Buying Solar Power For Yourself

David Trammel's picture

Putting solar panels on your own home, and by doing so supporting renewable energy isn't always possible. You may have a terrible position in relation to sunlight, or you may rent or not have the money for a large investment for panels. You can still support renewable energy buy signing up with one of the other sources of cleaner energy

"I bought a half-kilowatt of solar energy for $9 in under 10 minutes"

(Read the earlier article for more background: "What are renewable energy certificates? How anyone can enter the green energy market")

"Buying solar power was quick and easy:
I (the author, not me personally) live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and my electric provider is Consumers Energy. I knew it had renewable energy programs and, from my recent reporting, had a pretty good idea of how they were likely to work. So I headed to its website. It took me four clicks to get to a subscription form for a program called Solar Gardens. Solar Gardens allows customers like me to subscribe to solar panels that Consumers Energy has built in Michigan.

For an extra (yes, extra) $9 each month on my bill, I could subscribe to half of a kilowatt of solar production. I would get a credit of about $4 back for the energy my portion of the array produced -- and for the satisfaction of using solar energy. Consumers Energy would also retire the renewable energy certificates on my behalf, which means I rightly get to say I used that energy. (I double-checked this with Consumers. The utility said that I get to claim the environmental benefits of the solar energy I'm paying for and that this energy doesn't cover its own renewable energy obligations under Michigan law.)

Solar production varies based on how much the sun shines. I bought a half-kilowatt block, which Consumers Energy told me is expected, on average, to generate about 750 kilowatt hours a year. Consumers Energy says the average household would need 10 or 12 of the blocks to offset their annual energy cost. I use a lot less energy than the average household. Over the past 12 months, I used 4,376 kilowatt hours, so I would only need to buy six blocks to completely offset my energy use. Next, I entered contact information and my service address. I certified that I was the account holder and that I had read the terms and conditions. (Truth: I had not.)

And that was it. I had bought some solar energy."

Back in 2012, I joined the first ever community solar buying club in Utah. The group set up a board to vet installers and with enough members in the club, we were able to get the best price possible on the panels and the installation. It was about 11.5k dollars all told for a 3K grid tied system and I was able to collect all of the rebates offered to offset the costs. I don't remember the amounts of the rebates, but they certainly helped.

I do certainly see a decrease in my electric bill each month, especially in the summer, but I have usually used up my credit by spring. I did go to a lot of effort to insulate and plug any holes that would bleed heat and to get some of the rebates, that work had to be inspected. It was well worth the effort and cost as that alone really made a difference in the amount of electricity we use. Also, since I don't have air conditioning, our summer bills are really low.

lathechuck's picture

We've just finished our seventh year. During that time, we have produced slightly more kWh than the installer planned, so our electric meter reads "negative" (998 750, roughly). The system was sized, not by the available roof area, but by our prior consumption. You can't collect rebates to build a solar array from which you expect to sell power, just to cover your own consumption. But we've covered our bills, and brought in a few hundred dollars a year selling the Solar Renewable Energy Credits. Back in September, I took a peek at the solar production statistics, and discovered that one of my panels was dead! Stepping back through the on-line history, it turned out that it had failed in July, so I was losing maybe a kWh per day. I called the service company, and after a few remote checks, they sent a crew out to investigate. A month later, I had a replacement part (a SolarEdge PowerOptimizer module), but it was another month before they got it installed. The system's back to full power now, and we were billed nothing for the service. I'm very happy with the project (which was a community co-op buy, as described by Kay, above).

In mid-Maryland, snow accumulation hasn't been a problem very often, but even a small ridge of snow at the bottom of a panel will take it out of service. Dirt accumulation also hasn't been noticeable. Just as an experiment, I washed a few panels with a long-handled squeegee, and they were no more productive than the unwashed panels.