EnviroKarma.org - Photovoltaics (PV) '...it's (NOT) hard to be Green' - what Kermit should have said


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3/23/2009 - Several solar related Bills passed in NM Legislature this year...
hb-572 SOLAR ENERGY IMPROVEMENT SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS, enabling no-down, long term loans to be collected via property taxes.
hb-893 RESIDENTIAL SOLAR TECH IMPROVEMENT DISTRICTS, similar but allows either Counties or cities to create tax Distrcts and create Bonds.
sb-237 RENEWABLE ENERGY TAX CREDIT, adds tax credits for corporate facilities for solar and geothermal

This area of the site is intended to be a 'Documentary' of my experience having photovoltaics installed. I wanted to get some information out there to answer some of the questions I know I had, and most likely lots of other people have as well.

How much does it cost?

    There are some variables like the quality of the components, type of racking, and the cost of labor. Unless you are a Master electrician, familiar with PV codes, city codes, and the utility regulations, you probably don't want to do it yourself. Some installers will let you help, and if you don't slow them down too much, you might be able to save a little on the labor cost. The cost of racking varies between ground mount, ballast mount (no roof penetration), standoffs, or awnings. The majority of the cost is the panels themselves, and there is a wide range based on quality and efficiency. Top name in panels and inverters is SunPower; with efficiency around 20%, and a better warranty than any of the others because of fundimentally different (patented) cell technology. Combined with a top quality inverter like SunPower, you get more for your money over the long haul. Ballpark cost for a 'top-shelf' total system including expert installation ran around $8.50-$9.00/watt in 2008, and has dropped to about $5.25/watt in 2014. The 'average' home in NM could offset just about all their electricity with a 3 kW or 4kW system. I decided to install a 5kW system so I would have enough to power the house AND the electric car.

How can I afford it?

    That's the challanging part! Good news in NM is that some new laws that PASSED in 2009 will provide a mechanism for homeowners to obtain no-down, 20 year, low interest loans and repay them through the County Property Tax collection mechanism; the bad news is thaat the PACE programs all got stalled out by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae mortgages not accepting homes with PACE loans. The idea is to get monthly payments down to the point where the REC payment and monthly utility bill savings pretty much cover the payment. The system loan would be recorded as a lien on the Property, and stay with the property until paid off when the house is sold or re-financed and wrapped into a mortgage. So, choices now still rest with traditional lenders except for some o fthe PV manufactures like Sunpower that will finance the amount you get back with tax credits at 0% for 18 months.

How do you get paid back?

    I updated the cost figures here to use 2014 prices... There is a Federal tax credit (30%), and many States have a tax credit as well that may be applied to reduce the initial system cost. NM offers a 10% tax credit. There are also a growing number of Utility companies that will buy 'Renewable Engery Credits' (REC) based on your gross electricity production so they can claim they are producing renewable clean energy per the federal mandate of 20% by 2020. If you 'grid-tie' your system rather than use batteries, your system will spin your regular meter backward when you are producing more than you are using during the day and then you pull from the grid at night. In NM, the 'average' home uses about 600kWh per month at a cost of about $.10/kWhr (2014 PNM price), giving a bill of around $60/month. If you install a PV system that would completely offset 600kWh use, it will probably cost about $21,000 up front (with todays prices around $5.25/watt for top quality systems plus installation), but only around $12,500 net after tax credits. This system would save you $60/month electric bill, plus earn about $20/month in REC payment (at .035/kWhr 2014 rate) for the first 8 years, and protect you from rising electric rates for the life of the system, which is 25 years or more... When you take into account that the cost of power rises almost 6% per YEAR nationally, the savings really add up fast.

    In 2008, I really wanted to go for a 5kW system to maxmize the tax credits,and have a good chance of offsetting ALL of my typical electric demands... Including my electric car! A 5kW system in NM can be expected to generate around 800 kWhr/month or more, which is about how much a family of four in a fairly large home uses. The local utility in Santa Fe, PNM, had a REC purchase plan which paid $.13/kWhr generated in 2008, plus spins the meter backward at whatever the current cost is, which is about $.09/kWhr (2008). So, for a 5kW system in NM, I expected to make/save about $180/month, which gets even better as the cost of power rises!

    The PNM billing system now can show negative (surplus) readings monthly, AND the total credit if applicable when you have produced more than you use. If and when you do 'cash out' by disconnecting or selling your home, you are paid at a low rate; not the normal use rate. So, you are best served to size your PV system to yeild no more than you expect to use on an annual basis. In my case I may produce a surplus in the summer, but then use a little more in the winter which will use up my net credit.... I will also probably not have surplus after getting my electric car up and running since it will use probably 100 - 200 kWhr per month depending on how much I drive it.

    So, in working out the financial returns you can see that while it is not a huge money maker, it will 'pay for itself' in about 10-12 years, and is similar to buying a CD or 10-year Bond with an annual return of around 5%, except that it pays out a monthly dividend with the REC purchase! If electric rates go way up, the effective return goes up, and it gets to be a pretty sweet deal after the 12 year mark. Recent news from Real Estate appraisals show that the investment reflects almost 1:1 on adding to a home's value in resale, and you COULD move the system if a potential buyer didn't want it; they would be silly not to though!

    I am convinced that investing in PV is a great move if you have a chunk of cash you want to put in a 'safe' investment and lower your monthly bills in addition to feeling really good about taking personal action to reduce your carbon footprint. It's a perfect vehicle for people that are approaching retirement and moving money from aggresive stocks want reduced financial risk, monthly 'dividends', and lower monthly expenses.

Is is allowed in your neighborhood??

    In New Mexico, the short answer is 'yes'. Rules differ in other States, but in 2007-8 legislative session NM laws governing the installation of Solar Collectors were ammended (and strengthened) to invalidate any restrictions, except in historic districts. The actual text of HB611 pretty clearly invalidates any county, city, neighborhood, homeowners association prohibiting Solar Collector installations. More information on your Solar Rights is also available in a brochure.

Who should you have do your install?

    Experts! I thought about trying to round up all the pieces myself, and hiring an electrician for the tricky parts. But after seeing all the code requirements, and not wanting to screw up the expensive equipment, I went looking for the most experienced outfit I could find. There are a handful of installers in Santa Fe - Albuquerque area that I am sure are just fine, but I would highly recommend paying a little more for SunPower panels + inverter rather than cheaper Chinese panels, and picking the most experienced grid-tied installers with the best warranty on their work.... which is 'Consolidated Solar Technologies' in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area. I am so convinced they are the best choice, I starting working for them to help more people make the right choices, go solar, get the right equipment, and get the job done right!

How much power do you actually generate?

    I will post the monthly gross kWhr as they come in from PNM... My 5kW (24*210 watt SunPower panels) system produced around 25-30 kWhr/day depending on afternoon clouds. So far this is a surplus over my average monthly summer electric use which is around 20 kWhr/day for the house. I use a little more in the winter because of one room on electric heat, and the hot tub heater which hardly runs in the summer. Now I have the electric car running and drawing about 5 or 6 extra kWhr per day in the summer as I am driving it about 20 miles per day. Just about zero net use annual average, which is what I was hoping for!

      2008/07 = 525 kWhr, partial billing cycle for 1st month production
      2008/08 = 863 kWhr / 31 days = 27.8 kWhr/day
      2008/09 = 854 kWhr / 30 days = 28.5 kWhr/day
      2008/10 = 836 kWhr / 30 days = 27.8 kWhr/day
      2008/11 = 792 kWhr / 29 days = 27.3 kWhr/day
      2008/12 = 652 kWhr / 31 days = 21.03 kWhr/day, several snow days...
      2009/1 = 588 kWhr / 29 days = 20.62 kWhr/day, several snow days...
      2009/2 = 767 kWhr / 30 days = 25.56 kWhr/day
      2009/3 = 934 kWhr / 32 days = 29.18 kWhr/day
      2009/4 = 897 kWhr / 30 days = 29.9 kWhr/day, 2 snow days
      2009/5 =1042 kWhr / 32 days = 32.56 kWhr/day
      2009/6 = 787 kWhr / 30 days = 26.23 kWhr/day, unusually cloudy month
      2009/7 = 807 kWhr / 30 days = 26.90 kWhr/day, typical afternoon tstorms
      2009/8 = 932 kWhr / 32 days = 29.12 kWhr/day
      2009/9 = 799 kWhr / 30 days = 26.63 kWhr/day, typical afternoon tstorms
      2009/10 = 910 kWhr / 32 days = 28.43 kWhr/day
      2009/11 = 610 kWhr / 28 days = 21.78 kWhr/day, unusually cloudy and several snowstorms
      2009/12 = 709 kWhr / 30 days = 23.63 kWhr/day, cloudy and several snowstorms


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