Ever since I was a kid learning about solar photovoltaics (PV) from Paul Maycock I have dreamed of having solar PV installed on my house. In the past few years while reading Steven Strong’s book, The Solar Electric House, I learned that Paul was/is one of the pioneers of the field of photovoltaics.
Before any hard core energy folks point it out, I’ll admit it, solar thermal has a much higher efficiency and lower cost for installation than PV. However the heat energy generated is not as useful unless you have other systems in your building that are designed to use it such as radiant floor heating or a pool or hot tub. We have forced hot water with baseboard radiators, so in order to leverage a solar thermal installation, we would have to generate some really hot water, well over typical flat plate solar thermal collector capabilities, which means a heat pump or special collectors.
Back to my dream of installing solar. We’ve explored it several times in the past. MIT had a program several years ago in combination with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), now the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, to install a few turnkey systems on homes at a great discount. Unfortunately, after crunching the numbers and looking closely at our roof, we would never have qualified and the price was still very high.
When the Commonwealth Solar Rebate Program (which was $2.00-5.50/Watt installed) was announced, I looked at PV again for our house. The rebate provided by this program could have been as high as $5.50/Watt installed (ours would have been $3.50/Watt) depending on the qualifications, and there were also federal and state tax incentives, which all taken together made the price and payback look pretty good. Unfortunately, solar was (and to a lesser extent still is) expensive. After crunching the numbers the payback was still longer than 15 years. Sadly, the dream went back on the shelf.
Since then, we have focused on reducing our energy usage through behavior changes and efficiency improvements like taking shorter showers, installing CFL light bulbs, purchasing a high efficiency condensing boiler, air sealing our home and having attic and wall insulation installed. Home Energy Experts (Energy Auditors) will tell you that efficiency improvements are important to do before investing in renewable energy because the costs are far less and the payback is much shorter, most are on the order of 2-3 years and some are even less. You can read how we have achieved 40% reductions in our energy usage over the past 5 years in our previous article Where do you use the most energy? and we’ll cover more about efficiency improvements in the next segment of this series of Going for Solar.
Earlier this year the Commonwealth Solar II Rebates were announced for Massachusetts. Around the same time we got our tax return which included the Federal Energy Efficiency tax incentive for doing the high efficiency boiler replacement. I decided to see yet again if we could make my dream of solar a reality and I contacted someone I knew in the residential solar business and started talking. I learned all about the amazing MA Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program. An upcoming post will explain this program and why we think now is the right time for us to install solar on our home. After that we will describe what happens on a solar site survey in our another post of this series: Going for Solar – Solar Site Survey (Step 3).
To learn more about residential solar installations, check out our series Going for Solar, which details every step from dreaming about installing solar, through picking a contractor and the steps in construction. We provide information and advice for every step of the way, as well as different approaches such as paying for it yourself versus leasing a system. Don’t miss the steps on how much money we saved during our first year of usage!