The Other I

March 26, 2011

Solar panels and reimbursed virtue

Filed under: Environmental Issues,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:50 pm

We sent our meter readings reflecting the kilowatt-hours our solar panels have generated to our electricity company last Thursday.  The automated return email said we should receive a check within the next 28 days.

In the meantime, obsessive-compulsive Germanic mathematician that I am, I have been comparing our electricity bills for the last four solar-generating months with the same period last year.  The potential manipulations could keep me computing all morning because so many of the numbers at this point are still mere projections.  One might even say they are mere promises from the company that installed our panels.

Anyway, for any fellow  solar-philes who may be interested, here is what I know or am guessing after four months:

Since our days here in England are excessively short in winter and marvellously long in summer, the expectation is that the four months from mid-November when the panels were installed to now should produce about 14% of our annual output.  So far we are on track, and if we don’t go off-piste somewhere along the line, should eventually save about $300 on our annual electricity bill this year.  That savings will increase if (or perhaps more accurately, I should say when) rates go up.

Besides that, the government has mandated that we are paid about 65 cents for every kilowatt-hour we generate ourselves.  What we don’t use gets fed automatically back into the grid, but we get paid for everything we produce whether or not it is we who use it.  This tariff feed-in, as it is called, is the big reason why installing PV panels is cost-effective for the individual homeowner.  It is not only generous, it is tax-free, and index-linked to inflation for the next 25 years.

So we liberated a chunk of our savings and put them into the solar panels now on our south-facing roof.  We are unlikely to be living in this house – if indeed we are living at all – in 25 years.  But besides producing an income and reducing our electricity costs, the panels have increased the value of the house should we sell it.  If we don’t, someone will benefit from the legacy.

Our main electricity meters are outside the house, but we have set up two remote meters in the kitchen, one telling us how much electricity we are actually using at any given time and the other giving us a read-out of the kilowatt-hours currently being produced by the solar panels.

We are using the meters to maximize our use of the solar electricity.  So far, since the days are short and the sun weak, we haven’t been able to use this strategy to any effect.  But as the days get longer, we hope to run the dishwasher and do the laundry during peak sun hours.  What I’m really hoping though is to use our electric immersion heater to replace our oil burner to heat our hot water for five months or so.   That depends on our being able to capture enough electricity that would otherwise go back into the grid, so I’m not yet spending the savings.

In any case, I would like to say that we are feeling virtuous.  But I’m afraid I must admit that virtue would be more apparent if it were also always quite as financially rewarding as our solar panels seem to be.

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