Finance / Investing / Solar Installation / Solar Ownership

“To Go Solar or Not To Go Solar?”

Chatting with solar system owners is always fun and extremely enlightening.  This week, I had a really fascinating and educational discussion with our customers Steven and Amanda Judd.  Steven and Amanda are highly-educated consumers. They are the proud owners of a 9.81 kW solar system. They own an electric car, and Steven has a master’s degree in electrical engineering.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

We’ve had a busy year.  We just got married and bought a new house.

Amanda: I am a registered nurse at Chicopee Dialysis.

Steven: I am a transmission planning engineer with ISO New England.  (Chris note: ISO New England oversees the operation of New England’s bulk electric power system and wholesale electricity markets.)

Q: What attracted you to solar?

We have a great location for solar.  The back of our new house faced south, and didn’t have any tall trees to cast shade on the panels.  Our system is also hidden from the front of the house, which was an important part of the decision for Amanda.

For us, it was about the financial benefits and energy independence.  We were familiar with the solar incentives available, such as the tax credits.  We also had the benefit of Amanda’s father’s experience; he has had a solar system for almost 4 years and has been really satisfied.  We also own a 2011 Chevrolet Volt extended range electric vehicle, so PV would help make our car even cheaper to operate.

Lastly, there was a ‘geeky’ electrical engineer factor.  What power engineer wouldn’t want their own power station in their backyard?

Q: Generally speaking, is ownership important to you?

When something is on our property, then yes, it is important to own.  And you have no equity if you lease something, like a car.

Q: You mentioned that you had a comprehensive approach to going solar.  Tell us more about it.

Since solar is a large financial commitment, we wanted to make sure we chose the right company.  Before getting a quote from an installer, we had a year’s worth of electricity and gas bills for an accurate energy consumption estimate.  We ultimately had 4 different companies come to the house for quotes.  Our goal was to maximize power output on my main roof.  Our quotes ranged from a 6.37kW system to a 9.81 kW system, annual production from 6700 kWh to 11,200 kWh and prices ranged from $0 down to nearly $48,000.  It was complicated, we had 8 different system plans to choose from that included cash purchase and power purchase agreements.

We created a spreadsheet so we could make an apple-to-apples comparison.  We compared system size, estimated system annual output, and total upfront costs of each system from the proposals.  We then set the same assumptions across all quotes for tax incentives, utility rates and the price of SRECs over a 10-year period.  I then calculated total estimated revenue, total savings, and an annual rate of return over 20 years.

Table used by Steven & Amanda Judd to choose the right solar option

Table used by Steven & Amanda Judd to choose the right solar option

With a cash purchase, the homeowner purchases the whole system up front.  They get all tax credits and incentives, along with all maintenance and repair costs.  With a PPA, the solar company owns the system on your roof.  The solar company gets all tax credits and incentives and takes on all maintenance/repair costs.  Then the homeowner pays the solar company for the energy that the PV system produces.

Q: Why did you select your installer and solar ownership?

We ultimately decided on a cash purchase because we wanted to own the system and not enter into a PPA.  The annual revenue was much greater with a cash purchase, even with the worst case scenario with my SREC’s.  If the prices on SRECs increase, it’s just money in the bank.  This situation would certainly change depend upon where you live and your annual energy usage. 

We also chose my installer because I had seen their work on our parent’s residence.

Q: Did you have any concerns on ownership and any maintenance that would be involved?

Amanda’s father has had solar for 4 years, and he has not had any maintenance at all.  This helped us build confidence in solar and in ownership.  Our system also includes a 5-year warranty on the installation and labor.  If there was an issue with the installation, we would expect to see the problems within the first year.  The only other maintenance involved with ownership is to replace an inverter in 5-10 years.  By the time we need to replace it, it may be less expensive than what it costs right now.

Q: What does Solar Wealth mean to you?

It’s about energy independence, driving an electrical vehicle and not depending as much on foreign oil.

Q: So you’re pretty happy with your Chevy Volt?

Steven: I’ve had my Volt for nearly 2 years.  It’s very different to drive than gas or even a hybrid.  The acceleration is great.  Believe me, I also own a Pontiac Firebird TransAm V8 with a 6-speed manual transmission. It’s like toys for a kid.  With the Volt, you can go 40 miles all electric without having to switch to the gas generator.  It can plug into any 120V outlet and charge in about 10 hours.  I have a 240V outlet so it charges in less than half of the time or about 3.5 hours.  The car has a 5-star crash safety rating and I don’t have any range anxiety, when the battery runs out, I run on gas at 40mpg until I get home and plug it back in.  I go about 2 months on average between fill-ups at the gas station.  I’ve learned a lot about electric vehicles; I wrote my master’s thesis on examining the impact of plug-in hybrid vehicles and how they could be used as a source of stored energy for the power grid to reduce operational costs and increase grid reliability.

Q: First a Chevy Volt, now a PV System.  What’s next?

New technology is always cool.  I installed a TED5000 home monitoring system to monitor our home “microgrid” including our main panel, our solar system and our Volt charger as a sub-set of our main panel.  It is a cool gadget for geeky electrical engineers to monitor home energy usage and production, and figure out how much everything costs.

READER FEEDBACK: If you had a good site for solar, what are some of the changes you could make in your life to switch to cleaner energy sources?  What technology would you take advantage of?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Steven and Amanda Judd in front of their Chevy Volt

Steven and Amanda Judd in front of their Chevy Volt

Judd Residence with 9.81 kW system, January 2013.

Judd Residence with 9.81 kW system, January 2013.



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