Sunday, October 22, 2006

What I Wanted from the Solar Panels

With the decision made to move away from oil, and with the prime motivation being a form of protection at the home in the event of power outages, naturally I looked into getting solar panels for energy production. Once the up-front cost is made, the power is locally generated, and it should work in the event that the grid goes down in another storm. Originally, the concept was that we'd have solar panels that worked all the time the sun was shining, plus we'd have a battery backup to get us through any power outage.

The thought to install solar had been discussed before. The architect we used to design our renovated house is big into solar power usage, and this was one of the reasons why we used him. Originally, we told him we wanted some passive solar design in the house and wanted it more energy efficient, and this he did rather well. The best part was the sun room we added to the south (and street) facing side of the house, and the next best was the windows recommendation. However, he didn't want to stop there. In one set of drawings, he showed where we could install a solar panel array if we wanted to.

It turns out it wasn't hard to make the house more efficient, for when the builders started the needed demolition in parts of the house, they found that less than a quarter of the walls had been insulated. In fact, what was and wasn't insulated didn't have any particular logic to it as some walls had partial insulation and others had none at all. In retrospect, we should have done even more insulation they we did, for we basically brought the house up the present standards. Unfortunately, when it hit me that we needed to do better than current building code, it was too late to add more. Still, the house with its outer wrapping and insulated walls and ceiling is considerably more comfortable than before, and a once drafty house now feels rather cozy. A test of whether or not the insulation is enough will be made this winter.

Our architect told us about the Connecticut solar rebate program and told me to search for the CT Clean Energy Fund, and I found the proper website that details the residential program here: .

In short, the rebate is $5 per watt of generation capacity up to $25,000 per household, and this amounts to about a 50% rebate. When we installed ours, this was the rebate for all residences, but they've now changed to program to take into account the system performance, and current rebates are probably less for many people.

To get the rebate, one has to use one of the eligible participating installers, and when we looked I seem to recall that there were eight of them (there are more now). Through recommendation, we inquired with three. Two were by email and one of those didn't respond back. The other email gave us a good indication, but they were rather busy and wanted to charge for a site visit, presumably to reduce the number of lookers. That company was located out of state, and while they were definitely professionals, it seemed better to go with one closer to us.

The third qualified installer we contacted, Sunlight Solar (, has a local office, and the sales manager, John Sych, who lives close by. After convincing him I was serious about installing a system, he came to the house and did a site survey. Given the generous state rebate, I was hoping to get a really great system that would max out the rebate, for the economics of it looked pretty good. However, despite being a decent investment, what we got fell short of the desire, and that is the subject of the next post.


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