Residential Solar Panel Project
for the
Donskoy Family
Introduction
My name is Dmitri Donskoy. I am a home owner living in the Northeastern portion of the United States. In the Spring of 2012, I embarked on an experiment in generated clean, renewable and cheap electricity for my family. I decided it was time to install photovoltaic solar panels on my home's Southward facing roof.

Photovoltaic solar panels are used to convert solar energy into electrical energy. Photo stands for ‘light’ and voltaic means ‘volt’- the unit for electric force. Solar radiation is converted to direct current electricity by use of semiconductors that create voltage in a material once it has been exposed to light. The photovoltaic solar panels are mostly made of crystalline silicon and gallium arsenide and with the increase in demand for renewable energy the manufacture of these solar panels has grown tremendously.

This project was something that I have been researching for many years but which only recently became cost effective due to a combination of government rebates and a very attractive lease program from a visionary company called Solar City.

Other commercial solar panel companies only offered to sell me the equipment, such as the solar panels and electrical inverters, which I would have had to fund upfront with either cash from my own savings or from a bank loan. It would take at least 15 to 20 years before I could achieve a pay back on this investment through savings on my electric bill. This clearly did not appeal to me from an economic perspective.

Sure I want to be a good steward of the planet and cut back on my carbon foot print. I also want to help my country reduce its dependence on foreign sources of energy and by doing so improve my nation's security. I simply felt that this was not a cost effective way of achieving the above stated goals. Wouldn't it be great if I could do the "right" thing and save some cash along the way for my family?

Well it turns out that by leasing the equipment from Solar City I can get the best of both worlds. I have no upfront out of pocket expenses other than the monthly lease payment and I can enjoy immediate savings on my electricity bill and reduce my impact on the environment.


March 21, 2012
Here is a picture of the Solar City van on the day they came to our home to take all the necessary measurements both on the roof and in the basement. They use this data to create their engineering design. This was the first step in the installation process where they measured the availble square footage on the roof to determine how many solar panels would fit and how much unobststructed exposure to sun light we would have at our site. All of this information is used to estimate how many kilowatt hours of electricity this instalation can be expected to generate.

What is a kilowatt hour? A kilowatt hour is the amount of energy you get from one kilowatt for one hour. Electricity use over time is measured in kilowatt hours . Your electric company measures how much electricity you use in kilowatt hours, abbreviated “kWh”. An example of what one kilowatt-hour can do is: 1200 electric shaves, dry your hair 15 times, 4 TV evenings, use a small refrigerator for 24 hours or 4 evenings of light with 60W incandescent lamps. This according to TreeHugger.com

They also took a close look in our basement, at our home's main circuit breaker panel to assess if there is enough capacity to accomodate for the added electrical load. As part of the installation process, additional circuit breakers will be added in to the panel to allow the "green" electricity generated from the sun to feed all of the electrical circuits in the house directly through the existing Service panel. We were fortunate to have had enough spare capacity where we did not have to expand to a larger panel.


July 9, 2012
This is a picture of the front of our house after the solar panels have been installed on our roof. It was taken about two months after the whole inspection, credit checks and approval process began. As you can see in the above picture, the majority of our southward facing roof top is covered in solar panels. We have a total of 18 panels installed in an array on the roof. Each of those panels is 65 inches in length by 39 inches in width and 2 inches thick. They weigh 43 pounds each. The PV panels are securely bolted to the roof top.


July 12, 2012
All of the required electrical components were installed in the basement. We had to clear out a section of wall space measuring approximately one square meter to accomdate the photovoltaic inverter and service meter. This required us to shift around one of our existing storage shelves which we had against the wall which was designated for this new equipment. The most critical component in all of this is that large grey recangular object with the text "Aurora" printed on it. That is the DC to AC inverter.

A power inverter, or inverter, is an electrical power converter that changes direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). Solid-state inverters have no moving parts and are used in a wide range of applications, from small switching power supplies in computers, to large electric utility high-voltage direct current applications that transport bulk power. Inverters are commonly used to supply AC power from DC sources such as solar panels or batteries. The inverter performs the opposite function of a rectifier. The electrical inverter is a high-power electronic oscillator. It is so named because early mechanical AC to DC converters were made to work in reverse, and thus were "inverted", to convert DC to AC.

You might be wondering why this inverter in necessary. There is a simple explanation for this. The Solar panels convert the photons from the sun into direct current (DC) electricity. This current is carried down into our basement via a newly installed conduit which contains all of the wiring from the solar panels. But all of the electrical equipment in our homes require an alternating current (AC) at a very specific voltage and frequency. It wouldn't work to simply connect the direct current electricity directly into the homes main circuit breaker. That is why the inverter sits between the solar panels and the main circuit breaker. The DC current enters the inverter and exits as AC current which is then fed into the rest of the house for use by my refrigerator, TV, computer, toaster, lights, etc.


October 26, 2012
I wanted to share this press coverage that I received from The Associated Press back on May of 2012. This was published while my solar panel installation project was still in the early design phase. Construction had not even begun and this was already building interest from the press. A reporter called me because I was an early adoptor of the residential solar panel subsidy in the state of CT. Read the article for yourself.


March 22, 2014
I wanted to share the following household electrical usage and pricing history. This data covers the full year electricity billing data for the years: 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The table displays the monthly kilowatt hours(*) purchased from my conventional electricity provider: Connecticut Light & Power and the total dollar amount spent(**) for electricty from all sources, which includes the monthly lease payment to Solar City.

The table cells with the green background color indicate months where we had the solar panels installed on the roof and generating electricity. By comparing the 12 month total dollars spent for 2013 and 2011, you can see that there was a total savings of $392.76 ($2,551.95 - $2,159.19 = $392.76). That works out to an average monthly savings of $32.73. If I perform the same comparison of the 12 month total dollars spent for 2013 and 2010, you can see that there was a total savings of $295.30 ($2,454.49 - $2,159.19 = $295.30). That works out to an average monthly savings of $24.61. I left the full year of 2012 out of this comparison to simplify matters since only a portion of that year included having the solar panels up on the roof of my house.

Remember that this average monthly dollar savings is after taking into account the money paid for the lease of the solar panels. You can see that this works out as an immediate savings to our household with no upfront expenses or maintenance fees for the use of the panels. This is because the panels are leased from Solar City and not purchased outright by me.

Another interesting data comparison to make is the 12 month total kWh usage for with and without the solar panels. You can see that in 2013, we purchased 9,245 kWh of electricity from Connecticut Light & Power. That is significantly less than the 14,332 kWh purchased in 2011 (35% less) and the 12,720 kWh purchased in 2010 (27% less). This doesn't mean that we used less electricity in 2013 than in 2011 and 2010, only that we purchased less from our conventional electricty provider. The remainder was generated cleanly from the photons of light hitting the solar panels on our roof. No fossil fuels were burned for this potion of our electrical usage.

Electrical Usage and Pricing History

  2013   2012   2011   2010
  kWh* Paid**   kWh* Paid**   kWh* Paid**   kWh* Paid**
January 833 $198.26   1,150 $189.65   1,435 $254.63   1,057 $206.41
February 887 $206.32   1,057 $175.09   1,187 $212.84   1,235 $238.47
March 664 $228.07   926 $155.38   1,054 $190.77   1,003 $196.68
April 341 $124.88   1,058 $175.23   1,190 $213.33   1,072 $209.13
May 468 $85.81   1,079 $162.20   1,188 $212.99   1,366 $262.07
June 929 $154.58   1,039 $172.39   1,436 $254.12   1,415 $270.91
July 1,513 $242.57   585 $280.54   2,006 $348.26   1,852 $350.65
August 611 $165.60   933 $219.12   1,328 $235.96   1,450 $278.00
September 620 $168.07   698 $182.58   1,274 $227.01   1,271 $245.66
October 591 $163.73   810 $200.01   1,077 $194.39   999 $196.51
November 791 $193.71   693 $181.80   1,157 $207.65   1,258 $243.32
December 1,017 $227.59   1,163 $312.48   1,212 $216.73   1,265 $244.57
               
12 Month Totals 9,245 $2,159.19   10,028 $2,093.99   14,332 $2,551.95   12,720 $2,454.49


July 13, 2015
I received a request from Sheila Abol, from a website named Expertise, to share the following useful resource that their site provides to help consumers weigh the pros and cons of leasing versus buying residential solar panels. I found the resource helpful and therefore agreed to share a link to it here: http://www.expertise.com/home-and-garden/home-solar-panels-pros-cons-and-hidden-costs. In addition, it also describes some of the pros and cons of installing solar panels in general.

Dmitri Donskoy



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