Project: Solar Panels for my Home
Date Taken:
20091216 to 20091223 and 20100426

30 x Suntech STP270_Vb1 panels (rated output 8100, actual will be less)
1 x Solectria PVI3000 Inverter (1 set of 10 panels will go on this one)
1 x Solectria PVI5000 Inverter (2 sets of 10 panels will go into this one)

The strings are set up like this

 String #1 (top of Roof)
String #2 String #3

This is a photoset of the panels going up on my roof.
See Below for more information.

Click on any image to a larger version.
Solar Panel Project #1 Solar Panel Project #2 Solar Panel Project #3 Solar Panel Project #4
20091216_Panels Arrive Offloading Panels Offloading Panels (Cont.)

Offloading Panels (Cont.)

Solar Panel Project #6 Solar Panel Project #5 Solar Panel Project #7 Solar Panel Project #8
Bottom of Panel Storing in Garage Storing in Garage Storing in Garage
Solar Panel Installation #9 Solar Panel Installation #10 Solar Panel Installation #11 Solar Panel Installation #12
Second Pallet Garage  Second Pallet  Second Pallet  
Solar Panel Installation #13 Solar Panel Installation #14 Solar Panel Installation #15 Solar Panel Installation #16
Second Pallet   Second Pallet   20091217_Roof before work  Mounting Rails 
Solar Panel Installation #17 Solar Panel Installation #18 Solar Panel Installation #19 Solar Panel Installation #20
Stuff on Ground  Ready for work  First Rail started 
Solar Panel Installation #21 Solar Panel Installation #22 Snow Stoppage Solar Panel Installation #24
First Rail up  20091218_Second Rail  20091219_Snow  20091219_Snow  
Solar Panel Installation #25 Solar Panel Installation #26 Solar Panel Installation #27 Solar Panel Installation #28
20091220_Panels First 5 Panels up   20091220_The Crew  20091221 
Solar Panel Installation #29 Solar Panel Installation #30 Solar Panel Installation #31 Solar Panel Installation #32
Last Panels waiting  First Row  First Row   First Row  
Solar Panel Installation #33 Solar Panel Installation #34 Solar Panel Installation #35 Solar Panel Installation #36
First Row   First Row   Last two panels  Wiring from Panels 
Solar Panel Installation #37 Solar Panel Installation #38 Solar Panel Installation #39 Solar Panel Installation #40
Last Panel  Final piece on roof  20091222  All Solar Panels up 
Solar Panel Installation #41 Solar Panel Installation #42 Meter and Inverters   Meter and Inverters Final
View from Neighbors  Close up of roof  Meter and Inverters awaiting Final Wiring  20100426
Meter and Inverters
Running and at >2Mw


 So there I was my roof needed repair, but I have wanted solar panels for several years so I decided to see if they had become affordable yet. After an internet search, which included looking at Solar Tiles and Solar shingles (too little power and still cost too much to meet my goals). I discovered that the Commonwealth of Virginia had gotten some stimulus money from the Federal government for Solar systems (among other things), so I decided to go for it if possible. The initial effort started in late July 2009. I had hoped to have it up and working by the end of October.

The Initial information was that the Virginia Rebate applications would be online on the 1st of August, so I had to fairly hurry up to line everything up (Or so I thought).

First, since I live in a historic district I had to go to the Architectural Review Board (ARB) for approval. I queried the city planning department for what I needed to do. They gave me the forms and information and given what I thought was a short time-line, they scheduled me for the first available ARB, which was in Early August. A few days before the ARB, I found out the Rebate application would be delayed a few weeks, but it was still expected by early September. I filled out the application for the ARB and sent it in, My presentation included a 'artist's depiction' of what I thought my roof would look like. Surprisingly it looks pretty close to the final results. Both the salesman and myself met with the ARB and fortunately I had almost all of the answers to the questions they asked. They commented that I was better prepared and a lot calmer then most, I don't think I mentioned I was trained to give briefings to USAF generals in the days of SAC, an ARB was low pressure compared to those. Their main concerns were how would they look (would it change the historical look) and could they come up with rules that would work for everyone. There was also some question of why was I not using the solar tiles. After pointing out I had researched those and they did not meet my needs and based on my research would likely not for at least 5 years, they decided to stick to evaluating the panels. After some discussions on guidelines, they approved my plan.

Then came the wait for the Virginia Rebate Applications

And then more wait.

Around October I sent a couple of queries to the Virginia DMME office in charge of the program. In November the applications opened up, mine went in immediately.
A week later I got notice the rebate had been reserved pending installation and hook up to the grid. This was mid-November.

At that point, the solar power contractor and myself went to work. They ordered the panels and equipment, while I got the loan I needed to cover what I didn't have on hand. Both my loan and the order went out on basically the same day, the Thursday before Thanksgiving (although I couldn't get the money physically in my account until a week later).

A few delays on getting the order in, mostly from the mounting rails manufacturer. But on 16 Dec the majority of the equipment showed up.

A few notes: It may seem progress was slow, but take into account it was between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which is cold to be working on a roof. As mentioned this was supposed to occur in October, when it was still warm out. And my system was a type the folks had not worked on yet, since the panels and rails are still fairly new issue, so they were taking their time to do it right.

If not for the need to have it done enough by the end of the year, I would have had all the parts in place first and then had the installation crew come in, but except for the snow and then some parts that did not fit, the scattered delivery added only a day total to the installation time, the cold probably had a bigger affect.

Update: 28 April 2010:

My system is up and running and the PV system meter is over 2,200 as of now.

I turned in my Federal tax returns around 17 March, still waiting on refund.
Virginia DMME finally put the rebate form up on Thursday 22 April and I turned in my rebate on Monday 26 April (or at least I mailed it on Monday, as of Weds, it still apparently had not made it the 90 minutes to Richmond.

And as of today, I got the notice that my system was certified for SRECs, so with luck should start collecting money from those starting in early May.

Also my Dominion Electric bill was ZERO (actually had a $10.26 credit). Woo! Hoo!

Impressions so far:
I am liking it, It seems to be producing more power then I had estimated it would. I visibly saw a peak of 7203 watts from the inverters at one point in mid-March, which is more then the 7000 that was expected. Also my energy use is apparently lower then I had figured as well, because I seem to have far more excess then calculated (but then I calculated from data before I started switching out incandescent for CFL light bulbs). I could probably reduce my energy use even further, and will over time - no need to hurry.

I am happy that Virginia DMME finally put the rebate form up, but not so much how long it took.

I have loans that have to be paid off as soon as the federal tax credit and state rebates come in, which are costing me interest in the meantime. About a month later system payoff for each month delay on each, so would like them now.

For misc info,
Total System cost: $55,000 - $16,000 Federal tax credit - $14,000 State Rebate = sub-total of $25,000 - Whatever the SREC*s generate + Interest on Loan.
Based on 2009 Energy usage (not counting SRECs or inflation) payoff expected ~ Early 2026
With anticipated SREC's over 10 year life at $200 each (currently $240-$300), still not counting inflation: ~ Late 2020
With current expectation on SREC value over 10 years and likely inflation values ~ mid-2017

The panels should work to an acceptable level until 2050 (guaranteed through 2035)

WHY: Well because I could. As I keep telling people, I am a big believer in residential solar power. We could seriously offset fossil fuels significantly if every home/apartment/office building had solar panels on the roof instead of just roofing material. It won't replace it by itself, but in conjunction with Nuclear (and Wind with Hydro storage), we could probably achieve 95% reduction in fossil fuel use and for that remaining 5% could use bio fuels. I am not seriously concerned about global warming, but I am seriously concerned about the environment as a whole and the security of the United States from a reliance on fossil fuels. I also believe that history shows that the country with the most available energy wins any conflict. I believe that eventually energy will be the standard by which countries are judged powerful. Currently we use fossil fuels for energy (which includes production and transportation), those will run out some day and not needing them will be our best option. If we can establish electricity as the medium for energy and use renewable sources to generate that energy, we will be a stronger nation in the long run because of it.

The best way to achieve that goal is to make solar and wind affordable, the best way to make it affordable is spend enough money through investment to fully develop the technology. If we as a country invested as much on Solar and wind as we did on just oil, The prices of solar PV systems would drop incredibly fast over a multi-year period. My panels are apparently around the 17-18% efficiency range. there are currently lab tests going with 40% and a few with the equivalent of 80% (namely because they gather more spectrum of light at the same time), these need to be developed. meanwhile with all high-tech things, prices come down with volume and experience, so panels with the same efficiency as mine should be 1/2 the price in about 5 years, faster if there is more investment, slower if there is less). combine the two and in another 10-15 years we could have panels that produce 3x the power for 1/4 of the price of mine, now that is affordable. But only if enough funding to get the ball rolling is started.

The second part of course is that the Electric companies need to change from producers of electricity as their primary function to grid maintenance companies. Their primary responsibility becomes distribution and stability of electricity produced and used in multiple locations instead of a single location producing for multiple locations.

* note: Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SREC) are currently trading at between $240 and $300 each (as of Mar/Apr 2010). They are the equivalent to 1 megawatt of produced power. And are used to represent the cost of producing that 1Mw of power, not the power itself. Certain States have mandated that their energy companies produce a certain percentage of power from renewable power. The SRECs count against their totals and provide an incentive at the same time. As long as the rules remain the same and there are not huge increase in the number of residential producers such as myself the prices should remain fairly stable through 2020, after that all bets are off as some of the state requirements run out after that point. Of course the rules may change in which case I get $0 or they could change in the opposite direction and I get in excess of the $300 per SREC. Given $200 over ten years with my system expected to produce about 10 a year, I should get at least $20,000 from the SRECs over the ten year period. More is bonus. But even without the SRECs the system will pay for itself by 2026 (baring damage to the system) and will likely continue producing electricity through 2050, or 25 years of free electricity. I can deal with that.

This page last updated by Longwatcher at 1959 EST 28 Apr 2010
All images on this site 2003-2010 Longwatcher
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