Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Going Solar in Howard County: Expanded our System

Here's an update on our experience with solar electric panels in our home.

Last month we expanded our solar photovoltaic system from 1kW to 2kW, or from 6 panels to 12. We made the decision for two main reasons: we've been very happy with the initial installation and the cost savings we've seen, and with the new year we became eligible for a new round of federal, state and county tax credits and incentives.

In earlier postings I've talked about our initial experience with solar power, the financial incentives and battery backup. As reported earlier, we had initially seen savings in electricity usage of nearly 35%. I have to admit that as the winter days grew shorter and our evening energy usage rose, our monthly energy savings declined to as little as 10-15% of our former usage. Today I received my BGE bill for January, and it was actually higher than before we installed solar, but it was also the coldest month in several years, and we had a glitch in our solar power generation that I'll explain below. The bottom line is, after nearly a full year with a small solar electric system, I can say that our overall electricity usage has been reduced nearly 25%. Conservation, not actual solar power generation, accounts for the greatest portion of savings, but if we had not put in the solar panels I know we would not have been as energy conscious.

As for the financial incentives, it should work out that the entire cost of the nearly $8,000 expansion will be covered with tax credits and grants. As of January 1, the federal tax credit now covers 30% of the system without any limit, Howard County offers a property tax credit of 50% of the system up to $5,000, and we acted quickly to stay eligible for the state of Maryland grant of $2,500 per kilowatt of solar power generation installed. That makes any further energy savings or income from Renewable Energy Credits gravy for us. It's hard to argue with the economics of a small solar power system, especially in Howard County.

Our system provider, Standard Solar, did a fine job upgrading the system over two chilly days last month (I'm glad I wasn't the one scrambling around on the roof). For several weeks during the rest of that cold January we had a hiccup in that the system was not feeding excess power back to the electric grid, so we weren't getting the full benefit of the expanded system. I didn't notice it until last week and we got the issue sorted out quickly over the phone. Now, with the 2kW system generating power on a sunny day, I can actually see my meter running backwards, selling electricity back to the grid and cutting my BGE bill. It's a great feeling.

In sum, our experience with solar energy continues to be excellent, and I certainly encourage you to consider it for your own home and circumstances. The financial benefits remain attractive, and the environmental and psychic rewards are hard to beat, too.


Auntie E said...

We are ready to install solar in our home. found your page through search. great stuff. Hope it is working out better for you now.

Billz said...

As an update, yes the system's working fine and we've had no further trouble. We've enjoyed good savings all through the summer.

It's an eye-opening exercise to see how much our energy usage is driven by the temperature. We save a great deal by adjusting our thermostats and being a little more tolerant of warm and cool temps in the house.