Energy independence, stage two


Stacks of solar panels waiting to be installed.

Two weeks ago we had solar panels installed on our south-facing roof.  This is the second stage in our journey towards energy independence.  Last fall we put in a geo-thermal system.  It lowered our electric bills and made our house feel more comfortable with even temperatures throughout.  Next, we replaced all the lightbulbs with energy efficient ones, lowering our utility bill even more.  And now the final chapter:  solar power.

Pennsylvania is a state that allows for and even encourages alternative energy.  After installing geo-thermal, we got a 30% rebate on our Federal taxes, and another smaller check from the State.  That second check was a nice surprise.  Solar power also entitles you to a Federal rebate.  This, and a south-facing roof with nothing to block the sun’s rays, made solar power very attractive for us.


The front of our house before installation . . . one meter.


We decided to go with one of the larger companies serving the area.  Their sales people were knowledgeable, friendly, and responsive.    But like life itself, solar power does not provide instant gratification.  You have to work for it and you have to be patient.  Very patient.

Since we were new to the house we had no idea what our typical electric bill would look like.  Having a history of your power usage is key to the solar power process.  They need to know what you use when it’s cold, and what you use when it’s hot.  Armed with this information of your energy usage patterns they come up with a plan and determine how many panels you need.    The goal is to get to 85-90% of usage with the solar panels.  While in theory you get “paid” for any extra power you produce, it’s at a low price.  Bottom line, you don’t want to try to make money off of this venture.


The crew arrives. In all there were six, including an electrician.


By late March we were ready to go.  We had six months of electric bills, a survey, and a plan.   We would have 38 solar panels installed on our roof.  The date was set for May.  The crew arrived early and got to work.  Everything went smoothly except for rain during much of the day.  Success, right?  Not so fast.


Making good progress before it started raining.

This is what our salesperson forgot to tell us.  When you get solar power you need a bunch of people to sign off on it.  Multiple people have to inspect it.  But wait, before the inspection, another guy has to come and ground the copper wire that they left hanging down the front of your house.  The same morning I had another visitor.   The township inspector, hooray, I thought.  But no, it was someone contracted by the solar company to inspect the work to make sure everything looked okay.  He put a sticker on the box and went off to file his report.

Next step, I assume, is the township inspector.  Wrong!  The inverter got water in it because it was installed in the rain, so that had to be replaced.   And then, another inspection by the solar company.  We decided to stop by the township office to get the number of the local inspector.   We called him and left a message.  He came by two days later and left his sticker to show he approved the work.  The last step, the one before we can throw the switch – literally, as it happens, is the power company, otherwise known as PECO.   When are they coming?  Another call to the solar company.  The answer:  they have to send PECO a “package” and then they can schedule a visit.  This will take a month or two.


The job is done.

Let me take a moment here and give you a weather report.  After nearly a month of clouds, cold, and rain, we have had warm sunny days since early this week.  Wouldn’t this be a great time to have your solar panels soaking up the sun, saving up for those days in winter when you need some juice?

Didn’t your salesperson tell you about these inspections, asked the solar install guys last week?  When I said no they shook their heads and said “that’s not good.  He should have told you.”  You see, our salesman forgot to mention the three other inspections we needed before flipping the switch and the additional 1-3 months to get here.  I can see you calculating now  . . . yes, three months would take us to the end of summer and the long sunny days we need to generate power during the short sunless days.   This was not turning out the way I expected.

So here I sit, waiting for the inspections we need to go operational.  As I look out into the backyard I notice the cloudless sky and wonder when some of that will be working for me.  Stay tuned for the final chapter of this story.

After . . . more meters and the on/off switch. Still waiting . . .

After . . . more meters and the on/off switch. Still waiting . . .


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