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).
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.
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!
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.
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)
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?
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?