Friday, November 4, 2011

Santa Barbara Audubon's Steve Ferry goes solar!

This email was received from Santa Barbara Audubon's Conservation Chair and Central Coast rep on Audubon California Board. He is walking the talk!

Dear Family and Friends,

Betty and I have had a solar photovoltaic system installed on our house. It’s a 5 kilowatt system. The area of the panels is about 400 square feet. Attached is a photo of the panels, which are installed over the garage. We were lucky in that the roof points almost due south and the slope of the roof is almost optimum for maximum energy production for a fixed-panel system at this latitude.

The inverter is shown in the other photo. The inverter converts the direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). The inverter is about 96% efficient in converting DC to AC.

The AC feeds directly into our house wiring. So whenever our house is using power during the day, the system supplies power directly to the house. Any excess power that we produce will go into the grid and power the houses around us. When we’re producing more power than we use, our electric meter runs backwards and we get credit for the power. If we produce more power than we use overall during the calendar year, Southern California Edison will pay us for the excess power. However, they will only pay about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. They charge 13 – 31 cents per kilowatt-hour to their customers who use that power!

We had our system installed under the auspices of a program called “Solarize Santa Barbara”, sponsored by a local environmental group, the Community Environmental Council. The company that installed the system is REC Solar. We were happy with REC’s performance.

We were able get a few discounts on the system: California Solar Initiative rebate, federal income tax credit, Solarize Santa Barbara discount, Costco rebate, American Express rewards rebate. The payback period on the investment is expected to be 8.7 years. The calculated Return on Investment is somewhere around 10% according to the solar company. I’m a little dubious of that, but if it’s anywhere near true, it’s a much better use of your money than a bank account!

We fired up the system and it works great! It produced over 4.3 kilowatts peak around noon. Not bad for October! Total production for one day with fog in the morning and sunny afternoon was about 22 kilowatt-hours, better than expected.

We’re happy with the system! We feel like we’re doing our part to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere and our country’s dependence on foreign energy sources. We’re also happy that the investment will pay off in several years.

Next up: electric car!


NOTE: Audubon California has established a wind network and a solar network on google groups for chapter leaders. Log in to and search these listservs and sign on to read posts or start a discusssion.