Friday, April 3, 2015

Solar Panels!

After months of anticipation, the solar panels are finally lining up along the roof of the barn. We have yet to turn the system on; there's still some wiring to be done and a few panels left.

Chicken Coop, Barn, and Solar Panels: A Dream Come True

I look at the farm journal from when we first got here, where I fantasized about one day having solar power on the barn, and I'm pinching myself that we're realizing that dream just five years after moving in. (I'm stating the obvious when I say there are financial benefits to not having kids....)

The last day the south-facing barn roof is white.
Phil and Kent, of Rectify Solar, work on the first panel.

Dad, Phil, and Kent preparing for the first panel install. 

It's precarious up there. Makes me nervous!
This is a 5kW system, which is estimated to serve about half of our electrical needs. Remarkably, this will convert energy from the sun into electricity, which will power our home: our appliances, our geothermal heating and cooling, our hot water needs, our computers, etc. We hope to double the system soon. The delay there is simply a matter of cost. We think the second half will be less expensive, since the wiring and much of the legwork will be done. Plus, my dad has been heroically working his butt off out there!

Dad and Phil

That's me and my solar!

Andalay Panels

These are Andalay panels, designed in a modular fashion and meant to be easier to connect and install. Phil Teague at Rectify Solar is a fan. The technology (as far as I understand it) seems innovative. We will have to wait and see. One thing is certain: our barn is trickier than a typical home roof, so the half-hour install featured on the website is far from our reality.

How soon the system will pay itself off is a huge question mark. We've seen wide-ranging estimates, and of course there are huge variables (the cost of fossil-fuel-produced electricity varies over time). Our rural electric cooperative has different rates and requirements for net metering than other electrical companies in the state (and Indiana is hardly a progressive state when it comes to solar: while we will have the Federal tax incentive of 30%, there are no state incentives!). Hendricks Power's rates seem to punish energy producers like residential solar customers by requiring not only a flat fee to cover grid maintenance (we agree that some contribution to grid upkeep is fair, although $34 a month seems steep) but also higher prices per kilowatt of energy we buy from them. (Higher than non-producers--regular customers--pay.) We're not sure how it will all pan out in practice, though.

Fortunately for our sanity, our motivations for doing this are not financial. That being said, if we end up being too severely penalized by the complicated rates, we will be tempted to go off-grid, considering battery-options (a further expense, but something to keep in mind on principle). Who knows?

I can't provide an estimate here for when the system will pay itself off. Once we go live, I will monitor the data closely and report soon.

More to follow!

At day's end.