty good.  The going rate right now for solar is between $3.5 to $5.00 per Kwh for an installation.  This includes of course help from the company in filling any plans, permitting, and rebate paperwork.

Thanks for reading!        

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