When I first moved into my home about four years ago, I was paying higher electric bills, with air conditioning in the summer and pellet stove heat in the winter. This worked for me for a while even though it meant purchasing pallets full of pellets (averaging a few hundred dollars per pallet) and hauling those into my home, and of course during the cold months keeping the hopper full on a regular basis. Then the pellet stove broke down and pushed me down a different path.
My father, who set up his solar panels in August 2008, hasn’t paid an electric bill since October of that year. It was always my long-term plan to follow in his footsteps when it came to going solar. So, instead of replacing the pellet stove, I decided to go ahead and get solar panels, and use heat pumps to keep the house warm. Heat pumps conveniently double as air conditioners in the summer, which is just a bonus. I had the panels installed in July of 2019, so I didn’t have a full summer to save up credits with the electric company, but I still paid significantly less in electric that winter than I would have spent on pellets.
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CONSIDERING A SOLAR BATTERY FOR ENERGY OUTAGES
Now, with a full summer of good solar days building up credits with the electric company, I’m considering my next move. One downfall of grid-tied solar (and the pellet stove even) during winter is that when the power goes out, you no longer have electricity to power your heating system. I could get a generator, which would do in a pinch, but I am looking at the more environmentally friendly option of a solar battery. Aside from the environmental piece, a whole-house generator can be a significant expense and can require maintenance and potential electrical upgrades.
A solar battery is essentially a large battery that will store electricity (in my case, solar) for when it is needed. When the power goes out—something we are used to during Vermont winters—the solar battery will kick on. Once the battery level in the solar battery is drawn down to about 65%, it will start storing power generated by the solar panels again. Having, potentially, hours of battery life at the ready to keep the house warm and the lights on would be a great benefit during a power outage.
IS IT WORTH THE COST?
One big consideration with solar panels, heat pumps, and (for me now) a solar battery is whether it’s worth the expense. The way I determined that was by comparing how much I initially spent on my heating and electricity per year with how much I spent on the solar and heat pumps (and soon, the solar battery).
Beginning with original costs, my electric bill was, on average, $100 a month. Maybe more some months and less others, but $100 is a nice easy number to work with. So that is roughly $1,200 a year on electric bills. Now heat: For me, with the pellet stove, I went through at least four pallets each winter, maybe a bit more; let’s estimate low here and call it another $1,000 on heat. So, I spent about $2,200 between heat and electricity per year. You could spend significantly more or less depending on your circumstances.
Now, what does it cost for solar and heat pumps? Well, my solar cost around $17,000, and my two heat pumps were around $3,000 each. That puts me to roughly $23,000 for the setup I have now, and I may have to kick in a little on the electric bill by spring (this year is the big test).
That gives me a rough estimate of about ten years before my investment fully pays for itself. (My current costs of $2,200/year for electric and heat times 10 comes to about $22,000, so maybe a hair more than 10 years.) If you wanted to be even more conservative you could say 10-15 years, and even then, I think it is well worth it. The solar battery is another $3 – $4,000, so I’ll tack on a couple of years, making it 12-17 years. I think of the solar batter purchase as paying a little extra for peace of mind for when the power inevitably goes out, and often in the middle of winter after a big snowstorm.
The warranties on all of the equipment differ (25 years for the solar array and 10 years on the heat pumps and battery storage), so I’ll have them all paid off far before they need to be upgraded, at which point I’ll enjoy much deeper savings.
I am willing to pay a bit of a premium for the more environmentally-friendly choice. When my father installed his solar array he said, “I want to do my part to leave the world a better place for my grandkids.” I couldn’t agree more.
It will likely be spring before I move forward with the solar battery, which will give me time to do more research into the details. Overall, though, I have loved having solar, the heat pumps do a nice job in all seasons, and economically I am able to make it work. If it works for your budget with financing, I highly recommend it as once it is all paid for, it is simply free energy with only the yearly servicing on the heat pumps required.
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