Going solar in the Sunshine State: Why the investment makes sense in 2020

We've lived in South Florida since 2012. Now we'll be the first solar home in our community of about 200 residences. Here's why we waited so long -- and what finally changed.

Sunset at photovoltaic solar panel

(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

At the end of last year, my wife and I decided to make an important decision about a significant additional investment in our Florida home. We are going to install a solar energy system in an attempt to generate most of our electrical power.

I've always been a proponent of self-sufficiency as well as alternative and renewable energy sources. In Florida, we have an abundance of year-round sunshine, and my home has mostly optimal exposure to the southern sky. Not only that, but living close to the Florida coastline also means we are subject to periodic infrastructure disruption by weather events such as hurricanes. We also get occasional brownouts and blackouts that can last several hours at a time during heavy strain on the regional power grid in hot summer weather -- so it would appear that we are an ideal residence for installing a solar array.

My wife and I have lived in South Florida since December of 2012. So, why have we waited so long to do this? Much of the reluctance was the cost of doing the install and the difficulty in finding an experienced solar installer willing to perform work in our area. Additionally, until about two and a half years ago, in Florida, there was no way to sell power back to the grid, nor was it legal to store energy in a large battery for backup purposes or nighttime use.

See also: The Internet of Wild Things: Technology and the battle against biodiversity loss and climate change (TechRepublic cover story) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

The tax incentives also were not conducive to making the overall investment; it worked out that it would have taken about 20 years to break even. So, when we first looked at this over three years ago, it didn't make sense.

But things have changed. From 2016 to 2019, there was a 30% federal tax credit (also known as the ITC) for new solar projects. This credit for 2020 is now 26%. Additionally, Florida Power and Light (FPL) customers can now sign up for net metering, which is the ability to sell power back to the grid when you produce more than you consume.

After going through a pricing exercise and entertaining multiple competitive bids, we chose SunPro as our solar installer and monitoring company. The proposal included not just a system that would cover most of our daily power generation needs, but also the ability to failover to a large backup battery during infrastructure outages. 

We picked SunPro not just because of the competitiveness of its bid, but also because of its experience doing solar installs. The company has over 20,000 solar customers in the southeast. We also took into consideration the maturity of its partner status with the technology firms it does business with, such as LG and Tesla. 

The system was sized, taking into account a peak power consumption of about 2,200 kWh during the summer months of July, August, and September, when the air conditioning is used on a full-time basis. 

fpl-bill.png

Average monthly electric bill from FPL in the Perlow household.

Image: ZDNet

Our monthly average bill from Florida Power and Light is about $263 a month, and our average power consumption is about 2,143 kWh per month. That's mainly because my wife and I work from home and have the A/C running all the time during the day. We expect to pay only minimal connection costs to the FPL grid most months and to be able to sell our overages back to the grid using net metering.

The bids we received from various solar companies were all in a similar ballpark, with financed costs over a 30-year period, which would be about the same as paying that electric bill on a month-to-month basis. 

We choose instead to pay for the system in cash, which brought the total system price down considerably. In essence, going solar means we are getting the ability to be mostly energy independent, and by owning the system we're locking in our energy rates, which results in considerable savings over the longer term. But it's also an upgrade technology-wise in that we will have some peace of mind should the infrastructure go down. 

solardesign.jpg

Finalized system configuration from SunPro for Perlow residence

Image: ZDNet

The finished design, which has gone through multiple iterations, consists of 56 335W LG Solar NeON 2 panels, using Enphase IQ7 microinverters, with a maximum power generating capacity of 23,187kWh per year. 

Forty-six panels will be placed on the south-facing part of the roof, and 10 will be installed on the north-facing roof, which will be street-visible. During the day, with the solar panels, we will have the ability to power just about everything, including the air conditioning. At night, should we choose not to use the grid, or if it is down, we will be able to run the refrigerators, the fans, the lighting, and our pool pump from the Tesla Powerwall 2 backup battery. 

We chose to go with only one Powerwall due to the cost. Realistically speaking, if we wanted to run the main home A/C at night during the hottest months using the battery, we'd probably need a second or a third. We don't tend to run the central A/C at night when we go to sleep unless we have guests visiting -- instead, we turn the central air off and run a smaller Fujitsu mini-split style A/C in the bedroom. 

Other customers may choose a more cost-effective solution for nighttime backup power, such as installing a built-in natural gas generator. Still, we didn't have that as an option due to potential issues with our home owner's association and likely denial of the city permit that would be needed to bury a large propane tank on our front lawn. I have a 6500W Generac, which I have ready to connect to a patch panel if we need that A/C at night.

We will be the first solar home in our community of about 200 residences, and SunPro's first install in the City of Coral Springs, which has a population of over 133,000 people. So, to say we are going to be pioneering this in our town is something of an understatement. 

The project is expected to take us around three to four months, from finalized design, electrical surveys, permitting, to actual construction. Over the next year, I will chronicle my experiences as a solar customer, showing you every step in this process. I'm looking forward to going solar in 2020.

Are you considering a move to solar this year? Or have you done it already? Talk Back and Let Me Know.