Rooftop solar.

A guy came by today to try to sell us a system. We have a 3/2 ranch in near Portland, not known for sunshine except in the summer. We face SE, and have 80’ Douglas firs on the South end and West side. I am skeptical on rooftop solar except under more ideal conditions, i.e., places with more exposure at lower latitudes. He pitched tax credits, return on investment, net metering blah, blah,blah. My attitude is that utility solar is the way to go, BEYOND the Cascades out in the desert. I also think it is probably a big pain in the ass in ways we do not anticipate, moss on the roof under the panels, for example. We fight a battle with moss here. Then there is the why-the-fuck-bother angle.

What do you think?

Moderator Action

Since you asked what people think, I am going to move this to IMHO.

Factual answers (i.e. statistics about costs and issues) are of course still welcome.

I want to make sure I understand. Someone knocked on your door to sell you something? You didn’t contact them? He approached you unasked?

If true, that’s a huge red flag right there.

I’ve no strong opinion on home solar panels. Just make double-dog sure you like the way the numbers add up.

My understanding is that rooftop solar costs about $3/watt to install right now.

Large scale commercial solar programs are $2/watt.

Utility scale solar is $1/watt to install.

So off the bat, utility scale solar is 3x cheaper.

But also, utility scale solar can be set up in areas where they get a lot of sunlight. Solar in the southwest produces at least 50% more energy than solar in the northern regions.

I can’t speak about moss.

I will say that I know someone who has a rooftop system installed on his house in Maryland, which is also not exactly a dry, desert, sunny climate (it’s getting to the point where “sunny” is almost non-existent in the forecast - “cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms” is by far the most common thing to show up on a daily forecast for most of the year).

The system doesn’t make enough power to completely supply all of the electrical needs for his home, but it makes a huge dent. With tax incentives and selling electricity back to the grid, the system more than pays for itself.

We don’t have a moss problem around here, but if the current trend keeps up we might. It seems like the mid-Atlantic region is doing its best to make itself the east-coast version of Washington and Oregon’s famous gloomy weather.

Without tax incentives, I don’t think the rooftop systems around here would make much sense from a financial perspective. I have no idea what the tax incentives and other incentives in your area are like, so you’d probably have to do some research there to find out if it really is a viable alternative in your area.

My personal take on it is that it may be viable in your area, more so than you’d expect given your weather. But I also would never buy anything from someone going door to door. Anything sold door to door is pretty much guaranteed to be over-priced for what you get.

Maybe a solar thermal panel for water heating might be more useful? To really be useful it requires a storage tank. Hot water is a large portion of energy use. Even though electric water heaters in my region cost more to use, I installed a good one and put a timer on it. The cost is now a bit lower than the crappy gas one I had. To really save on energy I hope to put in a solar thermal panel feeding into a water storage tank that feeds into the hot water tank. At the least, the incoming water to the active tank will be hotter than the supply line input. In my region that can be a big difference. We get -20C but clear and sunny. So all day that the hot water is not being used, the sun is heating the storage water tank. If you use a lot of hot water it can really make a difference.

We’re in the Willamette Valley and had an estimate done of our likely solar exposure. We bought 8 panels, which have generated much more electricity than estimated. They work on cloudy days, too. Not in pouring rain, but that’s how we get the moss so lush.

I agree that door-to-door solicitation should raise alarms.

I’d also say if you’re interested, do your own research, find your own company and go from there.
Dollars have to fund that door to door sales effort and your probably looking at 1/3rd or half cost just by calling in your own people.

An important issue is how much you are paying for electricity from your utility–they vary greatly in price.

Plumbing is more difficult and more flaky than electricity. And solar panels have dropped deeply in price now. Which means that direct solar-panel boosted electric hot water heaters are now coming on market. If you can find one, that’s what I’d recommend. It doesn’t leak, it doesn’t freeze, and the fittings aren’t damaged by the sun.

My Aunt had thermal hot water for 30 years in Sou Cal, and never had any problem with it. Other people aren’t so lucky.

And if your trees are shading your roof, you may not want to bother.

How are they attached to the roof? Do you have to drill holes through the roof? I don’t like drilling holes into my roof, as it increases the chances for water leakage.

And what happens when your roof needs re-shingled? I assume the whole system must be torn off, then reinstalled?

Depends on the roof. Leakage is a concern, but I think a reputable installer will guarantee against it?
Yes, the panels do need to be remove/re-installed when the roof is replaced. If you’re planning on re-doing the roof in the next 5 years or so, don’t put any panels on until afterwards.

I agree far better to seek out a company than say yes to someone knocking on your door. But for the record, the rooftop solar installation I’m familiar with was done by a reputable solar company and over almost five years the actual electric generation and cost savings have been eerily close to the estimate the installers made beforehand. A decent installer can account for your local climate, roof orientation, even shading trees and give a pretty accurate estimate of what you’ll get (they can even now mostly do it from their desk using satellite images). So for the OP, my advice is, if you’re interested, find a decent solar installer, give them a call and get a quick estimate of costs and benefits. It may turn out that it’s not in fact a good idea, unless you eliminate the firs, but at least you’ll have the data to know that for sure.

A friend of mine has installed solar panels and expects to be cost neutral over the year, because he can sell excess power from his panels back to the power company.

Note that this is in Saskatchewan. We get a lot of sun year round, even though we’re farther north. It’s not how far north you are, but how much sunlight you get.

Days of 40 below are often bright and sunny.

My personal take comes from a class in energy alternative housing back in 1982 so take it for what it is worth.
I will never install any solar based system [hot water or photovoltaic] on a roof … ground installation only, baby. Re photovoltaic - as the surface gets obscured by crud [dust, evaporated water droplets depositing schmut, moss … ] your efficiency drops. Unless you happen t like climbing onto your roof to squeegee your panels, ground mount so you can get to them to do routine maintenance and cleanings.

Can you augment with some windmills? They have some interesting new designs coming out now.

And also find out who gets the money from any extra energy that is generated. The guy that came to my door said that I could not have any of the profit from the extra energy generated. If the solar panels generated more electricity than I needed, their company would sell the electricity to the electric supplier and THEY would get the money. And I would still have to pay all of the usual fees on my electric bill ($29.15 in fees on $20.46 of electricity used this past month) Uh, No.

Also be aware of companies like Sunrun, which will install panels that they continue to own on your roof. This can create complications if the home is sold, as elaborated in this article.