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October 25, 2014
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Solar in the Snow

Ed Wesely calls up a chart that shows the daily electricity production of the solar panels on the roof; the dramatic drop off is the date of the first significant snowfall of the season on January 7.


“If I were a parent with school-aged kids and wanted them to learn science, I would start them out with this.” So said Ed Wesely, who is fascinated with the technology related to the 24 solar panels that were installed on Barbara Yeaman’s house in Milanville, where Wesely also resides. Initially, Wesely said that he was completely indifferent to solar, but once the panels started generating power on October 7, 2010, he quickly became a convert.

The house has 24 panels, installed by Gravity Sun Power in Honesdale, and using a specific type of solar technology invented by a company called Enphase Energy. Enphase manufactures micro-converters that turn the direct current power created by the panels into alternating power, which is then fed into the home or grid; and each panel has its own micro-converter.

Before this technology came into use, most systems were tied together like the old-fashioned Christmas tree lights, and when one went out, the all went out.

But, for Wesely, perhaps the most appealing part of the Enphase system is that each panel is monitored constantly as to how much electricity it is generating, and that information is available to the end user on-line.

So, when Wesely was explaining the system, it was easy for him to go online and find a graph that showed what can happen when the panels are covered with half a foot of snow: they stop working. Soft roof rakes made specifically for solar panels are now available, and Wesley has been eagerly awaiting its arrival.

But before the snow, came he was impressed with the performance of the system. The installer predicted that in November, the system would produce 193 kilowatt hours, but the actual production was 243, and that resulted in an electric bill in that month of just $11.

In December 2009, the house was using an average of 21 kilowatt hours per day from the electric company, with space heaters which were used to supplement the oil heat. In December 2010, the consumption was cut to an average of five kilowatt hours per day, and resulted in an electric bill of $30.

But the electricity savings are just one part of the economic incentives to go solar. State legislators passed a law that mandated that by 2021, eight percent of the energy sold must come from renewable sources, and 0.5% must be from solar. In May of 2009, a program was started where utility companies such as PPL and others in the state can bid on the solar produced in individual homes. Once the system has produced one megawatt, which should happen in March for this house, a renewable energy credit from the house will be auctioned off, and the price now is about $350 per megawatt.

This system is projected to produce about 5.2 megawatts per year, mostly during the very productive warmer months.
Additionally, the state set up a $100 million fund, which is rapidly being depleted, to help cover the cost of solar installations, that provided $9,240 for this system, and there are also 30% federal tax credits for homeowners who go solar.
The installer predicted that this system would pay for itself in five to seven years.