Friday, October 31, 2008

Going Solar in Howard County: My Experience

If you've ever thought of using solar power, Howard County offers one of the best deals in the U.S., and tax breaks make early 2009 a great time to do it. I'm doing several posts about it. First, let me tell you about my experience.

About a year ago I started checking into the possibilities of solar power for our home. I had heard about various tax breaks and incentives, but didn't know what they would mean for me. I started reading various web sites and contacted two of the most active solar installers in the area, Standard Solar (Gaithersburg, MD) and Chesapeake Solar (Jessup, MD). Both of them seemed very good, and I got site visits and quotes from both. Though their prices and offerings were similar, the Standard Solar representatives were a little more responsive, so I ended up working with them.

Both vendors started by recommending fairly large 3-5 kilowatt systems that ranged from $35-50K. As each of them started explaining the tax breaks and incentives, the prices came down almost in half, but the payback was still many years on the investment. The federal and state incentives were capped, at that point, at $2,000 and $3,000, respectively. I began to wonder if a smaller system that made more efficient use of the caps would come closer to paying for itself immediately.

Sure enough, I found that by installing a 1-2 kilowatt system with an initial outlay of around $15K I would recoup the cost of virtually the entire system through the various tax incentives. Those incentives are a little complicated and I'll go through them in a separate post. And they've become even more generous for 2009 which is why you really should start investigating solar yourself.

We ended up installing a small system in May 2008. The system was rated to offset less than 10% of our average monthly usage, but it was a start and, except for a battery backup option I added, it paid for itself in tax incentives.

Now -- here's the kicker. Since we installed the system, our whole family has become much more aware of our energy usage. We are much more proactive about turning off lights, keeping thermostats under control, and we've switched a few (but not nearly all) lights to flourescent bulbs. The result: our energy usage has declined by 35% since we installed the solar system. We've dropped from averaging over 1,800 KwH per month to less than 1,200 KwH.

So check out solar power in Howard County. It's something that's good for the country and good for you!

See the other posts in this series:
Going Solar in Howard County: Taxes and Incentives
Going Solar in Howard County: Battery Backup

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