Our Solar-Powered Homestead

Over the past year we have been shown time and time again that nothing is certain and that change, oftentimes sudden, should be expected. Covid-19 turned the world upside down and one of the impacts here on the homestead was that I was furloughed back at the end of March. After the initial concern about potentially not having a job to return to wore off I got down to business on trying to find ways to reduce our expenses. Thankfully, we were able to make things work through my furlough period and I’ve now returned to work, but one lasting effect from this period is the solar panel array that we installed on our home!

The view of most of the panels from the yard. The system can’t be seen from the road.

After crunching the numbers, I identified that one of the most variable expenses that we have on the homestead every month was our electricity bill. Our home is heated by oil, but we have a full set of larger electrical appliances (refrigerators, ovens, stove, washing machine & dryer) as well as smaller appliances and air conditioners (in the summer) that contribute to our usage. We’ve replaced as much lighting as possible to LED and feel that we try to use as little electricity as we can, but from month to month we could see bill variability of upwards of $100.

If you consider all of the empty roof space that is available to install solar panels on even in just your neighborhood, you’ll quickly see how much solar power is still underutilized.

I had an understanding of the value of a solar power array from my experience with one for an off-grid trailer so I had a head start going into the search for a system that was large enough to power our home, but the company that we ultimately decided to work, Green Earth Energy, with did a good job of explaining all of the “how’s and why’s” such that the experience wasn’t necessary. In initial discussions, we shared our past electric bills and that usage was used to determine the size of solar power array would be needed to cover the entirety of our electric usage. Due to the roof space that we have available, we chose to build a system that would (theoretically) produce almost 120% of our average power use over the course of a year. The electrical supplier in our area, Eversource, allows for “net metering” which monitors the amount of electricity that you are using from their supply and also the amount that you are producing and sending out to the grid and calculates the total used or excess supplied. Ideally, the system will produce more that our usage and at the end of the year we will receive a payment from the electricity that we generated and sold to Eversource.

The two inverters that take the power generated by the panels and changes it to a useful voltage for home use.

Since the impetus of building this system was to create a more consistent set of recurring household expenses, we can’t overlook the environmental impacts of generating our own electricity from a clean and renewable source! If you consider all of the empty roof space that is available to install solar panels on even in just your neighborhood, you’ll quickly see how much solar power is still underutilized. Our oil-fired boiler provides our home with baseboard heat, but it is also the source for hot water. We are planning to purchase an electric hot water heater to allow us to only use the boiler for heating the house, essentially not using any oil for 6+ months of the year which saves the fossil fuel burning, but also lowers our oil bill!

As with most large-scale projects, timelines tend to stretch out and this process that we began in mid-April will finally be powered on today! Parts availability issues and having to count on multiple agencies for inspections during a pandemic didn’t help the cause, but we were patient as we know that this is a long-term investment. Unlike many predatory solar power leasing schemes that were common just a few year ago, we chose to purchase the system outright, so we own the equipment and all the electricity that it generates. Based on the calculations of system cost and expected future usage, we are looking to have the electrical bill savings pay for the system within 7 year and after that point it will be making us money!

One of the inverters showing the current power being generated as well as the system total generated. It was late on a cloudy day so the system was more or less idle.

We’ll be sure to update you as we begin to bring in solar power production and usage, but for now I’d like to wrap up by sharing that if you are interested in adding solar power to your own home there are huge amounts of information available online for you to look at. There are lots of companies that are locally based that would be happy to work with you so after you have familiarized yourself with the basics of a solar power system reach out and see what they can do to help you get started down the road to energy independence.

Thanks for taking the time to read about the happenings on our modern homestead! If you haven’t already done so, please “Like” us on Facebook and if you can, share what we are doing with your friends as there are lots of people just like us that are interested in living a more sustainable life in our modern world! We’ll see you soon!

Jonathan Sawn
Jonathan Sawn

If there is a way to automate, streamline, or perhaps even over-complicate a simple system, this is your guy! Jonathan is thrilled to share his first-hand experiences and knowledge from our homesteading experience.

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