Our Solar System

My Private Solar System

Electronics Featured Software Technology

Our Solar SystemI’ve wanted my own solar power system since the first time I learned such a thing was possible. A year and a half ago, I learned about a great program called Solarize Seattle. They team up with local installers and community organizations to make solar more accessible to homeowners in and around the Seattle metropolitan area. And more importantly, they help educate homeowners on how solar in Seattle was possible.

I didn’t take much convincing but my wife wasn’t immediately sold. Our installer, Puget Sound Solar, worked up several different potential solar systems along with their costs and return on investment. Not only is there a federal tax credit, but Washington State has huge production incentives (5 times the rate the power company pays for overproduction) for Made in Washington. Armed with that knowledge, I was able to convince her that it would be a solid investment and it would pay for itself within 7 years.

It’s now been a year since our system came online and my wife’s faith in me, and my faith in solar in Seattle, has definitely paid off. Keep in mind that Germany produces more solar power than any other country and their weather is worse than it is in Seattle!

The quick highlights:

  • We’ve only paid one electric bill in the past year and it was a fraction of our usual bill.
  • We received a check from our power company in July for $1,700 for our state incentives and for the power we put back on the grid.
  • We just filed our taxes for 2014, and with the 30% Federal Tax Credit, this is first time we are getting a tax refund in more years than I can remember!

My most favorite thing about the solar system, aside from being so close to energy independence and adding to my green street cred, is the software and data available through the eGauge connected to our system. I will never say this enough – I LOVE data. The eGauge is a little web server that sits on your home network and is plugged into the solar system converter to monitor and log all the data!

eGauge Default View - One Week Range
eGauge Basic View – One Week Range
eGauge Default View - One Hour Range
eGauge Basic View – One Hour Range

The Basic view of the eGauge app shows you, in real-time, the current production and consumption of your home in a cool graph. You can change the range and the scale and it also gives you a nice totals summary of how much you’ve used and generated and what your net is (the dollar amounts are wrong because it can’t take into account both the state production incentives and the power company credits).

The best part about this view is that it is truly REAL-TIME. Flip a light switch on and off and you will see exactly how much THAT light uses. We’ve used this more than a few times to find pesky power vampires in our house. A couple of months ago it even helped alert us to a problem with our HVAC system that had almost doubled our energy usage. Pre-solar system and without this tool, we wouldn’t have noticed that we had been wasting that much electricity for 2 months or more!

eGauge Bunny Kiosk View
eGauge Bunny Kiosk View

The eGauge also has what are called kiosk views. This one, the Bunny Kiosk, is intended to be something to show kids and start educating them on power consumption, solar generation, CO2, and gasoline usage. There is a cute little hare and tortoise that move across the bottom at a speed relative to how much power is being generated and used in real-time. It also gives you a nice easy to digest view of how much power your system has generated (5,983 kWh since installation), how many pounds of CO2 that translates to (8,864), and the equivalent gallons of gas that CO2 has offset (457). My son Owen is a little too young for these concepts but this will definitely be our first stop when he is a little older and I start teaching him about our solar system.

eGauge Sleek Kiosk View
eGauge Sleek Kiosk View

The final view is the Sleek Kiosk view. This view has been the least useful for me. It does have a nice look to it but it’s really just a simplified version of what you can get in the basic view. I can imagine having this up on display on a tablet in the house somewhere though.

As if all of these views and tools weren’t enough, there is one other feature that really excites me. Although you can get a CSV dump of data to play with on your own, the eGauge also has an XML API that can be used to pull or even PUSH data on regular intervals. I haven’t even started playing with it yet, but what that means is that I can build my own web and/or phone app that can analyze and report on the data from the eGauge. The possibilities really excite me and open up a lot of potential ways I can make tools to better monitor and modify our energy consumption and teach Owen about it.

The one thing our system is missing is a battery system of some sort to make us truly grid independent. Coincidentally enough, the web was splattered recently with news of Elon Musk and his goal of putting a version of Tesla batteries into homes to help make energy independence a reality. I promise that when they are available and at a reasonable amount, I’ll be hooking it up to our system and will write about it.

Some final technical details about our solar system:

  • 18 x ITEK 260 Watt PV modules
  • ITEK Theia 4400 Watt Central Inverter
  • 4.68 kW total capacity

For anybody who has the ability to go solar, I can’t recommend it enough. I am a firm believer that it is a realistic solution for almost any home in any location. It’s great for your pocketbook (based on the current rate, we are expecting it to have paid for itself within the next 6 years), it’s great for the environment, and it’s fun and educational for you and your kids!

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekDad and GeekMom on Patreon!

8 thoughts on “My Private Solar System

  1. It’d be nice to get some kind of idea of your cash outlay for this. Did you pay cash up front, get a loan are you leasing? What about the upkeep and maintenance – do you handle or is that part of the arrangement with the installer?

    Like you said we LOVE details and data. 🙂

    1. Paul, these are great questions and definitely things I should have thought to include!

      The total for the system was $24K. We paid the deposit in cash and then got a loan for the rest. A local credit union has also teamed up with Solarize Seattle to offer “Energy Smart” loans – low rate loans for home energy upgrades that require no equity like a normal home type of loan would require.

      As for maintenance and upkeep, part of the contract with the installer is that they monitor and maintain it for 5 years for the normal stuff. We actually had an incident during some unrelated home construction in July where one of the panels was damaged. I called the installer and they came out quickly to check it out and replaced the panel in a matter of days at very little cost to me.

      1. No offense bu $24,000 is an extremely high price to pay for a 4.68kW system. Today a name brand, average sized 4.75 kW grid tie solar system that will produce up to 600 kWh per month with only 5 hours of peak sunshine per day and provide emergency power without batteries, during daylight hours, can now be easily purchased for less than $2.30 a watt after applying the tax credit or less than $11,000.

        1. Keep in mind this was installed over a year ago. Solar costs are continually going down. Also, there is a lot less demand and competition for solar here in the PNW (which is why this program exists). Also, as part of the program, several local businesses received free solar systems when number of installation goals were met. One more incentive to participate in the program and the community. I did also forget to mention that we did a panel upgrade included in that cost. We didn’t NEED one for the solar but for other remodeling work we were doing and having the solar installers do it with the system installation meant we could get a tax break on it as well. Post tax credit our system was only $16K minus the panel which isn’t terribly far off from what you quoted as today’s price.

  2. Hi Will. Good for you to have this system. It is neat that they have the app so you can keep track of your usage and find your power hogs and vampires. Are your water heater, furnace, stove, and dryer run off of electricity or natural gas? Here in CO my furnace, stove, and wh are running on abundant natural gas (methane), hence even if I went PV and included a battery system if/when they become available I’d still be depending on my utility for nat gas–ie not “energy independent.”

    Are you familiar with the terms baseload and intermittent power supply and peak demand? My understanding is that those big green spikes are really hard on the current grid (especially when added up across multiple generators). I’m not sure what kind of baseload power plants Seattle has (you can look it up on eia.gov) but if your city electricity is generated primarily off of coal, they have to keep the plant running at a certain minimum level.

    There is so much to learn in energy–I guess I am an energy geek. 🙂

    1. Wendy, thanks for your questions. I don’t know why I didn’t even think of it but yes, our stove, dryer, furnace, and water heater (which is tankless) all use natural gas. I guess I tend to forget about them because the cost of those is so much lower than our electric bill though I can’t imagine how much power we’d need if they were all electric!

      I guess I’m not as much of an energy geek as you because I wasn’t aware of the potential issues. I’m going to have to do more research. I do know, however, that we do not get much, if any of our power from coal – 90% of Seattle’s power comes from hydroelectric and Seattle has been at the top of many “greenest cities” lists especially when it comes to our power production. Here’s some more info from Seattle City Light – http://www.seattle.gov/light/greenest/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *