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Old 08-02-17, 05:10 PM   #1
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Post My DIY Solar Experience and Break Even Calculations

Last week my solar installation passed its final inspection, so now I'm only waiting on my local power company to install my net meter then I'll have "free" electricity from the sun for the next 25+ years! It's painful waiting for them considering how simple a meter swap is and they're estimating it's going to take them 3 weeks to do it! The rep on the phone said they're very busy right now, having done 800 meter swaps in June alone. The net metering policy is about to change here so I expect there is a lot of people installing right now in hopes of being grandfathered into the current more favorable net metering policy. (You can read more about that here if you're interested https://utahcleanenergy.org/componen...tering-changes in reading about it.)

Now that all the costs are accounted for I ran the numbers to see what my break-even point will be. Below are all the calculations I went through, but in short if you don't want to read all that just know it should be 5.8 years or less!

I took care of the permit, system design and installation of the rooftop components (attachments, mounting and panels) and I hired an electrician to replace the main service panel and conduit/wiring between main panel to inverter and inverter to roof junction box. Since my main service panel had to be upgraded from 100 Amp to 200 Amp to support the solar the numbers below aren't purely just solar related parts/labor. The majority of the electrician's labor was spent on the main panel replacement. I've compiled some numbers based on my experience in case you've been considering installing a solar power system on your own rooftop.

The system design I went with is a 6.38 kW size system using the SolarEdge 7600 Watt inverter paired with SolarEdge power optimizers since from what I can tell that's the best technology available today for getting the most energy from the sun and avoiding problematic micro inverter failures from being in the heat on the roof. I oversized the inverter in anticipation of adding additional panels in the future, plus it's the smallest size inverter that I can later retrofit with the StorEdge components to add a battery system in the future. (I wish I could have a setup where my panels could function independently from the grid during the day if the grid goes down, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet.)

The solar panels (REC TP2), optimizers, inverter, attachments, and SnapNRack racking cost $10,114.20
Permit fees were $410
Parts for main breaker and miscellaneous solar parts $646.29
Electrician labor for replacing the main breaker and connecting the main breaker to inverter and inverter to roof junction box $1,237.50

The total cost was $12,408.03 for my 6,380 Watt system. (My average quote from a solar installer was for $23,200 for the same size of system.) Which after federal (30% off) and Utah ($2,000 off) tax rebates will be a final cost of $6,685.62 which is 53.88% of the total cost.

Our household electrical consumption average for the last two years has been $67.54 per month, or $810.52 per year. At this rate the solar system cost will break even in 8.24 years. However the system I installed is 30% larger than needed to produce our average electrical needs, and I'm saving up for a used 2013 Nissan LEAF (I've found LEAFs on local classifieds for as cheap as $6,000 used for a 2013 S model with close to 50,000 miles) to commute to work. In short it'll cost me $337.08 per year to commute to work and I intend to drive this electric car as much as possible when it'll fit the number of people to be transported. (The commute calculation is that I travel 6.3 miles to work, so multiplied by 261 working days per year that's 3,288.6 miles per year divided by 23.6 miles per gallon of an average vehicle multiplied by $2.419 which is the average price for gasoline in Utah according to GasBuddy, that comes out to $337.08 of gasoline per year to commute to work.) With household electricity, and commute gas combined that's $1,147.60 per year going into the break-even calculation.

In conclusion when including cost to commute to work in a gasoline powered car combined with our past household electricity usage I expect to break even on the solar installation cost in 5.8 years. That's not including other maintenance costs of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars like oil changes or the additional miles I intend to put on the electric car in addition to commuting to work. One other item I left out is that going forward there will still be a $6 per month account maintenance fee with Rocky Mountain Power for net metering plus taxes. I've heard from someone else with solar that it costs them $8.96 per month for the maintenance fee + taxes being grid tied. I also didn’t try to calculate in any forecasting of electricity or gasoline costs going up. I also didn’t try to factor in possible solar equipment failures past their warranty period. I’d do the part replacement myself easily since I know how the system works and goes together so labor isn’t an issue. Warranty period on the inverter is 10 years, and for the panels it’s 25 years for power output, or 10 years for the "product". From what I've heard the expected useful lifespan of solar panels is 30-40 years, but only time will tell for sure.

Overall I'm pleased with the system and happy with how things turned out. The worst part by far was dealing with bureaucracy of city permit/inspections and the power company. The actual technology of solar isn't that complicated. It took me two evenings (about 2.5 hours per evening) to install the attachments and rails never having done that before then it took me another 3 hour evening attaching the optimizers to the panels with wire clips, carrying the panels onto the roof and bolting them to the rails. The SnapNRack system is super easy to use. On the other hand I spent hundreds of hours researching the technology, getting the permit paperwork together (I did the drawings, and the electrician did some of the other design papers, and I compiled all the manufacturer spec sheets for all the parts being used), and emailing/calling the city and power company. Neither the city nor power company are very helpful navigating their procedures, and frankly they don't even know the procedure I discovered. The city would say to expect one thing, then power company would say another. Dealing with bureaucracy is where the solar installation companies really earn their money, but it's not insurmountable to do yourself as I've proven. And having saved around $10,000 dealing with the bureaucracy I think it was worth it...I think.

Feel free to let me know if you find any errors in my calculations, or if you have any questions. What do you think about solar now? Has my experience answered any questions you’ve been wondering about?

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Last edited by antdun; 09-12-17 at 10:05 PM..
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Old 08-02-17, 05:42 PM   #2
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Thanks for sharing your details and cost.
It is great to another DIY solar install. I am sure you install will encourage others to DIY install.
I 100 % agree the EV’s and solar power go together.

I watched the video. The Enphase M215 will put out 225 watts not 215 watts as he stated. I have some 240 watt panels and I don’t get any clipping. The people sell equipment were also telling me what he said. (The rest of the info seems right on)
Enphase warranty is 25 years that by design includes inverter.

When I research my system it was between Solar Edge power optimizers and Enphase.
Both are very good systems. I added in the cost of the extended warranty on the inverter and cost was much closer.
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Old 08-02-17, 08:02 PM   #3
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My wife and I celebrated 4 years of net metering yesterday with our 4.4kW DIY install system running Enphase M215 inverters. Continues to run flawlessly, collecting 6MWh/yr. Overall, no complaints, only thing I would change would be to have installed it all sooner. Of course, I keep saying the same thing about the 4.6KW array we have for our second home.

When I comment about the concept of someday adding an EV to my car collection and powering it with sunshine via adding a second PV array at the house, my co-workers look at me like I am totally nuts. It's a 32 mile each way commute for me, which a Leaf, a Model3, or any number of other modern EV's could easily handle...

Antdun may be surprised, I know my utility quoted up to 3 weeks to install the net meter, in reality it took about 8 days. When my wife called me to tell me the power company was at the house to install the meter just before lunchtime in 2013, I couldn't wait to come home and flip the PV disconnect breakers ON. I think I've intentionally switched the array off once since then, as a Hurricane named Matthew was approaching.
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Old 08-07-17, 09:01 AM   #4
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I just finished installing my own solar array. The faceplate wattage is 6,240 w, so pretty similar in size.

My cost numbers were comparable. I paid less than $12,000 for all the equipment and installation. I used Enphase 215 micro-inverters, but as others have said, I think the micro-inverters and optimizers are pretty comparable right now. Both will give you the "rapid shutdown" and some other advantages.

My system should cost about $6,000 after incentives.

I've also ALREADY been driving an electric car for some time. (Mitsubishi iMiEV right now and a previously a home conversion Geo Metro and electric motorcycles .)

Solar and PV go great together.

I've also figured my simple economic Return On Investment at about 6 years.

I have also run the numbers in several different ways to include making one's own motor fuel through photovoltaics for an electric car in place of purchasing gasoline. Depending on how you look at it, that can bring ROI down to 3.5 years.

Nice job! Your PV system looks great!

I also just got my first electric bill which included a COMPLETE month of solar production. It was a $40 credit!
First SOLAR Electric Bill

Here's what my array looks like. The white car is mine, the blue one belongs to a friend who was visiting.

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Old 08-07-17, 02:48 PM   #5
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Congrats on getting it done!!

I'm not far from you in UT. My bills are $9.01 per month with service fee and taxes.

Happy Sun Harvesting!
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Old 08-08-17, 08:07 AM   #6
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I installed Enphase M215 microinverters with my 205 watt Evergreen panels some years ago, and they clip at 225 watts (which I will admit doesn't happen a lot). I'm not sure what the 205 watt panels could actually produce! I went with the microinverters because of their 25 year warranty and that I didn't have room for a string inverter inside in a heated space and string inverters available to me weren't designed for outside winter temps in Wisconsin.
We have about 5.4 kW of panels in total, including our originals in use since 1981, and they take care of our house and shop electrical energy needs, charge our Nissan Leaf and GE Elec-trak garden tractor, and run our Fujitsu mini-splits which take care of our A/C in summer and much of our house heating in fall and spring. We have been getting a modest electric bill in January after using our banked surplus production from the sunnier months of the previous year.
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Old 08-08-17, 08:12 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WisJim View Post
I installed Enphase M215 microinverters with my 205 watt Evergreen panels some years ago, and they clip at 225 watts (which I will admit doesn't happen a lot). I'm not sure what the 205 watt panels could actually produce! I went with the microinverters because of their 25 year warranty and that I didn't have room for a string inverter inside in a heated space and string inverters available to me weren't designed for outside winter temps in Wisconsin.
We have about 5.4 kW of panels in total, including our originals in use since 1981, and they take care of our house and shop electrical energy needs, charge our Nissan Leaf and GE Elec-trak garden tractor, and run our Fujitsu mini-splits which take care of our A/C in summer and much of our house heating in fall and spring. We have been getting a modest electric bill in January after using our banked surplus production from the sunnier months of the previous year.
Can you a couple pictures of your array?
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Old 08-08-17, 12:07 PM   #8
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Hi,
First post. I'm hoping to retire in a year or so and will likely relocate and hope to install solar. I realize things might change in the next year, but data points are worthwhile. If you don't mind sharing, how much are you folks paying for a given panel?

Thanks,
Mike
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Old 08-10-17, 10:49 AM   #9
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I bought my 205 watt panels 5 years ago when the price got below $1 a watt. Freight at that time from Florida to Wisconsin was a bit over $200 for a pallet of 28 panels. They were a bit cheaper by the pallet since the seller didn't have to repack them for shipment. Lately I have gotten notices of PV panels in the $.50 to .74 a watt price range.
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Old 08-11-17, 08:41 AM   #10
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WisJim,
Thanks for the info. Where do you get notifications from?

Thanks,
MIke

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