How We Ended Up With Solar Panels
I’ve been struggling with what to write for this post as there is so much I could say about why we did something as drastic as a solar panel installation on our roof. I could talk about what it’s like in terms of day to day impact on our hydro bill, the process to actually getting to panels, and addressing the big question: is it actually worth it?
So I’ll start at the beginning because maybe you have fluctuating energy bills, like we did, and you don’t know why, or maybe your bills are much higher than you’d like and you’re looking for solutions. There are steps to be taken to understand and lower your energy usage that are not as drastic as solar panels, which I’ll address in this post. These are great things to do not only because they save money through lower usage, but also because they conserve limited power resources–which is a great way to live more sustainably!
Investigating Our Skyrocketing Energy Bills
For one reason or several, our household had a massive hydro energy bill for the period of January – February, 2019. Granted, these months are the coldest and darkest part of the year so we expect our power bill to be higher in the winter than in the summer; however, this period in 2019 was a significant deterioration from the year before.
Our first step to understanding our high energy usage was to review the data generated by our power provider. We created an account and logged in regularly to track days and times when the most power was consumed. We also spoke to our power provider directly to determine how we could obtain more detail about what drew the most power in our home.
Energy use trackers are available for purchase, but we opted to simply run different appliances or complete functions (baths/showers/running the dishwasher) at staggered times so that we knew what was drawing power at a given time of the day.
It turned out that our 25 year old dryer was the main culprit, followed by the hot water heater, baseboard heaters, and dishwasher. The hot water heater and dishwasher were only a few years old and relatively efficient, so we did not replace them and instead adjusted our use of them. While the baseboard heaters increased our bills, they are needed in our winters. This left us to focus efforts on the dryer.
We tried to use the dryer less and even purchased an outdoor umbrella drying rack in the middle of February to use. Our existing drying rack didn’t hold very much laundry, so we wanted something more substantial. As you might expect, we didn’t have many days in February that would allow for laundry to dry outside. The days we were able to hang laundry we saw significant improvement in our power usage.
These improvements led us to replace our washer and dryer with high efficiency appliances. We saw a significant improvement, but were still not happy with the cost level of our bill.
Turning to Solar Power for the Solution
Along with the continued desire to lower our energy bills, we had a lot of small reasons (rather than one big reason) that drew us in the direction of solar:
- Articles in the news at the time were saying that we could expect some increases in the price of power in the coming years, so we liked the idea of solar panels being a fixed prepayment of power and shielding us from the full impact of any rate increases (we still use some power from the grid as we don’t generate enough for all of our power needs). The combination of our solar power use and small grid power use gives us a more predictable monthly cost for our energy bill.
- Our long-term vehicle plan is to go electric. We felt that we would like to make this transition to sustainable transportation in conjunction with the ability to generate our own power.
- In our climate the panels should last for about 30 years, but could generate enough power to effectively pay themselves off in approximately 15 years (we are expecting to generate around $900 worth of energy per year). After that point we will be generating free energy.
- We have hydro power here in British Columbia, which is considered to be relatively clean energy; however, there are some downsides to this type of power generation, so we liked the idea of generating our own cleaner energy.
- Using our own solar energy makes us very aware of our usage. My husband and I both love data! As we watch our usage closely, it becomes almost a game to see how little energy we can draw from the grid;
- We were told that the panels should add approximately 10% to the value of our home or can be moved to a different location for relatively low labour cost.
Interesting Solar Panel Facts
This entire journey is a constant learning curve! Here are a few interesting facts we’ve picked up along the way.
- The panels don’t generate power when they have snow on them – I had wondered if they would because the snow is bright white but the the snow blocks light from getting to the panels. Fortunately we don’t get a lot of snow where we live! The panels also don’t generate power from moonlight – I was really hoping they would but the moonlight isn’t intense enough.
- The rainy south coast of British Columbia (where we live) is actually a great place for solar panels! If you have a good roof direction and angle, they actually perform quite well here. I had always thought they wouldn’t be viable outside of places that receive a lot of sun in the year, but these places also tend to be hot which reduces power generation and shortens the life of the panels.
- We can’t use solar to power our home if we have a power outage as we are tied into the power grid. It would be unsafe if we were generating electricity and electrifying the grid while hydro workers were attempting to fix lines.
- You can purchase batteries to charge for power use rather than be linked to the power grid, however batteries would have doubled the cost of our system!
How to Lower Your Power Usage
One of the main purposes for getting the solar panels was to lower our power usage and therefore cost. As I mentioned, we did try to lower our costs in other ways before continuing on to get solar panels.
Here are a few simple changes we made to start reducing our power usage prior to installing solar panels:
- Turn the thermometer on your hot water tank down;
- Fix leaking water taps;
- Run dishwasher less by handwashing large items like pots and pans;
- Switch light bulbs to LED;
- Use the dryer sparingly where possible and invest in a good drying rack* – I can fit three loads of laundry on this one!
- Keep your home at a stable temperature rather than large swings; and
- Monitor your usage and understand what drives your energy usage to make effective changes.
Do you have any solar questions? Please let me know! I will be continuing to write about our life with solar power and would love to know what topics you’re interested in!
*This is an affiliate link. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases however I only recommend products that I have purchased and use myself!