Visit the The Foothills Sun-Gazette website
August 08, 2006
Harnessing the summer heat
Solar-panel systems can nearly eliminate your electric bill for the year
EXETER, California (STPNS) -- Charlie Klint pays about $100 for electricity. That sounds like a dream to those of us paying between $300-$400 each month. But that?s not a monthly bill for Klint, it?s an annual one.
Klint is a photovoltaic designer for National Builders Supply (NBS) in Farmersville, Calif. which specializes in solar-powered panels for commercial and residential systems. He is also the proud owner of a solar-panel system that has nearly eliminated his electric bill for the past four years.
?I have the freedom to live comfortably,? Klint said.
Even during a record heatwave this summer, Klint set his home?s temperature between 72 and 75 degrees all-day long, even when he isn?t there and is running two air conditioning units to cool his 2,800-square-foot home.
?I?ve even pulled my car into the garage, closed the door and then opened the door to the house to cool it down while I work on my car,? Klint said.
Thanks for rubbing it in!
According to his statement from Southern California Edison, the only months Klint?s system didn?t produce more power than he used were the months during the hottest (June-August) and coldest (December-January) times of the year.
The cost of a solar-powered or photovoltaic system starts at about $9,000 ? for a system that will partially power your home ? to much more expensive ones, depending on how much energy your household uses in an average year. While that?s not pocket change, Klint said there are a number of ways to dwindle that down to a more affordable number.
Regardless of the size of the solar-powered system you need, you can get about 30% of it paid for thanks to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger?s California Solar Initiative. Approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Jan. 12, 2006, the program earmarked $2.8 billion for a solar rebate program over the next 10 years. California has set a goal to create 3,000 megawatts of new, solar-produced electricity by 2017.
About $50 million is available this year through the California Energy Commission (CEC). The Energy Commission will work with builders and developers on solar electricity systems for new residential building construction; specifically on single family, low-income, and multifamily apartment buildings. The Energy Commission will continue working with school districts and local governments to get them to ?go solar.? After Jan. 1, 2007, the CPUC will focus on existing buildings, both residential and commercial.
The average household in California uses about 6,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the CEC. That means the average home would need about a 4.82 kW system, which should provide all of your home?s power needs for a year. According to the CEC, a system that size would cost anywhere from $38,000 to $48,000. The CEC offers a rebate program, which is actually a buy down, that covers $2.60 per watt produced by the system, or about $12,000 for the average home system (4,800 watts), or 25-30% of the total cost.
The $12,000 is billed directly to the CEC, so the customer is only billed and taxed for the remaining 60-75% of the total cost. There are also state and federal tax credits offered that reduce the cost even further. The federal government offers a maximum tax credit of $2,000. The state offers a tax credit of 7.5% of the net cost of the system or $4.50 per watt of rated peak generating capacity, whichever is less. Using the CEC?s average household figures, that would equal about $1,800, bringing the final cost of the system to around $22,000-$24,000.
Klint said he financed his home system by taking out a second mortgage. With the money he saved on his monthly electric bill over the course of a year he was able to pay off the mortgage early.
?The principal and interest on a 10-year mortgage is going to be less than your monthly bill from Edison,? Klint said.
A list of financing options is available at www.consumerenergycenter.org.
To be eligible for the rebate and tax credits, the system must be: installed by a licensed photovoltaic contractor; have all new major components not previously used; include a system performance meter to measure the amount of energy being produced; and, most importantly, be interconnected with the state?s electricity grid distributed locally through Southern California Edison (SCE).
Called net metering, SCE measures the difference between the electricity you buy from them and the electricity you produce through your solar panels. The agreement allows you to use the power you generate first, which lowers the amount you are buying from SCE. When you generate more electricity than you use, your meter spins backward and the electricity goes on to the region?s power grid.
This process benefits both the homeowner and SCE by making sure every ounce of energy is used efficiently. For example, when you are not home during the day, your solar panels are producing the most amount of energy when you are using the least amount of energy. All day long, your meter is probably spinning backwards. When you return home from work, your meter begins spinning forward working its way back to zero.
?You might not be home using energy, but somebody else is,? Klint said.
Because your meter can show a negative amount of electricity used in a month, SCE bills those with photovoltaic systems on an annual rather than monthly basis. You will continue to receive a monthly statement, but do not pay any bills until the end of the year. Your 12-month billing cycle begins on the date you signed your net metering agreement with SCE and ends on the anniversary of that date each year. ?Instead of renting energy from Edison, you are actually buying your energy and you get to keep what you?ve made,? Klint said.
A common myth is that if you generate more electricity than you consume that SCE will pay you for the difference. SCE is not required by the state to pay you for excess electricity produced by your system. If that happens, you will simply not pay at the end of the year. Also, electricity credit cannot be rolled over to the next year.
?It?s really the best return on investment that you can find anywhere,? Klint said. ?I save between $3000-$4,000 per year. A system pays for itself in less than five or six years.?
NBS, which opened in Visalia in 1978, specializes in solar powered systems. Each year the company installs 60-100 photovoltaic systems on average. The number of systems installed that are connected to the grid in California each year has increased from less than 10,000 in 2000 to nearly 160,000 last year. NBS has a waiting list of 32 homes and businesses waiting for solar powered systems.
?I think less and less people are skeptical about solar power,? said Dennis Smith, president of NBS. ?We know that it works and people have seen how it works.?
Smith said technological advances have allowed a smaller amount of panels to produce a greater amount of energy, so that you don?t have to own acreage to power your home. Looking further down the road, Smith said solar powered homes will be even more valuable in the future with the advent of hybrid cars and even full electric cars could be plugged into your home to recharge.
He said now is the best time to buy as the state has decreased its rebate by 20% since 2000 and its tax credit percentage has dropped from 15% to 7.5%. He also foresees the government moving closer to requiring solar power with every new home, which will increase the cost of homes significantly.
?It reminds me of insulation in the 1970s. Eventually, the government required your home to have it,? Smith said. ?You might as well buy now while there are incentives to cut the cost.?
NBS offers an installer?s warranty on solar ?modules? for the first five years. Smith said that the manufacturer offers a 25-year warranty on natural wear and tear. For more information on photovoltaic systems for homes and businesses, call NBS at 747-1223, 1-800-362-1299 or visit their website at www.nationalbuilderssupply.com.
© 2013 The Foothills Sun-Gazette
Exeter, California. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from STPNS