One electric car owner's experiences in adding solar panels: why, what, and how (updated) Page 3

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Photovoltaic solar panel installation on house, Fremont, California [image: Shiva Singh]

Photovoltaic solar panel installation on house, Fremont, California [image: Shiva Singh]

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Our system had already produced more than 1 megawatt-hour of electricity after just a couple of weeks. We consume about 1,500 kWh a month, so the system will easily cover that monthly amount and even produce a small excess credit.

In the unlikely event that we increase our electric use beyond what we produce, we remain able to purchase energy from PG&E at the cheapest off-peak rate. As of now, we are producing energy and selling it back to PG&E during their peak demand hours.

Considering our total cost, the 30-percent federal tax credit, and the PACE program with a 10-year payback term, our cost of production is now $0.06/kWh.

This is less than half the average cost we paid to PG&E on our most recent electricity bills: $0.14/kWh overall! (Although the off-peak rate that accounts for 80 percent of our usage is $0.1225/kWh, the on-peak rate is $0.45389, and the "mid-peak" rate is $0.24986/kWh.)

The entire system will have paid for itself in less than six years.

PG&E electric bills for house, Fremont, California [image: Shiva Singh]

PG&E electric bills for house, Fremont, California [image: Shiva Singh]

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PG&E electric bills for house, Fremont, California [image: Shiva Singh]

PG&E electric bills for house, Fremont, California [image: Shiva Singh]

Enlarge Photo
PG&E electric bills for house, Fremont, California [image: Shiva Singh]

PG&E electric bills for house, Fremont, California [image: Shiva Singh]

Enlarge Photo
PG&E electric bills for house, Fremont, California [image: Shiva Singh]

PG&E electric bills for house, Fremont, California [image: Shiva Singh]

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If you decide to install a solar system at your house, here are some tips:

  • Get multiple quotes from different installers and companies. Our local installer’s cost proved to be 25 to 30 percent lower than what such large nationwide companies as Solar City/Tesla, Sunrun, and SunPower offered.
  • Be wary of the many publicly-traded solar companies now facing bankruptcy or under investigation by the SEC for cancelling contracts.
  • If you have a time-of-use plan, your installer should not calculate the size of your solar system solely based on the electricity you’re consuming. The analysis should factor in your highest, on-peak usage to get an accurate overall cost per kilowatt-hour. In other words, include when you use your energy, not just how much you use.

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

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  • If you have a tile roof as we do, make sure your installer will fix and/or replace any broken tiles. Only the installer we chose specifically said he would fix and/or replace broken roof tiles and put that into our contract. He ended up charging us a price that was about 15 percent higher to take this into account. No other bidder even mentioned it, leading me to believe that if tiles were damaged, they would have left them like that—leaving us vulnerable to a leaky roof next winter.
  • If your city is eligible to participate in PACE, I’d recommend taking full advantage of it against an outright purchase or taking out a loan. Not only can you deduct the interest portion of the higher property taxes from your itemized federal income-tax return, but if you sell your house before the term completes, the deduction and payments transfer to the next owner.
  • Find out what brand of solar panels you will be using. Different photovoltaic panels can differ in quality and efficiency. Our LG panels, manufactured in South Korea, come with a warranty guaranteeing 85 percent of capacity over 25 years. SunPower has the most-efficient panels, guaranteeing 90 percent production over 25 years, but they cost more per watt.
  • You may need to upgrade the electrical service to your home to install solar panels. We had to install a 35-amp circuit breaker in the main panel that connects to the inverter, as required by city code. Luckily, we already had 200-amp service in our newer house. Our previous house had only 100-amp service, so we would have needed a panel upgrade to add solar, which our installer said would be an additional cost of $2,000 to $4,000.

Tesla Motors production line for Tesla Model S, Fremont, California

Tesla Motors production line for Tesla Model S, Fremont, California

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As our system powers our home and our electric cars, we plan to track our energy production against our consumption.

The mobile app for our SolarEdge inverter tracks everything in real time, so I can see graphs of the energy produced in a given day or week, the kilowatt-hours generated at a particular hour, and more.

I hope to provide an update on our experience, as we now have a net-metering agreement with PG&E and will no longer pay monthly PG&E bills

Instead, the utility will conduct an annual “true-up,” at which point PG&E will look at what we produced from our solar system against what we consumed.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this article said that, under the PACE program, the full amount of property taxes paid could be deducted on the owner's itemized federal return. However, IRS guidance says only the interest portion can be deducted—not the entire amount of the PACE funding added to the property bill. We have updated the article accordingly. As always, for tax advice, please consult your local CPA or tax professional.

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