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  • Mark McNabb

Adding Supplemental Solar even when it doesn't make cents.

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

We installed a 5 kWp system in a city that's blessed to have some (if not THE) cheapest electricity in the whole country. I mean the kinda cheap that lures the Frito Lays and Nestles of the world to our corner of the world. The kinda cheap that makes me only the second personal solar install in the whole City Water and Light service area.

I just couldn't help myself.

There's no justifiable cost/payback scenario. Even AEV Solar (just about the closest solar installer I could find at the time) wondered what I was thinking. Actually, I was thinking it'd be a part of a backup power system. Unfortunately, the first lesson I learned about solar power is that solar battery technology isn't quite up to speed with solar panel technology. Plugging in all the numbers to calculate my usage (I average 2600 to 5400 kWh per month), the load on even a Tesla Powerwall would have allowed me to keep my house up and running for mere minutes in case of a power outage. At a cost that even stopped me in my determined-to-make-this-work tracks.

So with that scenario (and its costs) eliminated, I was left with supplementing my current power usage, and the best I could calculate was helping at the rate of 12 to 15%. Saving that amount on a little over 5¢ per kWh (the national average is 13¢) doesn't add up to much sense or cents. And I'd have to spend $12,000 to do it. Actually, $8,000, since I could take $4,000 right off my tax payment as a Federal Tax Credit. That was all it took for me to agree to a system that would pay itself back in 40 years or so.

I have to say, I still like knowing it's out there pumping power into my electrical grid. So much, that I'm considering adding fixed-mount panels in my field. I kinda thought I might, so I did pay up for a little larger power unit that would allow for the added kW.

The geek in me shines through with the technology. I'm mesmerized by the app that displays EVERYTHING about the system, even down to the individual panels and their outputs (which vary since there are trees that diminish full sun as the day goes long).

The local power guys at CWL had a pretty good time with me. They had to install the first net meter in their system. They were also pretty interested in the system because they know as these systems go down in price, more will pop up in their grid. Especially since two coal-fired plants they currently co-own are being phased out over the next several years, and the effect on prices then are anybody's guess. At which point, I'll have to shave a few years off my payoff (unfortunate bonus!)

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