Saturday, May 20, 2017

Solar Panels

My wife and I recently bought a house in the San Francisco Bay Area. We are getting solar panels installed on the roof of the house. In this area it is a great financial investment - there is a lot of sun and the electricity rates are high. There is also a 30% federal tax credit for solar installations.

Determining the best size of the system to install depends on your electricity usage. Producing more power than you consume is less profitable.

We got quotes from three different companies. The quotes are surprisingly different:

SolarCity:
System size: 2.7 kW
Estimated annual production: 4,036 kWh
Cost before rebate: $11,394
Cost after rebate: $6,381
Price per watt: $2.36/W

Sunrun:
System size: 2.61 kW
Estimated annual production: 3,526 kWh
Cost before rebate: $10,559
Cost after rebate: $7,391
Price per watt: $2.83/W

SunWork:
System size: 2.61 kW
Estimated annual production: 5,050 kWh
Cost before rebate: $7,050
Cost after rebate: $4,950
Price per watt: $1.9/W

SunWork has by far the best price at $1.9/W. Not only that, but their system is estimated to produce far more kWh than the two other companies. Their system uses microinverters instead of a central inverter. Microinverters have a longer warranty: 25 years instead of 10 years. They are also more efficient than a central inverter. With a central inverter the system only produces as much as the least efficient panel. Microinverters allow each panel to independently perform the DC-AC conversion and also allow you to monitor the performance of each panel.

Another reason SunWork estimates a larger annual production is because they did a better job of optimizing the layout of the panels on our roof. Each company had a different layout:

SolarCity:


Sunrun:


SunWork:

SunWork managed to squeeze all nine panels onto southern facing parts of the roof. Sunrun had cool software which created a 3D model of our roof and automatically detected vents and surrounding trees (useful for modelling shadows). For all three companies the panel placement seemed to be done manually - combined with some software to estimate annual output.

Update: SunWork panels have been installed! Here is a dashboard to monitor our system output.

Update#2: The final price was lower than their initial quote: $6,565

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