Let there be light

Anthony Abate of Real Goods Solar discusses installation options with prospective client Erin Cline.


The prevalence of solar energy is going to hit the Valley in a big way in the next few months as the seven schools in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District embark on installations that will save the district millions of dollars over the years. As these installations come to light – no pun intended – The Sun decided it was the perfect opportunity to educate readers on the costs involved in residential solar. How many of us have considered making the switch but are deterred from further investigation due to uncertainty about the cost? To help clear the air, we enlisted the help of Valley local Anthony Abate of Real Goods Solar to illuminate for homeowners just how cost efficient going solar can be.

Low voltage user – the Purdom family
Starting with myself, and my family as solar guinea pigs, I had Anthony come out to my home for an evaluation and subsequent estimate. Using a combination of house measurements, satellite images and last year’s PG&E readings, Anthony put together a proposal that was astonishingly cost effective. Breaking the proposal into sections, it was easy to see the 25-year financial analysis, the cost breakdown and the system description (see sidebar). The net cost – for me, the bottom line – was just $8,228 after receiving credits from both the state of California and the federal government.

It should be noted that, in my home, we rarely reach PG&E’s costly “Tier 3,” which dings consumers for the highest rate of $0.29 per kilowatt hour. Typically, our smallish household of three is confined to usage in Tier 1, billed at the more reasonable rate of $0.12/kWH.

Given these factors, going solar for me would be about environmental consciousness rather than saving huge amounts of money. My considerations: is living green worth spending some green?

High user – the Cline family
Since my family’s usage was so low, I decided to recruit some friends to give a more accurate picture of what a larger family could expect from moving to solar – both the benefits and the associated costs. I chose Matt and Erin Cline who, with their three daughters, live in a 2400 square foot house off of lower Broadway. The Cline’s have a pool (which is heated by solar panels on the roof of the home) and a private well – both of which require pumps – and power – to keep running. They also run a home-based business, which means they use more power throughout the day than people who work in an offsite office, although Erin is very conscientious, turning off lights and running appliances like the washer, drier and dishwasher during PG&E’s recommended hours of before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m.

Regardless of conservation, the Cline’s use a lot of power – almost five times what we use in the Purdom household. Their meter typically runs in Tiers 4 and 5 – at a whopping $0.40 per kWh, occasionally dipping into Tier 3 at $0.29 and very rarely into the less costly Tiers 1 and 2. Their annual pre-solar PG&E bill runs over $5000 while mine pales in comparison at around $975. The benefits of going solar for this household are obviously monetary however, the family’s post-solar carbon reductions over 25 years would be equivalent to planting 8,352 trees, powering a small car for 707,797 miles or traveling 430,515 miles by air.

Because they’ve already installed solar on their home’s roof to heat the pool, the Clines have opted for a ground mount system at the back of their property. Running lines from the panels to the home will add some cost to the installation but these homeowners want to keep the aesthetics of their pristine back yard in tact so the necessary trenching and cost of materials aren’t much of an issue. Bottom line, the net cost of solar for this family will run $34,166 after rebates and tax credits. Not a bad investment considering it will eliminate their PG&E bill completely and save an incredible $235,934 over the 25-year lifetime of the system.

About Real Goods Solar

Since 1978, Real Goods Solar has led the sustainable living market through sales, education and installations of solar and other renewable energy products.  For 30 years, the company has been a leading installer for residential and commercial projects, providing turn-key solar solutions that include financial analysis, full service design, installation, permitting, deployment and rebate paperwork. 

 Through a partnership with SunRun, Real Goods offers a variety of ways to pay for a solar installation.  With a nod to the success of the power purchase agreement (PPA) model in commercial solar, SunRun offers homeowners the option of purchasing solar energy the same way businesses have for years, by purchasing power instead of panels.
 For more information about options visit: realgoodssolar.com and sunrunhome.com respectively.


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    2 Responses to Let there be light

    1. bob edwards says:

      Jody —
      Good job on a very informative and well-researched solar-power piece. That’s the sort of “news you can use” that Valley residents need and which seldom, if ever, appears in “the other paper.” Now – when is the full story behind the Sonoma Valley Bank meltdown coming out? :-)

    2. Wow, I had no idea I was going to be in the centerfold!

      The photo on the cover is with local architect Chris Spaulding http://www.csarchitect.net/ in front of his 2.82kW system. Chris’s purchase triggered a $500 donation to the Sonoma Valley High School, where his kids go to school, as part of our Solar for Schools Program. I designed this system for easy expandability as the Spauldings plan on an electric vehicle in their future.
      http://www.realgoodssolar.com/local/northern-california/stop-paying-for-gas/

      The Purdom array is 2.15Kw
      The Cline array is 7.05kW

      I’d also like to mention that Sonoma County residents can take advantage of the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP) which offers solar financing with no money down. With SCEIP you don’t even need equity in your home or perfect credit!
      http://www.realgoodssolar.com/local/northern-california/new-sonoma-county-program-creates-an-easy-path-for-homeowners-to-afford-solar/

      Finally, I can be reached at: (707) 331-9679
      anthony.abate@realgoods.com
      or come by the Farmer’s Market for a free solar power consultation.

      Yours Under the Sun,
      Anthony Abate (aka Flying Shakespeare)