Sunday, May 10, 2015

Solar City Quote

Brianna and I are going to install solar panels on our house - finding a house with a south-facing roof was actually one of the criteria we were looking for when we were house hunting. We want to get the solar panels installed before December 31st, 2016, when the Federal tax credit expires. This year (2015) our electric utility started allowing net metering on their grid. Unfortunately, with both Brianna and I only working four days a week right now, our discretionary income was cut pretty severely.

So, with that time frame and financial limitation in mind, we invited a sales rep from Solar City to come over and give us a quote. He came by yesterday, and spent two hours with us (and Megan and Jarred, who happened to be visiting us at the time). He made a pretty compelling sales pitch: No money down, Solar City would do all the work, and our monthly payment would be less than what we are currently paying our electric utility.

After going through his spiel, he wrapped up the main part of the presentation by having me fill out a comparison form between our current electric utility and Solar City with information he spoon-fed me.

The summary is, according to Solar City, they will install as many solar panels as our roof can hold (which would account for about 80% of our yearly electric consumption) with $0 money down, and over the course of the 30-year loan, we would have a lower monthly electric bill AND ultimately save over $17,000 compared to sticking with our current utility.

Today, when I had a little time, I researched some of the assumptions that lead to that "$17,000 saved over 30 years" figure. I came up with numbers that were a little less favorable to Solar City, but it looks like we would still be paying (slightly) less than our current electric bill.

Which is pretty amazing: Our electric utility is a co-op, and has pretty good rates. Despite that, there's a company that will install solar panels on our roof with no money down and still save us money compared to sticking with our electric utility.

On the other hand: it's a 30-year loan at 4.5% interest. Even worse, the payments are structured so they increase over time (supposedly mimicking how electric rates go up over time). During the first year of payments, only $25 would pay down the principle. The rest all goes towards interest. On Solar City's payment plan, we would ultimately buy the entire system (including installation, maintenance and warranty) TWICE.

Like any big purchase, we would be much better off paying for everything with cash rather than taking out a loan.

I'm going to get at least two more quotes, and maybe ask around at work a little.

One last thing before I wrap up this post: our roof.

We have a lot of vents on our roof. The Solar City guy just spaced the proposed solar panels around the vents, which probably makes for easy/cheap installation, but looked ugly as hell. I'm going to look into what it takes to move some of those vent so we have a nice big continuous area for panels to sit.

That's about all the time and energy I have for writing tonight. There's still a lot to get into, like our electricity consumption, pros and cons of different solar technologies, and how having solar would impact other future home improvements (like adding air conditioning). Maybe I'll get around to that in future blog posts.


  1. Hard to see on the picture, but is your kwh charge around 16 cents? Wow. And people are constantly complaining to us about how high our electric rates are here in Snohomish County! 9 cents for us!!! Interesting!

  2. Our utility currently charges 11.3 cents per kWh. Apparently the national average is a little over 12 cents.

  3. So did they say how many panels, the investment represents? What size KWH system is it? (Our system was $44K but that was 34 of the higher wattage panels). When we did our system, they gave us a sheet showing expected production by month, which was very helpful to see how much our system was actually going to save us, by month...ours saves us 2/3 of our electric bill over a whole year. For the same system in Colorado, I would expect much better (way less clouds).

    1. The system was 24 panels, at 250 Watts each for a 6kW system. List price (including inverter, engineering drawings, installation, warranty, maintenance and monitoring for 30 years) was $26,100 before incentives (we're only eligible for the 30% federal tax credit and net metering with the electric utility here in Colorado).

      That system *should* handle 80% of our yearly electric consumption (a little over 10,000 kWh for the past 12 months).

      I'm not thrilled about the relatively low-grade panels Solar City uses, and the proposed layout on the roof was pretty horrendous: spaced out to avoid existing vents rather than moving the vents, and sprawling into low-efficiency areas of the roof to reach 6kW.

      Looking into SunPower now - the panel technology looks much more efficient and interesting - but that 30 year warranty (which includes the roof!) from Solar City is going to be hard to beat.