By Whit Trovillion
It was 2009 in the teeth of the “great recession.” Interest rates were near zero. I had a CD mature and my bank offered to roll it over at something like 6/8th of one percent. After quietly weeping, I started to look for other places to put that money.
I am a conservative investor; I will never put my money in bitcoin, derivatives, commodities, or anything even remotely exotic. I started discussing going solar with a friend who was in similar circumstances and we both decided to sign contracts that week.
I have a small barn which faces solar south, so it was a no-brainer where to put the photovoltaic modules.
Most barns face solar south – for reasons that are not clear to me. The designer was able to fit 11.34 kw on this space with sixty-three 185 watt panels. Power density and prices have BOTH improved since then, but this is what was available at the time.
There were brief delays in the project having to do with inspections, permitting, the installation of the “net meter” and other administrivia, but overall, the installation went very quickly with without major problems.
An Unexpected Bonus!
I had sized this system to provide 90% of my energy needs. What I failed to take into consideration was that the same month that my utility threw the switch on my array, my teenaged daughter moved into her freshman dorm. Overnight, I went from getting 90% of my energy from my solar system to getting 120% of my energy from it. (Who knew teenaged girls used so much hot water?)
With 120% of my energy needs covered by my solar system, I pay nothing to the utility for most of the year!
An electric car made short work out of the surplus, and now I commute for free – courtesy of our sun, that big nuclear reactor in the sky 93 million miles away. It just works.
I was eligible for a federal income tax credit for the return I filed that spring. I got a rebate from the MD Energy Administration, and Howard County gave me a property tax holiday the next year.
Since that date, I have earned a nice sum in Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). Every time my array puts out a Megawatt Hour of production (about once a month), I get a new deposit in my bank account.
I calculate that the array paid for itself in 6.5 years and the remaining five years have been entirely windfall. Your results may vary, but this was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. You don’t have to be a committed greenie for solar power to make sense for you. You just have to do the math.