Solar profile: Philip Hostetter

The rapid growth in solar energy means that most solar systems have been installed in just the past few years. We spoke with Philip Hostetter who has had solar for longer. He told us what new solar owners can expect from their systems.

Tell us about your system. How large is it? When was it installed?

We actually have two systems. We have an 18-panel 4.05 kW system on our roof. It was installed in May of 2009. We also have an 8 panel 1.92 kW system on a shed on our property. This was installed in October of 2012.

Why did you decide to go solar?

I’ve been interested in solar since reading about it in the 1970s. I was quickly convinced that it is much better to save money rather than spend it. Solar energy and energy-efficient construction seemed a logical way to meet this goal. We were fortunate to find a piece of land near our condominium. We built a passive solar home with a hot water system, which we moved into in 1986. We could not afford to install our first PV array (18 panels) until 2009. In 2012, we built a shed next to the house and added 8 more panels.

Can you share data on how your system has performed?

That’s a complicated question to answer. Since our system is a bit older, we do not have the Internet-connected monitoring that is available now. But, the bottom line is that, with SRECS, we are now paying virtually nothing for energy. (This includes natural gas for cooking, back-up hot water, and a back-up furnace). We also have a Prius PlugIn that uses some of our PV energy. Even I was surprised to discover we have been breaking even since adding a new Carrier “GreenSpeed” inverter system and more efficient gas furnace. Since January of 2013, we are usually on the positive side each time a quarterly SREC check arrives. Again, I am including natural gas costs in this calculation.

You’ve had your system for some time, can you talk about any maintenance or upkeep work you’ve had done to it?

The original hot water system required nearly annual maintenance — probably a total of $500. We replaced that when we installed the first PV array in 2009 and have not paid a penny for maintenance on the new one.

Our biggest problem has been with squirrels nesting under the panels. They chew the wiring and connectors to the panels. That has cost us about $2,000 to replace wiring, replace two panels, and then install mesh barriers to keep the squirrels from ever nesting again. (Of course, our insurance does not cover rodent damage.)

What advice would you give someone who is considering going solar?

  1. Make sure you are sufficiently educated about the economic benefits and pay-back period.
  2. Get three bids.
  3. We found buying panels was a better deal for us than leasing them.
  4. Don’t expect Dominion Power to applaud your decision.
  5. Get squirrel protection!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Even with the squirrel damage, we are still very pleased with our decision to go solar.