When we built this new house we did everything within reason to make it energy efficient. Within reason means not paying so much up front you never get your money back but buying highly rated stuff like windows, doors, efficient water heaters and heating and air conditioning. Add blown in cellulose insulation and I thought we did pretty well. Which we did except the electric rates keep going up and all the savings seem to be going to the utility company.
So, I thought, how do I get rid of the electric company? How do I make the meter run backwards? Go solar, go renewable which is the answer for everything coming out of Washington these days. We can’t drill in Alaska or off the coast but we can “harness” the power of the sun. “Harness” appears in just about every article and sound bite related to energy suggesting the sun is just some wild colt running around the corral waiting to be broken and turned into a useful member of society.
So I went into the corral of the Internet and Googled “solar electric power.” The first thing that comes up is about ten web sites for government agencies that explain what solar is and how it works but doesn’t tell you how to actually go about putting in a system or who to call or who is good and who is bad. About the only thing the government sites tell you is that solar energy comes from the sun. I already knew that but what really gripes me is that our tax dollars are paying for this drivel.
Putting this aside I scroll down until I finally find some commercial web sites almost as bad as the government web sites with similar explanations but better pictures. Pricing is mostly absent so I fill in an email request for information and get a call from a lady in Houston who asks about my income and house size. Seems she wants to weed out the tire kickers so I act pretty enthusiastic about solar sounding more like Leo Dicaprio than a former finance guy.
I’m in luck because they just opened a Dallas office and a rep will call me which he does and we set up an appointment. I am a bit suspicious because solar, oil and gas and just about everything regarding energy has a lot of ex-shoe salesmen as front men and frauds are a fact of life. Having just been the general contractor on this house, I interviewed a lot of subcontractors and you figure out pretty fast if a guy knows what he is talking about. I gave the guy a 7 on a scale of 10, which is not bad.
He looked at the house, at the garage that faces south and the garage roof that would support the panels. He figured they could get ten panels on the roof then run a bunch of wires down into the attic into the storage room into an inverter which converts the direct current from the panels into alternating current (or is it the other way around?) into the fuse box with the power “harnessed” from the sun going directly into the house to run all our gadgets.
Did I say “all?” Not really. But first the cost—figure $1,000 a panel installed. That is, let’s see, about $10,000. A pretty big upfront investment but maybe worth it for total independence from TXU. Wait a minute, not so fast. Any guesses how much electricity ten big panels sitting on your roof will provide? Well, I was, no pun intended, shocked. 13%.
Details next time.