Our Experience Researching And Installing Solar Electricity

  I've been a big fan of solar power since I was a kid, and it's been a dream of mine to live in a house run by solar power, whether that be solar heating or solar PV (photovoltaic, i.e., solar electric cells).  Now that we own our own home, we've been looking into home improvement projects that could also help the environment; the two big ones are water catchment and solar electricity power generation.  We decided to go with solar first.

I love spending a lot of time researching things I want to purchase (car, computer, house, other gadgetry), but I got overwhelmed by the solar stuff.  Which solar panels should we get?  Whom should we hire to do the installation?  Are we on the hook ourselves for designing the layout on the roof, getting the permits from the city, inspections, all that?  How do we get connected with PG&E to send excess power back to the grid and get credit for it?  There are a lot of issues to figure out, more than I'm listing here.  Luckily for me, there was 1bog.

Last summer, I found out about an organization called One Block Off The Grid, a non-profit organization whose mission it is to make it easy for us regular citizens to learn about solar power and easily get it for our own homes.  I poked around the site and found it informative and easy to learn what they had to say.  Two other things really stuck out for me:
  1. They have this nifty Solar Estimator that shows you the roof of your house, you draw the area where you think you can put panels, and they'll generate this really cool estimate showing how much power you can generate, how long it'll take to payoff, and how much you'll save/make over the life of the panels.
  2. They negotiate group discounts with an installer in many areas of the country, including where we live in the Bay Area.
That made it really easy for us to see our bottom line cost and benefit, and 1bog did a lot of my research for me, finding a reputable installer that also chose a recommended brand of solar panels and inverters.

I sent 1bog my email and they had somebody call me within a day to answer questions.  They said that if I'm interested in talking to the installer they've negotiated the group discount with, they'd put me in touch, no obligation, for a consult.  I did that, and a company called groSolar called me the next day.

The initial conversation with 1bog happened in August, 2010; we went live with our solar installation on May 17, 2011.  That's a long time from start to finish, and something you should keep in mind to set your expectations if you decide to go solar yourself.  But despite the time it took to do the project, it was mostly pleasant, just a lot of waiting at various milestone steps.  It was mostly waiting for paperwork types of tasks (inspecting the plans, permitting, more inspections, yet more inspections).  I'll describe the timeline in a different post, and I'll say more about our experience with the great people from groSolar, and later on with SolarCity.  Overall, we're pleased with the outcome, and I can't tell you how cool it is to have the solar panels working for us!

Another fun part of the installation is the telemetry we get from the panels.  I'll say more about this in a future post, but Enphase Energy makes the inverters that take the solar panel's DC voltage and convert it to AC, along with lots of data about the current status of each panel.  Many Enphase customers make their solar installations available for public viewing; check it out to see what kind of info you can see about each installation.  It's way cool, and it turns our solar arrays into one big gadget.

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