Should you go solar? Installing solar panels can be a surprisingly complicated question. You’ve probably heard solar panels are good for the environment, but why? What is the process and is it expensive? And does it even work if you are in a colder climate? We recently made the decision to go solar, so I hope I can offer some insight into whether the decision might be right for you.
What does it even mean?
First, let’s talk about the panels themselves. What are solar panels? They are large panels that absorb sunlight and use it to generate electricity. Using the sun to produce the electricity we use is better for the environment than the ways we usually make electricity: combustion or nuclear fission. Solar energy is cleaner. You’re just using the sun. The sun is an unlimited source of energy, unlike coal, for example, which we can run out of eventually. We are not going to run out of sunlight in our lifetime. There are a lot of things in the pro column.
Here’s a video that explains the process of energy production.
Solar power sounds great, but is it right for you?
We live in Pennsylvania where it is cold, dark, and snowy for several months of the year. I wasn’t sure that going solar was going to be the best choice for our family. What I learned was that there are several types of solar panels and accompanying batteries. It’s true that here in PA we can’t really use the same type of battery they use in, say, Arizona. We just don’t get enough sun for long enough periods of time in our warm months to make up for our colder, darker ones. For a home the size of ours, it’s not really possible or practical with the technology we currently have to be completely off the grid. (This was kind of disappointing for me to learn and accept. I was hoping that our house would still be up and running in a snow storm if all our neighbors lose power. That’s just not the case.)
But is it still possible to go solar in colder climates? Yes!
The caveat is that you will probably have to tie your solar panels into the grid that is already servicing your neighborhood, like we did. There are companies who work with your current power provider to do this.
In our neighborhood, we worked with a company called SunRun. If you decide to contact them for more info, I’d appreciate it if you’d give them my name (Stephanie Giese) as your referral! We found them to be very professional and we did not feel pressured at all into making our decision. This is not a sponsored post, but I will get a credit if you mention my name as your referral.
Basically, the way that it works is that we have solar panels installed on our roof. We also have another box installed near our electric meter. We don’t have to do anything. The boxes talk to each other and the one from the solar company tells the one from the electric company how much energy we are producing from the sun. The goal for our house is to generate about 98% of the electricity we produce from our solar panels. We installed enough panels to overproduce in the summer, and give us credit in the winter. The solar energy goes into the grid. Instead of most houses, who are only taking electricity out of the grid, through the power of the sun, we give just as much in to our community’s power grid as we take. And the energy we put in is cleaner.
Does it save money?
Yes and also no.
The theory is that our solar bill replaces our electric bill. (Although there are still a few small fees, taxes, etc. we have to pay the electric company.) Our solar bill is locked into its current rate for the next 20 years. No matter how much our electric bill would have increased, our solar bill will be the same as it is now. It’s going to take us personally about six years to see any significant savings, but in the meantime our out-of-pocket costs are pretty much the same. (Eddie is very anal about making decisions like this. There were spreadsheets involved and formulas created to arrive at this conclusion.)
We are leasing our solar panels. There was no upfront cost at all, which was a huge plus for us. We are raising five kids, we do not have large sums of money sitting around to invest in things like solar energy. The rate for the solar bill is locked in, and our electric bill was not. So it’s likely that over time it will save us quite a bit of money, but at the moment it’s almost exactly the same cost as our average electric bill was. On the plus side, our monthly budget did not go up, it just stayed the same. On the downside, we won’t really see any significant savings for several years.
Like I said, we are locked in at our current rate for the next 20 years. There are several time periods built into the contract to give us a chance to buy the solar panels outright, or reassess the cost, or to change our minds. If we move our contract can be passed on to the next homeowner if they choose.
We also got a large Visa gift card from our internet company as a thank you for switching to solar, which was a nice perk!
What about the roof?
We were not at all thrilled with the idea of putting hundreds of holes in our roof. We appreciated that the panels are insured through SunRun and service to them is covered in our contract. They also insure the roof for any damage potentially caused by the panels and have liability coverage, just in case.
Aesthetically, I’m not going to lie, they aren’t pretty. It looks like you have gigantic mirrors all over your roof. This was the biggest turn-off for us. My husband especially wasn’t thrilled with the way they look. Unfortunately, they look like like solar panels because that’s what they are. There really isn’t any getting around that.
Did you need a permit?
Yes. SunRun worked with our local government to get all of the permission we needed. They also worked with the power company to tie us into the grid. They kept us updated throughout the process. We didn’t really have to do anything, except be home for parts of the installation.
You also need to have a home that can handle the panels. Not all houses are eligible. They will inspect your attic and electrical panel before installation can begin.
What if the technology improves and I’m stuck with outdated equipment?
My husband is an engineer, so he’s a huge technology buff. This was a big concern for him. We liked the idea that we aren’t purchasing the panels outright.We did not want to be stuck owning twenty-year-old technology at the end of our contract. There are time periods built in periodically when we can decide to upgrade, although the cost might be a bit more at that time.
Ultimately, we decided that it was kind of silly to hold off for years just because something might improve a bit in the future. We wouldn’t refuse to own a smartphone or tv at all for the next five years just because in a few years Apple or Google might come out with a better one. We decided to look at the solar panels the same way. It was worth it to us to be making an environmentally conscious decision in the meantime, even if we do end up with a slightly outdated version in a few years. The fact that there was no upfront cost and our power bill was going to be pretty much what we were paying anyway really helped to sway that decision.
Should I do it?
Only you can answer that.
If you are interested in going solar, it’s worth it to at least have a solar company come out for a consultation. We worked with SunRun, and were very happy with our experience, but I recommend researching a few companies in your area. Let me know what you decide!
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