As a mechanical engineer and a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professional, I’m always interested in understanding the balance between payback and sustainability. I try to do my best to be “green” and save energy. I recently performed a personal experiment when I decided to add solar panels to my home. I saw this as not only green, but as a way to eliminate an electricity bill from my life as I approach retirement!
My first decision was about aesthetics. My personal observation of how solar panels typically look on homes is – not good. In the past, I never considered adding them to my home because of how they looked. They’re usually stuck on the roof and are a bit of an eyesore. Not only that, but they can potentially cause leaks due to multiple penetrations through the roof, and they make it difficult to replace or repair your roof if it fails.
After more research, I found out that I could add a pergola to my garage, and install solar panels on top of it. Aesthetically, this resulted in the least amount of disruption to the appearance of my home. I decided to lay the panels flat on top of the pergola. This results in some loss of efficiency – roughly 15% on each panel. However, by adding a pergola, I not only made the solar panels more attractive for curbside appeal, but the pergola itself produces shade, giving the area around my garage a much cooler feel.
When designing the panel system, I wanted to ensure that over a year’s time, I wouldn’t have any power coming from the REMC grid. My goal is to be a net zero bill because the energy my panels are creating is more than what my home is using. My 15.8 kw system uses a reversing meter. This means during the daytime when power is being produced, it pushes electricity back into the system. The system doesn’t use batteries, so I don’t need to do any servicing to it. For example, I use approximately 4 kw to run my air conditioner, lights, etc. during the daytime, and the system produces 15.8 kw peak, resulting in 11.8 kw going back into the power grid. At night, my system produces nothing. I still use 4 kw, so my meter reverses because of the power that was produced during the day.
The Indiana solar geothermal property tax deduction allows me to not be charged additional property taxes for the added value of the system. This is in an effort to promote solar systems to be added to more homes to conserve energy. The Federal government also gives homeowners a 30% deduction on the total installed cost of the solar panel system. This also helps with the cost of installation and labor for the solar panel system.
After just one month, I saw approximately a 7% return in my wallet from my solar panels! While this might not be the right solution for everyone, the benefits of not having an electric bill were enough for me to make this investment.
Terry Wagner PE, LEED AP
Principal, Mechanical Engineer