Go Solar! Our Experience Putting Solar Panels On Our Home, Part 1

by Rebecca Simpson on June 30, 2013

Our Solar Story

solar power for home

The purpose of this article is to share our personal experience installing solar panels on our home.  Our hope is by sharing the details as our project progresses we can encourage  folks to ask questions and learn more about solar energy.

Clean, Renewable Energy : Why Did We Go Solar?

For us, the decision to go solar by putting solar panels on our home was about making a commitment to live more sustainably. We wanted to utilize as much clean, renewable energy as possible in our daily lives.  We also wanted to vote with our dollars for renewable energy sources.  Finally, we wanted to actually participate in the production of clean energy, and maximize our otherwise unused roof space.  These reasons, combined with solar finally being affordable for our budget made going solar a reality.

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages of Solar Energy?

There are advantages and disadvantages to solar energy that we had to consider when making our decision to put solar panels on our home.

The advantages to solar energy are:

  • Being able to be producers (and not just consumers) of clean, renewable energy.
  • The only habitat impacted by our decision was our roof.
  • Our climate (Southern California) is sunny well suited for solar energy production.
  • We save money on our electric bill now and in the long run.
  • We help create jobs and support an industry we believe in.
  • By going first and sharing our experience, we can help set an example in our community.
  • We’re protected from rate hikes on the solar energy we produce and buy.
  • Solar panels are low maintenance.
  • Producing solar energy does not create greenhouse gasses.
  • We don’t own the panels or equipment, so we don’t have to worry about keeping up with repairs, maintenance, damages, etc.  That’s the solar company’s problem.
  • A huge initial cash investment isn’t the only way to go solar anymore.  Other options that still made financial sense and fit our budget were available.

The disadvantages of solar energy are:

  • We won’t produce power at night.
  • We can’t store the energy we produce.
  • We will still need to use some energy from the grid.
  • If there is a natural disaster, we can’t use our panels to generate power (more on this in a later post).
  • Cloudy days are not our friend.
  • Solar panels need a lot of space.
  • The have a visual impact on your home.  This may cause issues with neighbors, homeowner’s associations, etc.
  • Solar panel efficiency is rather low compared to other forms of renewable energy.

All in all, the advantages for us outweighed the disadvantages, so we decided to commit and move forward with our solar power system.

How Does A Solar Power System Work?

solar power system The solar power system we chose involves solar panels (made from pv or photovoltaic cells), an inverter, our electrical panel, our utility meter, and the grid.  It works like this:

  1. The solar panels (A) are installed on our roof and will produce electricity when hit by sunlight.
  2. The electricity travels to the inverter (B) where the direct current (DC) produced by the solar panels is converted to alternating current (AC).
  3. The power then flows to the electrical panel, also known as the breaker box (C).  It is now available for use.
  4. The utility meter (D) measures the solar power generated.  When you generate more than solar energy than you consume, you spin the meter backwards and earn a credit from the electric company for the power you produced.
  5. The excess solar energy you produce goes to the grid (E). You will also draw energy from the grid for the times when you aren’t producing solar energy, such as at night.

What Is The Solar Panel Installation Process?

It can take several months from the moment you make the decision to sign up to the time the panels are turned on and you begin producing solar power.  Here are the steps of our solar panel installation and our status:

  • Sit with a sales rep to see if your home is a good candidate for solar. If yes, and the rest makes sense, sign up. (complete)
  • An engineer then comes out for an energy audit to look at your roof and confirm it is structurally sound and can support the panels, etc. They look at the roof, the rafters, your electrical box, take readings on the sun, and more. These details will feed into the design phase and also serve to cross check the info the sales rep told you to ensure accuracy. (complete)
  • our solar power system designThe engineering information is sent to the design team who draw up the exact design for your installation. These plans will be used for the project, but also submitted to the electric company and whatever municipal entity is responsible for working with the company to issue permits, etc. (complete)
  • The municipal entity and the electric company take their sweet time approving the plans and doing their thing. (complete)
  • In our case, the electric company will have to come out to the house to replace our aging electrical panel and move it to a new location.  This is being done at no additional cost to us.  However, it will involve a full day without power while the electric company installs the new electrical panel and reconnects the overhead wires. (scheduled for July 8th)
  • After the new panel is installed, the city inspects and approves it the following day. (scheduled July 9th)
  •  Upon approval, installation happens. (pending, projected for December. I think it will be much sooner than that, but they project for the maximum amount of time).
  • After installation happens, it is inspected. If everything passes, you are given permission by the utility company to turn your system on. You have to wait for approval so nobody dies. It’s a safety thing. (pending)
  • Boom! You’re done. Welcome to solar power. (pending)

Updates To Come

Now that you are up to speed, we will keep you updated on the details as the project progresses.  Please feel free to ask any questions you may have on our experiences, we are happy to answer them.

Please Share!

Help spread the word by sharing this article! [sharexy]The more people know about the process, the better.  We are hoping to encourage questions and dialogue about making home solar power a reality for many.  Thank you!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly Rogers July 21, 2013 at 8:03 pm

I like your post. It looks comprehensive to me. But you said part 1 so I know more is coming. 🙂 I like it that you wrote the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy and the timeline of the project. It’s so down to earth and very easy to follow. I hope the personnel at avic-intl.com.au will be as helpful as your article.

Reply

Rebecca Simpson October 17, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Hi There! Thanks for your comment, I apologize it took so long for me to get back to you. We finally went live this week, so an update is on the way. I hope your solar company gives you the excellent service you deserve as a solar custome. Feel free to le me know how your project goes!

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