The TRUTH About Solar! 4 Year Review

Published 2021-05-13
I've had my solar panels for 4 years and it's time to look back and see what I would and wouldn't do again. If you're interested in learning more about solar, check out Energy Sage

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All Comments (21)
  • Caden Higgins
    Hey, solar installer in the DC area here. You talked about some benefits of micro inverters, but did not talk about what is in my opinion the most beneficial feature. They allow each panel to operate independently. Say you have a tree on the corner of the house, and half the array is shaded in the morning. When you have a long line of panels connected in series, the efficiency of the entire string is wrecked when half the panels are supplying a lower voltage. In terms of voltage, half the panels will be above the maximum power point while the other half will be below, and none of them will be efficient. With micro inverters, every panel is always at its maximum power point. If you want to spend slightly less money, an optimizer for each panel can also do this. Also, the ability to monitor each panel is very nice. We are notified immediately if any system we have ever installed has problems, and we already know exactly where the problem is.
  • Pops Bents
    I would add that you should also determine the life expectancy left in your roofs life. If you have to re-roof in a few years after the solar install you will have to pay an installer to remove your solar array then re-roof and then have your solar reinstalled. If your roof is not fairly new I would recommend addressing it before you do a solar install to save a chunk of change.
  • Mark Muir
    Similar story for me: I got 12 panels installed in 2013, which more than covered my annual energy usage - until I got a Tesla in 2016. Had to install another 12 panels to cover that! They are a different design, and although all 24 panels use microinverters, the installers had to run a separate circuit for the new panels. It's nice having an energy bill of zero for 7 years straight. But it will take another 2 to 3 years to pay off completely, given the $3000 electricity panel upgrade and permit that was needed for the 2nd solar system.
  • I'm loving these retrospective takes on solar. I wanted to get it done to my home years ago, but it just wasn't viable at the time. Even then, I wanted to oversize my system, and had installers try to dissuade me from it. In retrospect, it was probably more to get me into a system I could afford so they could make the sale.

    Despite anyone's take on EV cars, I do not think its unreasonable to see the average buyer converting in the next 25 years. That alone would make me think of oversizing the system, not just the potential to pay them off with energy buyback, but having to keep two cars recharged on a routine basis. All better to have it and not need it daily, then need that overhead and be without IMHO.
  • Anthony Dyer
    One preparation I did years before my solar install was to install roof vent tiles, but I was mindful enough to have them installed on the north side of the roof. So if I was to do things differently, I’d move all the existing roof penetrations (ducts, flues etc...) to the north side, meaning I could fit more panels onto the south side.
  • Fully agreed with your conclusions. I had SunPower pannels (4.8kWh) installed back in 2008 - living in Italy - and they were pretty expensive then. I have state subsidy landing on my account every quarter so this made the investment truly worth it. But since, as you said, we switched a lot of appliances to electric and we own now 2 EVs. So I decided to go and enhance my pannels by almost doubling the power (+4kWh). I did consider the SunPower microinverter ones but eventually stepped away from that solution and I will have a new inverter installed where I do have space. I preferred the Panasonic pannels because they tend to have a better efficiency at lower light levels which I was looking for in winter times. SunPower are great with very high efficiency now but apparently operate best at full power of sunlight. So yes, invest in more especially now that those pannels cost 3 to 4 times less than when I bought my initial ones over 12 years ago. I will also change my wallbox from the Tesla to one which is connected to my WiFi and manage the flow from pannels to the EVs or from my PowerWall 2 to the EVs. The Tesla Wallbox is just a dummy one and I wish I would have made a better choice 2 years ago when I got my Model 3.
  • As someone who installed a 12 Kw solar panel system 2 1/2 years ago I strongly endorse Ben’s advice to put the largest system you can manage on your roof now. My system is adequate for my present needs but recently I’ve replaced an old HVAC with a heat pump, which means I will be heating and cooling with electricity from now on. I’m located in Southern California so this is not inherently a problem, but it will involve additional electric consumption over the course of the year. In addition, I currently have a plug-in hybrid with a 17 kW battery that I will likely replace with a full EV in the next few years. This will come with a battery three or four times as big. As a result I am currently in talks with my solar contractor to add another 3 kW to my existing system. Had I thought far enough ahead (or had the benefit of Ben’s advice) I would’ve installed this extra capacity at the outset. Apart from this initial miscalculation I am totally satisfied with my solar panel system. I’m on track to have the system pay for itself in less than six years.
  • DSC800
    Today is the 6th anniversary of our 4.5kw array here in N. San Diego. It has provided 100% of home usage including ~30 days of AC per year and ~8k miles of Chevy Volt range. Peak San Diego rates just passed 60c/kw recently and so called "super off peak" rates are still ~30c/kw. Combined with the EV, we just achieved break even, covering the $10.5k initial cost but the real savings are accelerating into the future.
  • Russ Mauch
    Hi Ben. Your commentary was very helpful. I am on the front end of this process and I can see right now the possibility of making major mistakes. I will take all of your recommendations, enhance my reading and research, and let you know what I come up with just so you’ll know how helpful you’ve been thanks so much. Russ/Dallas, Texas
  • alf
    Ben I’m so glad you shared this with us bc we’ve been pondering solar for a while but didn’t want to be bombarded by a bunch of solar co’s aggregated with our info. We’ve tried that with insurance and other things before and they’re still calling and bugging us over a year later!
  • Ed Lauren
    It’s good that you’ve mentioned microinverters. It does cost extra, but it does help the system to be more efficient.
  • Daniel Madar
    Thank you. We've been planning for 13 years to put solar panels on our roof, but it was not possible due to regulatory issues. At last, a year ago the regulations have changed, and 3 days ago we turned on our new 21kW system. Since we live in Israel, our 1st sunny February day produced 73kWh. The system is expected to produce ~28MWh in the 1st year, about 3-4 times higher than our electricity usage. We get ~0.14$ USD per kWh we produce, from the electricity company.
  • Jon Marshall
    I have a very similar setup with two strings totaling 17 panels with DC optimizers using a solar edge 5kWh inverter. If the prices wasn’t around 10-20% more for microinverters I would have done those. A single point a failure kind of sucks and I do get some clipping since I have 5.6kWh of solar but only a 5kWh inverter. Still produces 30-40kWh on a good sunny day here in Iowa
  • I think going with micro inverters is the best advice. That also makes it more modular so you can add more panels without having to upgrade the centralized inverter.

    One thing to check is how far will the incentive take you. In North Carolina, Duke energy will rebate a portion of the installation cost up to 10khr AC so that would be my max at the moment.
  • Omer Acikel
    Thank you for the great video Ben. I wanted to add another benefit of microinverters: when system ages the first thing gives up statistically is your single inverter and that means 0 production until you replace the inverter. With microinverters, when an inverter fails, only a fraction of one panel's production is effected (in my case a single diode failure - 3 of them per panel - means 1/3 of one panel's output is out). Your system will still produce most the energy. Well worth the money difference. The single inverters bound to fail 5 to 7 years.
  • machelvet
    Great Video. Same experience here 8 years after installation. One thing I would ad (5:45) if you want to go with the idea to cover all your future energy use in your house. Base your calculations on the worst month in your area (probably January) and make sure you have enough energy during that month to cover your needs, that way you will always be energy independent. Don't base your calculations on average or annual output.
  • This was fantastically informative. Great stuff. My rates are ridiculously low (under 10-cents) and I live next to massive trees protected by the city's historic district, so it's not yet right for me, but this is clearly a no-brainer for an awful lot of customers.
  • John Spence
    You also have to factor in a few things (yes the roof is important because replacing your roof will cost a bit more but not a big deal to remove panels). But one thats important is the replacement of the battery pack. In my country we don't have constant sun, so we need large battery storage, and replacement of it is $5000-$10,000 depending on what youre replacing.
  • Chris B
    Informative video. I also had panels installed about four years ago and feel that they were totally worth it. I agree with your assessment that if I could do it over again, I would have had them install as many panels as they could since that would not have upped the cost too much and looking back, that extra generation would not have been wasted along with the fact that we will be charging electric cars in the near future.
  • Delton Baker
    My solar company would only install enough panels to cover my historical usage. Their excuse was that anymore panels could effect the approval process. I was lucky that my historical data included an energy hog “hot tub” and by building an DIY solar hot water heater, my grid tie system now always shows a surplus.