Getting to Net-Zero (SOLAR)

It’s a long story getting to finally installing the solar system.

When the house was first modeled in 2014 the estimate was that it would take a 7-8kW PV solar system to cover the houses electric usage.  So like most people thinking of a Net-Zero house I proceed to get estimates from a number of Solar Installation companies.  Most wanted me to lease the system. It didn’t take much research to realize that was a BAD deal for me.  The first three estimates came in around $30K to $38K. Well I’m not spending that much until I fully understand what I’m paying for.

So I went to my favorite store, Amazon, and bought a couple of books, one   Solar Electricity Handbook.  And did a lot of internet research.  It was very clear the Solar Systems weren’t Rocket Science.  I used to maintain and install IBM mainframes in the beginning of the computer explosion. They were the most complicated electronics equipment ever made, real rocket science.  From what I read the solar systems just plugged together. And the prices I was seeing was unbelievable low compared to the quotes I was getting.

I met with one more sales rep, he quoted my a $40K price. So I said to him I’ve been reading up on the hardware and I think I can do it myself.  He said “yep, your right you can”. I said I saw my only problem was the getting past the bureaucracy.  I figured the Power Co and the Township wasn’t ready for a DIY guy to show up on their doorstep to install his own system.  He gave me the name of a solar engineering firm that could help me. Roger Anderson owner of    of Elmer NJ.  I met with Roger and said Yep, I was right and they could help me, but I might be the first person in NJ to do a system by myself..  The benefit with working with Roger  and his people, they design systems from 4kW to 2megW from Texas to Maine. And they didn’t sell hardware so had no product bias other than what worked the best.

I also found GoGreenSolar an company that would package a complete  Kit that matched Roger’s teams design and for a very good price. Being my first time I thought buying from a singles source was a great idea. at that point there hardware price was around $18K.  A hole better then $30K to $40K.

As time went on and with more modeling and more of my research I believed the house would out preform the modeling.  Every house I saw that had owners living in it had amazing performance.  So with some help from my rater we came up with a 5.5kW system the would produce about 7kWh per year.  Which is what my estimate of my usage would be. NJ is not an Net-Meter state so there is no incentive of putting is a system that will over produce. All I can do is cover my yearly usage.

I thought of waiting a year to see what the usage was, to more accurately size the system, but at my age why wait a year. So this fall I ordered the system. A SolarEedge SE5000-US inverter with Solaredge Power Optimizers , 18 LG320N2C-G4 panels and an IronRidge XR100 racking system. GoGreenSolar packaged everything in to a kit, put it all on a pallet (850 lbs) and over the road trucked it from CA.  Some assembly  required.

By now I was a frequent visitor to the township building dept., so getting a building permit was not issue. Before I could get electric service the El Co. approved my plans to self install my solar system. their rep. was very helpful.

The installation went much easier than I thought.  I got my son-in-law to help. He’s just much more agile on the roof than I am.  Thus far we have about 21 man-hours of labor into the project and about 4 left to mount the panels.  One hour of local day labor to dig the trench. and my electrician and his guys have done the wiring from the Inverter out. I’m guessing less than a $1,000.  The Kit from GoGreenSolar was $12,990, and $650 to Roger for design and advice.  The total costs of the  system will be around $14,650.  I did go back to one of the solar companies to see if they’d make it worth my time to let them do it. The owner called me and came in at a flat $20K.  When I contacted the sales rep . to say no thank you, his reply he hope his other customers didn’t figure this out.

SRECs are the key to the payback.  NJ is a great state for renewable energy.  This June an SRECs was selling for $290 each. I should get 7 SRECs a year. The price varies but I should get around $2,000 a year. I’ve self singed up for the program, again not tailored for a DIY guy. They wanted to see that the installer would warrant his work for 5 years. I said I would.

The Fed still has the 30% tax credit, or $4,200 and the NJ Clean Energy Program will give me an extra $5,000 to get to Net-Zero. So with $9,200 in incentives the system will cost to me $4,800.  With SRECs at $250 plus my electric bill sayings the pay back is 2 years.

Now if I’m wrong on the usage the way we have designed the panel layout I can add up to 4 more panels with ease.

I really want to thank Roger Anderson and his people and the people at GoGreenSolar, and my Electrician Tony Gonsalves and his guys.  They all have been so helpful with everything, answering my many questions and guiding me through the process.      We will install the rest of the panels this Saturday and I’ll update the photos then.

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Over Night Performance

Just an quickie on the house’s performance.

Last night the house was 69 degrees.  I use a laser thermometer gun to check temperatures. The temps varied between 69.0 to 69.5.  at 11:00 before I went to bed. We left two windows in vent mode, one in the Kitchen and one in the bedroom.

At 7:30 in the morning the house lost about 2 degrees overnight to 67.0 to 67.5.  The outside air temperature was 43, but more interesting the hard services, the deck, and siding were at 32 degrees.

At this point there is no sense of a draft.  Again waiting for winter.

Second month update (living in a high performance house)

I’m over due for a performance update. been busy doing the things that make a house live able, shelves; hanging clocks and pictures; setting up the garage;………… I just got the basement work shop functional but lots of work still do down there.

Now after living in the house for two and a half months, all I can say is wow. This concept, and it is still only a concept, it amazes me on how well it works.   The second month’s electrical usage was 628kWh which is 42% of the last house’s usage for the same period last year, and the old house had a gas hot water heater.  I’m guessing my big ticket item for usage is my 52″ plasma TV which is on about 4 hours or less a day.

My number 1 goal was a comfortable house. At this point that goal has been achieved. In the heat wave of mid August, 90 to 95 highs for a week, with the index above 110. Testing all the combination I could, it turns out the mini-split in the great room can cool the whole first floor.  I turn it on between 8 to 9AM and off between 9 to 10PM.  Over night the house will hold it temperature or  if I vent the windows lower to the outside temp.  The is 1 9,000 btu, 30.5 SEER is cooling the 1640 sqft area of the first floor.  The early modeling didn’t project that that would happen. I’m guessing that in heat mode it will do the same.

The basement:  many said I was NUTS with my salutation to insulate the basement, but it just made sense to my limited knowledge of physics. A technician working on the hot water heater said “This basement is amazingly warm, and dry”.  When I walk down the cellar steps the basement is noticeably warmer the first floor.  Because of the thermal mas of the interior wall it changes the temperature  very slowly. One worry was the heat exchanger  hot water heater would  pull the basement’s temp down. So far it doesn’t.  Again wanting to see what winter brings.

In September it finally cooled down, 70s during the day & 55-65 at nights.  We find leaving the windows in vent mode over night and closing it up from around 8 AM to 10 PM the house’s temperature would very from 68 to 72 degrees.  If the house was around 70 at 5:00 it would go up a degree or two by just living in the house.  It feels just our bodies in the bedroom will push the temperature up over night.  Both my wife and I feel the house wants to heat it’s self.  Today, 10/6, I was out all morning. Out side air temp was 55 to a nice 68, when I went in the house felt warm, so I opened some windows.

The second goal was spaceial comfort. That was achieved too.  My wife and I drew up the floor plan to meet what we thought our space needs were, then gave our drawings to our architect Jim Wentling, to make it work as a house. To make the pieces work we added space as needed.  We eventually turned the kitchen around and opened the wall to the great room.  And it all works as we wanted it to.  We wouldn’t change a thing.

Third goal is energy efficiency. We  won’t know for sure until we are in for a year but it looks like we will use between 6,000 to 7,000 kWh for a full year.  I was waiting for a year so I could be sure to size the solar system to match our usage, since NJ is not a Net Meter state, and I won’t get paid for over production.  But I’m comfortable we will be under that 7,000 kWh, and why waist a year so I’m installing a solar system starting this weekend.  See up and coming blog entries.


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