We have lived in Ridgecrest, CA for almost 4 years now. I can't even believe it's been that long already but here we are. While it's still not a place either of us want to settle down in, we figured we should take advantage of getting some solar panels while we live here. Keep reading to see our reasons why and more details on how we are doing it.
Why we are getting solar:
We have been wanting to get solar panels since we have moved to Ridgecrest, but our roof is on its last legs. So before we put solar on our house we first needed to replace our roof. Well this last rainy season the last legs where kicked out from under our roof and it started leaking. On top of that we got a Freeze Dryer and a Hot Tub which both where pushing our electric bill up higher than we wanted to pay.
With all of that building up we just needed a way to pay for everything. Luckily for us we got back a decent size Tax return for overpaying in 2019. On top of that we got the $2,400 tax credit for Coronavirus and I was one of those people who ended up making more money from the Coronavirus PPP than I did at my job. To top things off the federal tax credit for solar is being phased out so now seems like the perfect time to do everything.
Sizing our solar system:
Deciding how many kWh our system needed to be is pretty simple math. You just take your yearly energy use, divide that by how many days are in a year and then divide it again by how many hours of daily sun you get. While that is pretty easy, there are some things that are good to know so that you are plugging in the right numbers.
First, there is a difference between how many hours the sun is out and how many hours the sun is going to produce enough electricity to power your system. This part is called "solar irradiance" which is vastly lower than the number of daylight hours. For example, today the sun is going to rise at 5:45am and set at 8pm which is 14 hours (and 15 minutes) that the sun is out. Of that, we will only get about 7 hours that our solar panels will be producing electricity.
I found a couple links that are great for figuring out how much sun your roof gets. However, different websites will give you different hours of solar irradiance for your area. Here are a couple of the websites we used and some notes about them.
Tycon Systems6.8 hours of sunlight. This site had the highest hourly rate. I am guessing this is based off of solar panels that would move with the sun. Solar Electricity Handbook5.3 hours of sunlight. This website is nice because you can tell it which direction your solar panels are facing so I feel like it is a bit more accurate than the first website I used. Roof Orders 4.3 hours of sunlight. This is a paid service but one that I would highly recommend getting if you are getting solar or even want more information about your roof. They actually do an analysis of your roof and can take in to account shading from nearby trees or other obstructions. It will also take into account the pitch of the roof.
So let's do the math. We logged on to our electrical company website (Southern California Edison / SCE) and we were able to get what electricity we used over the last 12 months which was 8000 kWh.
So the math would look something like this:
8000 kWh divided by 365 days divided by 5.3 hours of sunlight = 4.1 kWh.
Based on our current usage, we would need a 4.1 kWh system to meet our current electricity needs.
Now that we know how much solar we need, next we needed to decide what type of system to get. The 2 options we were deciding between were string and micro inverter. The string systems cost about 20% less but they have some limitations. The main limitations are that each panel in the system will operate at the lowest wattage of the individual panel (no panel left behind!). So if one panel is shaded or defective, it's going to reduce the output of every other panel. The other thing that we did not like was that we could not get panel by panel monitoring. With all that said, before you decide what system will work best for you, look into a company called SMA. They are starting to make optimizers (TS4-R-O) that you can put on each panel in a sting inverter system that basically turn it into a micro-inverter system (different technology, but same overall results). The only problem is that these optimizers were wireless and were having trouble connecting to each other. It ended up causing more problems than it solved and having lots of recalls. But hopefully they can figure out a way to fix this communication issue or even make a completely wired system for their optimizers.
Another thing to look in to with the SMA optimizers are if they are fire compliant for your roof. I know that originally they were not but I believe in early 2019 that issue was fixed via a firmware update, but didn’t confirm this with anyone because the communication issue was a no go for us.
We ended up going with micro inverters because of the monitoring features via app and website and we didn't want an issue with a single panel degrading our whole system. Although maybe we should have went with the string inverters but we were slightly nervous and thinking about things that could potentially go wrong. #nervousnelly
The solar companies we looked at:
I cannot say enough good stuff about Energy Sage. It's a free service that just required our address and monthly energy usage, the within a week we had 5 quotes from different solar companies. All the messaging was done through the website so we didn't have people calling and trying to push solar on us and it was very easy to compare the different quotes we got from all of the installers. There were only 2 things I didn't like about website. The first one being that I couldn't delete or reject quotes that I didn't want ~ aka they were extremely high. The second one is that each solar company was able to estimate the solar production of their system. We had 2 companies quote the same size system, installed in the same location on the roof. but one estimate said it would produce 600 kWh a month while the other company said it would produce 700 kWh a month. Basically the companies seemed like they could say whatever they wanted the output to be on the system, so be aware about that.
The other 2 options that we looked at, and that we went with, were DIY options.
Seemed like a hybrid between doing everything yourself and having someone else do it for you. They had good prices for the equipment but were charging about $1500 to do permitting process for us (some of which we would never need). If you are nervous about the system permitted, this might be a great option to go with. We found out a little too late, but you can skip these permitting fees in the initial payment and then buy them if you ended up not being able to do it yourself.
Ding ding! Winner! This is who we ended up going with. They have a lot of great information about doing solar on their website that is free for anyone to use.
They ended up being a little cheaper than GoGreenSolar and their panel produced a little more electricity. If you choose to go with them, they did charge $300 to do a wiring diagram of the solar system which we didn't end up needing because we used a third party website to do the permitting paperwork. If you go with them I would see if you could skip that diagram service.
The permitting process
I was super nervous about the permitting process going into this, but it ended up being super easy peazy, at least, so far. . .figures crossed. We are installing solar on a detached garage/shop (she shed!) which does cut down on the amount of regulations needed. So that might have been part of the reason this has been so easy. Also, different cities have different requirements. So in your area, it might be harder for you than it was for us. There are 2 companies we looked at for getting all the paperwork necessary for submitting for permitting.
Gemini Solar Design They are a full service company that charges $280 to do all the permitting and paperwork. The nice thing about them is that they are going to redo the paperwork to make sure it is compliant with code.
Solar Design This is the company we ended up going with. With this website you basically build out the solar system yourself and then they generate the permitting papers. The website is free to sign up for and use. You can get a draft copy of the paperwork before your purchase. The only issue is that they are not going to have support if your local permitting place needs anything special done to the paperwork. We figured it was worth a shot to give it a try and it ended up saving us $200. Yeah! Part of the permitting paperwork was the wiring diagram which is why we didn't need the one from WholeSale Solar.
We had to submit this paperwork to both the city and electric company and both accepted our papers without any changes. Hooray!