Using home solar to heat your home

ARE Solar workers install a 4 kW solar system onto the townhome roof of Jacqueline and Les Beecher in August, 2022. The system became the fourth in the Highline Crossing Cohousing Community, located in Littleton, Colo. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]
editor's blog iconYes, you can use PV solar panels to heat your home, at least indirectly. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last three months here in Littleton, Colo.

During the Summer of 2022, after our 6 kW solar system went online with Xcel Energy in mid-June, the ARE Solar installed system generated about 1,500 EXTRA kWh of electricity.

This, thanks in large part to my very low use of electricity during the summer here in our Littleton townhome, which I share part time with my two teen-aged daughters, who are with me half time and with my ex wife half time. In August 2022, for instance, we consumed just 282 kWh of electricity, well under the average of about three to four times that for most families of three (plus two pets 😉 ) along Colorado’s Front Range.

I deliberately banked 1,500 kWh during the summer because I knew we would be heating almost exclusively with our high efficiency heat convection wall heaters, which we also used at 4000 S. Atchison Way in Aurora, Colo. from 2009-2014 to heat our home with a 5.5 kW home solar system, albeit indirectly, via excess solar offset mostly generated during the spring and summer months that is drawn upon during the low sun but also high electric use winter months.

Of course, several years ago — I am not sure exactly when — Xcel switched its solar banking measuring method from kWh to kWh converted to a cash bank based on the rate of electricity charged during the time the excess electricity generated by one’s home solar system runs into the grid.

A monetary bank of extra kWh converted to money form is not as advantageous to the electric utility consumer as pure kWh, which was the old method used by Xcel. However, I was still able to bank about $200 worth of extra electricity in the summer of 2022 for use in the winter of 2022-23.

Our Xcel Energy utility meter shows that more than 1,500 extra kWh have been generated by our 6 kW solar system by early November 2022. We are now using those extra, banked kWh/monetary credits to heat our home with electric wall heaters and thereby circumvent the need to turn on our natural gas forced hot air central heater. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]
I am not sure how things look in terms of how much we have eaten into our monetary Xcel solar bank because I haven’t gotten the most recent bill since we really began to up our electric use this month, the frigid month of December. However, I can tell by looking at our utility meter how much we have eaten into the extra 1,500 kWh we produced in the summer.

So far, across late October (when we first started heating again), through November, when we used the eheat Envi heaters regularly, through December, during which they are on quite a lot, we have eaten away at about 700 of those extra 1,500 kWh generated from mid-June to mid-September.

I’m not sure we are going to make it this winter, going near fossil fuel free by not using the central forced hot air gas heater thanks to the six Envi heaters we have.

The main reason that we may fall short of my goal of heating exclusively with electric and therefore indirectly via solar offset kWh we generated earlier on is simple: Our new solar system did not go online until mid-June. That means we missed about 10 weeks of great solar production time from April 1 to June 17, 2022, during which we could have been generating possibly up to another 1,000 extra kWh!

We shall see how close we come, based on total extra kWh produced during the summer vs. in the winter using electric Envi heaters heating our townhome, to heating “fossil fuel free” in across the Winter of 2022-23.

My ultimate goal is to replace our gas hot water heater with an electric and our gas range with an electric range, or, probably, more practically speaking, an air fryer, and stop using any natural gas directly at all in our townhome. Then, ideally, across the remaining time that we/I live here, we/I will be, at least when counting total solar electricity production vs. solar electricity consumption across the calendar year, fossil fuel free.

One day, I would love to replace our natural gas forced hot air furnace with an electric heat pump. However, that is far too expensive for me to do right now, especially given that I borrowed a substantial amount of money to get our solar system installed.

One of six Envi wall heaters that we are using to heat our Littleton, Colo. townhome with extra solar offset electricity generated during the Summer of 2022 by our 6 kW home rooftop solar system. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]
So, I/we will have to make do with the Envi wall heaters we have, four of which we used in our Aurora, Colo. home from 2009-20015, until divorce broke up the household and forced the sale of that solar bedecked home. The Envi wall heaters are a pretty decent solution, especially for smaller townhomes without vaulted ceilings like mine. I also save money by moving them around onto extra installation hooks I have in the walls and by controlling them with Emporia internet connected plugs that allow me to turn the heaters on and off from anywhere in the world at any time, plus, allow scheduled on and off times for the heaters as well.

All in all, it’s a pretty damn cool — well “hot” — little set up that allows me to cheaply and efficiently heat with electricity indirectly generated by solar (some of it is directly generated by solar as we do produce about 10 to 17 kWh worth of solar daily across November – January).

And it makes me happy to know that via the 16 solar panels placed on my roof (some are on the east-south roof the others on the west-south roof) are ensuring that we are producing essentially the same amount of energy that we use in the town home here at Highline Crossing Cohousing.

And my 2020 Chevy Bolt is ALSO solar-charged. It is fueled via a 9.3 kW solar system installed on community garages for which I was responsible for planting the idea seed and whose installation I worked for several years toward here at Highline Crossing — along with the help of several other neighbors 🙂.

Indeed, there are also two first-generation Nissan LEAFs of my neighbors that are also fueled by solar/solar offset in those same community garages. In fact, so far that 9.3 kW system, which went online in December 2020, has produced about 1,300 more kWh than have been used by the three electric cars in our 40 household neighborhood and which has been used by electric garage door openers, lights, people’s small fridges in garages, etc.

That’s pretty darn cool as well!

Yes, Highline Crossing Cohousing is a very “solar” neighborhood now, thanks in large part to the initiative I took in 2018 to start getting solar going here in the community. So far, we have a total of 31 kWh of solar installed on four different roof areas in our community with at least two to three more neighbors having indicated recently that they, too, would like to add solar.

That, too, is very, very cool! ☀️🙂☀️

Griffin (left) and Sam (right) lay a panel down during the installation of a 6 kW solar system on my townhome in June 2022 in Littleton, Colo. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]