When Eric Williams, president of Nebraskans for Solar, was looking for a home to buy in 2011, he said one of the primary considerations was the orientation of the home and the slope of the roof.
“I was projecting forward and expecting I would want to install solar and generate electricity in my own home,” explained Williams. “So the first step was seeing if the home I was looking at was a good candidate for the future.”
In 2012-2013, Williams said he had some casual discussions about solar, talked to some contractors and attended some meetings.
“By 2014, I decided I wanted to move forward so I started talking to a solar contractor who helped me get some equipment. He essentially facilitated that part and I was the project manager,” he said.
Williams installed the solar panels himself in the summer of 2014. He worked with a carpenter who had experience doing that kind of work and a professional electrician.
The electrician took care of the electrical connection from the panels down into the circuit breaker in the Dundee home. Williams said the electrical work necessitated for solar panels requires an electrical permit from the city and review by OPPD as well.
According to Williams, installing the solar panels wasn’t too complicated. He explained the brackets, which are about as big as your thumb and forefinger, are installed directly into the roof deck and the rafters. Then 14-foot long aluminum rails run across the brackets to accommodate the panels.
“The solar panel rotates left or right, then up or down to get it to the right orientation,” he said. “Each panel fits snugly to the next one without having to drill additional holes each time you’re putting in a new panel.”
Williams has 12 panels on his home with 260 watts each of production capacity. He usually tells people he has a 3-kilowatt system, about 3,120 watts total system capacity.
He said there is some efficiency loss when converting energy from direct current to alternating current.
“The highest production of alternating current I see is about 2500 watts,” he said.
But that was enough to power 92% of the net electricity he used throughout 2015. In months where Williams was running the air conditioner, the furnace or his small space heater, he had to use some electricity from the grid.
“When, we used less electricity than we were generating, we took the excess electricity and sold it back to OPPD for use on the grid somewhere else,” Williams explained.
But before you get too excited about the idea of generating your own electricity and selling the surplus back to OPPD, you should know that the economics don’t encourage battery storage of solar at home. That’s despite the fact the state legislature passed a law that requires all utilities to have net metering.
According to Williams net metering means, “I can buy electricity from the grid and sell electricity back to the grid and OPPD has to provide the hardware to facilitate that for me. But when you purchase electricity from OPPD, it costs about .11 cents per kilowatt-hour. However, when you sell any extra you generate back, OPPD records that as offsetting what they would otherwise pay for the cost of production, so they only pay you back about .04 cents.”
Small scale solar on residential rooftops is a good way to offset or reduce your own electric use but the incentives do not encourage homeowners to design large capacity systems to sell excess electricity back to the grid.
One reason Williams joined Nebraskans for Solar was to encourage others to consider the installation of clean energy generation on their homes to reduce their use of and dependence on fossil fuel resources since fossil fuels are not renewable.
Williams has given several tours of his home and was even featured on the Green Home Tour last year.
Williams believes these types of tours help people connect with the idea that solar panels aren’t elaborate and aren’t some type of advanced future technology that isn’t achievable. In fact, that technology is ready today and can be installed pretty easily.
You can even do some of the work yourself if you’re adventurous and handy. But you will have to hire a professional electrician to do the work required by the City of Omaha’s electrical code and OPPD guidelines.
At the end of last year, Williams decided to purchase a Nissan Leaf, which changed his electric usage numbers. The Leaf uses more electricity than he uses in his home, so rather than generating 90% of his own electricity, he said his panels are currently producing 45% of the electricity used between his home and car.
Williams next goal is finding additional ways to have more solar generation on his home so he can produce the majority of the electricity needed for his home and car.
“The main reason I am interested in clean energy is to reduce the need to consume fossil fuels. They cause pollution and are an economic loss to individuals, our state and our economy in general. Once you consume a fossil fuel, it doesn’t come back. Unfortunately, fossil fuels’ emissions stick around, heating the planet and contaminating the water and the air,” Williams said.
Currently, there is no timeline on solar though some say the typical solar panel array is expected to last about 25 years, Williams said there are some systems from the 70s still around and working.
Williams said there used to only be a few contractors working in clean energy, but now there are new ones coming into the market. There are businesses developing around the idea of providing clean energy right here in Nebraska.
If you’re interested in learning more about solar energy, the best place to start is by attending a Nebraskans for Solar meeting. And Williams said he’s always happy to show people his home.
“They need to get familiar with what the hardware looks like and see that it doesn’t impact their roof or home in any negative way,” he said. “Unfamiliarity is the biggest hurdle.”