On Grid Or Off – Solar Power in an Xcel Landscape

When building a house in a remote area such as in the mountains or out in the desert, one can be faced with some curious dilemmas when it comes to powering one’s home.  Colorado is blessed with abundant sunshine and a low enough latitude that solar power is a feasible solution year round.  Solar photovoltaics (PV) are a straightforward choice, especially for those hoping to establish some green credibility, highly prized in these parts.  But there are a number of financial implications which can affect the pay-off period, that is, the amount of time it takes for a PV system to pay for itself. Oklahoma solar panel contractors

Solar Install panels1-Engineering students help install solar grid systems at houses in Desert Hot Springs during their Spring Break. March 24, 2015

Grid-Tied

The most common solution is a grid-tied PV system, where solar panels feed electricity through a so-called net meter back into the power company’s grid, rather than powering the house directly.  The power company keeps track of the juice coming from the panels into the grid and subtracts that from the juice going from the grid into the house and bills accordingly.  In the large part of Colorado serviced by the Xcel power company, that means that if one generates a surplus, one gets paid a small amount based on an averaged rate across the hours in a day and the days in a year.  Xcel offers a more competitive rate in California.

An advantage of a grid-tied system is that in addition to a federal tax credit of 30% of the cost of the system, Xcel will pay a rebate of $3.50 per installed DC watt, up to 10kW.  Most residential grid-tied systems are 10kW or smaller, so this works out to be quite a savings, considering that installation costs typically run between $7 and $9 per watt installed.  This often means a savings of over 50% of the cost of an installed grid-tied system.

A disadvantage to grid-tied systems is when the cost to connect a house in a remote corner of the foothills west of Boulder, Colorado, say, costs upwards of $30k, and dealing with Xcel can be frustrating at the best of times.

Off-Grid

The other option is off-grid, which is more typically the domain of the truly remote or those making a certain green lifestyle choice.  Off-grid systems will keep a house running through power outages, and will free one completely of the inconveniences of having to deal with the power company.  Unfortunately, off-grid systems also free one of the power company’s sweet rebates.

Even with the federal tax credit, and when factoring in the savings on an expensive grid connect in some situations, off-grid systems require batteries, and may also require generator backup, both of which add considerable expense.