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Solar Installation, Day 1

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

In June, Timothy went to a neighbor’s house to hear a presentation from a solar installer. That meeting sparked the Mueller Megawatt Project, with more than 30 households in our development collectively investigating solar systems. Over the next few months, we heard from five installers, who began vying for the lowest group installation price. One neighbor developed a sophisticated financial model that predicted five-year payback periods in many cases. I hired an arborist to talk about our neighborhood’s trees and their growth potential. Timothy created 3-D models to help us understand the visual impact of solar and to show where panels would be shaded by our dormer or the trees out front. We obtained quotes from three different vendors and agonized over the decision. Finally, with two other households, we submitted applications to the Austin Energy solar rebate program through Standard Renewable Energy.

The next day, Austin Energy pulled the rug out from under us. During the month of September, the solar rebate program received $4.5 million in applications for the last $700,000 remaining in the fiscal year 2010 budget. Before the fiscal year had even begun, AE had already issued letters of intent for $3.3 million of the $4 million budget. Our chance at a rebate of $3.75/watt and a five-year payback period slipped away, as AE suspended the rebate program, returned all pending applications, and ultimately dropped the rebate to $2.50/watt.

After pleading our case to City Council and urging an increased budget for the solar rebate program to no avail, many neighbors just shrugged their shoulders and walked away. With only $700,000 remaining in the budget and no guarantee of an ongoing rebate program, Timothy and I decided the reduced rebate was still our best chance at obtaining cost-effective solar. We resubmitted our application at the first opportunity, on November 1. With a three-star rating in the Austin Energy Green Building program, our house met the new energy efficiency requirements and quickly received a letter of intent.

Following permit issues and the obligatory wait for approval from our property owners association’s modifications committee, we weren’t sure if we could still have the system installed in 2009 for purposes of the 30% federal tax credit. With installation occurring the last week of December, we’ll just meet the deadline.

For peace of mind, our system has flashed roof penetrations, rather than relying on caulk to keep the water out. After marking the layout on the roof, the crew installed the standoffs, the flashings, the rails, and finally the 175-watt Suntech Black Label panels. In the meantime, our SMA Sunny Boy inverter was installed on the side of the garage, with conduit for the DC wires running along the back slope of the roof.

Standard Renewable Energy has been a pleasure to work with and has come through for us with all of the obstacles along the way. The crew working on our house today was efficient and has done a great job. Installation started this morning, and as the sun went down, the last of the panels were secured to the racking. Tomorrow, weather permitting, electrical connections will be finished and the system will be substantially complete, pending inspection by the City of Austin and installation of a new electric meter.

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