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

Rooftop Solar Energy: Install and Savings Recap

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

Today marks the last article in my series, The One with the Solar Panels, reviewing our rooftop solar energy system. Today I am reviewing the installation process and the dollar savings we have seen to date.

If you missed the previous articles in this series, you can mosey on over to Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3 to catch up!

Solar Installation

Okay, what goes into the a rooftop solar energy installation with MSS?

  1. Sign your proposal and put down a 30% deposit or get financing approval.
  2. Site review and permits
  3. System installation
  4. DTE gives the papal blessing
  5. Obsessively watch the app and calculate your savings

We signed our proposal and wrote a big fat check in February 2021. Sales Guy #2 was very up front that our install date would be the end of May or into June. A big chunk of this time was working through the various permits and approvals needed prior to installation.

Luckily, MSS handles all that permitting and other nonsense behind the scenes. During the gap between deposit and installation, we are just (not so) patiently waiting to be told we are approved.

TESLA Pulls Shenanigans

As we’re coming up on the installation, Sales Guy #2 calls us because there is a snafu. Our system was quoted with a TESLA powerwall battery set up. The battery was ordered as soon as we put down our deposit, but MSS is getting the song and dance from TESLA who doesn’t seem to be shipping much of anything to anybody.

TESLA says the battery will be delivered in August. Unfortunately, this means our panels will go in on schedule but without the battery back up system.

Installation Day Arrives!

After 3+ months, installation day is here! May 24, 2021 the trucks roll into our driveway. I was incredibly impressed with the crew. They were fast, they were safe and they were very respectful of our home.

Rooftop solar energy panels installation
They told me “You get used to it.” Excuse me, WHAT?

Fair warning, install day can get a bit loud. They are drilling and cutting through your exterior walls and into your foundation so they can get everything mounted. They hand carry each panel up a ladder, so I recommend you don’t watch. They drop the electrical lines down through your walls, and it sounds like there are snakes slithering around in there. At some points, you won’t have electricity and it might get hotter than that sauna The Mathematician wants because it is a randomly hot day in June. But you will persevere because, well, solar.

And Then. . .You Wait

After the installation, you will be so pumped for them to turn your system on . . . but they can’t. Your city Electrical Inspector first has to come out and approve the setup of your rooftop solar energy.

Then DTE has to come out and work some clipboard magic before they throw the switch. DTE has up to three weeks to meander out your way – THREE WEEKS. Luckily, it only took a few days and then we were up and running.

MORE Shenanigans from TESLA

In the end, TESLA decided it wasn’t ever going to send MSS the battery. We switched to a different battery, which increased the cost of our system by about $500. We figured over the lifetime of the system, that amount wasn’t going to stop us from getting the battery.

Because TESLA didn’t drop the bomb until around September, our battery did not get installed until December 29, 2021. Luckily, this was juuuuust in time for us to claim the entire system on our 2021 tax filings. Which was good, because I had adjusted our tax withholdings to reflect the credit and we would have owed all those taxes plus probably a penalty for under withholding if the battery had missed the 2021 install.

There’s an App for Your Rooftop Solar Energy

Of course, there’s an app to keep an eye on your rooftop solar system! Below I’m including some screenshots so you can see some of the information and metrics available in the app.

Production and consumption data for the week of April 25-May 1, 2022.
Production and consumption data for the billing cycle shown below.

Cold Hard Data

The information from the app allowed me to calculate what our monthly bills would have been without the solar production.

In the chart below, I’m comparing our electrical bills with solar to what they would have been without. DTE does have a handy spreadsheet that lets you compare the numbers side by side.

Note: Our bills are actually several dollars higher than these because we choose to pay for 35% of our energy from DTE to come from wind and solar. For simplicity’s sake and to compare apples to apples, I eliminated the wind and solar surcharge.

Our savings from the rooftop solar system from July 2021 – April 2022.

End result, between June 4, when our solar panels went live, and our last bill on April 18, 2022, we saved 50.90% on our electric bills. For us, this boils down to a savings of $541 during that time.

Show Me the Money?

But Dabs, Guy #2 said you would save $2,000.00 per year? Yes, he did say that. However, his assumption included our battery working in tandem with the solar, which it was not for all of 2021.

If you look at 2022, savings were not so great in January and February. Why? Because Michigan goes into the permacloud in December and doesn’t pull out of its funk until mid-March usually. This year was no exception.

However, if you look at March and April, we started to see big jumps in savings – 76% and 67%. Frankly, April was sort of gray as well, so I’m hoping for sunny skies soon!

Below is a sample bill from March 2022. We used 142 kWh from the grid. You can see we sold back 130 kWh to DT for an outflow credit of $10.93. We also used 361 kWh of solar-produced energy either from the panels or from the battery. Our total solar production for the month was 491 kWh. For reference, last July the panels produced 608 kWh, so we should see some extra production as we move into summer.

Our electrical bill for February – March 2022.

How Will Solar Play Out For Us?

The real test of the cost-savings is going to be the next six months. As we see the sun more, our kWh production will increase and we will sell more kWh back to DTE, which will apply a credit to our bills and drop them even lower.

However, electric bills jump in the summer because of the DREADED AIR CONDITIONING! That’s going to be an interesting watch. I plan to write an updated article later this year so you can see what our summer looked like with the battery factor added in.

Thanks for joining me for this series, The One with the Solar Panels, reviewing our rooftop solar energy system. I’m happy to answer any questions you have about solar or any other home owner concerns!

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