I’m Just About to Install Solar. Here’s What I’m Looking to Get out of It…

September 13, 2016 | 3:16 pm
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

My rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system is finally set to be installed. Now I find myself on the edge of solarization, and I want to be clear—with myself at least—why I’m doing this. Just what am I hoping to get out of it?

My journey so far

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory Workers install PV modules on an Englewood, CO, home. Jobs are just one of the economic benefits that come from the increased investment in renewable energy spurred by state renewable electricity standards.

The stage I’ll be at soon (Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Astute readers of this blog will notice that I’ve been on this journey for a while. I figured out many moons ago that my excuses for not going solar really didn’t hold water. I figured out the steps needed for going solar, and followed suit. And I got quotes for our very own PV system, and signed up for a quality system from a quality company.

Winter and I slowed things down, though. I needed to reroof to make sure that our shingles will last the many decades the PV system will. I spent time looking at opportunities to do some extra insulating up there as part of the prep work. And it actually took a bit to figure out who could move my 10-year-old solar hot water system to make way for the PV and the reroofing.

I also had to work out the finances. Despite all the paperwork involved, though, arranging for a home equity line of credit actually turned out to be smoother than some of the other steps.

Bringing it home—but why?

Now that my solar is about ready to go, here are five key reasons why I think this makes sense:

1. Electricity. This one seems pretty obvious. Electricity is going to flow down from those quiet blue rectangles on my roof, and power things in my house or out in the neighborhood, depending on how much electricity we’re using at home at any given moment. That seems… empowering. Pretty sweet, really. Almost miraculous.

Solar PV modules -- what I'm aiming for

One advantage of my self-inflicted delays, actually, was that an even more efficient PV module came on the market, which means I’ll be able to get even more power from my limited roof space.

2. Energy security. The fact that my PV system will generate power onsite offers some advantages. I won’t be able to capture all those advantages until and unless I add some batteries; no energy storage means that if the electricity grid goes down, my system will go quiet, for safety’s sake. But given how quickly the storage industry is advancing, it might not be long till I can weather power outages by temporarily disconnecting from the dark grid, charging batteries when the sun is shining, and tapping that storage when it’s not.

3. Financial gain. Solar’s incredible price drops over the last 6-8 years (and even over the last few months) have meant that people interested in going solar can increasingly justify it in terms of the financial picture. In some parts of the country solar has actually become the best option for more power, bar none.

I’ve seen friends, using a combination of price drops, bulk buying, and incentives, earn a payback of as little as 3-4 years in some cases. That ~20% annual return on investment would qualify solar as an outstanding move in just about any investment climate.

My circumstances are a little different because of my funny roof orientation, shading, and the municipal utility that I’m connected to. My payback will also depend on whether I sell the solar renewable energy credits (SRECs, the “solarness” from my system).

But the system does look set to pay for itself over time. And financing my purchase—breaking down my investment into monthly payments—will make it easy to see how my monthly utility bill savings offset my solar costs during the financing period.


Not a solar panel.

4. Environment. No question about it: Solar’s a great tool for cleaning up our nation’s electricity supply. From an environmental perspective electricity generation without carbon emissions, other pollution, or waste beats power from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, hands down. More solar means climate change benefits, better public health, less pressure on our country’s water resources, and more.

5. Excitement. This is a big one for me. Studies have shown that putting solar on your house appreciably bumps up the odds of your neighbors getting solar. A colleague who went solar last year proudly told me recently that her next-door neighbor added solar in July, and her backyard neighbor went solar last month. And another neighbor just called to ask about solar because he’s “thinking seriously” about it.

Solar, basically, is contagious.

My town still has very few homes with solar (I know of only a few, out of 4,000+ houses). I want to motivate as many my neighbors as I can.

Taking it to the streets

The challenges that our traditional energy approaches present—and the opportunities that clean energy offers—are way bigger than any one rooftop system. But if we can bump up our positive impacts by getting a friend or two to go solar, and then have them tell two friends, and so on… our PV panels will put a little bit more wind (or sun) in the sails of the clean energy transition.

Not a bad day’s work for one little collection of quiet blue rectangles.

My expectations are high. But I have every reason to believe that my PV system-to-be will live up to them.

Posted in: Energy

Tags: solar

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.