PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH: Electrical engineer installs solar array on his Boise home, reaps savings

Editor’s Note: “Practicing What We Preach” is a series of stories about CTA team members applying their professional expertise and/or career lessons outside of direct client work.

On paper, I’ve always been someone folks might consider “green.” A LEED-accredited electrical engineer, I must spend my free time adjusting thermostats while making condescending comments about incandescent lighting, right? Until recently, this was not the case. While I’d always been a proponent of energy-efficient design, I wasn’t necessarily applying it on my own behalf.

CTA_blog_TylerVictorino_PhotovoltaicData

Charting initial energy production

Having recently attained a master’s degree in renewable energy, my friend Alex last summer voiced the idea of installing a small solar photovoltaic array on my home. My south-facing roof is rarely shaded, and a 30% federal tax credit made the project financially feasible, so we began hatching a plan to install a 1kW photovoltaic array on my roof during the coming winter months. Installation proved remarkably simple, and after a small delay due to a difference in code interpretation between myself and the local inspector, the system was activated in late February.

Our calculations predict a return-on-investment of approximately 10 years, assuming an average 8% yearly increase in the cost of power. Idaho is served predominantly by hydroelectric generation, and because of this we are privileged to experience some of the lowest electrical utility rates in the nation. However, because Idaho is a rapidly growing state with no potential for added hydroelectric generation, this 8% yearly increase is likely a very conservative estimate. The anticipated price hike, coupled with the fact the system has thus far exceeded its calculated production, leads me to believe the actual payback period will be shorter than initially predicted.

I have always been of the opinion that hands-on experience is invaluable to designers (such as myself); however, this project has changed my life far beyond the realm of electrical design. Monitoring this system and the energy my home is using and generating in real-time has made me much more cognizant of my energy use overall, and this is evident in my power bills — to the tune of an average 8% monthly savings on top of the savings produced by solar generation.

The conscientious component of going “green” makes an effort like this worthwhile all on its own. But in today’s world of tight bottom lines — especially at home — all decisions need to make financial sense as well. The pros at CTA are here to help you make and implement those decisions, and feel good about it before, during, and afterward.


2 Comments

  • charles

    June 24, 2015 at 8:51 am

    Great job! Do you have any suggestions on brands or what to look for when shopping for the equipment?

    • Tyler Victorino

      June 24, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      There are lots of good products out there, but I’m a big fan of microinverter type systems in lieu of a central inverter. A microinverter system utilizes a separate inverter for each panel. If one panel in a central inverter system is shaded, the generation of all of the panels is limited; however with a microinverter system each panel is an independent generator, meaning that shade on one panel does not affect the others.

      My inverters are by Enphase Energy. These microinverters are provided with real time monitoring which allows observation from a computer or smart phone, it’s pretty cool really. Shoot me an e-mail if you like and I can provide you with my login info for the monitoring site.

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