Going solar — for the fourth time

Me standing in front of my 2020 Chevy Bolt with one of the Mission Solar panels that fuels it 🙂 [Photo by Chris McGuire]
editors-blog-entry3Yes, you read that headline correctly: I am going solar for the fourth time.

I just signed a contract with ARE Solar of Denver-Boulder to install a 6.08 kW 16 panel micro-inverter based system on my Littleton, Colo. townhome!

That’s exciting, and cool, and it is also the right thing to do environmentally, which is really the ONLY reason I am going solar. The economic incentive in my case is very minimal to almost zero because I use so little electricity in my townhome right now: Just 3,000 kWh per year, or less than one-third of what the average American household consumes.

In fact, it just might cost me MORE to go solar than not to go solar; it’s pretty unclear right now. But I do NOT care!

Me going solar for the fourth time is 100% about the environment and the rapidly intensifying climate emergency, which is very quickly erasing winter as a season entirely here on Colorado’s Front Range. Our “winters” here, which used to be about five months — yes, with some nice spring like breaks that were natural — are now down to about 2.5 months, and shrinking.

That’s because our world is burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow and, in the process, creating a no-tomorrow scenario.

Sopris Solar workers install solar panels on the Highline Crossing Cohousing Common House in July 2020. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]
But I digress: Yes, I am on my FOURTH solar system, which will produce more than 200% of my annual electric use and about 6,700 kWh of electricity annually. My first solar system was a 5.5 kW system installed by REC Solar in June 2010 on the roof of 4000 S. Atchison Way, Aurora, Colo. where I lived at the time with my two daughters and my now ex-wife. We sold that house in November 2015 after a divorce.

That system is still online and looks actually very good for a system that is 11 years old! Ironically, it also cost LESS out of pocket than my new system will.

That 5.5 kW REC Solar system cost me and my ex-wife JUST $10,000 out of pocket due to GREAT Xcel Energy incentives at the time. The incentives are no longer there and the cost of installation of solar has NOT dropped as much as the incentives have 😞. That is a problem: Solar should not cost MORE 11 years later — but I digress, again. 😬

In November of 2020, we here at Highline Crossing Cohousing went online with a 9.3 kW solar system on our shared garages. That system fuels my 2020 Chevy Bolt and a 2017 Nissan LEAF driven by a neighbor AND overproduces by about 2,500 kWh per year. We also went online with a 10.3 kW solar system on our Community Center rooftop. That system produces enough electricity to power the entire Community Center and has over-produced by nearly 6,000 kWh in its first year.

It took me 18 months to persuade my neighbors here at Highline Crossing to use some long-term reserve funds to pay for those two solar systems — I could not have succeeded in that drive without the help of several neighbors who supported that drive.

Then, after we finished with that, I embarked on a drive (crusade? 😜) to persuade my community to allow individual townhome owners to have solar installed on the community owned rooftops above our townhomes, all of which are connected and all of which share a roof that individual homeowners do NOT own, but which are owned by the community. That took another 10 months 🙄.

A home solar system on top of a house in Aurora, Colo.
Our Aurora, Colo. house on which we installed a 5.5 kW solar system in 2010, and sold in late 2015, is still sporting a clean, sharp and working solar system eight years later. It is saving the current house owners about $1,000 every year.

And now, here I stand, on the cusp of adding a fourth solar system to the world in the last 11 years, meaning once this 6.08 kW system is installed by ARE Solar, I will have been directly responsible for getting about 33 kW worth of new solar up in the world — and perhaps even more, as this web site, SolarChargedDriving.Com, which has had more than 400,000 unique visitors from all over the world across the past 12 years, probably has at least helped to persuade more than a few people to go solar.

That’s a decent record, although, frankly, it’s just a tiny little blip on the radar of a MASSIVE climate emergency that is WAY worse and unfolding way more quickly than 90% of “average” Americans are aware of.

I wish they would WAKE UP, because this is serious, very serious: We have a very thin atmosphere that supports so much life in the DEAD vacuum of outer space and its freezing cold, airless, radiation. And we are F—— around with that, big time, and we are REALLY f—– it up!

That’s why I am going solar even though I do NOT have the money for it. I will be borrowing $12,000 at 5% interest to cover part of the cost of the system, which cost $20,783 before the Federal Tax Credit.

The tax credit — which IS confusing because it requires that you basically reduce your annual tax withholdings to zero, at least if you have a LOW tax liability like I do with my VERY LOW journalism professor’s salary and which you can only use against federal taxes that you OWE, will cut my total out of pocket costs to around $15,000. The other $8,000 I have saved up and will put down on the system.

I doubt I will actually save money via my 6.08 kW system — especially if I add a storage battery, which I so badly wanted to do right away, but which I decided against for now because it would have cost me an additional $15,000. That would have forced me to take out a $27,000 loan instead of a $12,000 loan. I hope to add that storage battery sometime across the next two to four years, though!

A computer image of the 6.08 kW system that will go onto my Littleton, Colo. townhome roof sometime in March 2022.

In the meantime, I will be turning off my gas forced hot air furnace and heating my entire unit with all-electric high efficiency Envi convection wall heaters from eheat.com so that I can heat my townhome with the solar electricity that my system creates.  The increase of about 2,000 kWh this will create, switching from natural gas to all-electric, solar-charged heat, is a big reason that I am springing for a 6.08 kW system that will produce 200% of my current annual electric use.

I also plan to add an electric heat pump hot water heater when my gas hot water heater dies, which is likely to occur sometime in the next two to three years. Then, I will essentially be 100% off of fossil fuels in my townhome, though, until I can afford a battery storage system, yes, some of that 100% off of fossil fuels will be what I would call “offset” off of fossil fuels: I will be over-producing solar electricity during the day, and ALSO across the years, and drawing from the grid at night, and in the winter.

Once I get a storage battery, I will be pretty much 100% fossil fuel free for six to eight months a year — during the spring, summer and fall, I use 3 to 8 kWh of electricity per day. However, I will still need to use the grid some as a “battery” in the winter and, especially, at night in the winter.

An Envi convection electric wall heater in my living room. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]
Most of our carbon emissions come from our heating and cooling our homes and driving our vehicles around and, yes, also the food we consume, although the home heating/cooling and transportation comprise much more than food consumption does — I eat a small amount of white meat but have not eaten read meat for 25 years, and was a vegetarian for 20 years.

So, in having already gone solar on our community garages, where my 2020 Bolt fuels, and now, going solar on my townhome AND basically getting rid of natural gas use in my townhome and heating with solar generated electricity, I will be having as BIG a negative impact on my individual carbon production as I possibly can.

If only more other people would do what I am doing! I know many more people COULD afford to do it, in fact, afford it a lot more easily than I could, but they are not doing it. WHY NOT? WHY not, people!? 😡😖😢