Going for Solar – Our Journey to Solar PV

solar pv awning on the back side of house

Sunrise on our solar PV awning

After making a lot of energy efficiency and water conservation improvements, we have started down the path to adding renewable energy generation to our green improvements on our home.  The Going for Solar Series takes you step by step along out journey to adding solar PV to our home.  We hope you can learn from our experience and we welcome comments and questions throughout.   Going For Solar Series

Going For Solar – Dreaming (Step 1)

Ever since I was a kid learning about solar photovoltaics (PV) from 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…

Going For Solar – Efficiency First (Step 2)

Before investing in a renewable energy system like solar panels, be sure  to tackle efficiency improvement projects first.  You will get a  quicker return on your investment and the amount of energy you need to  generate through your renewable energy projects will be reduced…Includes a list of projects to tackle first.

Going For Solar – Solar Site Survey (Step 3)

man showing young boy how solar pathfinder works

Jordan showing our 5 yo son how a Solar PathFinder works

After you have done all the energy efficiency upgrades and behavior modifications around the house to reduce your load, then it is time to think about renewable energy…

Going For Solar – Get Multiple Proposals or Bids (Step 4)

Since solar installations (even after incentives) cost more than most  cars, you should definitely speak to several companies or contractors  before making your decision to proceed and selecting the right one for  you…

Going for Solar – Choosing Your Contractor (Step 5)

blueprint, yellow hardhat, hammerInstalling a solar system is not a small investment.  In many cases it  will be more expensive than buying a car and the contractor will be  working in your home, so it pays to get a good contractor and one that  you are comfortable with in the long run… 

Going for Solar – Paperwork (Step 6)

paperworkAs with any big purchase in life, there is bound to be a few papers to  sign.  Solar projects are no exception.  While this is not a fun part of  the process, it is important.  A good solar contractor like SunBug Solar, who we used, will make this process easy and do most of the paperwork for you.

Going for Solar – New Electric Meter (Step 7)

One morning, shortly after our Utility Interconnection Application was  approved, we had a knock on the door and the utility company was here to  change the meter.

Going for Solar – Waiting (Step 8)

After you have done all the hard work of planning, negotiating, selecting a contractor and signing all the papers, comes the hardest and easiest part of the process: The Waiting!

Going for Solar – Building a Solar PV Awning (Step 9)

framing for solar awningBeyond the first few steps in the waiting process comes the real work, construction.   Every solar project will be a little bit different depending on the  design, location and local building requirements.  Our solar awning  project construction happened in three steps.

  • Building the Structure
  • Installing the Panels
  • Wiring and Inverter

Going for Solar – Final Sign Offs (Step 10)

Before you can flip the switch, you have to get the electrical inspection and utility interconnection sign offs.

Going for Solar: Flipping the Switch To Green Energy (Step 11)

Jon turning on our solar PV awningWe finally got the go ahead from the electric company to turn on our solar awning on November 19, 2010. It was a bright, sunny day and I took a quick break from work to run home and flip the switch.

Going for Solar – Our First Electric Bill (Step 12)

bar chart showing electricity usage in 2010Check out the drop for December

I cannot believe how excited I was about getting an electric bill.  I  was eagerly anticipating our first electric bill after we turned on our Solar Awning.  Yeah, I’m probably a little crazy, but I was excited to see how low our net-usage was, that is, how little electricity we used from the grid.

Going for Solar – Becoming a Net Generator

No Payment Due Electric Bill

Our March electric bill

That didn’t take long, it took longer to write and publish this post. As soon as the days started getting longer our solar awning started generating more and more electricity.  So much so that when we got our March electric bill (2/17-3/22) we were shocked that we didn’t owe a penny.  Amazing!  We actually earned a credit of $0.49.

Going for Solar – Adding Insurance for Solar Array

With Hurricane Irene heading straight for Boston I finally got around to calling my insurance company to see if I needed to make any changes to  my homeowners’ coverage now that we have this expensive solar awning on  our home.

Going for Solar – The First Year

electricity production & consumption for 2011 bar chart

SunWatch View for 2011

In our first full year with our solar awning, we generated 5,816 kWh of solar energy, which is 16% more than we expected.  I’m not sure if that is a normal  fluctuation in the amount of sunny days we had this year or a trend  towards higher production from the bi-facial panels.  I certainly hope  it is the later.  Our total electricity usage for 2011 was 6,958 kWh, so  we produced over 83% of our own clean energy.  If we can get our usage even lower, maybe we can produce (in net) all of our electricity with our solar PV awning.

Going for Solar – Removing Snow from Solar Panels

removing snow from solar panels

Snow piled on our solar panels

I love snow, but when snow is piled up on our solar panels it significantly reduces our electricity production!  Most manufacturers recommend letting nature take care of clearing the snow from your solar array, and since we are grid-tied (meaning we are still connected to the electricity grid) we won’t actually lose power if the panels are covered for a few days. However, we want to make as much clean, green and renewable electricity from our solar array as possible, so I figured out a way to safely remove the snow from our Solar PV Awning.  Watch the video or read below for steps and tips.

Going for Solar Another Way – Solar Leasing

solar array on roof of house

Bob Paine’s Solar Array in Medford, MA

While we purchased our solar installation outright, there are other effective  ways to get solar on your home.  Here is a guest post by our friend and fellow  solar enthusiast Bob Paine.

Going for Solar – Reaching for Net-Zero

With all the sunny days in April, we reached a milestone with our Solar PV Awning.  We moved being net-consumers of electricity to being net-producers for the year (first four months).

Going for Solar – DIY Small Scale Solar

DIY Solar Panels

DIY Solar Installation from SpinRay Energy

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could buy a solar panel and just plug it in to an outlet without needing to hire an electrician? Well, now you can! Be sure to read the cautions below for why you still might need a licensed electrician.



Going for Solar – The Second Year


chart showing solar production for 2012

Our Solar Production for 2012

We’ve had our solar awning in place for just over 2 years and I am happy to report that we love it as much today as we did when we had it installed.  Maybe even more so now that electricity prices inched up a little this fall.  Here’s how we did…

Stay tuned for more articles in the Going for Solar series from Green Lifestyle Consulting. Happy Greening! Jon & Alicia

What would you like us to discuss next about our journey to solar or renewable energy in general? Leave us a comment below or contact us at info@greenlifestyleconsulting.com.


  1. LARRY BARR says

    plugging into your house from the panel how does it follow the 60 cycle sin wave? And with more panels can the panels put out 240 volts?

    • Hi Larry,

      The inverter handles converting the direct current (DC) voltage of the solar panels into alternating current (AC) that feeds into our house. The DC output of our solar panels is 480V DC so it is possible to output 240V AC. I’m not sure if the inverter we have can do that, but you should be able to find one on the market that could.


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