A shot taken from a video of Todd Smith explaining his solar power set-up at his Jasper home. Follow this link to the Progress' YouTube channel to watch the video.
By Todd J. Smith
Two weeks ago I finally flipped the switch on my newly installed 4 KW (4,000 watt) solar system. It was
around 9:00 a.m. and after the 5 minute safety delay the data controller started showing power output and total power generated. It was a sunny day and I’ll have to say it was exciting to see the solar power output climb from
100’s of watts per hour in early morning to about 3,600 watts per hour by 1:00 p.m. It was like having a noisy gas generator running all day, but without the “noisy” and without the “gas.” Finally, the realization of a dream; quite, clean power supplied by the sun.
I can’t say it was easy to install the first time. It was like a bicycle that you had to assemble from a box but one where you had to order all the pieces yourself. I missed a few parts here and there that put the project on hold until the missed parts were ordered. The roof mounted rack system, trunk lines, micro-inverters and solar panels went on pretty smoothly. The panels simply plugged into the mirco-inverters which plug into the pre-made trunk line. It was the final wiring that had me scratching my head. I had to make sure it was right and probably would have flipped a breaker or two if it wasn’t for my neighbor Robert Poag, an engineer who does industrial-sized quality control systems. Like another neighbor, Justin Schill, who helped me mount the panels, Robert’s help was indispensable when it came to wiring the system from the trunk line to the disconnect boxes and finally to the panel box.
I used affordable-solar.com and altEstore.com for my solar purchases.
Like anything, after you’ve done it once, it seems easy. Would I recommend it to other do-it-yourselfers? Yes! But, here are two things to think about. First, the panel and inverter warranties state that they have to be properly installed or the warranty may be voided. So ask a lot of questions, look at installation videos and the installation manuals to make sure you are doing it correctly. Secondly, with the tax credits available, it may make more sense and save a lot of time and headache getting a trained installer to do the work for you. Lets say that the difference between installing it yourself and having someone else do it is $2,000. But the 30% federal tax credit saves you $600 in taxes so your actual cost is $1,400 if someone else does all the work.
Speaking of tax credits, I called the Georgia Department of Revenue to make sure the solar tax credit for Georgia was still available. It appears that the Georgia State tax credits for solar expired in 2012 and is no longer available unless the legislature votes it in again. So in the first article I told you wrong. Georgia no longer has a 35% state tax credit for solar at this time. My wife and I got the Georgia’s state tax credit on our solar hot water system and I mistakenly thought it was still available. Sorry, my mistake. The 30% federal tax credit is still available.
I didn’t install solar panels for the tax credits anyhow. I always believed in alternative energy and true American energy independence. I believe in our scientists and believe by burning fossil fuels we are changing our climate and the future well being of our children and the other creatures that share this planet with us. It’s time we did something about it.
I believe that the best way to address climate change is to put a fee or tax on carbon and return 100% of the collected revenue back to all citizens. But first of all I wanted to prove to myself and you that we can actually transition off of fossil fuels and that the transition makes economic sense for all of us.
My wife and I built an energy efficient home here in Jasper in 2007 with the idea of eventually installing solar hot water and solar electric. The plan was to build a home that was both carbon neutral, producing it’s power from non-carbon (non-fossil fuel) sources and saves money at the same time.
Solar is finally cheap enough that anyone can power their homes and cars with it! It simply hasn’t been spelled out for the average American. For home energy production the payback is reasonable (10–12 years) and for replacing gasoline by recharging an electric car, the payback is fantastic (2.8 years) and could really make America independent of foreign oil. Here is how:
Our next step will be to buy a used Nissan Leaf (all electric car) to drive in place of our 1996 Honda Accord. The Honda averages about 25 mpg city/hwy. The 4KW solar system we just installed will power the Nissan Leaf 15,000 miles per year. If we drove the Honda 15,000 miles per year it would cost $2,100 per year to buy the gas for it at $3.50/gal. So you save $2,100/year driving the Nissan Leaf instead, using solar power to charge it.
We paid $8,500 for our solar system and subtracting the 30% federal tax credit, it costed $5,950. Driving the Nissan Leaf from solar power will pay back the solar system in 2.83 years. If the federal tax credit was no longer available, it would only take 4.05 years to pay off the solar system in gas saving.
Let’s take this crazy, tree hugging, solar guru, idea one step further. On Craigslist you can buy used Nissan Leafs with 20,000 miles on them for about $15,000. If you drive the car 10 years (15,000 miles per year) charging it with solar power you would have put 150,000 miles on the car and it would then have 170,000 miles on it. If gas stayed at $3.50 per gallon for the next 10 years (that’s a laugh) you would save $21,000 in gas. The gas savings would pay off your solar panels the first 3 years and the next 7 years would pay off the Nissan Leaf. ($5,950 solar plus $15,000 Leaf = $20,950). You can now install solar at your home, declaring yours and America’s energy independence from big oil and big coal, and the solar power plant will pay for itself as well as your car.
Shazam! Now you can be a free market, greedy capitalist (aren’t we all) or a granola eating tree hugger (like me) and justify the transition to a green economy using solar. Either way, you can help make America truly energy independent and address climate change while saving yourself lots of moola! Solar is just plain smart!