Case Study: Chloe Bird Residence
5.05 kW AC Solar Photovoltaic System
(28) BP 190W panels & (1) Fronius inverter
Article, Interview and Photos by Drew Lowell-Britt
Why did you decide to become a Solar Champion?
I knew about Solar Santa Monica, read the newsletters, and followed the solar market. We always knew it was the right thing to do, but the economics were not there. But now, with the tax credits and reduction in price for panels, what used to be a 12 year payback is only 6 years. And that’s assuming 5% utility escalation, which is very optimistic. (Interviewer’s note: 6.7% is the historic escalation rate in Southern California.) Our neighbor is a retired engineer and he had his solar panels for about a year before us, so we had a great example.
This was our chance to go green and save green. Our kids are real environmentalists. The environment is our generation’s legacy so we wanted to do our part for them. Solar is educational, it’s rewarding, fun and easy upgrade to our home, and I think the panels are attractive. Sunshine is a big resource here; it’s not just for tourism. Using the sun to make electricity instead of heating the roof is a no-brainer.
Also, our kids have asthma, so we run the AC in the summer and during heavy pollution days. So we like being able to balance the usage.
We are trying to do things now, especially in this economy when people need work. There is also an inherent problem in California with brownouts. I know this doesn’t protect me because we didn’t choose to install a battery back-up system, but once battery efficiency increases, that will be an option. So, if collectively more people choose to increase their efficiency and go solar, we could make a substantial difference and curb the brownout issue.
So true…the more people that go solar, the less utility companies need to burn fossil fuels and ration power at peak times. But let me go back to the beginning. How did you achieve such a great payback?
We were in Tier 4 of Southern California Edison’s residential rate. That’s why the solar pays for itself so quickly. The solar is offsetting some expensive electricity! Saving on our bills is what made it possible for us. When it became cost effective, we were very interested. We chose to purchase the system because of the fantastic return on investment (ROI). But the fact is that anyone who owns their own home can get a solar system through a lease program and start saving immediately -- pretty striking. It’s just a sound investment. I can save for my kid’s college.
Which one of Solar Santa Monica’s Preferred Solar Contractors designed and installed your solar system?
SolarCity did our installation and they were great. We started the process early last fall (2009), a week before a big article in the LA Times, so SolarCity was getting swamped with calls. Over a few months they designed our system and eventually landed on more efficient panels, the BP 190W panels.
Was there anything you did not expect?
We worked with A-1 Roofing to get an estimate on our roof condition. They said our roof looks great, which was such a relief. We had shingles over shake. I was so appreciative of their level of integrity. We did have to move a vent, but it was nothing complicated. I can’t recommend them enough.
Because there are so many construction options, it took longer than expected. We were juggling decisions about where to put the panels, possible electric car charging, and other remodeling projects.
We started construction, and then it started raining, so there were many transitions. Actual work only took 2 or 3 days.
What’s next for you and your family?
Now we are looking at getting an electric car like a ZAP Zebra or some other electric car that comes out.