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Ken & Barb, Part III: The Secret’s Out

Nickolas Hein – 5/17/18

(See Part 1) (See Part 2)

It’s been a few months since Ken and Barb completed the solar PV installation on their rooftop and they’re visiting with Phil – an energy auditor – to check in on how well the system is working for them.  They’ve inspected the panels on the rooftop to confirm that everything looks good.  Aesthetically the panels blend in with the existing shingle pattern they had on their roof.  Although roofs on older homes sometimes need reinforcing to hold the extra weight of the panels, theirs was given the OK without modification after a structural inspection (an optional, but recommended step).  Since it is an older house and the roof has sagged a little, there was some minor expense for adjustable mounting feet to conform to the surface.  Phil also points out the edge guards that were installed to keep out wildlife that could damage the panels and wiring.

Inside, they’ve looked at the electrical panel and inverter where the solar power comes into the house.  The electrical service had been upgraded previously so they had an extra breaker slot to bring in the power.  The inverter they chose is “battery-ready” meaning that in a year or two, when batteries are more available and have some reputation for dependability they can add storage without major modifications.  There are simple displays on the inverter and meter to show how much electricity they are making, and when they are making more than they are using.  At these times they are credited for excess production, so they can draw on it like a bank account.  Through an app on their phone, they can check the numbers any time and make adjustments when necessary.

Now they’re having coffee at kitchen table and discussing their experience.  Read more

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Ken and Barb, Part II: Ken’s Secret

Nickolas Hein – 4/16/18

(See Part 1)

Ken is also thinking about the energy upgrades they did recently.  This is the first night after the improvements had been made, and he’s a little uneasy about all the money they had to spend up front to make them happen.  He realizes that there are paybacks in comfort, convenience and simplicity that they notice right away.  Yet secretly he can’t shake the uneasy feeling that they put this was a lot of money to spend at one time, including some that came out of their retirement account.  He feels right about the decision, but he doesn’t yet feel good about it.  Now they are about to make decision about adding rooftop solar to their home to further reduce their dependence on the electric utility and fossil fuels.

They’ve gotten an assessment from Legacy Solar Co-op showing that they can offset their electric usage almost entirely with a modest-sized system of several kilowatts.  The assessment included financial projections showing that the money they’ll have to spend up front will be paid back in only a few years.  If they choose to finance it their electric bill will be nearly the same until the loan is paid back, and then will be lower by hundreds of dollars a year.  If they take money out of their retirement account, they’ll avoid the interest costs and end up with a better return on their investment than any of their current accounts are giving – and it’s equivalent to a guaranteed rate of return.  Since the panels and equipment are guaranteed for 25 years* (and are usable for up to 40) years. When they are retired, and their incomes are fixed this will mean their electric costs are fixed too.  If anything does need to be upgraded after retirement, they may be able to deduct the expense (if current tax deductions for renewables continue).  Read more

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Ken and Barb, Part I: She’s Got a Secret

Nickolas Hein – 3/20/18

Ken and Barb are sitting at home after dinner in the evening – together, yet each alone with their thoughts. It turns out Barb has a secret. This was the year that they decided to have an energy audit and give their 100-year old Madison home the energy and efficiency upgrades they’ve been promising themselves. Their reasons were the typical ones that make it feel like the right decision. They knew it could save them some money and they wanted to do the right thing for the environment, like so many of their neighbors have.

On the recommendation of the auditor they replaced their aging furnace with the latest 92% efficient model with a 2-speed blower and Nest thermostat. The old water heater went (turns out it wasn’t vented properly) for a new one with better controls and direct venting. They insulated the entire house with cellulose for a better R-value. Along the way they updated some unsafe electrical wiring and closed some gaps in the foundation that were letting in the wrong sort of wildlife. They both looked at the financial projections from the auditor, seeing that their monthly bills will be lower, and the resale value of the house will increase when it’s time to sell. The auditor also informed them that the increased value would not affect the assessed value of the house, so there’s no downside to upgrading. All this made Barb feel RIGHT about their decision.

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