New Jersey Solar Math

This is a somewhat longer blog, but anybody who has spend more than a second thinking about installing roof top solar should read this story. It provides real life details about how to fit and finance residential roof top solar in NJ. I am a card carrying solar energy nut, but never thought that acquiring roof top solar could be this easy and be such a good deal.

This winter our neighbors to the south took out two huge pin oaks and we went from a completely shady backyard to a sunny backyard. Our cape style house has the roof ridge aligned North/South, which is not great for solar, but the back of the cape roof has a large shed roof that actually is a little too flat for perfect.  That roof got a leak and I started efforts to get the roof fixed.

While talking to a roofing contractor I realized that the roof is now quite sunny. So I called my friend Nancy Makofka who has had a solar roof for years. She told me to call Sea Bright Solar. Sea Bright Solar is a local roof top solar supplier and their salesman happened to be only a few miles from our house when I called.

I talked to him on the phone and he asked how much I knew about solar. I told him I know everything about the theory of solar and nothing about the logistics of putting solar on my roof. He said that makes me his favorite customer. (Not sure how to interpret that actually)

I met him at 230pm and we went right to business. At first he wanted to do the street side roof (SW facing), but then I showed him the shed roof on the east side of the house, but with a clear view of the south and decent summer westerly insolation too.

We checked the electric bills. On average we pay $100 per month (love those LED’s).

After doing his analysis, he figured out that with the type of sun we get, and with our roof shape, we need about 8 kW to supply all our electric needs.

The panel arrangement is gorgeous, 14 on the shed roof, which cannot really be seen from the street and not really in the backyard either, and a 9 panel array on the south end of the front roof. That roof has a recess and the 9 panels fit like a glove. Moreover, the front roof panels will be an all black kind. That is a sexier look on the dark roof shingles, but those panel are slightly less efficient. The shed roof panels will be out and out highest efficiency.

He said it would cost $36,000 to install. That is a fair chunk of semolians.

But here comes the NJ solar math:

The feds provide a 30% tax rebate on a solar installation. So I will get a bit more than $10,000 back from my taxes in the coming year.

That amount gets financed with a zero percent rate for one year. When I get my tax rebate I repay the $10,000. A complete wash.

The other $26,000 we opted to finance through Sea Bright Solar’s finance system at 1.9%  for 7 years at $324 per month.

At first glance this is not a great deal for getting your electric, but NJ has a carbon credit rebate program (SREC’s, Solar Renewable Energy Credits). Every year I operate the system, and based on my solar energy production (and by law for at least the next 15 years), I get credits. I can trade those credits. The credit rate varies, but it runs about $150 per month at the moment. Flett Exchange is one of those exchange brokers, and if you pick around the broker’s website you can see that the rates are dependent on the utility solar power production levels that the state sets. New Jersey has been a leader in this regard, but it does require an activist legislature and in 2012 the legislature adjusted the production level to keep the credits in the optimal zone and they may have to do that again.

So let’s see what is going on: I pay off a loan for seven years, but no longer pay $100 per month on my electric bill and hopefully get carbon credits of about $150 per month. So, on a cash flow basis, I am $75 per month more out of pocket for 7 years.

Benefit: Reduced carbon foot print, and the ability to brag about reducing my dog’s carbon footprint. Cost $6,300.

These panels are rated for 35 years, but I am not going to live that long. I am focusing on a 15 year life (that makes sense, we may have the house for 15 more years and, based on the other houses on the street, when we sell it, it will be scraped and replaced with a much larger and fancier home)

Benefit for the next 8 years: Let’s say $180 per month ($80 SREC’s per month and no $100 electric bill) times 12 times 8 = $17,280 plus 15 years of reduced carbon footprint!

Cash net: about $10,980 over 15 years.

Not Bad!

After that I still have 20 years of zero electric bills and zero CO2. I may not be around to enjoy it, but my kids and your kids will enjoy the benefits.

Two more neat details:

  1. The whole design process, soup to nuts including financing, took us 3 hours including the time we took to have a beer with Ty our salesman. In the world of technical design that is a pretty amazing achievement.
  2. Our installation will also have a magic switch. When there is a power outage, the solar system controller has an outlet that you can plug into when the main power is out. That outlet does not like to run motors, but it will run the phone, tv, gas water heater igniter, chargers, etc. However, if I buy a nice chunky uninterruptable power supply (UPS), it will also run my basement sump pump and my refrigerators and that is really cool. No more screaming genny and gas cans during outages.

This story has a moral: I am Joe solar nut, but I did not engage the roof top solar infrastructure that so many people have worked so hard to built over the years, because I did not really know it (and, yes, my house would not allow it). But, here I decided to check into it and I had one of the most satisfying and uplifting purchase experiences in my life.

The panels are now up (it took two months to order the system, but it went up in two days and the installation process is actually less invasive than having your roof replaced).  Now we are in the certification and start-up phase, which requires scheduling of the town building inspector, after that a JCP&L meter swap out, and next an SREC account assignment (all mostly managed by Sea Bright Solar). I will provide a full system description, and an update on cost and operation a few months from now, but in the meantime, if you think you can do it, take a look at getting roof top solar. And spread the word, with the right supplier, roof top solar is a no sweat operation and you will do your share in reducing global warming.