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Answering all those burning questions you didn’t know you had about home ownership.

Rooftop Solar Energy: Guy #2 Wins Life

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

Last week, I kicked off a four-part series on my family’s decision to install a rooftop solar system on our personal residence. A series I gleefully named The One With The Solar Panels. This week, we’re reviewing the two sales pitches we sat through and how solar energy actually works, in words real people understand.

In the first article, I discussed how we started on this journey and the factors we considered in moving forward to get quotes. If you missed last week’s article, you can find it HERE.

Next week, I get gritty with the money math and our decision-making process. The last article addresses the installation process and the impact to our energy costs in the 10 months since the panels were installed.

Set It Up

After much discussion, I agreed to have The Mathematician set up quotes from two different companies. I wanted to listen to the sales pitch and put the salesperson through his paces with as many uncomfortable questions as I could throw at him.

The Mathematician’s best guess on cost was somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000, which, I believe, the technical term for is “a shit ton of money.” Fortunately, The Mathematician and I are savers. We had been stashing away money for a rainy day emergency, replacement vehicle or purchasing a small island (you’ve gotta have dreams!).

Paying off my seemingly endless student loans was not a great experience for me. They were higher than my first mortgage payment WITH taxes and insurance escrow included. Since then, I avoid debt as much as possible because it, frankly, just stresses me the heck out.

A Pitch and A Miss

In February 2021, the first company comes to our house. I won’t call them out by name, but it was not a good use of my time. The information packet is not very helpful. Sales Guy #1 is much, much more interested in selling us on the ridiculous and, in my opinion, (imagine that, Dabs has an opinion!) predatory loan that they offer to help you pay for your system.

I tell Sales Guy #1 multiple times we are going to write a check. He ignores me. Sales Guy #1 is also directing all his commentary to The Mathematician, even though I’m obviously the party that needs to be convinced and am asking most of the questions.

Sales Guy #1 gets to the end of his presentation and hits us with the quote: $50,000+. Guys, Jeep sells a super tricked-out Grand Cherokee for that price (white with a black top). I am now mentally shutting down because my brain can’t get past the number. Nope, done, do not pass go, do not collect $50,000.

At this point, I wrap up the meeting and hustle the guy out the door. The Mathematician is giving me the side-eye because I am being borderline rude, but my time is valuable and I am not wasting another minute. I turn around at the door, and I utter two words – “No way.”

But, I’m not a monster, so I am willing to sit through the sales pitch with the second company. This company is Michigan Solar Solutions (MSS). **SPOILER ALERT** we do end up using this company to install our system.

You Have My Attention Now

Sales Guy #2 arrives at our home. He mentions their loan product once and never again after I tell him we’re writing a check. So far so good. Sales Guy #2 is also astute enough to realize that I am the one to convince in this meeting. He quickly pivots his strategy toward that end. Well played, #2.

Sales Guy #2 begins his presentation, and I have to say, I am impressed. He has satellite images of our house with working models to demonstrate the sun and shade pattern over the course of a typical day.

He is citing the historical increase in electricity prices and modeling them forward, applying them to our system. #2 even adjusts the projections on the fly when I ask him to show what would happen if the costs trended higher than the conservative 7.5% number he was showing me.

I didn’t even have to wait until the end of the presentation to see the quote: $32,057. Sales Guy #2 has it on the third page. At least my ears aren’t bleeding this time (well, they are but it’s not that bad).

Future Options

Well, what if we decide to buy an electric vehicle down the road? “Not a problem,” says #2. “We come back and add more panels to your system. Right now they are about $1,200 per panel.”

Sales Guy #2 wraps his presentation up with a slam dunk. MSS partners with a company called Omnidian to provide a three-year guarantee. If your system misses its solar production target by more than 3% (i.e. it generates less than 97% of what was projected), Omnidian cuts a check for 10 cents per kWh for the gap in energy production.

Now do I think they low-ball the estimate of what you will produce? Yeah, they probably have some cushion in there, but I like knowing the floor for production so I can comfortably crunch the numbers as it relates to the investment.

How Our Solar System “Works”

I will attempt a super simplified explanation of how the system is designed to work. It might not be perfect, but you’re going to get the general idea. You want more in-depth details, I’m going to refer you to The Mathematician and/or the internet.

Thirteen individual solar panels are installed and hooked together into an array on our south-facing roof. When the sun shines on the panels, photons in the panel get all excited and start running into each other. (I am picturing MTV’s wild spring break specials, circa 2001.) These collisions generate energy, which is somehow captured and fed into our house.

The panels feed the energy down the electrical wiring and into a system designed to make the energy usable by the house. Along the way, there is an outdoor emergency shut-off switch, in case emergency personnel (e.g. firemen) need to shut down the system without accessing the house.

There is also an inverter, maybe a converter, a backup electrical box of some sort and some batteries. I understand just enough to be dangerous, so I will stop there.

The Order of Things

The system applies the power generated by the solar panels at any given moment in the following order:

  1. Current energy needs of our house (the washing machine, the furnace, lights, etc.)
  2. Charge the battery backup system
  3. Sell extra electricity back to the grid (oh yes, my friend, I said “sell”)

The system can do all three at the same time, in the proper order, if there is sufficient energy being produced in that moment.

It looks like this in practice:

The system is producing 3.7 kWs and it is powering the house, charging the battery and exporting energy back to DTE all at once.

The system draws the energy the house needs from electricity at any given moment in the following order:

  1. The energy currently being produced by the solar panels (if available)
  2. The battery (until the battery is down to 30%)
  3. The grid
A day we were 62% energy independent from the grid.

Some days, the system draws almost nothing from the grid because the solar and the battery are sufficient to power the house for the bulk of the day. Days where I see we are 80% or more energy independent, I do a little happy dance because that is exciting to see!

Join me next week!

Okay, you are now all teed up for next week’s article on rooftop solar energy which gets gritty on how we did the money math and our decision-making thought process. I hope you’ll join me next week!

As always, I am happy to be your homeowner sounding board, whether you want to talk solar, contractors, or home improvements. Reach out if I can help!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for your blog, nice to read. Do not stop.

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