Solar Spotlight: Solarize Southwest
By Judy Henderson
Solar Oregon Member
Two years ago, I was a solar power skeptic. Two days ago, I generated 3.7 killowatt hours (kWh) of power, on a day when the sun made an appearance, but didn’t stay long, and the temperature outside barely reached the 40s.
It’s not that I didn’t believe in the environmental benefits of solar power, but I was convinced that solar panels were too costly and that there wasn’t enough sun in western Oregon to generate power effectively. I considered installing solar cells in 2005, when I did a major remodel on a house that had what I thought was the perfect location -- it faced due south and had no shade on the roof -- but my contractor convinced me that solar power was not a good choice.
It took Solarize Southwest to convince me otherwise. Not that I was an early adopter; I didn’t go to any of Solarize Southwest’s frequent workshops or information sessions held in the spring and summer of 2010. But I kept reading about the project in neighborhood newspapers and was curious about how much things had changed since 2005. So, at the last minute, I called Solarize Southwest, and they scheduled a contractor to come and work up a bid for me.
The contractor and I sat down on my sunny front porch while he looked at my electric usage data and wrote up two bids. When he showed them to me, I was shocked. The bids seemed too good to be true:
• A system of 10 panels (240 watts per panel) would generate an average of 6.61 kWh per day for an out-of-pocket cost of about $500;
• A 12-panel system would generate an average of 7.93 kWh per day for an out-of-pocket cost of about $1,800.
I went for the 12-panel system. It took several months to get the system installed because Solarize Southwest had a larger than expected number of households purchase systems. According to the Solarize Southwest webpage, the project reached out to more than 700 neighbors, and 168 of them installed more than 500kW! Southwest Neighborhoods Inc (SWNI) sponsored the volunteer project.
When the solar panels were first installed, I would run outside and stare at my electricity meter’s dial, sometimes several times a day, and smile broadly as I watched the meter show the amount of electricity generated on my roof while I stood there. Now, more than a year later, I had to remind myself to go look at how much I’d generated on a recent day in order to write this article.
My system hasn’t generated quite as much as predicted (I missed 2010’s summer weather because the panels were turned on in mid-September and it was an unusually wet year), but I haven’t had an electric utility bill (except for the $10 basic charge to run the meter) for the past year. I’m now using up some of my power credits from PGE to run oil-filled space heaters so I can keep the gas-fired furnace turned down even lower than last year. And, best of all, my inverter states that I have saved 6,175 pounds of CO2 so far.