Eight years of solar panels

One of the most significant environmental steps we took when we moved to the farm was adding solar panels to the barn. Last week marked eight years since the solar panels started to feed their power back into the grid.

Solar panels on the barn roof

Here is this year’s solar report.

If you need to get caught up, here are all of the previous updates and other details:

This year the panels generated $4,196.79. (We’re hooked into the grid, and the province pays us $0.396 per kWh). This is a lower total than previous years. The decrease is due to an accounting change, not a panel change. Our previous payments had included HST (a tax that we then remitted to the government). I cancelled our HST number for the solar panels, as it was below the threshold that required us to file, and it seemed simpler to not have to deal with it.

We still came out ahead in terms of what we spent on electricity, as we do every year. This year, we spent a total of $2,713.70, which translates to $1,483.09 in profit.

In my original estimates, I had predicted that year 8 would be the year that we paid off the panels. We may get there. We’ve earned almost 90% of what it cost to install the panels–just $4,366.60 left. (To be clear, we paid for the panels in full 8 years ago.)

I’m proud that we made the decision to install the panels. While my analysis is all financial, the environmental angle is extremely important to me. I would love someday to be truly off-grid and self-sufficient. Panel and battery technology have come a long way in the past 8 years, and I feel like that will give us the opportunity to do more in the future.

Does anyone else track their utility bills and compare each year? How are you “going green” at your house?

Seven years of solar panels

Seven years ago, Matt and I decided to put solar panels on the barn. We felt like it would be a good investment (mostly Matt) and a way to do our part for the environment (mostly me). I feel like we’re fulfilling both of these goals.

Every spring (or summer when I forget), I run the numbers for our panels. Here is this year’s solar report.

If you need to get caught up, here are all of the previous updates and other details:

This year the panels generated the second largest amount of power ever. We made $5,036.38. (We’re hooked into the grid, and the province pays us $0.396 per kWh). We haven’t been over $5,000 since 2016-17. I wonder if this is perhaps an ominous sign that there are more sunny days due to global warming. I am happy that we have the solar panels to counteract our carbon footprint just a little.

Every year, we come out ahead in terms of what we spent on electricity versus what we made. This year, the total was $2,485.63 spent. With $5,036.38 earned, we had a $2,550.75 profit.

I always like to see how close we are to finally earning as much as we spent to install the panels ($40,727.46). This year, we’re three-quarters of the way there. $32,164.07 or 79% over the last seven years. I had originally estimated it would take 8.5 years to pay off the panels, and we seem to be on track for that.

Living at the farm, we’re close to nature and I feel strongly our environmental impact. I am grateful for the money the solar panels generate, and I’m grateful that we were able to make this choice for the planet.

Does anyone else track their utility bills and compare each year? How are you “going green” at your house?

Solar panels turn six

Barn with solar panels at sunset

Six years ago, at the end of April 2014 (wow, that feels so long ago), we turned on our solar panels and started generating power. Every spring since then, I’ve written a post sharing how our little power station is doing (you can see the panels on the right side of the lower barn roof in the photo above). This year, our solar-versary beamed right by without me noticing. (Can’t imagine what else would have been on my mind.)

So today I’m getting caught up.

If you need to get caught up, here are all of the previous updates and other details:

Solar panels on the barn roof

Over the last year we spent $2,683.97 on electricity (this is our lights, pump, heat, fridge, stove, etc.). And we made $4,349.94 from the solar panels (we’re hooked into the grid, and the province pays us $0.396 per kWh). Yay to coming out ahead.

Annual income from solar panels

Last year we finally crossed the halfway point in making our investment back–over the previous 5 years we had made 56% of what we invested in installing the panels ($40,727.46). Now we’re passed the two-thirds mark–$27,127.69 or 67%.

Monthly income from solar panels

More than ever, I am grateful that we invested in these solar panels. Our finances have obviously changed since Matt’s death. Having the money from the solar panels and knowing it will cover our hydro costs is a comfort.

And even though I focus on the financials in this update, I strongly feel solar panels are the right choice for the environment, and I’m glad that we were able to take this step.

Does anyone else track their utility bills and compare each year? How are you “going green” at your house?


Solar panels four years later

Solar panel array

Four years ago on April 25, 2014, we powered up our solar panels and began feeding electricity back to the provincial grid.

Every spring, I like to look at our numbers and compare how we’ve done with past years. Here are our previous annual summaries:

We don’t track how many kilowatts we generate, so all of my calculations are financial.

Over four years, we’ve made a total of $17,469.28.

Our initial investment in the panels was $40,727.16, so I guess you could say we still have awhile before we’re truly ahead (based on this year’s numbers, our total payback period will be just under 8 1/2 years).

However, we already feel like we’re ahead every year because we consistently generate more power than we consume.

Last year, we paid $2,594.40 for electricity, and we earned $4,855.15–$2,260.75 in “profit.”

The amount of power we produce is very much determined by the weather, so we see a lot of fluctuation month-by-month and year-by-year. Last year we made more than $300 more than the year before. Here is the comparison over the last four years.

Solar panel income over the last four years

Obviously solar panels are a big investment. Knowing that we’re going to be at the farm for a long time, it’s a choice that made financial sense for us.

And now that we have Ellie, I feel even more strongly about the environmental reasons that we chose to install our solar panels. I want to do my part of create a healthy world for her and set an example of taking personal responsibility for the planet.

For all of the details on our solar panels, you can see previous posts about Going Solar here.

Solar panels three years later

Solar panels

Forty solar panels. Three years. $0.396 per kWh.

Grand total so far? $12,614.13.

It’s been three years since we turned on our solar panels. As I’ve done for the last two years, I’m looking back at how much income we have generated. Here’s the summary from our first year and from last year.

As a reminder, we’re part of Ontario’s microFIT program. Under this program, we installed solar panels, and then the power that we generate goes back into the provincial grid. We have a 20-year contract where the province pays us $0.396/kWh. You can read about the whole saga of Going Solar here.

The grand total that we made on our solar panels last year was $4,519.09–close to the previous year’s $4,473.91 but up just a little.

Here’s the comparison over the last three years.

Solar panel income over the last three years

After a dismal January–seriously, in the whole month we had less than 50 hours of sunlight–things started to brighten up. We even had a few days of double digit income in February, which is a very good day in the winter.

Solar panel array

Beyond looking at the income we generate on its own, the other check I like to do every year is comparing the income we’ve generated to what we’ve spent on hydro. This year, we came out ahead by $828.06.

It is such a nice feeling to know that our electrical bills are essentially covered.

The solar panels were a big investment three years ago. We’re still looking at about 6 more years before we’ve generated as much revenue as we put out for the panels and the install. However, we’re a third of the way in both time and money, so we’re right on track.

Also, our motivation in going solar is not solely financial. As nice as the money is, it’s equally as nice to feel like we’re making smart choices for the environment, for the future and for our little corner of the world.

Solar panels two years later

Two years ago we flipped the switch on our solar panels. It’s hard to believe we’ve had them that long. They’re still a bit of a novelty for us, and we check often to see how much power we’re generating.

Solar panel array

Last year, I took a look back at our first year, remembering some of the highs and lows, and calculating how much we’d made and how long it would be until we’d made as much money as we invested in the panels.

I’ve been waiting to do the same thing again and see what progress we’ve made.

Last year, my calculations were only based on part of the year. While the panels were live as of the end of April, we didn’t receive our first cheque from the hydro company until July. This year is the first time we have a full 12 months of payments.

Just in case you’re new to our solar saga or don’t remember all the details, we’re part of Ontario’s microFIT program. Under this program, we install solar panels, and then the power that we generate goes back into the provincial grid. The province pays us $0.396/kWh. You can read about the whole saga of Going Solar here.

But now onto this year’s report.

The grand total that we made on the solar panels last year was $4,473.91–up just a bit more than $850 over the year before.

So what does this look like? Something like this. The golden yellow is this year and bright yellow is last year.

Bar graph of income from solar panels

We had a better fall and winter this year compared to last year. Everybody knows it was a much milder winter, but it was also sunnier.

I was often amazed when Matt told me at the end of the day how much we’d made. When the sun’s in the southern hemisphere, it sometimes doesn’t matter how bright it gets during the day. The angle of the sun is just so bad that there’s no way our panels produce at their max. But even in the depths of winter we had days where we were making double digits, which was a huge win.

The other huge win this year was finally getting our HST refund. This is the 13% sales tax we pay in Ontario on pretty much everything–including the labour and materials to install our panels. Because we run the solar almost like our own small business, we’re able to claim a portion of the tax–in the amount of more than $4,000.

Our other big numbers were finally setting a new daily record when we finally broke the $28 mark and making $831 more than we spent on electricity for the whole year.

Because it was such a mild winter, we didn’t have any issues with snow on the panels like we did last year. Even the ice storm wasn’t a big deal.

In fact, now that we have them, we really don’t have to do anything–except count the deposits to our bank account.

Solar panels

Last year, I estimated that it would take about 9 years and 4 months before our income equaled the investment we made in the panels. When the panels were first installed, I thought 8 1/2 years was a realistic estimate. Using this year’s numbers, the payback period would be just over 9 years.

This is definitely a long term investment, but the money is only part of the equation for me. I really feel alternative energies like solar are something we need more in the world. And I feel like I have a personal responsibility to support these alternatives as I can.

At the farm, we rely on our own well for water and our septic for sewage, we have geothermal for heat and air conditioning, and we generate power for the grid through these solar panels. Plus we’re preserving 129 acres, doing our best to be responsible stewards of our own little chunk of the earth.

Back up power for an electric sump pump

Since the first rainfall two weeks ago, we’ve now had rain steadily for nearly two weeks. Often, it’s not gentle rain. Deluges and thunder storms have been the name of the game.

Our sump pump kicks in often, especially with a heavy rain.

Sump pump pit

The big worry is that thunder storms bring both rain and power outages. Without power, our sump pump doesn’t run. We’ve not lost power yet, but it’s Matt’s biggest worry.

Does anyone know if there’s a battery back up system you can add to a sump pump?

There are benefits to having a generator, and we may go that route someday. For now, I’d love to hear if anyone knows about sump pump solutions.

Wonky wiring and a pair of pendant lights

At some point today, an electrical inspector will knock on my door. (Hopefully. It’s one of those “sometime between 8 and 5 things”). It’s been awhile since our electrician was here, but I’ve been putting off the inspection because my day job was requiring me to be in the office. I finally got a break at work and am working at home today, so the inspection can happen. I also finally got my fingers in gear to tell you about this update.

Matt and I had upgraded from the boob light in the kitchen to a school-house pendant some time ago. The fixture wasn’t in the right spot, though. It was off centre with the island and a single pendant didn’t look quite right.

Single school-house pendant over the kitchen island

I had ordered a second pendant back when we installed the first one (February 2014), but I didn’t want to tackle adding it on my own.

When we had the electrician here to move the light switch in the master bedroom, I had him relocate the existing kitchen light and add the second.

The wiring in this house is wonky. When the electrician took down the first pendant, I remembered exactly how wonky. There was no box to house the wiring. Instead, the fixture was attached to a couple of plates that were screwed to the drywall, and the wires–which wasn’t the right type either–just stuck out from a hole in the ceiling.

How not to wire a light

Obviously, it wasn’t right, but Matt and I had installed our new light anyways, knowing that we’d hire a professional to fix it soon. Well, soon turned out to be more than a year, but better late than never, right?

I was surprised when the electrician hypothesized that there was another light somewhere else in the ceiling. A close look at the drywall showed us a patch that I had never noticed. When he climbed up into the attic, he discovered the light (disconnected, thank goodness). This one had a junction box. It also still had the socket lamp holder attached to it. The light had just been turned so it pointed into the attic and not through the ceiling. What were they thinking???

Light fixture in the attic

The electrician drilled two new holes, inserted two new boxes and ran the new wires–and did all of it properly.

Wiring pendant lights over the island

I was happy to have a professional electrician fixing all of the mistakes. I was also happy that he was the one crawling around in the attic, not me. I like my DIY, but I’ve learned where to draw the line. Things that are beyond my skills or just plain unpleasant (and this hit both of them) are a clear time to call in professional help.

If you’re in the Guelph, Hamilton or tri-city area, I highly recommend Agentis Electric.

Electrician going into the attic

I did patch the hole in the ceiling on my own though (but I haven’t painted it yet). And here’s the finished product: pair of pendants, properly positioned–and properly wired–over the island.

School house pendant lights over the kitchen island

How do you decide when to bring in professional help? What’s the wiring like at your house? Do you have any light fixtures lying around just waiting to be installed? How do you handle lighting in your kitchen?

Solar one year later

A year ago, we flipped the switch on our solar panels and started generating electricity. I thought it might be neat to take a look back at the past year and see how our little generating station worked out.

If you want to catch up, here are all of the previous posts about Going Solar.

Just a reminder, we’re part of Ontario’s microFIT program. Under this program, we install solar panels, and then the power that we generate goes back into the provincial grid. The province pays us $0.396/kWh.

Over the past year (10 months actually, since our first payment didn’t arrive until July), we made $3,621.13. Each month the hydro company pays us for the electricity we generated two months before.

Graph showing income from solar panelsJust for comparison, we spent $2,604.35 on electricity for the same time period (including the wee bit of power it takes to run the panels). That’s a profit of just over $1,000. Yay to coming out ahead!

Our inverters tell us roughly how much we make each day. So far, our record is just over $29. Matt so badly wants to break $30.

Solar panel inverter screen

When the panels were first installed, I estimated it would take 8 1/2 years before our income equaled the investment we made in the panels. Using the numbers from the past 10 months, it looks like the payback period is about 9 years and 4 months. I’m optimistic that spring is going to be a good generating time for us, though, so I think the 8 1/2 is still achievable.

The winter was pretty dismal. There were lots of days where the income was in the single digits. The sun being in the wrong hemisphere was the biggest problem, but then there was the snow. Snow on the panels drove Matt crazy. After a couple of big storms, he climbed up on the barn roof with a broom and very gently cleared the panels.

Clearing snow off solar panels

The solar array is pretty big though, and Matt’s arms are only so long. There was one hard-packed drift that he just couldn’t reach. This thing was his nemesis.

Snow on solar panels

Eventually, with some yoga-like contortions and gentle shovel work from Matt, combined with the help of–what else?–the sun, the drift slid down the panels and off the roof in big icy sheets.

Ice sheets sliding off solar panels

Once we hit February, we started having lots of sunny days. As the sun returns to the northern hemisphere, our output has been climbing every day. Even cloudy days result in double digits.

Beyond the snow, we’ve had no issues at all. The inverters and the panels all are chugging along, the money is trickling in, and we’re doing our part to generate some clean power. We’re really happy with our decision to install the solar panels.

One Room Challenge Week 5 – Professional help

We’re heading into the homestretch on the One Room Challenge.

One Room Challenge

Next week is the big reveal of my master bedroom makeover. Here’s where we’ve come so far:

The One Room Challenge is largely about DIY. It’s not a requirement, but most of the other bloggers participating are painting, sewing, carpentering all on their own like I am.

However, last week it was time for some professional help.

One of the quirky elements of this room is that the light switch was behind the door. When we used this room as a guest room, people would always walk in and reach for the light switch. I’d have to explain that no, it’s not where you’d expect it to be. You have to reach around behind the door.

Light switches behind the door

Apparently, I didn’t mind making things inconvenient for our guests, but now that we’re the ones living in the room, I wanted the light switch where it should be.

Matt and I discussed doing this ourselves, but the electrical in this house is a bit wonky. Plus, relocating the switch would involve lots of time in the attic–and lots of time with the insulation in the attic. Not fun. We also had some other minor electrical work on our to-do list, so we decided to bundle it all together and call in a professional.

When he first saw the bedroom, our professional questioned whether there was space for a switch. There’s a very narrow wall between the door and the edge of the closet. We had no way of knowing how the studs were configured. He got out his stud finder, picked a spot, and I held my breath as he punched through the drywall.

There was a narrow cavity. It was nearly the width we needed for the box, but just a bit too narrow.

Cutting drywall for a new light switch

Fortunately, it was close enough that a quick trim with the sawzall allowed the box to fit and didn’t compromise the stud.

Tracing the wire from the junction box in the ceiling to the switch turned out to be another bit of fun. There’s a join in the wiring somewhere, but the electrician wasn’t sure where. It looks like there’s a junction box in the closet of the bedroom next door, so that’s my guess. When we do our big whole house reno, we will definitely devote a portion of the budget to fixing all of the wiring.

Our electrician couldn’t get rid of the original switch behind the door. It’s a crowded box that appears to be feeding some other areas of the house. But a blank cover on the missing switch is something I can live with.

Blank plate covering a light switch

I’m just happy that I no longer have to live with the switch behind the door… although I still reach for it when I go into the room. This new switch, on the right side of the door, with a dimmer (can I have a hooray for dimmer switches?) is so wonderful.

Bedroom light switch with a dimmer

The bedroom is coming together. All of the cosmetic updates are looking really good. However, this little functional improvement is equally awesome.

Thanks to our awesome electrician. And thanks to all of you for following along so far. Only one week to go!

To check out the other ORC participants, be sure to visit Calling it Home.