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

Solar Panel Update – Fall 2022

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

It’s been almost six months since I wrote my series about the solar panels on our house. I’ve had a few people ask me what I think about them as time has progressed. Today I’m sharing my solar panel update, including the updated financial picture.

If you joined me after the series premiered, don’t fear; you can go back and read them, starting with this article where The Mathematician stated his case for solar panels.

Summer Schooled Me

I’m not cruel, so I’m going straight to the meat of this article. What did the return on investment (ROI) look like over the summer?

Answer: Interesting. (Okay, fine, keep scrolling if you must see the chart this instant.)

Summer this year was kinda weird, right? June was basically July – hot, super sunny, dry. July was like a typical June – cooler and wet. August was cloudy (it felt like every day!).

If you had asked me to predict our biggest savings, I would have said July.

^ The solar gods to me when I predicted July would be our biggest savings.

July was neither the highest dollar amount saved nor the greatest percentage of savings. June took the prize for highest percentage saved with 86.22% savings. August took the prize for the largest dollar amount saved with $148.44 in savings that month.

^ Me when I received the August DTE bill

Milestone Achieved

We also hit a major milestone! Our savings crossed the one thousand dollar threshold in September so that was pretty neat.

Below is the full chart with our savings per month since we had the panels installed in June 2021.

A/C is a Curve Ball

When I was thinking about raking in those savings over the summer, I was imagining all that sunshine. I didn’t give air conditioning the attention it deserves.

When our house is “at rest”, it is using around 0.4 kWh of electricity. This rate is just our house sitting there with our appliances plugged in. If the washing machine is running, that usage spikes to around 1.0 kWh. Using the furnace? That’s another 0.5 kWh.

When our solar panels are receiving full on sun between about 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., they are generating about 3 to 3.5 kWh of electricity. So even if the furnace is running or the washing machine is cycling, we’re still coming out ahead.

The air conditioning beats all the other appliances into energy vampire submission. When the A/C is running, our house is drawing in excess of 4 kWh. Not only is it using every bit of energy being generated in real time but it is also pulling from the grid or our battery backup system. This massive energy draw is why it is so expensive to run your A/C in the summer.

Solar Panel Live Energy Status Chart
Our home energy consumption when the A/C is running.

Now, I’m not a big fan of the air conditioning, even before we got the panels. I’m perpetually cold, and I have the white zombie fingers to prove it. I usually use box fans to strategically move air through the house, and I don’t turn on the A/C until the house hits 77-78 degrees. (I know, people have told me to my face I am insane. To each their own heat threshold.)

My strange A/C habits are probably the reason our August bill was so reasonable, but who knows. Bottom line: The A/C will quickly drain all your solar power, but it will also maximize your savings because it’s offsetting the energy you use.

I’m still not sure if the solar panels are blowing money toward me or away from me…

Rate Increases

One of the facets of solar panels that appealed to us is that it provides you some insulation against future rate increases. When rates increase, you’re drawing less energy overall from the grid so it helps keep costs down.

For 2023, DTE has requested a rate increase which will translate to an 8.8% increase for most residential customers. The proposed rate increase would translate to an additional $388 million per year for DTE. Now, I say “requested” because all rate hikes must be approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). (Source: Groups urge Michigan regulators to reject rate increase, citing ‘utility redlining’)

This rate increase appears to be especially contentious this year as various groups are starting to scrutinize DTE’s stock prices and how the money is flowing in a company that provides a publicly-regulated utility. Additionally, the MPSC announced last week that it had ordered an audit of DTE & Consumers Energy over their responses to power outages and downed power lines. (Source: State regulators order audit of DTE, Consumers Energy response to outages)

So, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the historic rate increases. Would you believe that when I tried to find a historic rate chart for DTE, I could find no such thing?!? (Just look at my shocked pikachu face! /s/)

I am shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you, that I couldn’t find an easily accessible historic rate table for electric rates from DTE.

Here’s what I could piece together in recent history:

I honestly ran out of steam trying to find information prior to 2018. If you know where to find this info, drop a comment below!

Regardless, my read on this situation is that DTE is going to be gunning for future rate increases after being denied increases in 2020 and 2021. As we learned from The Mathematician, the cost of goods and services goes up over time so using dollars today to fix your costs can make a lot of sense.

Final Thoughts

I’m still glad we purchased solar panels. We’ve “saved” over $1000 in the 15 months we’ve had the panels. This year, we’re saving on average 66% off our monthly bills. I say “saved” because it’s more like we prepaid that money.

I still think the future looks dicey in terms of energy futures, so I’m glad we took this step to mitigate future rate increases.

Considering solar? I’m happy to answer any questions you have and provide my insights on the experience. Reach out and we can connect!

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