Happy Friday – One Month Powered By The Sun!

Four months ago, we celebrated when we found out our application for the FPL solar rebate program had been approved and that we could install a solar system on our house and get a credit to the tune of about 50% of the purchase price back from FPL (our electric utility company).

solarpanelsforblog

Pretty pretty photovoltaic panels!!

The install and getting our new smart meter up and running took a little bit longer than we originally expected, but we’ve finally gotten our first electricity bill and we can report in quantitative and qualitative observations on our experience so far with our PV system.

Our PV System

For the tech/enviro-geeks out there, our system is a 7.56kW rated system (28 Hyundai panels and 28 Enphase microinverters) mounted on our back roof deck that faces almost due south and has a clear line to the sun.  It is expected to produce on average about 1,000 kWh/month or 12,000 kWh/year .  This is just about exactly what our average use has been over the past couple of years, so we should be in the sweet spot of not over or under producing electricity over the long term. On the short term, we will be over- and under-producing from month-to-month, but we’ll be using a system of “rollover credits” where we build up a reserve in overproduction months and use from that reserve before getting charged for usage so we should average out over time to not have any bills at all.

The Finances

The Cost

Our solar contractors didn’t try and upsell us or add any last minute charges to our bill (something I greatly appreciate!) so our costs and rebates for the system have (so far) been exactly what we thought going in.

  • Install out of pocket: $30.0K
  • Less – FPL rebate: $15.1K
  • Less – Federal Tax Credit (On 2015 taxes): $9.0K
  • Net Cost to Us: $5.9K

Since our average electric bill was ~$100, this puts the payback on this system at < 5 years, but the system should last for 25 or more!

We paid the full out-of-pocket amount in February and March, and just this month got back our FPL rebate check, so that’s nice to have back in our accounts.

Some readers (like Leigh and Fiby) suggested that we decrease our tax withholdings to recoup the $9K in federal tax credits sooner than spring 2016. After talking with our tax guy, we’ve decreased our tax withholdings somewhat, but not super aggressively. Tax Guy wants to do more research to make sure that our FPL rebate check is not taxable (my current read of the law is that since ours is a Tier 1 system, the rebate should not be taxable even though we expect a 1099 from FPL next year, but Tax Guy wants to research it more after seeing the 1099 next year to be safe), and we also owed $2K in taxes in April for the 2014 tax year, so we don’t want to be too aggressive and end up owing. I love a $0 tax bill most of all, but I’d prefer a modest refund over writing a sizable check next year.

The Bills

We got our first bill, and all it included was an $8 customer charge. Low, but not as low as I expected. So I called in, and there was a mix-up and our On Call credit* didn’t make it to our statement before the bill went out (that happens sometimes with On Call, oddly), but next month we should get a pro-rated credit. The On Call credits should more than offset the $8/month customer charge as we get $8.50 in On-Call credits in the winter months, and $13.50 in the summer months and the solar panels should cover the electricity charges leaving us with $0 bills on average.

A Money Earner, Too?

It’s also possible that the solar panels can earn us a little income in addition to just reducing our costs. I still need to do some more research on SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits), which are kindof like carbon credits that you can sell. Companies (I believe mostly utilities) buy them when they are required to prove that they source a set amount of their power usage from green energy sources. According to the terms of our net metering agreement with FPL, we would own any SRECs for our system (probably 12/year on average since each SREC represents 1kWh of solar energy). But so far, my research seems to say there’s not currently a market to buy/sell them in Florida, and I’m not sure it’s worth trying to get certifications to sell them in other state’s markets. I’ve heard North Carolina might be a market open to FL credits, but still need to do more research.  If anyone has a good resource on this, please share!

The Production Is Solid!

Since the system was installed the first week in March (even though we didn’t start getting credit for the electricity we were producing until we got our new smart meter in mid-April), we’ve got about 2.5 months of production history. So far, the system is producing right in line with the monthly estimate ranges that our solar contractor provided us at the start.

We were on the high end of the range for March production, the low end for April (April was unseasonably rainy), and so far for May we’re on the high end of that range, but our summer rains are starting, so that may trend down as we close out the month.

This has meant that we built up a bit of a cushion so far in our production, as planned. It wasn’t quite as big as we estimated originally since our electricity usage has been up a little this year with our kitchen remodel. Turns out A/C systems aren’t *quite* as effective as normal when you’re missing drywall in the kitchen. But the drywall-less state of our kitchen is only temporary (with our ongoing remodel), so we should be back to normal usage patterns within another month or so.

Unexpected Pros (And a Couple Small Cons)

Enlighten App to keep track of production! (Also, the Eiffel Tower is apparently a huge energy suck.)

We knew the financial ROI made this a great investment. And though I masquerade as a conservative business person much of the time, I really am a bit of a hippie tree hugger at heart. So those were the big expected pros, but there have been even more, and a couple of small cons.    (Pro) Checking our energy production via the Enphase Enlighten app on my cell phone is a ton of fun. Even if I’m stuck in the office on a beautiful sunny day, I can check our energy production and see that even if I’m not out there enjoying the sun, our solar panels sure are!

(Pro) I feel a little bit like a Super Hero with solar panels. I mentally strike a super hero pose and hear a deep assertive voice whenever I think to myself, “I take energy out of the sky to power my refrigerator!”

(Con) But rainy days are my kryptonite and feel much more like a personal insult than they did before we had solar panels. Incidentally, both of these feelings have mellowed since the first weeks after the install and I expect they will mellow even more over time and the super hero feeling will fade.

(Pro) We managed to inspire one set of neighbors! Our next door neighbors (no, not those ones, the banana ones) saw the solar truck in our driveway and got inspired to call and get a solar water heater for their pool. They absolutely love how warm the pool is (“Almost too warm,” they say – though I can’t imagine how that is possible) and love that they’re no longer paying a ton to heat it.

(Con) Our panels are so well hidden (impossible to see from the street in front of our house, and mostly hidden by our vaulted lanai ceiling from the back as well) that few people know how super cool we are for having them.

(Pro and Con) We’re still connected to the grid and will lose power whenever our neighbors do. This wasn’t unexpected to us – for safety reasons, when the power grid goes out, our system stops delivering energy so as not to injure someone working on the grid. But neighbors have been a little disappointed to hear we won’t have power during an outage. Con for neighbors, Pro for the line repairmen?

The Politics

Rooftop solar in Florida is an oddly controversial matter in the state legislature, though I have yet to encounter a single person on either side of the political aisle that doesn’t think that THE SUNSHINE STATE should be producing far more solar energy than we currently are. Lobbyists are working hard on both sides (for and against solar expansion) of this issue in Tallahassee, so we’re staying abreast of any changes in the political and regulatory environment with regard to net metering and SRECs.

In the meantime, we’re enjoying the solar benefits we have on this sunny Happy Friday!

 

* Quick update on On-Call – When I called in, the FPL rep mentioned that we have saved $187 to date (about 18 months) with FPL On-Call. During that time, we’ve never noticed it being used to control our major appliances even once. So even without solar panels, this is a great easy way to reduce your FPL bills!

 

Do you have any questions on solar power? What have your experiences been like so far with renewable energy sources?

33 comments to Happy Friday – One Month Powered By The Sun!

  • It’s Thursday, not Friday! The solar panels sound so cool! It seems like a pretty cool idea to be able to generate your own electricity! 😀 thanks for sharing!
    Leigh recently posted..Operation Bayes: RevealedMy Profile

  • Ivy

    Congratulations, you are one step closer to getting off the grid.
    I am so envious. We’ve looked into solar panels long ago, but we won’t get enough sun in our place, just a few hours a day. The trees are helpful for keeping the air conditioning needs down, but I sure would love to go solar or even be able to plant a proper veggie garden:-(

  • I don’t think this house will ever be off the grid entirely… it just doesn’t seem to make sense with the number of battery packs we’d need (40+ of Tesla’s 10kWh packs) to take care of peak months.

    Trees are definitely a mixed blessing. We have a HUGE live oak in our front yard and it does help keep that part of the house cool, but it’s also a big maintenance project and severely limits what can grow under it – and it’s so big that pretty much the entire front yard is under it. We’re lucky our backyard is pretty tree free.

  • Living vicariously through you. Thanks for sharing!
    Leah recently posted..Boarding School MomentMy Profile

  • Nice and I’m a bit jealous. I’m going to rig up a homemade array at some point to charge my future electric vehicles. Hello future Tesla and future Zero motorcycle!

    I do have a question about this though: “Federal Tax Credit (On 2015 taxes): $9.0K”

    Isn’t a tax credit just an amount of money you don’t have to pay taxes on? So, if your highest tax rate is 28%, the tax credit translates into $2520 of savings ($9000 * .28).

    In any case, nice work!

    Oh, one more question: Would you ever consider it for the duplex?
    Mr. 1500 recently posted..Thursday Rant: The financial media sheep rebleat, rebleat, rebleat.My Profile

    • Tax Deductions are money you don’t have to pay taxes on, like contributions to Traditional 401K or IRA.
      Tax Credits are dollar-for-dollar reductions on your total tax liability. Refundable tax credits allow your total tax liability to be NEGATIVE (ie, the IRS pays you, not the other way around).

      I believe this one is refundable, though it won’t matter since we pay more than $9K/yr in federal taxes anyhow.

      As it stands right now, I don’t think we’d do it for the duplex. The units are metered individually and pay their own electric costs. If we installed a system, we’d probably need two separate systems and then we’d sort of be involved with the renter’s relationship with the electric company – which I’m not sure how legal that is since “reselling” energy in Florida is limited to utility companies. Hence why solar leasing is basically illegal in FL right now.

      If those statutes change and prices drop dramatically, maybe… but we’d have to convince renters that it’s worth paying more in rent to have lower FPL bills and that’s sometimes a tough sell when advertising cheap rentals for college students.

  • We would love to have a solar panel system in our house… but maybe here in Vancouver that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as it rains too much in the fall/spring/winter time.
    Tawcan recently posted..Things to consider before upgrading your PC or laptopMy Profile

  • Amicable Skeptic

    Great to read about your solar success. I’m thinking you’re under selling your system in this post though when you say “It is expected to produce on average about 1kWh/month”. Based on your screenshot of making 39 kWh in a day I think its making you 1,000 kWh per month (aka 1 megawatt hour aka 1 MWh).

    The only thing I don’t like about your deal with FPL is that it sounds like your overproduction can only count against your future consumption (they won’t just pay you per kWh right?). I guess if you ever do drop your consumption you can buy an electric car to make up the difference?

    • Oops! You’re right. I’ll fix the typo =)

      Your understanding of our net metering agreement is correct. The easiest comparison is with cellphone rollover minutes. We build up credits and have to use them within the next 12 months or they expire. We could always run our pool heater (or invite the neighbors to plug in extension cords?) if we really need to burn through kWh. I *think* the way our net metering agreement works is the only way it really can according to FL law. The utility can’t *pay* us for energy because then *we* would need to be a utility and follow all the appropriate regulations. It’s really weird here. =/

  • This sounds awesome. I wish more people would go Solar especially in states that receive enough to make it viable + tax credits. I love looking at stats like that, so I would be obsessing over the app at first too so can totally understand that.

    Must be nice to turn on the A/C and know you aren’t killing the electric bill!
    Debt Hater recently posted..Buying a Used Car: Dealer or Private Party?My Profile

  • Fun! Most people would want to keep their unsightly solar panels obscured, but you want to show yours off!

    Margie’s parents are the latest people we know getting solar panels, but it looks like their deal might be off for the weirdest reason: They have asbestos in the basement. As do many old houses around here, including ours. But for whatever reason, Solar City won’t install solar panels without asbestos remediation in the basement, which is incredibly expensive. So they might call off the whole thing.
    Norm recently posted..About That Rental PropertyMy Profile

    • Wow. I wonder what the basement aesbestos has to do with anything. I mean, if I were them I’d want any aesbestos out of my house, solar panels aside, but I wonder what it’s got to do with the panels that it would hold up the leasing agreement. Let us know if your inlaws get any more info on it!

      • It has something to do with the installation, wiring going into the basement maybe? They’re not allowed to work around it. Having asbestos really isn’t a problem in itself. Ours is wrapped around pipes, and it doesn’t harm anyone unless you mess with it, it crumbles and then gets into the air.

  • Jacob

    Hi Ms POP,
    Thought I’d offer up, or at least try, some possibly useful information for you as you research your potential to sell overproduction. My wife and I lived in Hawaii a few years back and installed PV panels on our home. I have to say, our feelings about super powers as well as how fun it was to observe our solar production through our online applications (we had enphase microinverters too) was very similar. When it comes to selling back overproduction, in Hawaii (potentially different in FL), you had to be in a certain agreement. Our agreement, and it sounds like yours too, is a net metering agreement. With this agreement you can build credits for your own use but not for selling back. The alternative was “feed-in tariff” agreement. With this agreement you could sell back solar, however, it was not at the same price you paid for it. You also had to pay initial fees to be able to sell it back. Because of the selling rate coupled with the additional fees, it was rarely a good idea for a residential owner to do so (limited roof space for the amount of panels you would need to be profitable). Anyways, hope it helps. You probably already knew all about it but thought I’d try and be helpful.

    • Thanks, Jacob! I’ll see if there are “feed-in tariff” agreements here. My first instinct says probably not since the net metering agreement is actually part of state law and a specific exception to the laws and regulations governing selling electricity (which are very onerous).

  • I am closing in on a year with solar. That is an incredible deal you got! I have 26 panels and I got a better deal than that, but didn’t have any rebate from the power company so your final cost is about half of what I paid.

    I have been producing much more than I expected and currently have a large credit with the power company. I expect to have made a few hundred bucks at the end of the year. My payback was expected to be 5 years, but it may end up being less.

    Oh, and I agree that rainy days make me cranky because my house is not earning me any money from solar!
    Vawt recently posted..Travel Rewards UpdateMy Profile

    • Thanks, Vawt! We know we got a heck of a deal and feel very lucky to have gotten the FPL rebate. =)

      Just out of curiosity – how much greater has your production been than anticipated? Did you end up lowering usage while you were at it without meaning to?

  • We are on a time of use plan now, so we try to avoid using the AC and dryer from 12-6 on weekdays in order to “sell” more power to the grid at the high rates (and buy back at half the price at night). At minimum we are more aware of our power usage from adding solar, so that could definitely be a factor.

    I also added 2 extra panels (they recommneded 24, we bought 26) to make sure it would cover our needs (2 growing kids). I expected to have a surplus for the first couple of years until our usage increases and the panel efficiencies drop a bit.

    I live in a very sunny area of California, so the averages used in the calculations were fairly conservative as well.

    The result is an expected dividend of well over $2,100 for the first year (I look at the savings each year from the purchase as a dividend that grows jsut like stock dividends).
    Vawt recently posted..Travel Rewards UpdateMy Profile

  • It’s hard for me to understand how anyone could be AGAINST solar power. Hello? Very strange. Anyway, congrats! It definitely sounds like a good move for you two!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Travel Hacking Our Way to ItalyMy Profile

  • So excited for you all! Coal states like Pennsylvania will never vote for solar panel rebates, unfortunately.

    In NJ, they have Solar City, a Elon Musk company, which installs solar panels at no cost to the owner, but Solar City retains ownership of the panels and charges a flat rate of electricity for the life of the panels to the homeowner. (Solar City also gets to keep the rebates). The company only exists in states with solar rebates but it’s a good option for people who want solar energy but don’t have the capital up-front. Since the flat electric rate stays at the rate you pay at the day of installation, it’s a great option for people on a fixed income. I sound like a sales woman, lol, but my cousin-in-law used to work for them and I wish they had it in PA!

  • EL

    Great use of the solar resources available to you in Florida. IT seems like you made a great decision. I always question if solar panels might affect the resale value or turn off a buyer because of how they look. If it is hidden as you say, I might consider getting a house with solar panels, if it shows in the front of the house, I might not consider it. Just my preference, good luck.
    EL recently posted..Break Down Expenses by Hours WorkedMy Profile

  • That’s cool to see it working out so far. At one point, we could have picked up a 65% fed+state tax credit (if we actually owed any fed taxes 😉 ) to offset the cost of an installed solar system. That, coupled with a $0.20/kWh long term purchase rate for solar energy meant we would be minting money like crazy. I think the ROI was something like 150% after 5 years (assuming we scrapped the unit and sold the panels for salvage).

    The tax subsidies have decreased and the purchase rate for green energy has also dropped so it doesn’t make as much financial sense any more. It would be a cool project though!
    Justin @ Root of Good recently posted..The Early Retiree’s Weekly ScheduleMy Profile

  • CincyCat

    I wish we had enough sunshine in Cincinnati to warrant the expense of investing in solar panels for our home. Maybe if the cost continues to fall, we’d reconsider it. We only average about 80 days of sunshine a year (2300 hours), which is among the lowest of major cities nationwide. I guess we could probably generate enough to keep our cell phones charged. 😉

    That said, our city zoo has built a huge solar grid over the parking lot, which generates a ton of electricity for the zoo (and shaded parking for guests!), but they have the advantage of scale to make it worthwhile.

    I also looked into wind turbines, but my house is in the middle of suburbia, with lots of very tall oak trees. I’d have to get a turbine at least 40-50 feet tall to make it work, and I don’t think the neighbors would like that idea too much.

  • Solar panels are on my list of wants for my house! The upfront cost is totally worth it considering how much you’re saving in the long run. Plus, you guys are making it sound even more awesome!
    Lisa recently posted..What the Golden State Warriors Can Teach Us About Our GoalsMy Profile

  • MD

    Not that it matters much with a 5 year ROI, but what will the impact to your power bill be as the panels age? I know you “right-sized” the system, but was that using new or end-of-life numbers?

    Regardless, Congrats!

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