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Solar on St Croix

 
Ed
 Ed
(@epo_)
Active Member

I've used the search function and most of the threads I saw relating to solar were about 6+yrs old.
Are there any people on here who have (more recently) installed solar panels on their residential property who are willing to share their experiences? Do's. Don'ts. Recommendations for companies to work with, installers/installation? Do all the components and parts need to be brought in from the mainland? What time frame does one need to take into account?
We are eyeing a few properties on St Croix, none equipped with solar, but we would seriously consider installing it prior to moving in.

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Topic starter Posted : October 5, 2021 5:20 pm
MW24
 MW24
(@mw24)
New Member

We moved to St. Croix in June of last year (2020).  Our home did not have solar, so we asked around for a few recommendations and got a couple bids.  We went with Mike Bruno (Solar Wise Strategies).  He was highly recommended and provided the a turn-key solution for us.  I would highly recommend him and I haven't heard any complaints from our neighbors and friends who have used him.  

We had Mike provide two quotes:  one for solar only to help offset our electric bills and another with additional panels and a battery.  We initially had Mike install panels only (no battery), but with enough panels that when we added a battery it would provide enough solar power to power the house in the daytime and charge the battery for use at night.  About 6 months later we added the battery.

Today, our electric bills are less than $20 a month.  We have enough solar capacity on most days to power the home during the daytime and charge the battery.  Many days, the battery is charged by mid-day.  The battery easily powers the home at night and we typically wake up with 30-50% of our charge left.  On the very rare day where it is cloudy all day, it sometimes doesn't generate enough power to fully charge our battery and we use power from the electric company for a couple hours the next morning until the sun comes up (thus our $20 electric bills for use on those rare days).  We could add another battery and never have this issue, but the costs to get a truly $0 electric bill doesn't make sense.  We also have a whole-home propane generator (with a 500 gallon tank) which we installed before the solar.  It may be overkill, but I its part of our contingency planning for extended outages (e.g. hurricanes).  We'd default to our solar/battery setup, but could also use WAPA (power company) next and if WAPA is out and we're out of battery charge or its dark out, the generator would kick on.  

Mike's company provides everything and generally has everything (panels, inverters, batteries, etc.) in their warehouse on the island.  

Getting solar/battery has been a no-brainer here on St. Croix.  For one, we don't even notice when the power goes out anymore.  Since we're almost always running on our solar + battery, outages are a non-event and we frequently don't even know it happened unless we go outside and hear neighbors' generators running or read about it on FB.  Next, having a near $0 electric bill brings a lot of piece of mind, especially with power rates so high here.  Not having to worry about a $500 or even a $2000 electric bill we hear about is nice.  Finally, it added another very solid layer of redundancy to our hurricane planning.  

One final comment about Mike and our home.  We did extensive renovations on our home after we bought it.  I was already in contact with Mike about solar, but he also helped me get the most efficient appliances as we worked on our home.  We bought the most power efficient mini-split air handlers and replaced our pool pump with a super efficient variable speed pump.  That along with a new refrigerator, and swapping out our old electric water heater to a gas one (shares the propane tank with our generator and stove) really cuts down our power usage.  We ran a test with everything on in our house (including both mini-splits) and our power usage was less than a friends usage from just an old mini-split.  You can really save power with wise purchases.  We're spoiled now and went from just using a/c in our bedroom at night to using both mini-splits (one in each bedroom on opposite sides of the house) full time to keep the entire house comfortable during the daytime.  

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Posted : October 6, 2021 7:33 am
daveb722, SatFlyer and Ed liked
vicanuck
(@vicanuck)
Expert

I second MW24's accolades for Mike Bruno! He did our 7.5 KW 30 panel system and we've been delighted ever since. We're on the old 1:1 net metering program which is the most generous in N. America. We don't have batteries but we do have an awesome military surplus 15 kw diesel generator that we bought locally from a friend who sources and sells them. Its so quiet you would hardly know its running and the power (sine wave) is so clean it runs all the electronics, including the AC units, without an issue. We generate so much electricity that we installed mini splits throughout the house and run them without hesitation. We get a credit every month from WAPA and haven't had a bill for years. Solar was likely the best investment we've ever made.

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Posted : October 6, 2021 7:55 am
daveb722 and Ed liked
Gator's Mom
(@gators_mom)
Trusted Member

Solar panel systems are permitted by WAPA. 

We're on the original 1:1 net metering program that ended in 2017.  This permit and special meter stay with the house if a house is sold - so consider this while home shopping. 

We were one of the first residential systems installed on STX in early 2013. We've updated panels, connections, and the enphase hardware/software over the years. We've used several solar installers and vendors - some are still around while others have moved from the island.  

Our system withstood the wrath of Maria without issue. We haven't paid a power bill in eight years.

According to our permit/agreement with WAPA, we cannot add batteries to our system that interface with WAPA. In other words, we cannot sell stored power to WAPA on purpose or accidentally without jeopardizing our agreement. The newer WAPA permit/agreement allows for battery storage.

WAPA's power generation system is put together with duct tape and a prayer. So with any net metering you're still at WAPA's mercy - at least partially.  

We too have a big a$$ diesel generator and a couple of smaller gas generators just in case.

We keep a watch on battery storage technology - but if we decided to use a battery we probably would set up a second system that would run our most needed appliances in an emergency rather than give up our 1:1 net metering plan.

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Posted : October 6, 2021 8:38 am
Alana33 and Ed liked
Ed
 Ed
(@epo_)
Active Member

This is all really great info.
Can all of you do a quick add on to your responses
- How many Kw's do you have on your system
- What's the sqft of your residential space
- What do you roughly run on your system (appliances, airco, pool (pump), cistern, anything else?)?

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Topic starter Posted : October 6, 2021 10:37 am
vicanuck
(@vicanuck)
Expert

@epo_ 

7.5 KW System (30 Panels @ 250 Watts each)

~3600 sq ft House + Separate Guest Cottage (AirBNB)

Pool, Hot Tub, 3 Mini Split Systems, Gas Dryer, Dual Fuel Oven (Electric oven, gas burners)

Solar Hot Water System

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Posted : October 6, 2021 5:35 pm
Ed liked
Alana33
(@alana33)
Expert

How does this effect those of you that have solar installed?

Good or bad? Just curious.

https://viconsortium.com/vi-economy/virgin-islands-in-move-to-further-encourage-virgin-islanders-to-be-energy-independent-v-i-energy-office-announces-removal-of-grid-access-charge

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Posted : October 7, 2021 11:03 am
vicanuck
(@vicanuck)
Expert

@alana33 

Rick Starr provided this recap on the St. Croix Solar Forun on Facebook yesterday: "Up til now the revised net metering agreement stipulated that a customer could sell back excess power to the grid, thus making use of their equipment during the day and offsetting their power bill. But WAPA charged a monthly fee for grid interactivity, and they paid a pittance to purchase our electricity from us, so that in order to make back the monthly connection fee and break even a typical modest 5-8kw home would have to run full-blast for the entire month. That shortens the equipment life, and still leaves you dependent on an unreliable spikey power grid (RIP your appliances).
So instead many people have invested in batteries and just gone off grid, leaving the meter in place just in case it’s needed. That has proven to be a far better investment for the typical home.
But WAPA isn’t content with that as long as there are sooooo many unregistered systems connected to its grid. Fair enough; most folks have done it right and installed safe, anti-is landing systems, but I’m sure a fair number of people have cobbled together their own god-knows-what from eBay parts which could be a deadly hazard to linemen or anyone near a downed line.
By eliminating the monthly grid access charge people who have gone self-sufficient can legally keep their WAPA connection (and pay the monthly $4) and leave their main breaker turned off until needed, if ever.
The letter says that the grid access charge is “deferred,” which is a loaded term that suggests that it might be reinstated at any time, but if they do that (not likely), customers can cancel their WAPA service, they will still have a registered and approved system."

It doesn't affect people like me who are on the old 1:1 net metering program.

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Posted : October 7, 2021 1:21 pm
Ed and Alana33 liked
Alana33
(@alana33)
Expert

@vicanuck

Thanks for your explanation.

 

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Posted : October 7, 2021 1:58 pm
Ed
 Ed
(@epo_)
Active Member

Is any damage to solar panels covered through (home owners) insurance including hurricanes?

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Topic starter Posted : October 7, 2021 2:59 pm
Gator's Mom
(@gators_mom)
Trusted Member
Posted by: @epo_

Is any damage to solar panels covered through (home owners) insurance including hurricanes?

Yes. we separately list our solar panels to include them in our homeowners policy. 

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Posted : October 8, 2021 7:45 am
vicanuck
(@vicanuck)
Expert

@epo_ 

Yes, solar panels are covered. Mine are not listed separately as Marshall & Sterling Insurance said there was no need to.

After Hurricane Maria, I had absolutely no damage to my panels at all. In fact, I credit them for keeping my roof intact.

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Posted : October 8, 2021 8:13 am
daveb722
(@daveb722)
Trusted Member

I had 3 estimates to add to my system.  I had Mike Bruno do my replacement of 14 panels after Maria.  He was also the lowest for the add-on w/batteries. I went with Mike, even if he wasn't the cheapest in which he was, I feel he is the most reliable and trustworthy of all the companies I dealt with.  He now uses 300 watt panels and a 3 rail system that is rated for cat 5 hurricane winds.  As others have said, you need to look at your current usage, what appliances you have and may be replacing in the future as I had an older refrigerator that had a slight opening (about 1" bow) in the seal and after I replaced that my usage went down dramatically.  Mike will tailor your system to your current usage. I keep my Mitsubishi 26 seer running all day in my bedroom. I still have my stove and dryer on wapa as they draw to much to be connected to the batteries, but my plan is propane when I need to replace them.  As for time frame, it was 2-3 weeks to get all the components, but with the port issue, that may take longer now.  After everything was on island, it took about 1 week to finish the install.  With the new request for a leac increase, which will always go higher, the best investment I ever made.

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Posted : October 13, 2021 7:32 am
jaldeborgh
(@jaldeborgh)
Advanced Member

Another positive endorsement for Mike Bruno.  We had Mike’s team install a 9.92 kW grid interactive system in about May of 2020.  The system included 32, 310-watt high wind solar panels with the 3 rail system along with an 18.5 kW battery.  Zero complaints about the product or install, responsiveness on post install questions has been great as well.  Our house has 3 bedrooms and 4 baths and has a cooks kitchen (many appliances) as well as a good sized pool.  We do still see electric bills but never more than about $200 as a worst case, this matches with our expectations going in, so no surprises.  We also entertain frequently and typically have a house full of visiting family and/or friends.  Over the next few months we will be adding/integrating, into the system, a diesel generator as additional backup for the inevitable long term WAPA outages.

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Posted : October 13, 2021 5:43 pm
VIpirate
(@VIpirate)
Advanced Member

When I looked into getting solar for our STT home including batteries, the payback was close to 10-years.  This was about 2 years ago.  In reading through the responses, I note people talking about low power bills after adding the solar system, but even assuming no time value of money, it seems payback for solar is 8-10 years to break even and by then you'd likely need to re-invest to newer technology or might suffer hurricane damage during the ensuing 10-year period.  

Not against solar in the least bit, but financially does this make any sense given high upfront costs?

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Posted : October 16, 2021 9:40 am
vicanuck
(@vicanuck)
Expert
Posted by: @VIpirate

When I looked into getting solar for our STT home including batteries, the payback was close to 10-years.

My modest little 7.5 KW /30 panel system paid itself off in 4.3 years. Mind you, we're on the old 1:1 net metering program and don't have batteries. But, we have a fantastic 15 KW military surplus diesel that powers the whole house so batteries aren't really necessary.

Another factor to consider is that your solar system will increase the resale value of your home. A real estate agent suggested that a solar system adds double what you paid for it to the overall value of your home.

I'm sure under the new net metering program, the pay back is considerably longer. But, I understand that most new installations are completely off grid now.

 

I believe WAPA will collapse into insolvency within 18 months.

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Posted : October 18, 2021 8:36 am
daveb722
(@daveb722)
Trusted Member

@VIpirate Panels have a 30 year warranty, inverter and batteries 10 but I'm sure longer, my system is set to pay itself back in 5-6 years, probably sooner with the constant rate hikes.  I'm more than happy to ensure I don't have power issues with that kind of return.  Piece of mind is worth it to me. Actually in the states, it's much longer on the number of years.  If I remember correctly my brother's was in the 15 year range, but his net metering pays him at the end of the year, where here it's a wash.  As Vicanuck stated, if you ever move, it's a great selling tool.

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Posted : October 18, 2021 10:05 pm
jaldeborgh
(@jaldeborgh)
Advanced Member
Posted by: @vicanuck

Another factor to consider is that your solar system will increase the resale value of your home. A real estate agent suggested that a solar system adds double what you paid for it to the overall value of your home.

When we installed our solar system I hadn’t considered this point.  Since buying on STX we’ve had two friends buy on the island and in both cases solar has been a top buying criteria so I agree with vicanuck’s comment.  If you have the capital to invest there is very little downside to adding solar.  Also, if you carry windstorm insurance that will cover the hurricane risk.

The upsides to adding solar are many and mostly obvious but to me the biggest benefit has been we’re obvious to power outages, there have been no unwelcome surprises.

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Posted : October 20, 2021 1:03 am
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