Our first winter with solar panels in Park City. What have we learned?
At this time of year, in the middle of winter, we feel especially fortunate to have a home in Park City that has a sunny exposure, facing directly to the south. The south-facing exposure brings in sunlight, even during the shortest days of December and January. Sun pours into the home, raising our spirits and easing the burden of our furnaces.
The sunny exposure also makes our home an ideal candidate for rooftop solar panels, and in our neighborhood, we have seen roof top solar systems become more common. In the spring of 2018, we had just replaced our roof, and decided to speak with local contractors that install solar panel systems. We decided to proceed, and in June of 2018, had our system installed.
Our solar panel system includes 26 panels. Eight of the panels face directly south, and the remaining 18 face southwest. The system went online in early July, just in time to offset the higher energy bills of the summer, mostly due to air conditioning.
What have we learned so far?
Our power bills for December 2017 and and January 2018 vs same months this year, are about the same, despite having the system. Stating the obvious, but the system produces a lot less power during the short, winter days. We also have had a great snow year, the storms obscure sunlight, and the panels become covered by snow for days at a time. During these shorter days, the production decreases, almost vanishes, all while we are using a bit more power. For example, the snow necessitates the use of heat tape on certain roof lines. The tape uses a lot of power, and needs to be on most of the time, especially when the solar panels aren’t producing energy.
Our system, like most in our area, do not have batteries, so it’s not possible to save or store the excess power when the system is producing more than we’re using. The power company also greatly limits the amount the system can “bank” by moving the meter backwards.
We are happy to have the system, and believe in minimizing our home’s energy footprint. We believe we did the right thing and don’t regret the decision. However, I don’t see the cost of the system being covered by power bill savings within our lifetime, or the lifetime of the panels themselves. There’s simply no way to ever catch up, even if energy costs rise.
It may be a good idea to reconsider solar- at least in our climate - if the sole justification for getting solar is having the system pay for itself overtime. Tax credit? Yes, at least right now. Savings on energy costs? Mostly in the summer. Satisfaction for participating in a program that creates renewal energy? Sure, that’s satisfying as well. We’ll see how the rest of the winter goes, and the overall outcome of our first full year with the system.
For us, it was and is a lot more than just saving money on our power bills- we get that. These systems are a big investment, and when making these decisions, we like to understand all of the pros and cons. We can then adjust expectations accordingly, rather than reconciling after the fact.