We Installed Solar Panels: A Real-Life Green Energy Story

We Installed Solar Panels: A Real-Life Green Energy Story

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Jennifer Hunter
Oct 20, 2014
(Image credit: Jim Hunter)

Being the cool, conscious people that they are, my parents recently installed a solar panel system on our Oregon farm (that's the barn you're looking at). They tell me about it all the time so now I'm telling you. Curious how solar panels pan out in real life? Here's the scoop.

(Image credit: Jim Hunter)

Here's how it works: the solar panels are connected to the energy company's system which collects and keeps track of the extra energy they produce. My parents continue to use electricity normally (still hooked up to the grid) and if they produce more than they use, the extra is "banked" into an account so it can be withdrawn in winter months when the sun isn't as strong. At the end of March, if their balance is in the black, their account will reset and the excess credit will be donated to low-income people. My parents chose to install 12 solar panels which, under perfect conditions, can each produce 327 watts of electricity each hour.

From my dad:

Under the conditions we have (southern exposure with panels pointed due south) this system will produce about 5671 kW hours a year. Our household uses between 5800 and 6000 kW hours a year so the solar panels will cover between 90 and 97% of the electricity we need. Because it has been so sunny during the first month of operation, we've produced more electricity than we have used and banked the excess with the electric company to use at night and on dreary winter days when there's no sunlight.

Including installation, the solar system cost $19,000 but after federal tax credits, state tax credits and electric utility rebates, our actual out-of-pocket costs will be about $5200. With the reduction in our electric bill we should make this up in about six years. After that, for the remainder of the life of the system —about 25 to 30 years — we'll save money each month.

I have been keeping track for the last month to get a feel for how well this is working. It has been nice and sunny so, on average, we've been producing about 20 kW of electricity a day and using about 11, banking around 9 kW a day.

Do you have any experience with solar? Share the wealth in the comments.

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