Solar Power: Feels So Good

While living in Idaho, for years I wanted to add solar panels to my roof but didn’t have the financial resources to do so.

Selling that house and moving to Vermont improved my financial situation.

Living through my first Vermont winter with less-than-ideal heating options in my new house lit a fire under my butt to make sure my second Vermont winter would be better.

Actually, I had hoped to have a heat pump installed in the autumn of 2021, but demand was high and I was told I would have to wait until spring of 2022. In February 2022 I received an email saying the company I had selected was going out of business. I called them immediately and asked if they could refer me to another. They did, and to my immense relief, that new company was able to add me to their schedule for spring of 2022, as soon as snow melt allowed.

And, as fate would have it, they also specialized in installing residential solar panels. In fact, they said, it was best to install both upgrades together. “We want to get your panels up as early as possible so you can start banking energy all summer long.” I was in good hands.

In for a penny, in for a pound, as the saying goes. The heat pump cost just under $5,000, and the solar panels around $22,000. A huge investment, for sure. The state of Vermont offers rebates and tax credits for both heat pumps and solar, and the feds offer tax credits.

I don’t earn enough annual income to benefit from federal tax credits. As they say, I’m “house rich but cash poor.” But, when I started crunching numbers and took into account recent volatility of the stock market (where my limited retirement savings reside), it made sense to use a significant chunk of those savings to pay for the heat pump and solar panels. The amount I’ll save on monthly electricity and seasonal heating bills exceeds the return on a safe investment (and certainly beats investment losses). Even better, I would no longer have to rely on a wood-burning stove in my main living area. Stacking four cords of wood last fall, hauling fire wood up a flight of stairs all winter, crouching low to stuff the stove with that wood every two-to-three hours, left me with an injured sacroiliac joint and horrible nerve pain in one leg that I’m still struggling with. I’d pay any amount to not endure that horror again.

The crew took roughly three days to install the heat pump and solar panels. They were great.

Mid-installation of solar panels, May 18, 2022.
Conall checking out the outdoor portion of the heat pump, May 18, 2022. The empty meter space was filled later with the power company’s new net-metering meter.

In simple terms, using electricity, heat pumps draw outside air over coils that heat it before blowing it into a structure. It’s an energy-efficient heating system. Inside my house, the single unit – my main living space is open, so I elected to go with a single unit to save money – is whisper quiet. I really don’t notice it. Nor do I hear the outside unit unless I’m out in the yard, and even then, it’s just a low hum. And – big bonus – the heat pump also works as an air conditioner in summer, cooling hot air before blowing it into the house as cold air. I took advantage of that option for a few hours on several days this summer. The system is operated by a remote control, and can be programmed to turn on/off at certain times. I can also use a phone app to control it when I’m away from the house.

I did have to pay my power company to upgrade the transformer atop a power pole on the road connecting my house to the grid. That added $1,400 to the overall cost. On the plus side, though, my power company gave me a rebate of $800 for the heat pump. And, they offer net metering for the solar, which means they will credit me a certain amount for any excess power I send into the grid over what I use. The amount they use to calculate my kWh credit is slightly less than what they charge per kWh (if I’m reading my statement correctly, I earn a credit of sixteen-and-a-half cents per kWh I send to the grid; if I take from the grid, I’m charged seventeen-and-a-half cents per kWh), but that’s okay. So far, I’m using far less electricity than I’m generating with my solar panels, and the excess/credits accumulate and carry forward for a year. That means that all the credits I’m racking up this summer will carry over through the less-sunny winter months.

Net metering doesn’t cover taxes and fees on the electric bill, so I’ll always have about $20/month in electric power costs. But the rest is FREE, thanks to those solar panels. Last winter I had electric bills as high as $160/month, and all the fire wood cost me over $1,000.

For the geeks reading this, here are some screenshots from my system’s monitoring website.

June’s energy production. (The monitoring system wasn’t running until a few weeks after installation.)
July production. In summer, I might use 12-15 kWh/day.
August production.
A summery of production so far.

It’s not just the financial aspect of solar that’s cool. There’s something more, something I hadn’t anticipated: the emotional “feel good” factor and sense of freedom it provides.

Not only do I get to feel good about using clean energy to heat the main portion of my house (via the solar panels creating more than enough energy to power the heat pump and all the other appliances and lights in my house), but I no longer worry about using too much electricity. Before, not only was I conscious of the cost of electricity on my budget (especially in Vermont where it’s more costly per kWh than in the west/Idaho), but I was also conscious of the environmental cost. Especially here in the Northeast, where so much electricity is still powered by fossil fuels. I, at least, am no longer contributing to that.

Plus, this winter, I won’t be spewing a bunch of wood smoke into the atmosphere to heat my house. On the coldest days of winter, I may build a fire to help the heat pump along, but it’s rated to work in temperatures of minus 30F, so I don’t anticipate having to build many fires. (You’re welcome, Low Spine.)

And, the value of my home has increased because of the upgraded heating and solar systems.

And, my solar panels generate enough power that when my gas-powered vehicle with 160,000 miles finally dies (which may be a while, given how little I drive these days), I can buy a fully electric vehicle and charge it at home because, (a) I have the capacity, and (b) once again, the state of Vermont and my power company offer great incentives to add home vehicle charging stations, making them virtually cost-free.

Win/win/win/win.

Sadly, the older, original portion of my house is heated by an oil-burning furnace. That’s an upgrade problem to tackle next year if finances allow. For now, in winter I will treat it like a giant mud/storage room, only heating it enough to keep the pipes from freezing. But even that is horribly expensive when heating oil costs $5-6 a gallon. A stupid way to heat a house, if you ask me, but it’s unfortunately quite common in the Northeast.

Maybe you’ve been wondering about adding a heat pump and/or solar panels to your home, weighing the pros and cons. You can start by asking a solar company to audit your house’s location (for sun exposure) and your past electric bills to see if it makes financial sense. In my case, I was assured that even with the heat pump drawing electricity, I would still generate more power than I used. Not every house is ideally situated, like mine is. But if yours gets plenty of sun, it’s worth investigating and perhaps even taking the plunge.

Even beyond the financial aspects, it’s the right thing to do for the planet if you can afford it.

Feature photo: the newly-installed solar panels on the roof of the newer portion of my house, May 18, 2022.

19 thoughts on “Solar Power: Feels So Good”

  1. This is so great to hear! Your details make me want solar so much more and we have the heat pump already. Like you we love the idea of being better for the planet, cost efficient and as a back up to other forms of heat like a propane fireplace that could get expensive too. We could sure have banked a lot of sun this summer.
    Good story, and so glad you are ‘snugger’ there with less hard work now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do it, Karen! If you’ve got good sun exposure, you won’t regret it. I had a neighbor in my Idaho subdivision whose house didn’t have great exposure, so he installed panels on a stand several yards from the house that would pivot toward the sun throughout the day to maximize exposure. Sorry to read about the Four Corners fire not too far away from you guys, and the smoke I’m sure that’s putting in the air. Yet another reason to go “clean.”

      Like

      1. Hi Rebecca, yes we do have good sun exposure here.
        As for the fires, we don’t get much smoke from that Cascade fire. It is from 4 fires in the Oregon Wallowa Mts that are smoking us out. One fire grew to 40 thousand acres in just a few days in the Wallowas and Eagle Cap wilderness, burning about 200 miles away.
        While fire happens it’s always sad for me as I love the wilderness, which is even more precious with more population moving here. Thankfully the fires in the McCall back country are far away, with the Moose fire by Salmon the biggest.
        We made quite a few back country trips this summer east and north of McCall and in the Pollock Mt area. But this smoke from Oregon is like fog and dropping ash, so no good being outside much recently.
        Your area looks beautiful! I bet you are excited for fall colors to arrive again, as am I, along with cooler temps and less bugs (everyone here is inundated by wasps this year). Happy exploring and happy fall on its way.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ugh – so sorry the fires are all around you, spewing smoke, but yes, that’s the sad current reality of the interior West. Here’s hoping autumn brings you not only beautiful foliage colors but cooler, moister air and much less smoke.

        Like

  2. We are now also members of the ductless heat pump/ solar panel club, Becky. Our solar panels were finally installed a couple weeks ago after a long wait. I like watching the power the panels produce on the app. It’s so cool! Hope you have a much warmer and more comfortable winter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We are definitely in the house rich, cash poor category. For the first time ever, we got an electric bill for over $800 for one month in July and then again in August!!!!!! We do have a two-story, but still — unbelievable! Hopefully, if things work out, maybe we can look into solar panels or other alternative options for our electricity. Until then, we’re hoping for a mild fall and winter and pray that prices across the board level off or come down some. Fingers crossed! Glad you made the plunge. It sounds like a wise investment, Becky, and I’m sure it’s a great feeling being part of the solution to a global problem. Mona

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those electric bills are unbelievable, Mona! That’s crazy, and not sustainable! At that amount, going solar would pay for itself quickly. But Texas is a quirky place when it comes to the power grid (or so I’ve read), so who knows what your local situation may be. That said, one can always go off the electric grid entirely by installing solar panels and a battery that stores the excess energy generated right in your house until you need it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You do not have surge pricing on electricity I suppose? So the credit that you get from the provider in terms of money is always the same in terms of kWh?

    Something odd about the screen shots: all of them show the same amount of CO2 reduction, whether it is for half a month, a month, or three months.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is wonderful. We’ve often thought about solar panels but have never taken the plunge. We did install a heat pump in our man cave barn… and while I love the air conditioner, the heating cranks up our power bill substantially. As does our oil burning home furnace. It’s a thirsty beast.
    🥴

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Eli spent the summer installing solar power systems. Every night, we got a little lesson in solar. It’s definitely appealing, but we won’t stay in our current house long enough for the decision to pay off. My question about Vermont solar is how do you keep the panels free of snow? Seems like they would get covered in November and stay that way until March. Way to go green!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You don’t keep snow off, but apparently snow will melt off the panels faster than the roof, or the ground, so the hope is that with enough sunny days through the winter the panels will clear and generate power. They don’t recommend trying to clear the snow manually. It will be interesting for me to watch that, as this winter plays out. A spring update is planned 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Yassss! This is so nice. Very well done, you! We’ve been thinking of going solar in The Ph too but have so much to learn about it. So happy this has happened for you already. Thanks for the inspiration. We will keep going in this direction!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Go for it, if financially feasible. You won’t regret it. Even though I probably can’t really afford it myself, I decided I should make an investment in the future. Not just mine, but everyone’s. If we all stopped thinking how individually expensive investing in solar/wind power is, and instead thought about how that investment helps the environment beyond our own bottom line, imagine of the overall benefit! We have to quit focusing on ourselves and instead focus on the planet.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s