Power can prove to be expensive almost anywhere. Whether it comes from electric heating in Pennsylvania, all-day air conditioning in Arizona or just a family full of movie lovers in Nebraska, utility bills can easily pile up.
But that gets a lot easier in states like California that suffer from dramatically higher electricity prices than other parts of the country. Whereas that Nebraska family paid an average rate of 8.52 cent per kilowatt-hour in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, California residents were paying 14.74 cents per kilowatt-hour. That comes to nearly 75 percent more for electricity in the Golden State.
Bill Kammerer of Pleasant Hill, California, was well familiar with how high those costs can run. Even living in the more mild region of the state near the San Francisco Bay, Bill averaged electricity bills of around $460 per month. That left Bill paying more than four times the national average and nearly five-and-a-half times the state’s average electricity costs, according to the EIA.
Fed up with these high costs, Bill turned to solar power in the hopes of making his own power at a lower cost. He went to several California solar installers and ended up getting four separate quotes from major national names like REC Solar, SolarCity and Sungevity, but ultimately settled on Murrieta, California-based HelioPower.
With the option to speak with several different solar installers, Bill was able to make exactly the kind of system that he wanted for his house.
While many residential solar installations make use of a single central inverter, the mechanism that transforms the direct current power created by solar panels into the alternating current used by American devices, Bill was worried that the shade around his house would cause some of his solar panels to produce less power than the others. This can lead to lost energy with a central inverter, because it works based on the lowest common denominator. With HelioPower, Bill was able to install microinverters, which are attached to a single solar module.
In the end, Bill had 28 panels installed on his roof, largely out of sight and tilted at the precise angle to produce the most power possible given the location of the house. At 235 watts each, the rooftop solar installation boasted a capacity of as much as 5.94 kilowatts, capable of producing more than 7,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year and offsetting around 76 percent of Bill’s annual energy usage.
Thanks to California’s net metering laws, Bill can even sell any power he does not use back to the grid at the same rate. At that 14.74-cent-per-kilowatt-hour average, this amounts to more than $1,000 in annual savings without taking into account any of the state or federal solar incentives for which he is eligible.
The popular federal tax credit will cover 30 percent of the cost of a residential solar installation, while the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency notes that the California Solar Initiative offered $2.50 per watt of installed capacity, or $14,850 in Bill’s case, before strong interest in the program exhausted those funds. All told, Bill estimates he will save around $3,000 per year.
Meanwhile, with all these savings piling up, Bill took advantage of the new residential solar leasing financing scheme through SunRun. This system allowed him to add the installation at no cost, instead choosing to pay a monthly fee to SunRun, making the initial investment no issue at all. Solar leasing is already responsible for more than one-third of all residential solar installation in California, but more and more success stories like Bill’s make it likely to continue its dramatic growth.