My spouse and I have wanted to reduce our carbon footprint and utilize renewable energy for a while, but it had to make sense. Our utility provider offers a “renewable investment” where we invest $$$ into their renewable implementation and we get X% off our bill – but this never made financial sense, it would never pay for itself. So we looked into installing rooftop solar. Our setup makes financial sense while also reducing our carbon footprint. Going Solar is Arkansas is definitely do-able.
The panels are LG NeON 2 High-Efficiency 335W 60-cell photovoltaic solar panels. Total output capacity of the system is 8.04Kwh. The panels ratings include for high wind and baseball sized hail, which are important considerations in my region. They come with a 20-year parts guarantee, 25-year performance guarantee, and they are rated to produce 90% of their original output when they reach the 25 year mark.
Our system is grid-tied, meaning we supply our excess power generation into the grid, which accumulates as credit, and we pull on that accumulated credit at night, cloudy days, or seasons with higher utilization (like summer).
Most of our West-facing rooftop is unshaded year-round, so there we have 22 panels, but for a 100% electricity use offset we needed 2 more panels. We had the option between placing panels in the Southwest corner of our roof and accept that they would be shaded during peak solar hours through portions of the year, or we could put the 2 panels on our South-facing gable over our garage, where they would be shaded through some of the morning but have more peak hours year-round. We went with the latter plan, so 22 panels on the west roof and 2 on the garage.
The panels are mounted through the roof on railing that keeps them elevated from the roof, allowing them to stay cool while they absorb sunlight. The railing is also necessary to distribute the weight of the panels evenly on the roof. The panels themselves, by keeping direct sunlight from reaching the roof, should also help reduce indoor heat accumulation during warmer months.
Each panel connects to an Enphase IQ7 Microinverter underneath, and the wiring runs through the attic and to the Enphase control module near the electric meter.
Electricity goes both directly into our home and any excess goes into the grid. The Enphase control system tracks system production and grid utilization to provide realtime and long-term statistics on grid net usage/contribution. This information is directly available to the consumer through the Enphase Enlighten website and mobile app.
For those with more of a DIY/devops disposition, the solar controller has an undocumented API that some on Github have found ways to tap into directly. You can see my real-time solar production stats here.
There isn’t much to tell here.
- We signed for the system in early/mid February.
- February through March: The installers went through the regulatory approval process with the city and the POA.
- Late March: physical installation completed in 1 day.
- Mid April: the city inspected the installation.
- At the end of April: the power company inspected the installation and installed the net meter.
Cost and Return on Investment
In the 3 weeks since starting, we have produced nearly 645kWh, and netted 356kWh into the grid. The goal is to net a decent excess of electricity in the Spring, so that in Summer there is credit to draw on in the event that production doesn’t cover the utilization created by air conditioning. Our installation didn’t complete in time to maximize that timetable for this calendar year, but we still seem to be on track to avoid large electricity bills this summer.
Total cost for the system, before the 26% Federal tax credit in 2020 and any sales incentives, is $33,305. The state of Arkansas allows for 20-year zero-down solar loans. During our first few years our solar payment will be only slightly higher than our previous average monthly electric bill.
With normal regular rate increases from the utility company, our prior electric bill would have exceeded our flat solar payment in approximately 7 years. That makes our return on investment occur somewhere near year 12 of owning the system. The solar loan requires that, to keep to our current monthly payment, we redirect our Federal solar tax credit into the solar loan to reduce the principle cost of the system.
Thanks to Arkansas’ generous 1:1 net metering rules, all excess power that we generate and do not use becomes a full per-watt credit on our account. With our particular power company, if we maintain a credit for 24 months, we can request a check for the wholesale rate of our excess power generation.
Our solar installation makes financial sense and has a sound return on investment, while also reducing our carbon footprint. Prohibiting factors for you going solar would be shade, minimal electricity usage, or exceedingly high electricity usage. I think higher usage actually makes it easier to go solar as a quicker return on investment, but the upfront price tag might be higher than most want.
With home appliances always becoming more efficient, and our system rated to produce 90% of its original output in 25 years, this system could last us for the rest of our lives.
Installer: Performance Guarantees and Service
For the installation of our system, we used SunPro out of North Little Rock. We chose them because:
- SunPro guarantees the annual production of the systems they install, or they pay you the difference
- They use top-tier panels from LG and offer them at the best prices
- They guarantee the quality of their work for 20 years
- SunPro’s parent company also does roofing, so they have a separate income stream from solar
- SunPro has the largest footprint across the Southern United States for solar installers
- Despite not living near Little Rock, their installation team was just as available and prompt as if they were local
SunPro also has a potentially lucrative referral system, where they will give both the referrer and the new customer cash just for taking a meeting, no obligation. If you’re interested, feel free to email me at erik [at] thespecter.net
To answer the most common questions I get:
- So what happens if you need a new roof? The installers will take the panels down and store them for a flat rate, then put them back up when the roofing work is complete.
- Why don’t you have batteries, isn’t the point to be off-grid? While many people do install solar panels to be off-grid, and solar companies will gladly sell home batteries to you, it doesn’t make sense as a financial return on investment. Batteries will double the cost of the solar installation.
Side-note: If you are interested in having some amount of off-grid power power during power outages, and have no shading potential, the SMA Sunny Boy line of string inverters offer 1 electrical outlet that can be powered directly from the panels. Some think of it as a gimmick, but I could see it being handy to charge phones or other emergency item during a power outage. As long as there is sunshine.