We have been looking into a solar system for our house, and while we have sort of decided on "not yet, unless we win the Rocky Mountain Power lottery," a few people wanted to hear what we discovered in our searching, so here is my report.
Rocky Mountain Power is currently offering a lottery where you can enter, and if you win, they will fund a portion of your solar installation on a net metering system. I was talking to my dad about the RMP lottery, and he said he did not
think he could enter it because Hurricane City has its own power
What is net metering, you ask? Traditionally Solar power has been very expensive because you had to store the power your panels collected in very expensive batteries, which had limited lifespans and requiring expensive periodical replacement. I don't know how new net metering is, but basically it means that instead of connecting your solar to batteries, you connect it to your power meter. This way, you can run your meter backwards in the daytime when you are producing a lot of power, to the point that if you get the right system, you can eliminate your power usage and electric bill by producing as much power for the grid as you take from it.
Net metering systems are significantly less expensive than battery systems. They have a significant positive impact on the environment because they decrease your carbon footprint.
One of our neighbors has a system, and he likes it. I asked about when we had the snow last month, and it did mean he had a small power bill that month. He told Alex that he could have swept off the panels but it made him too nervous to get on the roof in slick conditions. The solar guy we spoke with also said that the snow melts a little faster on the panels because they are black. Our neighbor's opinion is that you should get exactly what you need or slightly less, because if you produce more than you need, it does not mean you will get a check from the power company for the power you produced.
Is it ugly? I have seen a few solar systems that I thought were very visually invasive, and the newer systems are not so invasive. They look like a bunch of black flat screen tv's lined up on your roof.
How is it financed? The system that would take our net to about zero would cost around $30,000 to have someone else install. (If you are ambitious, it is also significantly less expensive to install a system yourself, but you'll have to ask Alex about that one) You can pay for an installed system any way you want, from full cash to a down payment + monthly payments or even financing all of it through a bank. The solar company we would use if we went this route gives you a "year of free solar." This means they calculate your average power bill over the course of a year, then if you have financed the whole system to a monthly payment, they pay you the difference between your previous average monthly power bill and the new payment. You are supposed to use these checks to pay down your system, and then after a year you can refinance your system and the new monthly payment should be close to or lower than your previous average utility bill.
Anything else we should know? One of the coolest recent improvements in solar technology is the proliferation of an item called a microinverter. This means instead of a big thing near your meter that gathers the power from your entire bank of panels, each panel has a tiny thing gathering and regulating power on its back. With one big inverter, if one panel was in shade or covered up, and gathering less sun as a result, all of the panels would gather the same amount, such as 50% or less. With microinverters, each panel functions at its maximum capacity. This is especially efficient for people who have part of their roof or panel in the shade for part of the day. Also, if one breaks, only that one goes out, and not your entire system.
I asked on facebook if anyone else was interested because our house needs around a 6 Kilowatt system, and if you and a friend can get to where you need 10 Kilowatts or more total, the solar company can get a volume discount which they pass to the consumers. Anyway, if you have questions about these systems, we really recommend Legend Solar. They have a facebook page if you want to see what the systems look like. Their guys came to our house and explained in detail what the system and costs were. They were very professional, and they seem like a great company.
These are the things that stuck out to me. Alex also knows a lot about it because he has really researched.