Archology

Are Solar Panels Worth the Hassle?

One of the most common sustainable technologies I field questions about are Solar Panels. Typically, the two main questions are, are they worth it and how much trouble are they. And the answer to both is…depends.

Are they worth it? I’ll tell you I had solar panels and a deep cycle solar battery installed on my house a couple of years ago and when I did the math (and panels are now about 2/3 the cost they are now) I had a payback period of about 4 years with tax incentives, grants, and the savings on my electric bill. Now, my house was just about a perfect candidate with a south facing roof at just about the perfect pitch (I’ll admit I got lucky, the house predates me by about 100 years so I didn’t plan any of this) with a clear view of the sun. I also live in an area where electric prices are fairly outrageous (the town marks up electricity in lieu of raising taxes) and the state and federal grants and incentives aren’t all still available. Even with all that, it’s getting to the point where it’s almost a no-brainer. The cost of panels are dropping and while government incentives are dropping, energy rates are rising and private investors and companies are finding unique ways to turn profits off of these things. Speaking of Energy Rates, doing some research into ways that you can lower the cost will make a lot of difference to your everyday life, as well as saving you some money every month. Who wouldn’t want that? Most panels have a warranty of between 20-30 years, so even without the incentives, grants, and such, my panels would have paid for themselves well before they warranty expired. So my short answer is, yes, if you have a clear view of the sky to the south, it’s most likely worth it financially. If you have solar panels like us then you may be interested in monitoring just how well they are performing. You can do this by having a look at the different solar panel monitoring methods that are available to you.

Are they worth the hassle, again, I would say yes. Most companies are now pretty well oiled machines in getting the permits and doing the installation and maintenance (and if you live in Delaware or surrounding states and are interested in contacting some of these companies, go to www.archologyde.com, and e-mail my firm for some contact information, I’ll be happy to share). In general, there isn’t much you have to do other than sign some forms, get some stuff notarized, write a big check and wait for the money to come back to you.

A couple of key things to keep in mind about solar panels if you are interested:

  • Find out what type of inverters you’ll be getting, microinverters are more expensive as you need one per panel, but are invaluable if anything ever disrupts the light to just one or two panels such as a neighboring chimney or tree as they keep the juice flowing at the max level of each individual panel versus flowing at the rate of the lowest panel. This is less important if you have truly unobstructed view of the south sky which should be confirmed by your provider with a proper solar survey.
  • Find out how strong your roof is. Many people forget that they are adding load to a roof structure, the good news is a solar panel is roughly the weight of a layer of asphalt shingles, so if you only have one layer, you’re good to go, if you already have two layers, the max allowed by code, you may need to re-roof or get someone to check out your rafters and supports to verify they can handle all that load. Since many shingles and panels have similar warranty lengths, it may be wise to take the opportunity to re-roof your house prior to installing the panels.
  • Develope a relationship with your panel provider. They will probably be in your life for a few years as you get it set up and installed and the first few years of maintenance. In some states, they will also potentially be involved in selling your energy to the grid. The point being, make sure you feel comfortable asking them questions during the process as they will come up, and the answers vary a lot by jurisdiction so it pays to have a professional around who knows the answers.