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Dareo
(@Dareo)
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February 20, 2013 7:02 pm  

Hi to all,

I've been following this board for 6 months or so and it provides a wealth of useful information for people both living in the USVI as well as those considering relocating there. One topic I haven't seen discussed much is solar power. As well, looking at MLS listings for residential properties on STX, I can't recall any of the houses having photovoltaics (PVs) for electrical production. I have seen a few (very, very few) that have solar thermal panels for hot water and heating the pool, but no PVs.

If there is one subject that IS quite common on this board it's about how much everybody loves WAPA 😉 They love WAPA's rates and yearn for power outages to create romantic moods. Okay, seriously - considering the amount of sun that you lucky islanders get year round, why are PVs not installed on more residential houses? Is it a lack of qualified and professional installers? Is it cost? Zoning / HOA objections? Potential damage to panels from hurricanes?

While I haven't yet set a target date for moving to the USVI, it's something that's there in the back of my head and I'd really like to get your feedback on why the use of PVs for residential electrical power supply does not appear to be very prevalent. Again, with the amount of sun that the islands get the installation of PVs would appear to be a no-brainer, but since they don't appear to be used very much there has to be some practical issues involved that only islanders can explain.

Thanks. I'm looking forward to your replies.


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Alana33
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February 20, 2013 7:15 pm  

For me it is the cost factor!


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donb
 donb
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February 20, 2013 7:49 pm  

Solar installations have taken off dramatically in the last couple of years, anyone who has the money is putting in a system. The system probably pay for themselves within five years and then you get 15 years of free electricity.


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Dareo
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February 20, 2013 9:21 pm  

Alana & Donb,

I agree that the upfront installation costs can cause some sticker shock. However, recent articles that I've read indicate that due to the increased efficiency of solar PVs and the price drops of the panels over the last couple of years the payback period is now between 5 to 7 years, as compared to a 10-12 year payback just 5 years ago. Variation in payback is attributed to weather, panel efficiency and local electricity prices. Since WAPA seems to be so high I would think that the payback period would be at the lower end of the range, if not sooner. Many states provide incentives / subsidies to offset some of the initial installation costs and lessen the sticker shock, but yeah, it's still a sizable investment.

Cheers


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divinggirl
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February 20, 2013 11:42 pm  

If we can barely afford the WAPA bills how do you think we can afford thousands of dollars to install solar? It will grow huge if it ever becomes affordable to everyday people.


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Alana33
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February 20, 2013 11:48 pm  

Absolutely agreed divinggirl. I would not hesitate to plop down $15K to get away from WAPA, if I could afford a whole house system.
Maybe someday.................
Oh, then worry about what happens to it during a hurricane. *-)


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Dareo
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February 21, 2013 9:11 am  

If we can barely afford the WAPA bills how do you think we can afford thousands of dollars to install solar? It will grow huge if it ever becomes affordable to everyday people.

Absolutely agreed divinggirl. I would not hesitate to plop down $15K to get away from WAPA, if I could afford a whole house system.

If you ladies don't mind me playing the devil's advocate I'd like to put the following argument forward:

For decades cars have been affordable to "everyday people". Does everybody just plop out cash to buy a car? I suspect that many people at some point in their lives have taken out a loan to buy a car. A car is a commodity that, as we are paying off the loan:

1. loses value
2. consumes resources (gas and oil that definitely aren't free)
3. has to be insured (more money)
4. requires both preventive and corrective maintenance (even more money)

So as we're continuing to pay off a loan on a car, all it does is continue to lose value and generate (sometimes substantial) additional costs.

Installing solar PVs, on the other hand, saves us money and adds value to our homes to boot. As donb mentioned in his post, after a 5-year payback period on the installation costs of PVs you'll get another 15 years of free electricity since current technology for PVs gives them about a 20-year lifespan.

To put the icing on the cake, get an electrical vehicle (EV) and charge it from your PVs as well. That's additional savings to offset the installation costs, and I haven't even mentioned the environmental benefits.

I accept that there are some issues with EVs. They're more expensive to buy than their gas counterparts, and getting parts & qualified maintenance on the islands might make them impractical for now. At least, given the size of the islands, range anxiety should not be an issue.

Cheers


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SunnyCaribe
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February 21, 2013 10:49 am  

There are two basic types of solar installation: grid tie and off grid. The grid tie system doesn't require batteries which are expensive and may have short lives, but it doesn't protect against outages, doesn't regulate your power (Wapa power is notoriously dirty) and its value depends on whatever terms Wapa offers to purchase back your extra electricity. The off grid system relies on batteries which are very expensive and cumbersome, and the system requires a relatively high degree of electrical knowledge to maintain its efficiency and value.

We live at the end of a long run of wire and we have reliability and quality issues with our wapa power such that we are looking into a small off grid system to power just our fridge and a few lights and fans. An added value for us comes in not having to replace our fridge every 3-4 years.

Another factor for consideration is that after living here 24 years I can say that no electronic device, no matter how marine-ized, well constructed or warranted, lasts more than 5-6 years, so calculating a payoff date without taking into account the inevitable deterioration of the system is unrealistic.


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SkysTheLimit
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February 21, 2013 11:46 am  

Plenty of people going solar on STX and many companies competing. The up front cost keeps most from converting over. Even though the payoff here can be as little as 3 yrs. Great opportunity for someone to offer financing. Make the payments less than the current WAPA bill and everyone wins...


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Dareo
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February 21, 2013 11:48 am  

Another factor for consideration is that after living here 24 years I can say that no electronic device, no matter how marine-ized, well constructed or warranted, lasts more than 5-6 years, so calculating a payoff date without taking into account the inevitable deterioration of the system is unrealistic.

Excellent point SunnyCaribe! The toll that the island climate takes on electronics is something I had not taken into account, and precisely why I asked islanders for their insight into the practical issues related to PV installations in my initial post.

Thanks for your input.

Cheers


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vicanuck
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February 21, 2013 12:01 pm  

The faster people that install solar and wind...the faster WAPA goes bankrupt.

Let's pick up the pace here people!


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divinggirl
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February 21, 2013 12:17 pm  

@Dareo - I have not taken a loan for a car in over 20 years for the very reasons you list about depreciation. I pay cash for good used vehicles that I know the history of and have been very lucky.

The issues for me are what SunnyCaribe indicated about grid tie vs. off grid and the cost of batteries and replacement issues. I don't think taking a 5 to7 year loan for a system that may need to be completely replaced in 10 years makes much sense.

Also, as Alana noted, there are issues with tropical storms and hurricanes. I have only seen one installation on STX that made sense from that standpoint and most people don't have the property to pull it off. It was a ground installation where they poured a cement base for the panels and the edges were high enough that they can add hurricane panels (accordion style) or put hurricane mesh over the top to protect it during storms. I have enough storm prep to do and don't want to add taking down panels (or having to replace them after a storm) to my list.


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Alana33
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February 21, 2013 1:08 pm  

Another thing I wonder about is what happens when you need to clean and re-coat your roof every few years?
Actually, I normally clean it every yr. or so and re-coat every 5-6 years.
I would imagine that one would have to remove any/all panels to do so in order to re-coat the entire rooftop?
You just can't clean and re-coat around the panels.
As you know our roofs collects our rainwater for our cisterns and it helps to have a clean rooftop.
Plus roof coating will only last so long.

Do most people remove their solar panels in the event of a hurricane. Then you have no power? how does that work?
I'd have to hire someone to do take them down and then re-install, afterwards, which could prove problematic afterwards if there is a serious storm as everyone has their own clean-ups to do. As divinggirl said there is way too much to do with the advent of a storm and then if they are removed, do you have no power? I would imagine that the panels themselves would need cleaning due to the amount of sahara dust, etc. we get and other environmental conditions?
I am just asking because I am curious about this and really don't know. Thanks in advance.


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Dareo
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February 21, 2013 1:19 pm  

@divinggirl - You and I have the same approach to buying cars. I got my drivers license 35 years ago and I have yet to a) buy a new car, and b) take out a loan for a car. I always go for cars that are 3 to 4 years old and have been well taken care of, and pay cash for them.

As SunnyCaribe correctly mentions, grid-tie systems will shut down when there's a power outage, so it doesn't protect you from that aspect of WAPA's outstanding service record. It's a safety feature that is required in order to protect power company workers who may be working on a line during a power outage.

The only option for true energy independence are the off-grid systems, but yeah, they can be cost prohibitive since they depend on batteries whose technology hasn't evolved much in over a century. However, I mentioned in my initial post that I've been looking at MLS listings for residential property on STX. Most of the properties have back-up generators to mitigate WAPA service issues. From what I've read, and I'm no expert in this field, it is feasible to tie the backup generator into the off-grid solar PV system thus negating the need for batteries. It's not an optimum solution since you still need a source of fuel (propoane, etc.) to power the generator, but it is an option.


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STXBob
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February 21, 2013 1:44 pm  

Dareo, I like your argument for taking out a loan for solar if you can't afford the whole thing up front.

But it's really too bad that WAPA forces businesses and consumers into spending time and resources to find hundreds, or eventually thousands, of independently installed solutions. In the states, power is a relatively cheap, reliable, centralized commodity. It just works (mostly).


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rhstoo
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February 21, 2013 3:15 pm  

My whole house PV system is putting out an average of over 1,000 kWh per month. At that rate, if it continues, the system payoff will be on the order of three years. By the way, generalities aren't always truisms. I just replaced a 1989 refrigerator that could have lasted longer but was wearing-out.


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JE
 JE
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February 21, 2013 4:26 pm  

I was under the impression that if you had a net metering setup with WAPA that they did not pay for any excess power your system produced and sent back to the grid. So while you could accumulate a negative balance on your bill, at the end of the year your balance is reset back to zero. So if you produce more than you use then you will only save an amount equal to what you actually used. However, I don't have any direct knowledge of this, it is only what I have heard from others that normally know what they are talking about.


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SkysTheLimit
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February 21, 2013 8:13 pm  

I was under the impression that if you had a net metering setup with WAPA that they did not pay for any excess power your system produced and sent back to the grid. So while you could accumulate a negative balance on your bill, at the end of the year your balance is reset back to zero. So if you produce more than you use then you will only save an amount equal to what you actually used. However, I don't have any direct knowledge of this, it is only what I have heard from others that normally know what they are talking about.

This is how it was explained to me. If you produce more than you use you get "credit". They will not pay you for your excess power. Credits carry over from month to month but they all expire at the end of year. Jan 1 you start with a clean slate.


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Alana33
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February 21, 2013 8:17 pm  

Seems rather unfair when they don't pay you for power you generate for them but chage you mega for power you use since national avaerage it around 20 cents per KWh and ours can be above 50 cents per Kwh?

Anyone know anything about the questions I asked in my above post?


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dbwilk
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February 21, 2013 8:42 pm  

Has anyone looked at solar city? I know they're not on island, but they have a couple of financing options that the on island installers might could work through them and install more. You need a 700 credit score but they monitor the usage and you can make regular payments or per kwh. I've only read not actually contacted them.


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Dareo
(@Dareo)
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February 21, 2013 8:57 pm  

Another thing I wonder about is what happens when you need to clean and re-coat your roof every few years?
Actually, I normally clean it every yr. or so and re-coat every 5-6 years.
I would imagine that one would have to remove any/all panels to do so in order to re-coat the entire rooftop?
You just can't clean and re-coat around the panels.
As you know our roofs collects our rainwater for our cisterns and it helps to have a clean rooftop.
Plus roof coating will only last so long.

Do most people remove their solar panels in the event of a hurricane. Then you have no power? how does that work?
I'd have to hire someone to do take them down and then re-install, afterwards, which could prove problematic afterwards if there is a serious storm as everyone has their own clean-ups to do. As divinggirl said there is way too much to do with the advent of a storm and then if they are removed, do you have no power? I would imagine that the panels themselves would need cleaning due to the amount of sahara dust, etc. we get and other environmental conditions?
I am just asking because I am curious about this and really don't know. Thanks in advance.

These are great questions Alana33! This is why I find this board so useful. Islanders can help raise issues that others would not even think about. I didn't know you got Sahara dust there. I live on the northern (Atlantic) coast of Spain and when we get the south winds that come from the Sahara and sweep across the Iberian peninsula it gets quite hot. Luckily it's not that frequent though.

@rhstoo - How have you dealt with cleaning and/or resurfacing your roof? What about the particulars of windstorms?


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CarlHartmann
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February 21, 2013 9:18 pm  

There is a really good chart on this in Coakley Bay Condos website under >> Owners >> Living in th VI. At the end of that page.
We did an analysis a couple years ago before going to full coverage backup power.

Definately enclosed ground mount with the ability to cover for bad storms though.

http://www.coakleybay.org/livinginthevi.html


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Ericw
(@Ericw)
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February 21, 2013 9:45 pm  

We will be building a house on STJ soon and will be installing a PV system. They do have grid tied solar with battery backup which is a blend of an on-grid/off-grid system to get the best of both worlds. As the grid is up, you produce as ussual, charge batteries, and credit excess back to the grid or pull from the grid. When the grid goes down, there is a switch that reconizes that and swithes to your batteries or PV panels only while still allowing your PV panels to charge your batteries when sun is available. Before if you were grid tied, if the grid went down so did you despite you having your own power plant on your roof.

Here is some more info:
http://www.wholesalesolar.com/grid-tie-battery-backup.html


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rhstoo
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February 21, 2013 9:59 pm  

@Dareo: don't know yet. I just reprinted the roof a couple of months ago. My understanding is that it would take. Very high-impact hit by a solid object to hurt one of the panels and being on almost the top of one of the highest points on STX, I think my chances of avoiding that are improved. Plus, the panels are mounted together but separately connected to the inverters so losing one or two wouldn't be a killer. Another Hugo and we all have much bigger problems.


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Dareo
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February 22, 2013 6:36 am  

There is a really good chart on this in Coakley Bay Condos website under >> Owners >> Living in th VI. At the end of that page.
We did an analysis a couple years ago before going to full coverage backup power.

Definately enclosed ground mount with the ability to cover for bad storms though.

http://www.coakleybay.org/livinginthevi.html/blockquote >

Great analysis! It does, however, leave me with a few questions.

1. In the text prior to the table it's stated that one Kilowatt Hour (with all taxes and fees) is $.45 through WAPA. Yet when calculating Savings per Year and Years to Recover (last two columns) a value of 0.65 is used. Why?

2. What's a ballpark figure for the cost of mountings, wire, installation, etc. for your reference 16-panel system?

3. What are the annual maintenance costs?

This info would help to calculate the Total Cost of Ownership.

Cheers


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