Our solar panels have been installed and are up and running. Yay! It took a while. From when we talked to the solar rep., it was a month to the panel install. Then it was another month to the electrical box install. Then 2 moths before the city would deign to inspect. Then another month for another inspection because the city screwed up the first one. Then 2 more weeks to actually turn on.

It didn’t cost a thing. Here is how it works.

Vivint, a subsidiary of SunRun, installs a solar energy production facility on your roof. they own it, they maintain it. It is actually licensed by the state as a small commercial electrical generation facility. If any upgrades need to be done to your household electrical system, they do it for free. There is no cost to you.

The alternative is to drop 10 grand on a minimal contractor installed system. Or do it yourself, which is likely beyond my current physical ability and involves dedicating a large amount of time to permits and paperwork. Still, that would be ideal if money weren’t an issue.

On the left: You can see there’s easily room for 3 more panels on our south facing roof. We could put 8 more on the east and west facing garage roof but they wouldn’t be as productive. I’d be happy to put as many panels as could fit but they have legal limitations. If we install something that sucks a lot of electricity, like an AC unit, they’ll put more in. In the middle: our old house was upgraded to a new 200 amp breaker box. On the right are the boxes associated with the solar panels. If we were to put in a battery, it would go below them.

Vivint pours the electricity it generates into the grid. In exchange you buy your electricity back from the grid at a steep discount. It varies by who your current provider is but ours (Southern California Edison) is a 60% discount. If you want battery backup in case of power outages, that’s on you – except… People with medical devices that must stay powered can get their battery free. Otherwise, depending on how long you want the battery to last during a blackout, you’re looking at $3-5 thousand for a basic battery setup. If you are lucky enough to own a Tesla, you could use the vehicle itself as a battery.

Click on this for a larger version. On the left we have my house’s electric production on a sunny day. On the right we have an mostly overcast day. Almost 3 times as much electricity on the sunny day. Production should peak on June 20 and be at a minimum on Dec. 20. The average house in California uses 18.5 KWh per day averaged out over the year. Even on a cloudy day we are generating over 2 and a half houses worth of electricity.

The solar production operates during the highest demand of the day, taking the peak loading off the grid. There are generation facilities that only operate during peak loading and some can be shut down. The big high tension power lines don’t need to carry as much juice and are less likely to fail on a hot day with high demand, so fewer blackouts and fewer power line caused fires. It also means power companies can avoid doing long overdue maintenance on their lines, keeping expenses low and shareholders happy.

Another nice benefit is that the panels shade the south facing side of my roof, reducing the heat loading. The attic does not get as hot.

It is my plan to install a backup battery but that’s not an essential. As a fixed income retiree, I have to watch my cash flow. A battery is a convenience and saves me no cash. I also expect that batteries will drop in price in the near future as demand and production rises.

I know California has a plan to go mostly renewable in the next couple decades. Power companies are being squeezed to meet the requirement and that is why we get to have have solar and a reduced electrical rates at not cost. There may be other states offering deals of some sort. Check with your electrical provider to find out. If you don’t, rattle your state legislators and demand that they wake up and smell the coffee.


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