pete-solar1

It took more than six months between signing the contract and getting the system online, but Littleton, Colo. resident Pete Dignan’s house is now 100-percent powered by solar energy. [Photo Courtesy of Pete Dignan]

pete-guest-column1 solar-resources-flowers-pic1Pete Dignan, a homeowner going solar in Littleton, Colo. writes about his experience in the third of three installments in this guest column for SolarChargedDriving.Com.
–>Link to Part I
–>Link to Part 2
If you read the first installment in this series, you know that we were eagerly awaiting proposals from the three solar installation companies we had contacted.

It’s been quite a while since I delivered the second installment in this three-part series. That was mid-September, and now it’s mid-February. But I’m happy to announce that our new 7.72 kW solar system is installed and working, as of Feb. 4, 2011.

One lesson learned: choosing, installing and commissioning a home solar system might take longer than you expect. Our process started in mid-summer, and ended up taking about seven months, start to finish.

It was our choice to be guinea pigs – the first joint project between solar leasing company Sungevity and local solar installer Bella Energy. So I can’t complain too much about the rough edges in the process we experienced.

But the reality is that Sungevity and Bella did not figure out their communication plan (with each other and with us) until this project was way behind schedule and I became quite vocal about my frustration. After speaking with two VPs – one from each company – the Sungevity project manager began providing weekly updates and the project got back on track.

First step: Site visit
The first step after signing the lease agreement was a site visit to gather data for a final detailed design. Bella employees inspected the roof, the supporting structures in our attic, and looked at potential locations for the inverters and meters. They also explored the basement to find a route for the internet connection to support the monitoring system.

Getting approval from our HOA was easy. State law in Colorado doesn’t permit HOAs to block residential solar installations, though it does permit some limitations regarding size and appearance of such systems. Our architectural review committee asked for a copy of the design for our proposed system, and quickly provided their OK.

A final design was prepared by Sungevity and submitted to us. The 40 panels would take up just about every square foot of south-facing roof we have.

Sungevity was not certain our roof joists would hold the weight of so many panels, so they scheduled an independent engineer to render an opinion. The engineer suggested a few minor structural improvements – basically about $100 worth of wood. After some delays, Bella said they would make the improvements per the engineer’s drawings, so we got that scheduled and completed.

Getting approval from our HOA was easy. State law in Colorado doesn’t permit HOAs to block residential solar installations, though it does permit some limitations regarding size and appearance of such systems. Our architectural review committee asked for a copy of the design for our proposed system, and quickly provided their OK.

Delayed — but well-done — installation
By the time all these steps were complete, Bella’s backlog had grown to the extent that our installation had to be pushed out to the first week of January. When the time came, the Bella team showed up and did a very nice job. Their communication during the installation was excellent and their workers were knowledgeable and friendly.

It took five to six days to complete the installation, including a black mesh around the edges to “squirrel-proof” the wiring under the panels. Bella handled permits and inspections with the City of Littleton during the project; this was transparent to us.

Finally Sungevity notified Xcel Energy that we were ready for our new meters. One meter measures total solar production; the other measures our “net” use – it runs backward when the system is producing more electricity than we are using, and forward when it’s nighttime, or cloudy.

It took a little over three weeks for Xcel to deliver our meters. The installation of the meters (by Xcel) literally took just a few minutes, and with a little help over the phone from Sungevity, we were up and running.

We’ve had some snow since we went live, and that’s made me especially glad that we decided to include the Tigo module maximizers in our system. This is because even when some panels are covered with snow, the ones that have melted off are producing at their highest possible rate. I highly recommend the use of Tigo module maximizers or micro-inverters if you live in a snowy climate, or if you may have shade on some of your panels in the morning or evening.

It’s a great feeling to know we are producing and using clean renewable energy! And any homeowner can do this – with a zero-down lease, it’s really an easy decision.

First installment: Proposal details, financing options, making our decision.

Second installment: HOA approval, installation, lessons learned.

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One Response

  1. Ramon A. Cardona

    A bit late but congratulations. I have had 24 panels on my Cincinnati, OH home, the max number due to the roof area, since 34 months ago. It is rated at 5.76 but delivers an average of 6,700 kilowatt hours per year. It is amazing how it averages out to be in this ballpark. Last year I had five months of zero net usage. This year only three due to a warmer and humid summer. Nonetheless, out of pocket expense has been about $150.00. You have 40 panels and more sunny days. I wish I had that as well. The 2011 Leaf benefits from the solar, super clean, electrical power and this combination has met my goals. Total production is past 18,000 K/w and I shall celebrate 20,000 K/w. Thanks.

    Reply

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