Going solar: One family's story

by Betsy Herbert

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 11/20/2014

Like many households in Santa Cruz County, Kevin Flynn and Emmanuelle Pancaldi-Flynn recently took the big step to go solar. The Flynn’s house in the mountains above Scotts Valley has good sun access in the middle of the day, which is the primary requirement for an efficient solar system. 

The next step was a financial analysis to see if going solar would make economic sense. The Flynn’s house is approximately 1,800 square feet. “Our electric usage is high. . . no propane tank or gas line . . . everything is electric. We pump our own water, and it takes lots of electricity to bring water up from a 180' deep well. Plus we have a hot tub,” Flynn explained.

With an average monthly electric bill of over $300, the Flynns were motivated. “With our high electricity use, we knew that solar could save us money. We just didn’t know how much,” said Flynn.

They selected local contractor Bob Evans to configure and price an 8,000 watt rooftop solar system to meet their needs. Flynn, a marketing director for a cyber security company, then made some calculations that spurred the decision to proceed with the project. “At $4/watt for complete installation of the system, the initial price was $32,000,” said Flynn. But after a $9,600 Federal tax credit (30% of the cost of the system), he says the net cost was reduced to $22,400.

Flynn expects to save $300/month over the next year for a total saving of $3,600. Even after rounding that saving down to $3,000/year (just to be conservative), Flynn estimated a 13.4% guaranteed return on their investment (ROI). “No way any other investment could bring such guaranteed returns. Even if I took out a home equity loan to pay for the system, and paid interest on that loan, my guaranteed ROI would still be higher than I could expect from most other investments,” he said.

What’s more, a solar home increases in value more than the price of the installed project. According to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study (http://emp.lbl.gov/news/new-emp-report-california-pv-home-premiums), the resale value of a house increases by $5,900 per installed kilowatt. So, says Flynn, “My house just increased in value by almost $48,000. And, at $3,000 per year in savings I'll pay off the cost of the install in approximately 7.5 years.”

Like most solar systems, the Flynn’s installation included a rooftop solar panel array, an inverter, and an electrical panel. No batteries are required, because of “net metering,” where the utility grid serves as a two-way street. 

Under net-metering, excess electricity generated by residential solar panels during sunny periods is re-routed back to the grid. At night, or during overcast days, the customer receives power back from the grid. 

If your household solar system generates more energy than it consumes over an entire 12-month “True-up” period, you will be eligible to receive payment from the utility for the excess energy sent to the grid. Compensation will be a market price of approximately 4 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) and will be factored into your True-up billed amount, according to PG & E.

October 2014 was the Flynn’s first full month of electrical usage following installation of their solar system. Flynn’s calculations of energy/dollar savings have so far proven to be accurate. His October PG & E bill showed that, “We produced more electricity via solar than we used. . . the balance was a negative 56kwh." A year ago, their October PG & E bill was $372 for 1,309 kWH of electricity used, he said.