When I make these posts, please understand I’m not advocating for what we’re doing, I’m just sharing info about what we’re doing and what we’re discovering. It seems like if we talk to five different solar installers, we get five different answers so please take my info with a grain of salt and do your own research. Different regions seem to offer different rebates/incentives and in the areas where there are incentives, there is more info available because more consumers are taking advantage of the solar alternatives. Here, there are no rebates/incentives, other than the federal tax credit, and our power is fairly inexpensive so the cost vs. recovery ratio just isn’t there and therefore, there’s not much effort in this area to capture the solar energy.
Another aspect for us is that we’re concerned about the state of the nation’s electrical grid. If you are not concerned . . you probably have little interest in being responsible for your own power needs. I’m not saying you should be concerned . . I’m just saying we are concerned. I am not going to go into the reasons we’re concerned but would recommend that you do your own research.
Also, I could care less about the storms or local issues that might bring our power down for a few days or even a few weeks. Except to fill our water storage tanks, we’d probably never turn on a generator until at least a week with no power. Our concern is a failure that could leave us without power for months.
There seem to be two categories of folks who are interested in alternative power.
- Those who are interested in being as “green” as possible and in reducing their electric costs.
- Those who want to be responsible for their own power needs and not reliant on the electric company.
We fall into that second group.
The least expensive solar system would be one without batteries. Basically, we would store none of our energy and as soon as the sun was behind a cloud or it was dark, we’d be using power from the electric company. This system provides absolutely no power when the grid is down or when the power is off. Since our concern is the power grid, we have no interest in this system.
This is what we’ve learned since last week, when we thought we knew all we needed to know about solar energy:
- The power companies in our area are just not enthusiastic about solar power. Few will buy back the excess power and those who do, only give you a fraction of what they’re charging you for that same power. We were initially led to believe that if you transfer back 1,000 kW, then it goes into a “bank” and when you need . . say . . 300 kW, you just draw it from your “bank” and there’s still 700 kW waiting to be used, at no charge. No . . we may be paying 11¢ per kW and if we transfer back 1,000 kW, we will get 6¢ credit for the first 500 kW and 3¢ back for the remaining kW.
- In order to transfer unused power back, we have to have a “smart meter”. First, I do not want a smart meter and I was on the band wagon contacting politicians and our public service committee to keep them from making it mandatory that we get smart meters. Second, I’m not even sure smart meters are available in our rural area. It doesn’t matter . . I will not get one.
Those two issues mean we will not sell our excess power back to the electric company.
That leaves us with a whole new set of questions/solutions. The solar system, with batteries, that we were looking at would provide all of our needs EXCEPT run the central air conditioner.
Options we are considering as of this moment . . and if I had to guess, these will change before we do any actual installation:
- Purchase a 20 kW propane generator and buying several more propane tanks. I’ve read (and who knows what’s true) that with conservative use of propane, a 1,000 gallon tank could supply needs for 4 – 6 months. I would count on the 1,000 gallons lasting us 4 months max. In theory, we should be able to flip a switch if the power goes off and the propane generator would power our entire house. It’s basically a whole house generator. Factoring just the cost of the propane (not the tanks themselves that we would have to purchase, not the cost of the generator and not the cost of the electrician to hook it all up), that would make our energy costs about $750/month. Not only is that more than we’re willing to pay, but it leaves us dependent on getting the propane tanks refilled. I don’t imagine we would ever have more than 6 months worth of propane (if we were using it to power the generator) on site.
- Taking the shop completely off grid. We would leave only enough power in the shop to charge the batteries when the sun wasn’t charging them. We could install a 5kW system in there, with batteries. The shop has the sewing room that is air conditioned. The two big freezers are in the shop so we would keep them running. There’s a refrigerator in there. There’s a washer, dryer and gas stove in there, though we don’t keep them hooked up. The well could be powered from the energy produced by the solar panels.
At this moment, the above two paths seem to be the way we’re headed. As soon as we add the solar system, we’ll take the shop off the grid except for the backup battery charging system. No power will go back to the utility company. The power to the shop will stay, just be disconnected, so that we can always go back to traditional electric company power if/when we decide to do it. The 5kW system will be much less expensive to install but it will provide us with enough power to do the things we need to do to be comfortable if there’s no power for an extended period. We would go ahead with the 20kW propane generator and an extra tank or two just for backup. The propane tanks will all be “piggybacked” so that we will be using propane for them on a daily basis. I think this winter has proven the cost benefit in having plenty of propane purchased when the cost is low. Our tanks were filled when propane was $2/gallon. I believe in our area it got to near $5 per gallon but we still have plenty of that $2 propane in our tanks.
There is so much to learn and just when we think we know what we’re going to do, we get info that makes re-think what we’re planning to do. At least we’re doing lots of research and learning more about alternative forms of energy than we ever thought we needed to know.