Friday, October 29, 2010

Solar at Home

On Wednesday, I tagged along with our Memphis Energized crew to interview Gib Wilson and his wife, Nancy. The Wilsons are our first residential customers to install solar panels on their home.

The Wilsons moved into their East Memphis home in 1993, but it was built in 1936. It was the original farm house on the larger property that is now developed. What this means is that it is on higher ground than the surrounding neighborhood--a key element in making it suitable for solar panels. There are many surrounding trees, but they don't interfere. (Gib did have to have one tree cut down.) The Wilsons made multiple renovations on the property and already had a new roof--another key element for installing solar panels.

"I'm just an average guy who's interested in the technology," says Gib. He originally got the idea to install solar panels on his roof from shows on Planet Green. Then he did some internet research. An article in the Commercial Appeal mentioned a solar panel installer in Millington, so Gib eventually contacted him, and six months later the panels were installed.

The solar panels are on the back of the house, and no one can even tell that they are there. They are mounted on concrete cinder blocks, so it isn't necessary to drill holes in the roof.

The Wilsons installed 20 200watt panels that produce a direct current (DC). The DC is converted to an alternating current (AC) via a converter mounted on the side of the house. That in turn is connected to a meter that records the number of kilowatt hours that they produce.

The MLGW Meter Reader reads both the MLGW meter and the solar meter. The credits from the solar meter are deducted from the overall bill. Since installing the panels last November, Gib says he's earned $900 in credits. He is quick to point out that he is far from being "off the grid" and that he isn't able to produce near enough energy to cover all of his monthly usage.

"The sun produces about 100 kwh per month, so we're using 1/3 of our energy from sun, and 2/3 from the street," says Gib, who is happy with those numbers. For him is it less about cost savings and more about it being the right thing to do.

"As an accountant, it's tough to justify the investment even with the 30% government credit, $1000 from TVA upfront, and the .12 we earn for every kwh." He's getting a 5% return on his $19,000 investment, which isn't a bad way to look at it. "Investment is not the true motivation," he says. "Producing power from sun is a cleaner better way than from a coal plant."

Stay tuned for next month's Memphis Energized segment with Gib and learn about the other energy efficient upgrades he and Nancy have made to their home.

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