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Hi, I posted here last year to let you know that we had purchased solar panels through Solar City and wanted to update the group on their performance so far.  We purchased a $26K system with a $14.5K DWP rebate assignment- after our tax credit the system cost us about $8K.  We purchased directly from Solar City but used the 1BOG negotiated rate.

We chose to purchase since we plan to stay here for the for seeable future and figured in the long run it would be cheaper to purchase rather than make lease payments indefinitely.  However with the lease you get a performance guarantee on the panels and you don't get that with the purchase.

We installed the panels in August but it took until November to get everything hooked up into the grid.  Our first electric bill, which reflected about 6 weeks of activity which included the solar panels, was actually a little higher than the same period last year.  I called both Solar City and the LADWP thinking maybe there was a problem with the meter not registering the solar "credit" coming from the panels.  Both told us not to worry and to wait a year to see what our average energy savings would be.  The next bill (Jan-Mar) was a little better, but still only reflected about 500 Kwh of savings- half of what the Solar Guard monitoring system tells us the panels generated during that period.  I'm pretty sure our electicity usage hasn't gone up significantly- we've been fairly consistent over the past couple of years.  So I'm not sure what is going on with our bill, but so far our cost savings have been minimal. Looking just at the Solar Guard monitoring system, we're generating less than 1/3 of our total usage.  The cash proposal we got when buying the system (which was based on our exact system and our energy usage for the previous 12 months) promised a 77% total bill offset- we're not even close so far.  At this rate, instead of taking 7-8 years for the system to pay for itself, it could take 20 years. 

I'm sitting on my hands for now because I need to wait and see how the system performs over the course of a year, especially over the summer months.  Hopefully we'll see a huge improvement then.  I just want people considering solar to know that the bill offset numbers promised may not quite be what you really get, and if you can get a performance guarantee (i.e. through a lease plan) you might be better off.  

I'd love to hear from others who have had the panels for at least a few months to find out how theirs are performing.

-Anne

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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Anne -- Thanks for the relaying (no pun intended) of your experience so far. We're also in the market for solar panels and whateverallelse as well, so I appreciate very much the recounting.

Please don't in any way take this negatively -- I just want to mention that I notice the picture of a couple young boys next to your post-name so I am guessing you, like us, have short, energetic critters growing and consuming in your house. I mention it because my experience over the past dozen years or so of parenting has been that though I don't think we're using extra electricity each year, we consistently consume a bit more every year anyway. I attribute this to our growing family in part (as well as growing busy-ness and age and slothful habits, etc).

Is it possible to consider your usage rather than the bill's bottom line? I don't really know if this would change the picture, but I'm wondering whether the problem is with the company estimating your cost-recovery time on the basis of flat yearly consumption while it may actually be changing? (as a sales ploy perhaps). If so, could it be that you're actually saving more *quickly* while nevertheless paying out a larger-than-expected electricity bill??

Regardless of whether this scenario makes sense or is right, I hope you'll factor into your personal cost:benefit meanderings a giant pat on the back for just plain doing the right thing. Regardless of when it pays you back. We live under a great big giant radiating sun; there just isn't any good reason not to use that energy. You're really helping us all by shouldering the expense so I just want to say: thank you.
Our energy use has gone up over the years, but actually I've tracked that pretty carefully and it's fairly consistent. If my DWP bill was actually "credited" for the full 1000 kwh that the solar panels generated during that period, then my actual usage would have been way, way more than any previous bill. Without getting into too many specifics, the math is not adding up right and my point is just that consumers beware that the advertised savings may not be what you actually get. As I said, I have to wait a few more months before I can really say what's going on, so far I just don't have enough data.

I am as green as they come but I think if they say it's going to save you money, it should! If it doesn't, people shouldn't buy it. In order for these technologies to take off, they have to be cost-effective. Otherwise, only a few rich people living on the Westside will buy in and it will never be something that makes any meaningful difference to our environment.

You are right that our little guys (three in all) are growing up fast and consuming along the way!
"but I think if they say it's going to save you money, it should! "

There are two issues here: what "they" say, and saving money. As a consumer matter, I agree that they, aka the business "Solar City", ought not to make inaccurate claims. As a green matter, I don't agree that buying into a solar movement requires that it save you (or even anyone) money. I think the recent glimpse of profitability is wildly exciting on a personal level, but not really the point from just about any other (with a nod to the exception of the one you make regarding economic sustainability). Stuff costs money and the costs of energy are myriad and largely hidden. It's OK to pay for what you're buying, and you're buying a much, much lighter footprint. IMO this (the generality of solar power) is a product worth spending money on.
Hi Anne, thanks for sharing your experience going solar -- and raising your concerns.

If your Solar Guard monitoring system says you generated 1000 Kwh of electricity during the Jan-Mar period and your LADWP bill is only reporting 500 Kwh of generation during the same period that does seem cause for concern. The LADWP is facing serious calls for more transparency in its renewable energy programs. The "wait a year" response to concerns you raised about reconciling your bill does not seem adequate and does not inspire confidence in the fundamentals of the LADWP's residential solar incentive program. Seems reasonable to think you should be able to get further explanation from LADWP on how they calculated the credit on your bill in order to reconcile with your Solar Guard reports.

If the renewable energy you are generating for LADWP from your investment in solar is not being accounted for with adequate transparency that seems like a pretty major issue. My panels are not yet connected by LADWP, but I definitely expect to see simple and accurate reporting of solar generation on my LADWP bill that reconciles with my Solar Guard reports.

You also mentioned that your Solar Guard reports say you generated less than 1/3 of your total usage during Jan-Mar. I wouldn't worry too much about that since you may well be generating over 100% during the hot summer months to bump up your average for the year. Here's a story on YourDailyThread.com explaining how you should see your s.... I have included a chart below illustrating the significant difference in savings between the summer and winter months.

By the way, you make a good point about seeking a performance guarantee on solar panels. We opted for the lease ourselves with the thinking that we just wanted to lock-in a low rate for our electricity and let someone else deal with making sure the system is operating efficiently over the next 20 years. The performance guarantee offers some peace of mind in that respect.

all the best,
James

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