Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Going Solar!

I've been researching solar electricity systems for a couple of years now but the systems have always been cost-prohibitive, especially if you don't plan on staying in your house for a long time.

Several companies are starting to market a new lease option where you don't own the solar equipment, you just lease it. This is a very attractive plan because you start saving money in the very first month. As long as you have good credit, you can get a lease option with zero money down. The lease payment increases slightly over time, but this should balance with the increase in electricity costs over the years. The other advantage to an equipment lease is that you are never on the hook for maintenance or repairs. The lease may not be good for everyone, but it's a very attractive option for most people and I highly encourage you to look into it if you're thinking about solar.

After researching several options, I decided to go with a company called Sungevity. They have a very attractive lease package and some nice promotions going on right now. They can have an initial solar design to you via email in a matter of days, maybe even hours, by using Bing maps to site-survey your house online. Initially they designed a pretty small system for me. I requested that I wanted to maximize my savings even more so they came back with a larger system. The larger system carried a higher lease payment, but generated more power. For my system proposal the lease payment would be $89 dollars per month. Sungevity guarantees a power output each year, so if the system under-performs they write a check for the difference. Their guarantee for my first year was about 6100 kilowatt-hours. This averages out to about 510 kWh per month. Given that those units are in SDG&E's tier 4 price structure, they cost me about .31 cents per kWh. 510 * .31 = $158 dollars/month savings based on their guarantee. Since I'm sure they don't want to write checks to their customers, I'm assuming that my actual system output will be higher than this and hope for something between 550-600. Of course this will depend on the time of the year as well, so I'm only talking averages.

So, with a $160 dollar savings to my utility bill, minus the $89 dollar lease payment, I'm guaranteed a savings of about 70 dollars per month starting with the very first month. The only downside I can see at this point to signing the lease agreement is that I'm responsible for the lease for 15 years. If I want to sell my house before the lease is up, I have a couple of different options. One is to pay out the rest of my lease but the more attractive option is to sign the lease over the buyer. As long as the buyer qualifies credit-wise, they can assume the lease payment. If the buyer sees the savings that I'm getting every month, it would be a no-brainer for them to take over the lease. The hard work has been done, they can just enjoy the savings every month.

When the lease is up, you can renew it again, buy it out, or let them pick up the equipment. Sungevity includes free monitoring as well as all maintenance. This makes sense given that they guarantee the system output. If a panel breaks, becomes blocked or needs to be cleaned, its in their best interest to do it.

I think I'll be really happy with this system and I'm looking forward to the install. Unfortunately they have about a 14-week lead time because this requires pulling permits and dealing with the power company. I'm pretty impressed with what I've seen so far and will keep my blog updated as to the progress.

If you're interested in solar I'd highly recommend you talk to my salesperson, Jarrett Holt. In addition, Sungevity has a nice referral program. If you use my referral number we'll both receive $500 dollars on top of any other incentives. Be sure to mention my name and referral code of 115952 when you call.

10/14/11 - Signed the lease agreement with Sungevity
10/18/11 - Received a call and follow-up email from my project manager, Ian Petrich. We scheduled the on-site survey for 10/24.
10/19/11 - Received FedEx packet with contracts and authorizations to sign.
10/20/11 - Contracts sent back to Sungevity via FedEx
10/24/11 - Asgard Electric arrives for the site survey.  They inspect the attic, roof, internet router and electric system.
11/2/11 - Received follow-up email from Ian letting me know that they are reviewing the results of the site survey and making sure that the initial plan meets local building codes and will work for the roof.
1/12/12 - Received an email sometime back in December that my new project manager is Jan York.  Spoke with her today about my system and they have to make some changes based on local codes.  I also informed them that the new roof is going on the house today which takes care of any issues they had with the roof quality.  The will be finalizing the system with the new information and hopefully getting back to me soon.  It sounds like because of fire codes in this area they have to keep a 36" walk space around all panels which gives them less roof to work with.  They asked that I relocate my satellite dish if possible to increase my system size.
3/20/12 - As of a month or so ago I was assigned a new project manager.  Today I contacted them about my install date since it had been awhile.  My PM called me back and said they were able to expedite the install to April.  They also were able to upgrade my panels from Schuco 185's to 190's which produce a little more power (5 watts per panel).
3/21/12 - The electrical plan was submitted to SDG&E and approved within a couple of hours.  SDG&E states that their next step is to inspect the system after it is installed.  Hopefully we'll get an install date from Asgard Electric soon.
4/16/12 - Tony at Sungevity called and said they were trying to get Asgard to do installation this week and would get back with me later.
4/18/12 - Tony confirmed that Asgard would start installation on 4/19 completing installation on 4/20 and scheduling inspection for 4/23.
4/19/12 - Asgard arrived today and installed the solar unit on the side of the house and began attaching the panel anchors to the roof.  http://gspence.smugmug.com/Projects/Solar-Install/
4/20/12 - Asgard spent today finishing most of the installation.  At the end of the day there were still a few things to be done.
4/23 - 4/27 - Asgard made several trips out to tie up loose ends and complete the installation.  The city inspector also came and passed inspection on the entire system.
4/30/12 - SDG&E inspected the system and said we were now able to being using it.  They switched us to a NET metering account which is a special account that you only need to pay yearly for your energy usage.  With SDG&E, if you produce more than you used in a month, you receive energy credits you can use during another month where you didn't produce as much.  SDG&E will not currently pay you for overages.
4/31/12 - Today was the first day of operation.  Unfortunately it was a cloudy day, but still produced 15 kWh of clean energy!
5/1/12 - Produced 19 kWh
5/2/12 - Produced 20 kWh