Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

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BrandonBogle
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Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

Post by BrandonBogle »

One of the area organizations organized a group buy discount with a solar installer and I wanted to get some feedback if these numbers make it look worthwhile to consider solar, or if it is more Bogleheadish to skip on it now and check back in a couple of years.

Background:
- Installer is recommended by others in the area and has good reviews
- They are a turn-key operation, so I don't have to deal with any of the particulars (if I do not want to)
- They use SunPower 320W high-efficiency panels
-- 21.2% efficiency rating
-- 100% U.S. built
-- Supposedly "zero light-induced degradation"
-- 25 year warranty
--- 87% of original performance by year 25
--- Warranty includes removal of bad panels, shipping, testing, and installation costs
--- No prorating over the life of the panel, so a failure in year 24 is still $0

The installer is recommending a 20 panel system for 6.5 kW that would generate an estimated 8,979 kWh of energy (system rated for 10,111, but I have 243 degree azimuth and 36.87 degree tilt on my roof). All panels would be on the rear of the roof, so not visible from the street. The price includes a $1,790 charge to remove two trees that have grown over the property as well as a panel upgrade. This is eligible for incentives b/c it is critical and required for the installation. I am eligible for the full 30% Federal Tax incentive, NC's 35% Tax Incentive, Net Metering with my electric company, and the solar system is exempt from property taxes. I currently pay $0.093697 per kWh and use about 19,000 kWh a year and can stick on my current plan, or switch to a Time-of-Use plan. The latter plan charges $0.069399 (on-peak)/$0.057018 (off-peak) per kWh, but also carries an on-peak demand charge of $7.77 (Summer)/$3.88 (rest of year) per kW.

So here are the numbers...
$1,790 outside of group buy pricing for additional work, then $1,360 per panel for panel, inverters, design, permitting, racking, installation, warranty, and inspections. For the recommended 20 panel system, I would be looking at $29k before incentives, $10,147 after incentives.

This would leave every monthly electric bill with a small charge as my lowest use month (May), is still above the average what this system would generate. I could go bigger too, but I will hit limits on the incentives, so it is not financially worthwhile to go larger at this time. The system they install is expandable, so I can add to it down the road. The installer estimates an average of $100 monthly savings (based on TOU plan, but I have no data to to compare my peak usage for demand charges to do the math myself), though if I just do simpler straight-line math on my current rate plan, I get a monthly average savings of $70. I can scale back to a 3 kWh system and be at $5,386.50 (all inclusive) for an average monthly savings of $34 on my current rate plan.

In any event, solar is all new to me and I wanted to get your input if this seems worthwhile. In the past five years, I've had three rate increases for my electric service at my property, but my rate is still relatively cheap compared to other parts of the country.

Thanks for your help Bogleheads!
Last edited by BrandonBogle on Sat Oct 17, 2020 11:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
itstoomuch
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by itstoomuch »

We bought a Prius for the primary reason to reduce future cash flow needs in retirement.
We have a house with a perfect solar effectiveness. Wife doesn't want solar even though the payback is 4 years, - doesn't want anything on the roof. :?: And doesn't care about future cash flow reduction from solar :annoyed
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2comma
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by 2comma »

If my numbers are correct that looks like a 12 year pay back at $70/mo savings and a total savings of about $11k over expected lifetime, assuming no further rate increases. From what little attention I've paid to the science, future improvements in solar panel efficiency is in small increments so if you're thinking about doing this now I wouldn't worry too much about some new technology coming along and giving you any serious buyers remorse.
If I am stupid I will pay.
SpaceCowboy
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by SpaceCowboy »

You have very low electric rates. Not sure that it makes sense because of that. Also your local incentives are very high. I would double check that part of your calculation. My solar system has an 8 year payback, which is considered by most to be on the long side, but I'my happy not to have a real electric bill in retirement.
HIinvestor
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by HIinvestor »

We use very little electricity, even with our computers. That said, we have both solar water heater and photovoltaic to meet our electric needs. We did it mainly because I strongly feel it is the right thing to do and we could afford it without financing.

We also wanted to do it while the fed govt and our state govt were giving rebates like you
mentioned. Our electric rates are the highest in the nation and regularly increased. Our electric company capped PV systems at 20% per area; thereafter you have to go thru an expensive, prolonged process for approval--we wanted to install before area hit the cap. Since our system was only 9 panels, I think our net cost after rebate was about $5K for the system and less for the solar water heater.

We have no regrets about having done both, tho the solar water heater will be replaced with a new one that fits better in the closet, which has valves at the top of the tank instead of the side.

In your case, one would also have to consider what kind of discount you're receiving for the group installation and whether the price will go up without it, offsetting any decrease in the cost of solar panels. We didn't have group pricing. :-(
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4nursebee
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by 4nursebee »

Get some other estimates.
I think sunpower panels cost a premium.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by ccf »

Is that the largest system that you can fit on your roof? If you can get 6.5 kW with less expensive panels, I'd consider that.

Sunpower is much more expensive than other panels. I'm doing a Sunpower install myself because I have limited viable roof space but I'm in Massachusetts so the payoff is much faster (Electricity is 2x yours and we have SRECs)

The quote itself looks good - it's much better than any Sunpower quotes that I've received for a 22 panel system. I'm looking at a 6 year payoff since I'm in MA (high electricity prices and we get SRECs)
madbrain
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by madbrain »

$29k pre-incentive price for a 6400 W system is $4.5 per watt. This is a premium price in 2015.
What kind of inverters are you getting for that price ? Monolithic inverters, or micro-inverters ?
And what's the warranty on those inverters ?
Monolithic string inverters usually don't last 25 years. They are are also less efficient than micro-inverters, especially if you have any kind of shading.
If you are going to pay a premium price, you should be getting micro inverters, IMO.

Speaking of shading, how bad is the shading from the tree ? Is it shading only part of the roof some of the time ?
If so, micro-inverters may be a solution that would save you from having to trim them (or worse, remove them, which is not good for the environment).

From a strictly financial point of view, a 12 year payoff does not make sense. IMO, it is too much to pay, especially given your *extremely* low electric rates. At this price, you are doing it to save the planet, not because it will benefit you financially. Here in CA the time of use rates in summer peak go all the way to 50 cents/kWh. Your rates are 10% of that.
I use 18,500 kWh - just under your 19,000 kWh . Without solar, the bill would be $5400/year with PG&E. Solar was a no-brainer. I have a 9.5kW system that produces 85% of the electricity I use, but covers 100% of the bill (due to time of use).

If you want to save the planet and your bills, I would urge you to consider something along those lines :
http://king-solarman.com/shop-by-solar- ... ystem.html

This is a complete 7000W system for $12,667 . And using Enphase M215 micro-inverters too.
Total cost : $12,667 for parts, +$500 for shipping outside of CA. Of course, this doesn't include installation. However, the install should not cost $16k.
Find a reputable contractor who is willing to work with you on a labor basis.
You might be able to cut your payoff in half.

Please note, I'm not affiliated with king-solarman. I am merely a satisfied customer, I bought some Talesun panels from them once.
I use Enphase micro-inverters - I have some M215 and some M190.

No, these panels aren't US made. Neither are the inverters. Enphase is a US company, though.

I don't think there are any micro-inverters that can handle 320W Sunpower panels also. But I strongly recommend forgetting Sunpower panels anyway due to cost.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by madbrain »

Another thing, consider a tilt mount if possible. It will increase the total system cost, but should reduce your payback period quite a bit, as long as it adds less than 10% to the cost of your system. It doesn't look pretty, though.
RoC
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by RoC »

How old is your roof? It doesn't make much sense to be putting $10k into installing solar panels now, and then have to pay the extra cost to remove and reinstall them if you're going to have to have your roof replaced in a few years. Just something to keep in mind if you think you're going to need a new roof in the not too distant future.
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BrandonBogle
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by BrandonBogle »

I mentioned this in my reply to madbrain below, but basically, I am already expecting a $2k bill to upgrade my electrical panel and trim/remove trees on my property even if I do not do solar. As such, I've been lopping off $2k from the price when I consider my payback period. Still sounds like the general consensus is that I would be paying too high of a premium though. I am including a number of replies below.
rrppve wrote:You have very low electric rates. Not sure that it makes sense because of that. Also your local incentives are very high. I would double check that part of your calculation. My solar system has an 8 year payback, which is considered by most to be on the long side, but I'my happy not to have a real electric bill in retirement.
Yes, NC provides a 35% state incentive until the end of 2015. It is widely believe the incentive will not be renewed by our state legislature.
ccf wrote:Is that the largest system that you can fit on your roof? If you can get 6.5 kW with less expensive panels, I'd consider that.
No. I do not know how many panels my roof can support, but the installer capped it at 20 panels because I would hit the cap on the NC state incentive if the system cost much more. The group buy also includes Canadian Solar 260W panels @ $949 a panel (includes of every except the $1,790 for my property's specific concerns). So assuming the same 6,400 W system, I would be at 24.6 panels, so I will round up to 25 panels and say I am at $25.5k vs. $29k.
madbrain wrote:$29k pre-incentive price for a 6400 W system is $4.5 per watt. This is a premium price in 2015.
That is a very good way to look at it. The paperwork sent to me includes a post-incentive per-watt price of $1.94 per watt (they include $2,536.63 Federal Tax liability the $10k state incentive). Using pre-incentive pricing helps compare to other non-local installers.
madbrain wrote:What kind of inverters are you getting for that price ? Monolithic inverters, or micro-inverters ?
And what's the warranty on those inverters ?
Monolithic string inverters usually don't last 25 years. They are are also less efficient than micro-inverters, especially if you have any kind of shading.
If you are going to pay a premium price, you should be getting micro inverters, IMO.
The installer said they offer micro-inverters, but this is for a monolithic inverter. I didn't think to ask about the warranty on the inverter. I will have to ask about that.
madbrain wrote:Speaking of shading, how bad is the shading from the tree ? Is it shading only part of the roof some of the time ?
If so, micro-inverters may be a solution that would save you from having to trim them (or worse, remove them, which is not good for the environment).
Severe. The shading was actually a part of my decision to buy the house originally because of the less heat that would shine on the house itself. There are 14 mature trees on the property. Three years ago I had significant trimming done because while I like the shade, I did not want the trees over the house. It is time to do this again. Two trees will be removed in the $1,790 surcharge. They could be trimmed, but they would have to be trimmed below their crown, so removal is priced in. The other trees will remain untouched, but they aren't casting shadows onto the roof. Without any work, solar would not be viable, but I do get a couple hours of exposure a day at the moment (on the front - I can't get a line of sight of the back).

One thing to note is that even if I do not go down the route of solar, I will need to get the trees trimmed/removed. I love having trees, but I do not want them over the house and driveway. Too many acorns and leaves clogging the gutters and denting cars.
RoC wrote:How old is your roof? It doesn't make much sense to be putting $10k into installing solar panels now, and then have to pay the extra cost to remove and reinstall them if you're going to have to have your roof replaced in a few years. Just something to keep in mind if you think you're going to need a new roof in the not too distant future.
The roof was replaced last year by my insurance due to hail damage. We believe the roof was original from the property being built in the 80s, so it was essentially end of life as well.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by dolphinsaremammals »

itstoomuch wrote:We bought a Prius for the primary reason to reduce future cash flow needs in retirement.
We have a house with a perfect solar effectiveness. Wife doesn't want solar even though the payback is 4 years, - doesn't want anything on the roof. :?: And doesn't care about future cash flow reduction from solar :annoyed
You might show her some houses with roof panels installed. They actually look quite nice nowadays, imho.
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Svensk Anga
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by Svensk Anga »

I think I would do this if I had the same opportunity. Perhaps shop for better pricing.

I see it as 8.3% return (assuming the $70/month savings) on the post-incentive cost. This is a cost savings not income, so that is 8.3% after tax, maybe 12% at $100/month. It will probably increase a bit with inflation, though maybe not keep up with CPI. Or maybe policy drives electricity prices up faster than CPI, in which case it is a good hedge. Panel deterioration and maintenance costs will reduce the return somewhat. Maybe the output calculation is too optimistic. Seems to me like a decent after tax real return with fairly low risk.

How much would homeowners insurance premium go up with $30,000 worth of equipment on the roof? (The insurance company is liable for un-incentivised replacement costs.)

Is sale of the house in the cards? The installation may not appeal to some buyers and you may not recover your costs.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by Cindyjrn »

The initial pricing is VERY high. I would avoid Sunpower panels like the plague because their dealers all jack up the prices. Also your cost of electricity is VERY low. My tier 1 pricing is almost double your price and my tier 4 price is 4x higher. You'd be in tier 4 with your usage after 8-10 days of the month. Here it would make sense, there I'm not so sure. Your payback has to be in the decades. My payback is 5.5 years. I wouldn't have done it any higher than 7.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by itstoomuch »

dolphinsaremammals wrote:
itstoomuch wrote:We bought a Prius for the primary reason to reduce future cash flow needs in retirement.
We have a house with a perfect solar effectiveness. Wife doesn't want solar even though the payback is 4 years, - doesn't want anything on the roof. :?: And doesn't care about future cash flow reduction from solar :annoyed
You might show her some houses with roof panels installed. They actually look quite nice nowadays, imho.
Our isolated neighborhood of about 40 homes (flatspot on a hill) has about 10% of the homes with solar. I presented the solar issue in a poor way, as always. My bad. :oops: :annoyed
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by Cindyjrn »

itstoomuch wrote:
dolphinsaremammals wrote:
itstoomuch wrote:We bought a Prius for the primary reason to reduce future cash flow needs in retirement.
We have a house with a perfect solar effectiveness. Wife doesn't want solar even though the payback is 4 years, - doesn't want anything on the roof. :?: And doesn't care about future cash flow reduction from solar :annoyed
You might show her some houses with roof panels installed. They actually look quite nice nowadays, imho.
Our isolated neighborhood of about 40 homes (flatspot on a hill) has about 10% of the homes with solar. I presented the solar issue in a poor way, as always. My bad. :oops: :annoyed
I'm the pickiest person in the world and I literally stop noticing anybody's solar panels 2-3 after they get them installed.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by madbrain »

BrandonBogle wrote: No. I do not know how many panels my roof can support, but the installer capped it at 20 panels because I would hit the cap on the NC state incentive if the system cost much more.
What is the incentive cap ? Is it a fixed $ cap ? Sounds to me like this installer is more concerned about pocketing the incentive than providing you a suitable cost-effective system.
The group buy also includes Canadian Solar 260W panels @ $949 a panel (includes of every except the $1,790 for my property's specific concerns). So assuming the same 6,400 W system, I would be at 24.6 panels, so I will round up to 25 panels and say I am at $25.5k vs. $29k.
You can still do much better than $25k, IMO.
That is a very good way to look at it. The paperwork sent to me includes a post-incentive per-watt price of $1.94 per watt (they include $2,536.63 Federal Tax liability the $10k state incentive). Using pre-incentive pricing helps compare to other non-local installers.
Yes, the incentives tend to distort a lot of things, and very often the installers are the ones benefitting, not the customers.
FYI, when I did my first solar $39k project in 2010, there was only a $2k state rebate - the main incentive was the federal tax credit.
When I did my expansion in 2012, the CA state rebate was completely gone, the federal tax credit was it.
The installers in your state are clearly padding their prices due to the state incentive.
I would expect if the state incentive is dropped, they will be forced to drop their prices significantly just to stay in business.
The installer said they offer micro-inverters, but this is for a monolithic inverter. I didn't think to ask about the warranty on the inverter. I will have to ask about that.
Yes, you should definitely ask. Monolithic inverters typically have a 10 year life or so. Replacing them a couple of times will be costly and could easily completely negate any benefit you get on your bill. You should not discount this. The Enphase M215 micro inverters are warrantied for the full 25 years. I don't think any monolithic inverter has that kind of manufacturer warranty. Your installer might be the one providing the inverter warranty to you as part of the contract. However, what are the odds your installer will still be in business in 10, 15 or 25 years when the monolithic inverters do need replacement ? I would take a manufacturer warranty any day.

FYI, my original Enphase system had 14 D380s which were dual micro inverters - 2 on each panel. 6 of them had very minor malfunction - they would go offline randomly for a few minutes every day. This was barely a blip in the total production, but I noticed it because I looked at the production graphs for each panel and a few were going to 0W for no reason at the same time other panels were at full capacity, and there was no shading. Enphase no longer had any D380 replacement parts as they stopped manufacturing them. Enphase replaced my entire system with 28 brand new M215s, at their own expense, including both parts and labor. The original dealer was not involved.
Severe. The shading was actually a part of my decision to buy the house originally because of the less heat that would shine on the house itself. There are 14 mature trees on the property. Three years ago I had significant trimming done because while I like the shade, I did not want the trees over the house. It is time to do this again. Two trees will be removed in the $1,790 surcharge. They could be trimmed, but they would have to be trimmed below their crown, so removal is priced in. The other trees will remain untouched, but they aren't casting shadows onto the roof. Without any work, solar would not be viable, but I do get a couple hours of exposure a day at the moment (on the front - I can't get a line of sight of the back).
OK. Too bad they have to be removed. One thing you should consider is that since your house will no longer be shaded, it will be warmer, and your A/C use may increase as a result in the summer. You may want to take that into consideration when sizing the system. A/C is by far the biggest source of electricity consumption for me in the summer.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by desiderium »

Your home uses quite a bit of electricity
I would suggest a comprehensive review of how that usage could be cut. This would include a look at appliances, building performance, insulation, windows, etc. For each energy improvement, calculate the payback. I would bet that many of these have a shorter payback period than solar. When you get done with all of this, solar prices will likely be lower and you can look at it again.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by BrandonBogle »

desiderium wrote:Your home uses quite a bit of electricity
I would suggest a comprehensive review of how that usage could be cut. This would include a look at appliances, building performance, insulation, windows, etc. For each energy improvement, calculate the payback. I would bet that many of these have a shorter payback period than solar. When you get done with all of this, solar prices will likely be lower and you can look at it again.
The energy company has consistently said otherwise. I have good insulation, high efficiency alliance, an air-sourced heat pump, double-panes windows, insulation under the siding, insulation under the drywal, etc. The house is 100% electric, so no gas bill. My actual usage over the past year is 16,550 kWh, but I rounded up to 19k kWh annually because we now have an electric vehicle. If I do switch to the time of use plan, I would ensure I shift the car charging and dryer usage to off-peak hours.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by SpaceCowboy »

You should ask the installer to quote the 260W panels with Enphase M250 microinverters. That will probably be a better system per $. No need to pay the premium for 320W panels as it does not sound like you are space constrained.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by unclescrooge »

rrppve wrote:You have very low electric rates. Not sure that it makes sense because of that. Also your local incentives are very high. I would double check that part of your calculation. My solar system has an 8 year payback, which is considered by most to be on the long side, but I'my happy not to have a real electric bill in retirement.
I agree. Have you tried letting your consumption by buying LEDs, upgrading windows, checking ducts for leaks, etc?
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by madbrain »

rrppve wrote:You should ask the installer to quote the 260W panels with Enphase M250 microinverters. That will probably be a better system per $. No need to pay the premium for 320W panels as it does not sound like you are space constrained.
Agree, but even better to skip Sunpower altogether due to their premium cost regardless of density. You can go with some cheap Chinese panels in the 240W - 250W range and pair them with inexpensive Enphase M215. That will be an even better value. The system I posted was 7000W for $13,167 shipped outside of Cali, or $1.88/watt.
Perhaps the OP can find an installer to do the labor for 60 cents/watt. That would add $4200 in labor, bringing the total to $17,367. This is the pre-incentives cost. Then you deduct the 30% federal tax credit and 35% NC incentive, bringing the net total to $6078. If the system is saving $70/month on the electric bill, that's an 86 months payback period or 7 years and 2 months, much more reasonable.

There would still be $1790 additional work for the panel upgrade & tree removal.
The 30% federal tax credit will apply towards the panel cost since it's necessary for solar. Most likely the 35% NC incentive will too, but you should check.

It's not clear to me whether the tree removal cost qualifies for the 30% federal tax credit or not.
Google searches show conflicting answers to this question. Some say you can, others not. Check with your CPA or call the IRS. And ask your state program whether this tree removal cost qualifies for the state tax credit also.
If both apply, then the additional $1790 cost becomes $626 so this only extends the payback period for another 9 months, ie. to 7 years 11 months, still a reasonable payback period.

Of course, you may not be able to get someone to do the $4200 to do the labor work for your system. Here in CA it would be unlikely. But in NC it might be possible. I would call at least 3-4 local installers and ask them to bid . And don't limit yourself to large companies. Some small companies do a fine job too - check Yelp reviews and ask for references. Solar systems generally don't need any maintenance, as long as the original job is well done, you don't normally need the original installer to still be around. I had my panels cleaned once in 5 years and didn't really see much difference at that time. I'm getting slightly lower production this summer than last summer, and we have a drought in CA, so it may be time to have them cleaned again.
Enphase takes care of labor for micro-inverter replacement and you can choose another installer if it is needed. Some panel manufacturers might too. I have not ever had a panel fail so I don't know how it would be handled.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by SpaceCowboy »

I wouldn't use Chinese panels even though they are cheaper due to the unknown stability of the suppliers for the duration of the 20+ year warranty. I went with LG panels, a large Korean company that has been around for a long time.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by Valuethinker »

BrandonBogle wrote:
desiderium wrote:Your home uses quite a bit of electricity
I would suggest a comprehensive review of how that usage could be cut. This would include a look at appliances, building performance, insulation, windows, etc. For each energy improvement, calculate the payback. I would bet that many of these have a shorter payback period than solar. When you get done with all of this, solar prices will likely be lower and you can look at it again.
The energy company has consistently said otherwise. I have good insulation, high efficiency alliance, an air-sourced heat pump, double-panes windows, insulation under the siding, insulation under the drywal, etc. The house is 100% electric, so no gas bill. My actual usage over the past year is 16,550 kWh, but I rounded up to 19k kWh annually because we now have an electric vehicle. If I do switch to the time of use plan, I would ensure I shift the car charging and dryer usage to off-peak hours.
Since you are using a heat pump, and you live in North Carolina, that usage does not sound outlandish (depending upon how many square feet your house is).

Given you have an electric car, I think the solar panels would make more and more sense. One caveat: is your car at home during the day to charge off the panels (when the electricity is, in some sense, "free").

A 6.5 kw array should generate at your latitude c. 6500 kwhr pa (and possibly as much as 9000 kwhr pa)-- thus deferring half your electricity consumption. It would seem to make sense at that crude physical level (setting aside subsidies, my roof would generate c. 850 kwhr pa, or only about 25% of my consumption).
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by BrandonBogle »

madbrain wrote: What is the incentive cap ? Is it a fixed $ cap ? Sounds to me like this installer is more concerned about pocketing the incentive than providing you a suitable cost-effective system.
35% of total system and installation cost, up to $10.5k tax incentive payback by NC. So the system should cost no more than $30k to maximize NC's incentive.
That is a very good way to look at it. The paperwork sent to me includes a post-incentive per-watt price of $1.94 per watt (they include $2,536.63 Federal Tax liability the $10k state incentive). Using pre-incentive pricing helps compare to other non-local installers.
Yes, the incentives tend to distort a lot of things, and very often the installers are the ones benefitting, not the customers.
...
The installers in your state are clearly padding their prices due to the state incentive.
I would expect if the state incentive is dropped, they will be forced to drop their prices significantly just to stay in business.
This is making rethink my timing. We are expecting another 10 years at this house. It could have been the lifelong house for me, but I'm told in no uncertain terms that in our 40s, we must have a master bedroom on the main level. I may just wait till the next house to get better installation pricing and then either a cheaper system or more efficient system for the same cost.
Yes, you should definitely ask. Monolithic inverters typically have a 10 year life or so. Replacing them a couple of times will be costly and could easily completely negate any benefit you get on your bill. You should not discount this. The Enphase M215 micro inverters are warrantied for the full 25 years. I don't think any monolithic inverter has that kind of manufacturer warranty. Your installer might be the one providing the inverter warranty to you as part of the contract. However, what are the odds your installer will still be in business in 10, 15 or 25 years when the monolithic inverters do need replacement ? I would take a manufacturer warranty any day.
Given this and the shading at my property, it sounds like I should be using micro inverters no matter what. I have some reading to do on any downsides to them (except cost as less scale to spread costs out).
OK. Too bad they have to be removed. One thing you should consider is that since your house will no longer be shaded, it will be warmer, and your A/C use may increase as a result in the summer. You may want to take that into consideration when sizing the system. A/C is by far the biggest source of electricity consumption for me in the summer.
And I already get told I let the upstairs get too hot lol! My biggest thing about the trees over the house is branches coming down, acorns (the car in the driveway is covered in dents from them), and all the leaves that clog up the gutters. However, on the front of the house and roof I get a decent amount of sun for most of the day. Perhaps the back will not be impacted that much once the "debris" hazard is scaled back?
madbrain wrote:
rrppve wrote:You should ask the installer to quote the 260W panels with Enphase M250 microinverters. That will probably be a better system per $. No need to pay the premium for 320W panels as it does not sound like you are space constrained.
Agree, but even better to skip Sunpower altogether due to their premium cost regardless of density. You can go with some cheap Chinese panels in the 240W - 250W range and pair them with inexpensive Enphase M215. That will be an even better value. The system I posted was 7000W for $13,167 shipped outside of Cali, or $1.88/watt.
Perhaps the OP can find an installer to do the labor for 60 cents/watt. That would add $4200 in labor, bringing the total to $17,367. This is the pre-incentives cost. Then you deduct the 30% federal tax credit and 35% NC incentive, bringing the net total to $6078. If the system is saving $70/month on the electric bill, that's an 86 months payback period or 7 years and 2 months, much more reasonable.
I plan to contact a couple companies this week to see about installation costs of I provide the system. The link to madbrain's 28 panel system seems like a great price and the use of the micro inverters seems like a good fit for my house.
It's not clear to me whether the tree removal cost qualifies for the 30% federal tax credit or not.
Google searches show conflicting answers to this question. Some say you can, others not. Check with your CPA or call the IRS. And ask your state program whether this tree removal cost qualifies for the state tax credit also.
If both apply, then the additional $1790 cost becomes $626 so this only extends the payback period for another 9 months, ie. to 7 years 11 months, still a reasonable payback period.
This is likely a deal-breaker for me. Without the discount on the tree and panel work, the payback will be too far out on a property we don't plan to be living in 10 years from now.
Valuethinker wrote:
BrandonBogle wrote:
desiderium wrote:Your home uses quite a bit of electricity
I would suggest a comprehensive review of how that usage could be cut. This would include a look at appliances, building performance, insulation, windows, etc. For each energy improvement, calculate the payback. I would bet that many of these have a shorter payback period than solar. When you get done with all of this, solar prices will likely be lower and you can look at it again.
The energy company has consistently said otherwise. I have good insulation, high efficiency alliance, an air-sourced heat pump, double-panes windows, insulation under the siding, insulation under the drywal, etc. The house is 100% electric, so no gas bill. My actual usage over the past year is 16,550 kWh, but I rounded up to 19k kWh annually because we now have an electric vehicle. If I do switch to the time of use plan, I would ensure I shift the car charging and dryer usage to off-peak hours.
Since you are using a heat pump, and you live in North Carolina, that usage does not sound outlandish (depending upon how many square feet your house is).

Given you have an electric car, I think the solar panels would make more and more sense. One caveat: is your car at home during the day to charge off the panels (when the electricity is, in some sense, "free").

A 6.5 kw array should generate at your latitude c. 6500 kwhr pa (and possibly as much as 9000 kwhr pa)-- thus deferring half your electricity consumption. It would seem to make sense at that crude physical level (setting aside subsidies, my roof would generate c. 850 kwhr pa, or only about 25% of my consumption).
We have about 3,500 sq ft. including a 1k sq ft. unheated walkout basement. However, the heat pump is down there and great insulation keep the basement at great temps and low humidity year round. The car charges mostly at work. Just the occasional night when I work from home that day and the weekends. The installer estimated the original system spec'd for 10k kWh per year, but only 9k at my house because of the rear of the roof facing SW. Angle shouldn't be a problem as my roof pitch is almost perfect for my location. I am going to meet with a friend with a 6 kW system for the past few years to get some local insight on how well it has worked so I don't get caught up in what a salesman is telling me.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by desiderium »

BrandonBogle wrote:
desiderium wrote:Your home uses quite a bit of electricity
I would suggest a comprehensive review of how that usage could be cut. This would include a look at appliances, building performance, insulation, windows, etc. For each energy improvement, calculate the payback. I would bet that many of these have a shorter payback period than solar. When you get done with all of this, solar prices will likely be lower and you can look at it again.
The energy company has consistently said otherwise. I have good insulation, high efficiency alliance, an air-sourced heat pump, double-panes windows, insulation under the siding, insulation under the drywal, etc. The house is 100% electric, so no gas bill. My actual usage over the past year is 16,550 kWh, but I rounded up to 19k kWh annually because we now have an electric vehicle. If I do switch to the time of use plan, I would ensure I shift the car charging and dryer usage to off-peak hours.
Often one of the biggest sources of heat energy loss it through convection, which defeats insulation. It may be worthwhile to commission an energy audit. A blower door test can lead to sealing and other changes that make a meaningful difference. These upgrades are generally inexpensive. Water heating is a big expense. Mine went down 20% after installing adjustable valves at the showerhead to reduce flow. I would guess that there are still meaningful changes you could make at low cost that would make a dent in your electric usage.

Investing in making power is not a good deal for everyone. In my area, with much less favorable sunlight (but more favorable incentives), I was able to install a system that generates 10kwh/year with less than 5 year payback. I looked at this for about 6 years and the payback went from 10 to 7 to less than 5 years. Things are changing fast. I would suggest waiting.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by madbrain »

BrandonBogle wrote: This is likely a deal-breaker for me. Without the discount on the tree and panel work, the payback will be too far out on a property we don't plan to be living in 10 years from now.
You will definitely get the discount on the panel work. It's the tree removal I'm less confident about, as I didn't have to remove any trees for my system. You should check on that with a CPA or call the IRS. It's possible that it is covered by the tax credit since it is necessary to get the system working.

If you don't think you will be living in the house 10 years from now, it is more difficult to say whether the project makes sense financially. It's really unknown how much value the solar system will add to your property by the time you decide to sell it. It will probably won't return its full cost, as it's likely the cost of materials will continue to drop. The cost of labor (installation) probably won't go down, on the other hand.

The federal and state incentives also won't last forever. The California solar incentive state incentive is long gone. It sounds like your North Carolina state incentive may not be there next year anymore. The 30% federal tax credit is also currently set to expire at the end of next year. If you do decide to go through with the project, it's probably better to act now. Just make sure you get a price that makes sense. If you wait too long or the incentives expire, the payback period will likely extend beyond the time you will live in the house, which would make it financially risky.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by WhyNotUs »

$1.56 net cost per watt is a great price for Sunpower panels. I have 6 year old Sunpower system and it has outperformed the estimated generation. Adding to my system here would cost net $2.30 per watt. I am looking at some lower efficiency panels to get to your price.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by SeeMoe »

Guess the newer Solar models are okay . A few years ago our power company offered the deep well(s) energy system and it works well both heating and A.C. 20 years earlier this energy Co. offered us "Thermo Electric storage heaters at big discounts and they worked well too,...Then they suddenly stopped the subsidy and bills skyrocketed ! I was even thinking about the windmill technology creating your own power source too,...33.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense?

Post by madbrain »

SeeMoe wrote:Guess the newer Solar models are okay . A few years ago our power company offered the deep well(s) energy system and it works well both heating and A.C. 20 years earlier this energy Co. offered us "Thermo Electric storage heaters at big discounts and they worked well too,...Then they suddenly stopped the subsidy and bills skyrocketed ! I was even thinking about the windmill technology creating your own power source too,...33.
While there is some regulatory risk involved when rate structures change, for the OP I think it is relatively unlikely. OP's electricity rates aren't likely to go any lower than they already are. They are more likely to go up than down, which would make the solar system pay back earlier rather than later.
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Re: 10 kW Solar installed

Post by BrandonBogle »

Back in 2015 I wrote opened this thread as I was considered a solar install prior to the NC incentive expiring.

Ultimately, the numbers just didn’t work. The local companies were charging far too much in labor, essentially eating the 35% state incentive.

This year, however, I took another look. Things this time looked very different. After some tweaking of usage and enhancements to improve energy usage, I’ve consistently had 16 - 17,000 kWh annual usage INCLUDING charging the electric car. Earlier this year, I accepted a contract to install 10 kW on the SE roofs of the house and garage.

Well, this system went live in October. It’s only been a short time, but I’m impressed so far. I’ve had partly cloudy, hazy, and rainy days thus far, but I’ve mostly covered my daily usage. At the moment, I’m averaging 23 kWh production daily and 28 kWh consumption daily. The installer recommended I get a slightly larger system since 10 kW wouldn’t offset most of my usage with the shading I have, but I was stubborn. Thinking about it, I had room for these arrays to have another 2 kW worth of panels. I should have had those installed for another $3,500. Even then, I would only be estimated to cover 70% of my usage, but I would have maximized by surface area. There is also the possibility that the installer conservatively estimated the production as their guarantee offers either paying me for any shortfall each year over 10 years, or adding extra panels at no charge to produce the estimated output. My thought was I was leaving room for this, but again, I suspect their conservatively estimated the production.

Meanwhile, the day the solar was installed, Tesla began offering solar in NC. While I paid $2.20 / W on this system (before incentives), Tesla is $2.01 / W. They are working up a plan to install 4 kW on the front garage roof. Both Tesla and the system I just installed use SolarEdge inverters and should have no problem working at my property.

As part of the install, I had to remove two trees that had grown over the house. I’ve been assured that since those trees had to be removed to make solar viable, I can claim their cost for the federal tax credit. Also, my electrical panel had to be upgraded as I had an old split-bus panel from a company that is considered unsafe in modern times as the circuit breakers could fuse to the bus bar and never trip. This new panel is rated for 225 amps, so there is plenty of support for having both systems installed.

I wanted to share as everyone’s input was invaluable to me back in 2015 and seriously helped the decision in 2020. Also, in another person’s thread, Valuethinker provided great feedback on the 2020 install and I want to say Thank You!

Feel free to ask me any questions!
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Re: 10 kW Solar installed

Post by Valuethinker »

BrandonBogle wrote: Sat Oct 17, 2020 10:37 am Back in 2015 I wrote opened this thread as I was considered a solar install prior to the NC incentive expiring.

Ultimately, the numbers just didn’t work. The local companies were charging far too much in labor, essentially eating the 35% state incentive.

This year, however, I took another look. Things this time looked very different. After some tweaking of usage and enhancements to improve energy usage, I’ve consistently had 16 - 17,000 kWh annual usage INCLUDING charging the electric car. Earlier this year, I accepted a contract to install 10 kW on the SE roofs of the house and garage.

Well, this system went live in October. It’s only been a short time, but I’m impressed so far. I’ve had partly cloudy, hazy, and rainy days thus far, but I’ve mostly covered my daily usage. At the moment, I’m averaging 23 kWh production daily and 28 kWh consumption daily. The installer recommended I get a slightly larger system since 10 kW wouldn’t offset most of my usage with the shading I have, but I was stubborn. Thinking about it, I had room for these arrays to have another 2 kW worth of panels. I should have had those installed for another $3,500. Even then, I would only be estimated to cover 70% of my usage, but I would have maximized by surface area. There is also the possibility that the installer conservatively estimated the production as their guarantee offers either paying me for any shortfall each year over 10 years, or adding extra panels at no charge to produce the estimated output. My thought was I was leaving room for this, but again, I suspect their conservatively estimated the production.

Meanwhile, the day the solar was installed, Tesla began offering solar in NC. While I paid $2.20 / W on this system (before incentives), Tesla is $2.01 / W. They are working up a plan to install 4 kW on the front garage roof. Both Tesla and the system I just installed use SolarEdge inverters and should have no problem working at my property.

As part of the install, I had to remove two trees that had grown over the house. I’ve been assured that since those trees had to be removed to make solar viable, I can claim their cost for the federal tax credit. Also, my electrical panel had to be upgraded as I had an old split-bus panel from a company that is considered unsafe in modern times as the circuit breakers could fuse to the bus bar and never trip. This new panel is rated for 225 amps, so there is plenty of support for having both systems installed.

I wanted to share as everyone’s input was invaluable to me back in 2015 and seriously helped the decision in 2020. Also, in another person’s thread, Valuethinker provided great feedback on the 2020 install and I want to say Thank You!

Feel free to ask me any questions!
I am glad it worked out and I am glad I was helpful.

I think there is going to be greater and greater uptake of home solar as the economics work for people.

However I worry all the leasing deals, with their opacity for the consumer, will muddy up the market. It really does seem better to own.

Also people need impartial advice as to likely generation and savings.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

Post by squirm »

I wouldn't focus only on production quantity, focus on the value of it. How much are the credits worth during the day? Also Is pg&e or your utility going to change it so credits become almost worthless in the future, sometimes they phase out the better pricing schedules.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

Post by BrandonBogle »

squirm wrote: Sat Oct 17, 2020 11:35 am I wouldn't focus only on production quantity, focus on the value of it. How much are the credits worth during the day? Also Is pg&e or your utility going to change it so credits become almost worthless in the future, sometimes they phase out the better pricing schedules.
My energy provider, Duke Energy, offers full retail Net Metering, with or without Time-of-Use. Generally speaking, the Time-of-Use plans are available either with or without peak demand charges, but the ones without the demand charges are explicitly exempt from net metering. So at the moment, I'm on my existing "residential - all electric" plan. When I signed the contract to get solar installed, my charges were $0.076 / kWh and I was looking at 11.5 years for payback with conservative numbers. However, as of Sept 1, rates went up. I'm now at 10.75 years for payback.

Meanwhile, Duke Energy offers an installation incentive that requires a commitment to Net Metering for 10 years. As such, I'm confident that even if their setup and plans change, the net metering setup I'm on will remain until I've basically reached payback of the system. At that point, I'm free to not have NM if I don't want to. Either way, my inverter has a revenue-grade production meter and a consumption meter that allows me to set it up for zero-export. Right now, that makes no sense as I far exceed my usage during the peak solar production hours, but it is something I could do if there is a reason for it -- like adding a battery to the system.

Additionally, while the NM rider allows for unused production to carry over from month to month, each May there is a reset to 0. Any excess credit kWh I have "banked" are wiped out with NO payout -- no "true up" payout, even at wholesale rates, that some folks in other states get. Thus, most installers recommend not to go above 80% offsetting if you use time-of-use plans as you are likely to financially fully offset your energy costs given the rate differential (the off-peak rate on that plan is about $0.02 / kWh). There is also a $14 connection fee that I'm subject to regardless of energy use, as long as I'm connected to Duke Energy's grid.

While the value proposition in the short-term is barely there, it is good enough for me to want to do my part to aid in helping the environment. Long-term (if I remaining in the house for 25 more years), the value is definitely there.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

Post by TomatoTomahto »

BrandonBogle wrote: Sat Oct 17, 2020 12:21 pm.
. . . Additionally, while the NM rider allows for unused production to carry over from month to month, each May there is a reset to 0. Any excess credit kWh I have "banked" are wiped out with NO payout -- no "true up" payout, even at wholesale rates, that some folks in other states get. Thus, most installers recommend not to go above 80% offsetting if you use time-of-use plans as you are likely to financially fully offset your energy costs given the rate differential (the off-peak rate on that plan is about $0.02 / kWh). There is also a $14 connection fee that I'm subject to regardless of energy use, as long as I'm connected to Duke Energy's grid.
It sucks about the reset to 0, but if you find yourself losing banked electrons, this might work. In Massachusetts, we can donate excess electrical production to any meter on the same utility. So, you could donate to a family member, friend, or charity. We hope to begin doing this next year after we have a full year’s history (you can’t donate past production, only future, and it has to be a percentage of production).

+1 on microinverters. We upgraded 2/3 of our system, and they work much better during our shade hours.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

Post by WhyNotUs »

$2.20 before incentives is a good deal IMO.

I have four systems (3 PV and one hot water) and one of them is off-site community solar thought a private company. I just learned that they have gone bankrupt :-(

I can go get my panels and add them to my home system or the utility that is buying the project is making me an offer for credits. I have 90 days to do the math and they are hosting a webinar for more info.

I had reached about 60% of my payback on the community solar, which was purchased at three times the price that you paid for your panels. Agreeing with the concept that there may be benefits to owning rather than leasing.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

Post by softwaregeek »

WhyNotUs wrote: Sun Oct 18, 2020 9:55 am $2.20 before incentives is a good deal IMO.

I have four systems (3 PV and one hot water) and one of them is off-site community solar thought a private company. I just learned that they have gone bankrupt :-(

I can go get my panels and add them to my home system or the utility that is buying the project is making me an offer for credits. I have 90 days to do the math and they are hosting a webinar for more info.

I had reached about 60% of my payback on the community solar, which was purchased at three times the price that you paid for your panels. Agreeing with the concept that there may be benefits to owning rather than leasing.
I am generally against leasing, but with todays low interest rates it may make sense. Rooftop solar is, in todays world, pretty much a fixed ROI and leasing would cover equipment failure and the like. I initially considered a one time upfront 25 year lease payment, which was about the same cost as the panels initially, but I passed and just bought the panels outright. I just consider the solar panels functionally equivalent to a bond.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

Post by finite_difference »

So right now solar is about $2/watt. Once we hit $1/watt, which might happen in 5-10 years, it makes sense for almost everyone installing a new roof to add solar?

Then a 6kW system would cost $6k. The roof itself might cost $10k.

My annual electric bill is about $2k/year at 13c/kWh.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

Post by bwalling »

BrandonBogle wrote: Sat Jul 25, 2015 12:13 am So here are the numbers...
$1,790 outside of group buy pricing for additional work, then $1,360 per panel for panel, inverters, design, permitting, racking, installation, warranty, and inspections. For the recommended 20 panel system, I would be looking at $29k before incentives, $10,147 after incentives.
I have a 15.6kW system, and I paid $34,000 before incentives. The pricing you're being offered seems lousy.

Tesla is $16,400 for an 8.16Kw system, and $24,600 for a 12.25kW system (before incentives). You can get the prices directly from their website without needing a salesperson to quote you.

Get more quotes.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

Post by BrandonBogle »

bwalling wrote: Sun Oct 18, 2020 2:05 pm
BrandonBogle wrote: Sat Jul 25, 2015 12:13 am So here are the numbers...
$1,790 outside of group buy pricing for additional work, then $1,360 per panel for panel, inverters, design, permitting, racking, installation, warranty, and inspections. For the recommended 20 panel system, I would be looking at $29k before incentives, $10,147 after incentives.
I have a 15.6kW system, and I paid $34,000 before incentives. The pricing you're being offered seems lousy.

Tesla is $16,400 for an 8.16Kw system, and $24,600 for a 12.25kW system (before incentives). You can get the prices directly from their website without needing a salesperson to quote you.

Get more quotes.
Please note that the pricing you quoted from me is from my 2015 post. I agreed it was lousy and didn’t install solar then. I just had a system installed for 10.08 kW at $22,000 before incentives.

Meanwhile, the day of install, Tesla finally started offering solar in NC. They say I’m in line to be their first install. They reduced my order to 4 kW since 22 kW would far exceed my annual usage. The 14.25 kW system should be somewhere in the ballpark of 85 - 90% of my usage. Tesla should have my updated design layout next week.
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Re: Does a 6.5 kW Solar install make sense? (10 kW installed)

Post by WhyNotUs »

Glad it is $2/watt where you live, over $3 where I live. HCOL area.
finite_difference wrote: Sun Oct 18, 2020 1:32 pm So right now solar is about $2/watt. Once we hit $1/watt, which might happen in 5-10 years, it makes sense for almost everyone installing a new roof to add solar?
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