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How to go solar: Our experience

September 6, 2016

The 22 panels on our shed.

Earlier this year, we went solar. My husband called it his “retirement gift” to himself. Some men get sporty red convertibles or take a month long cruise: we spent the money on 24 panels on top of my husband’s shop, which is wired up to our house. This has resulted in electric bills of only $15.30 for the entire household each of the last 3 months. Those bills rock! So our bills have fallen to the bare minimum (basic fees and local taxes) we pay our electric company, Shenandoah Valley Electric, while still “on the grid.”

So yes, we are still on the grid and also feeding back power into the grid for other users. That’s the part that feels really really weird, and good! We, or rather God’s creation up there called the sun, makes possible electrical power that we are able to use ourselves, and when we (plus the sun) “manufacture” extra, the literal power is “banked” and used by others.

We have learned a lot and that is perhaps the best part of this whole endeavor: learning how it works and also learning to know some new people in the process. Last fall we began exploring the options through a local branch, Massanutten Regional Solar Co-op of a larger cooperative, Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods (VA Sun), which provided numerous educational opportunities (and lobbying at the state level, we learned). Any and all interested parties who wanted could go the next step to sign on to this cooperative in seeking competitive bids for our individual solar projects. My husband and I could have done the same thing on our own (researching and shopping), but it was helpful to go to informational meetings and then be part of an actual meeting where we reviewed bids from about five nearby solar companies, including voting on which company we would go with as a cooperative. The numbers (bids) they gave us are proprietary to the companies and not for public information.

Some of the niftier electronic aspects of the project were how the cooperative was able to do a roof review, using GPS and Google Maps of our property regarding where we wanted to put our “solar array” (as a set up is called), whether it was at a good slant for the sun, and whether trees or other obstacles would cast too much shadow.

If you’re interested in the technicalities, we got a 6.84 kW solar system with these specs:

  • 22 x 285w Solarworld
  • 22 x P 300w Optimizer
  • 6kW SolarEdge Inverter

We were so excited to see the work truck finally at our place one day.

The installation company we worked was Independent Solar Solutions LLC out of Bluemont, Va. and they were wonderful to work with, even though it took longer than expected due to winter weather and the total number of customers they were working with from the cooperative at the same time. We signed on in January and were functional by the end of April. We paid an initial 10% deposit down, another 20% when they ordered materials, another 30% when materials were delivered to the job site, another 30 upon completion of installation, and 20% after they got the inspection completed with the local building folks. Something we overlooked going into this was the need to add additional homeowners insurance on our house and property. It was not a big increase, but just saying.


Husband chats while a worker finishes covering the conduit to our building.

Money wise, we hope to take advantage of the U.S. energy tax credit of 30% and at this time, we have no battery storage with the system—battery storage being pretty expensive. In Virginia, we are eligible for the net-metering program.

The bonus for us was being able to have electricity in our building, (including them digging a trench for the conduit to the building) which we’d been hoping to do for five years. So we can plug things in out there! My husband plans to finish wiring the rest of the building for his shop.


Another guy moves dirt with a bobcat.

After the array was installed and we were up and running, the company also provided our own webpage or monitoring platform (you can see a sample, although this doesn’t take you to our personal platform which of course is password protected) to keep up with our daily status. My husband loves this and is as regular with checking our usage as I check status updates on Facebook.


Solar Inverter, installed in the shed. It is about 3.5 feet tall.

We are happy we made the system as big as we did (adding 2 panels at the last minute when the installers discovered there was room for 2 more on that roof). Husband is already saying he’d have been kicking himself the rest of his life if he hadn’t added that additional capacity. A really good day is when we generate 40 kilowatts of electricity. A mediocre cloudy day results in production of 10-15 kws.


Meter installed on our house which shows whether we are feeding electrical power back into the grid, or using it.

Payback: Where electricity rates rise 3% a year, payback is considered complete in about 12-13 years, according to notes I have from one installer (not the one we went with).

As my husband also says, “This is more for future generations than for us. It’s just something we wanted to do for a long time.”

Since May 1 this is what our little system has done for the environment:

CO2 Emission Saved
2,766.43 kg
Equivalent Trees Planted
Light Bulbs Powered
12,157.22 For a day


Going solar? Gone that way already? I’d love to hear your experience and results here.


Here’s someone else’s great list on “Why go solar.” 


Postlude to a post: after a long hiatus ….

I have been away too long—not posted anything on this blog for almost 2 months. The reasons are myriad (which will be obvious as I hope to resume posting regularly or if you read my Another Way column where things will leak out too), but I have missed this part of my life so much. It is here where I pause and try to make sense of both the routine, and the game changing. When I look back over notes about things I want to write about, and scroll through photos I have taken but not written about yet, it is like snippets of life have escaped me without true pondering and processing—and remembering.

I dreaded looking at my blog stats; surely they had dwindled to almost nothing. But no! They are driven by a few bellwether posts that somehow show up when people search for “Rise N Roll Amish Donuts,” or “How to plan a different 60th birthday party,” or this time of year, “Sweet Midget Pickles.” My stats are only down by about half. An amazing number of people each month are still reading what I write and connecting and even signing up to receive new posts. So I’ve been able to have a blog vacation without loosing too much ground.

So here’s back at it: sporadic, eclectic: partly for me and partly for friends/relatives/fans and sometimes complete strangers that I haven’t met yet who nevertheless seem to find something here worthwhile. I’m also celebrating a regular gig for Amish Wisdom, supplying a recipe and food photos every other month which began Sept. 1. A big thank you to loyal fans and welcome to new ones.



From → Family Life, Nature

  1. Smart move with data to prove it. 🙂

  2. Elaine permalink

    I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t seen a post from you for quite awhile. Glad everything is okay…and that’s quite a project you were working on!

    • Yes, sometimes I wonder about other bloggers who kind of disappear for awhile. I’m never sure whether to leave an “away” message or just fly with the times. In this case, a brand new grandson, vacations, and computer issues were part of the reason behind my blog vacation.

  3. Margaret Kauffman permalink

    I’ve been wondering what happened to you. I had a nice visit with your mother in August.

    • Glad to clear up the mystery, Margaret, and so glad you got to catch my mother before she left to come out here! Which is another reason for my absence–cleaning for Mom–and the rest of my wonderful family who came for a visit, took priority over getting a blog post out! It was a good break.

  4. Athanasia permalink

    I’d say it would be best to leave an away message. I only read a small number of blogs as compared to some people I see have 50-100+ on their profile. So if someone doesn’t show up it is noticeable. But you did say you were busy with things. So we waited.

    We have solar on our shop. It was a big project, initial expense, but it has paid back very well. I don’t understand though how has your husband worked in a shop that was not electric? Was he using a generator and pneumatically powered tools?? Just wondering. I mean, I know it is not his workplace, as my husband’s is, but semi dark is not the best place to be working with power tools.

    • Thanks for your honest feedback, as always, Athanasia, and advice to leave a “sorry I’m gone” message at my blog. I really hadn’t planned that long of a hiatus but one thing led to another, including an unexpected 3-week hospital stay for one of the grandchildren, which impacted our own schedule.

      Great to hear of your shop solar project as well. Very cool, and I’m glad to know it has paid back very well. The “shop” is my husband’s future shop–right now he does most things in the garage or basement. When he needed power in the building (built in 2011), he would run big cords out there. Not good either. So this has been a longer project than either of us imagined–getting electricity to the shop, and a nice side project that was able to happen with the solar install. 🙂

  5. I love win-win-win projects. This is a great example of one.

    Thanks for sharing all the data. We have 27 panels and a little over 7 k capacity. Eager to see our next electric bill. These sunny days are a great time to start!

    • Yes, and thanks for your comment here. My husband loves watching the data daily–although it gives him pain some days when we don’t get “enough” energy produced. We are also finding that the panels become less effective each year. Our best year data wise was our first year.

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