SolarYpsi Founder Goes Solar

Inspired by my neighbor Larry solar installation and the continue drop in price for solar panels, we decided to put some on our house. The only available roof space was on a West facing roof. While it will only generate about 80% of the power of a South facing roof, since the price was low it still makes economically sense.

I was also interested in using Michigan made solar panels. Contractor’s Builders Supply located in the Traverse City area are now making (assembling) solar panels. We’re using the SS-250, 60 cell, panels.

Solar Panels on 323 Oak Street
Solar Panels on 323 Oak Street

As the home owner, I was able to pull the building and electrical permits myself. My neighbors Charlie, Dave, Mark, and Bobby came over and helped with the project. I was surprised that we could get it all done in two weekends. Just for fun, we did the installation using only hand tools. We have passed our inspections and generating power.

You can see lots of pictures here, and track our energy production here.

All the bills are in and here is the breakdown of the costs.

Component Dollars/watt Percent of project
Solar panels $0.950/watt 38%
Inverters $1.041/watt 42%
Rack $0.331/watt 13%
Conduit/wire $0.089/watt 4%
Permits $0.068/watt 3%
Tools $0.009/watt 0%
Total $2.488/watt 100%

Those are the actual costs, but I had several left over parts. For example I needed 9 rails but they only came in bundles of 10. Same with the roof mounts, I needed 24 but had to buy 32. Here are our adjusted or true costs.

Component Dollars/watt Percent of project
Solar panels $0.950/watt 39%
Inverters $1.041/watt 43%
Rack $0.277/watt 11%
Conduit/wire $0.089/watt 4%
Permits $0.068/watt 3%
Tools $0.000/watt 0%
Total $2.416/watt 100%

It’s interesting to note that the inverters cost more than the solar panels. Micro-inverters are nice and seem inexpensive, but if you add in the special cables, mounting hardware, and communication gateway for monitoring the power, it get’s quite expensive.

We are lucky to get the project finished so quickly, so we can claim the renewable energy tax credit on our taxes in April. That will knock off 30% of the price. So the real out-of-pocket cost is (2.416*0.70) $1.691/watt, or (1.691*4500) $7610 for our 4.5 kW system.

Using a fixed price for power of $0.18/kWh, the system should generate about $850 dollar worth of power per year. That means it will take about 9 year to payoff. If the price of power rises, the payback period will be shorter. If the panels were facing South the system would generation about 20% more power and pay off even quicker, maybe in 6 years. The panels and inverters are warranty for 25 years but should last 30 or more years.