Some people do. More people should.
Despite Houston’s sweltering heat, Grady Hill hasn’t paid an electric bill since 2009.
He keeps his thermostat set at a comfortable 78 degrees when he’s home, but a combination of solar panels and an energy-efficient home have helped him make more power than he uses for most of the year.
That excess power goes to his electric company, Green Mountain Energy, which gives him credits that he taps during the summer months, when he tends to use more than he generates. He earns credits at the same rate he pays, 12.915 cents per kilowatt hour, for the first 500 kwh he generates. Green Mountain buys the rest for half that rate.
At the end of June, when his 3,200-square-foot home used 522 kwh, he had a credit balance of $288.82.
Yes, he wanted to be green, he says, but the savings are the real incentive.
When Hill and his wife bought their house for $300,000, it had double-pane windows, three feet of insulation in the attic and energy-efficient appliances. The Hills added a tankless water heater, ceiling fans, solar panels and a few other items for $60,000.
The five-kilowatt solar system cost about $22,000 after federal tax rebates, and the Hills also saved because the home was pre-wired for a solar system.
The couple moved in during the summer of 2009. The electric bill that July? $40.
But because of the high up-front costs, the solar industry has struggled to break into the local homeowner market even though many residents spend hundreds of dollars a month keeping homes cool in the scorching summer.
Craig Lobel, president of EcoEdge Consulting, an energy efficiency firm working with Discovery at Spring Trails, said it only makes financial sense to add solar after making less expensive investments. These include efficient appliances and light bulbs and radiant barriers to keep heat out of the attic.
New homes in Discovery at Spring Trails come equipped with those energy-efficient features and an electronic monitor that shows residents how much energy they consume and how much they generate if their houses are solar-equipped.
“You have to build the home efficient from the ground up,” Lobel said. “You can’t just put a Band-Aid on an inefficient home. After homeowners monitor their energy use for several months, many choose to add more solar panels to work toward being grid neutral,” Lobel said.
Doing other energy-efficiency things makes sense on its own, and can get you a lot of bang for your buck. The thing about solar panels is that there are creative ways for local governments to help amortize the cost for homeowners. With our summers getting hotter and the demands on our power grid setting records, there’s a lot to be said for adding to our solar capacity in any way we can. Wouldn’t you like to have that guy’s electricity bills?