My house is powered by the sun! Photo Heavy

My house runs on solar power. It's a new thing, we just finally turned it on, and it was installed the first and second week of May.

This wasn't a sudden decision, it was something I've wanted for close on to a decade now. I always said when I bought my house I wanted solar panels on it. Even if I was up north, where the sun isn't as constantly visible as it is down here, I knew even a handful of panels would help generate electricity for my home. I also thought maybe one of the smaller wind gennies, but that was something I kicked around more than thought seriously about.

I know it sounds trite. That doesn't make it any less true, that I have always wanted to leave the world in a better state than it was when I got it; PV panels is one way I can do that. Sustainability is important to me, and getting off coal is one way I can do that. Making my own electricity seemed like a no-brainer to me.

My husband and I talked solar to death. We knew we wanted to buy, to settle down here for awhile. See, I wanted to be some place where my kids wouldn't have to change schools any more. I wanted them to feel the sense of community that I don't have about “home”, and to graduate with people they know and are friends with. To feel rooted. So we knew it was on the List Of Things To Do To The House!

The list isn't very long, really, they never are:
PV panels [photovoltaic, or solar]
new carpets
new tile [I despise our linoleum in the kitchen so much!]
new counter tops, or resurface the cabinets [one or the other]
random decorating

See, not long at all. It's shorter now that I can line through PV Panels.

We didn't go with the first company that we found, though. We dug around and finally settled on a place called Technicians for Sustainability. They're a local company, not very big and comfortable being smallish.

They're also a company made of people who believe in what they do; most of them have solar on their houses, some have water harvesting, solar water heaters, and bike to work. Literally, bike to work. In fact, they have specially made bikes with trailers on them, for biking out to the work sites! When we got our initial estimate, Kevin drove out in a Nissan Leaf-- it's powered by the panels on the top of the shop.

It's a “walk the walk” company, not a “we're only in it for the money” company; that means a lot to me as a conscientious consumer. I want my money going to things I can agree with, get behind, support! Not things and companies that are immoral.

TFS works with local companies, and sets up business solar, as well as residential. They also have a grant program for local non-profits! That was one thing that I thought was really cool. It's part of their dedication to the community, and something I got a huge kick out of. It's not very often, in 2012 America you see a company that gives a shit about their local city. When you find one, grab on to it with both hands, I say.

Another thing they do that I adore is their customer referral program. If you refer someone, and that person gets solar, TFS will donate a hundred bucks in your name to the local charity of your choice. How utterly awesome!

I have to admit that one of the biggest things that made us want to go with TFS was this vid from their site. You can see it here, I can't figure out how to embed it. TFS Flash Mob dancing to the Sun

The second thing was their leasing program.

Let me explain that bit. TFS works with the fabricators, SunPower out in California; SunPower has a new, well, relatively new, leasing program. What you do, is you rent-to-own the PV panels. They're installed on your house, TFS (or whoever does the install) gets the incentives offered by the state and federal programs-- which was fine with us. Then after seven years of paying rent, we can opt to purchase the panels outright-- basically it's your balloon payment if you were leasing a car. If we opt not to, we get the option again after 15 and 20. So rather than coming up with $24k straight away, we get the option to pay as we go, and balloon it later-- which we will!

Leasing it lets people like us, your average home owner, get solar installed for very little down. Now, we make out our light bill to SunPower, instead of Tucson Electric Power (unless we go over our sun-power production, then we'll get a bill from TEP). Either way, it's a lower payment, and we're producing almost all, or all, of the electricity we need.

If you're wanting solar yourself, and you're in Tucson, give TFS a call. They'll come out, tell you what they can and can't do, and then leave. Kevin didn't try to sell us anything, he didn't even have the forms. He told us “We want you to think about it, talk it over and then we'll go from there. I can't, and won't, sell you. You just let us know next week or whenever.”

I like that, very much.

If you're not in the area, call around and see if they do leasing. It's worth checking out.

Anyway, my installation:
The crew came out just before seven am on April 30th. Rob was the gent in charge of the crew, and I surprised him when I went outside. I'd heard weird pounding and thumping on the roof (remember, we don't have an attic, the ceiling vaults right up to the inside of the roof). He didn't want to knock until 7, just in case we weren't ready and awake, and they were just putting their coolers and tools up there, getting ready to start hauling up the big stuff! I was awake, it was a school day, but I thought that was pretty nice of them.

The first day they were here, they worked until about 2:30, and got the racks up, as well as all the conduits and the space prepared for the inverter to be installed in the garage. The noise was very strange. Hearing people walk up on the roof (basically over my head as I was in the living room) was odd enough; hearing the tools, the saws and hammering, that was even stranger! There were a couple times it sounded like they were sanding off my shingles!
Racks on the roof
Little bit better look at them

The inverter, it's in the garage

The new box, and meter.

Rob let me know when they were leaving, and told us Erin would email us with the time table for the panels.

Unfortunately SunPower is not as on top of things as TFS is, and it took a little over a week to get our panels shipped out. So it took until the 14th for the panels to get here. Bright and early on the 15th, though, Rob and the crew were back out, putting those gorgeous black panels on my roof racks. The next day they finished up and did the walk through, explaining turning it on and such as well as what to watch for (say if the lights weren't on, that'd be a bad thing!) We also signed and emailed back the final bits of paperwork for SunPower. I must have used a mouse to sign my name a dozen times on that contract! I've gotten pretty good at it, actually.
All Done!
Working away

That stack is the panels before they put them up

Aren't they beautiful!!

 The county inspector showed up the next day, on the 17th and in four minutes flat decided everything was up to code! That was ok with me, though, as Pima County went ahead and contacted TEP and told them to come out and change up our electricity meter. We also got a new one-- one that goes forward and backward to show when we're feeding electricity to the grid as well as when we're taking from it. [That whole thing is really something, I think. But I'm a geek and get excited about strange things.]

The final piece to the puzzle arrived about ten am on May 22nd. The TEP tech cut the power for less than ten seconds and had swapped out the meter! These guys really know their stuff, if they can do it that fast.

So, now I have solar. The sun powers my computer! My greenie-hippie self is happy. My husband's inner hippie is happy, too.
Making our very first kilowatt of electricity!

It was sweet of them, TFS offered to host a link if my husband or I “had a blog and wanted to write about us”. I will send Erin the link next week, after the holiday, but I don't expect a link. I'm thinking my blog is too inflammatory for most Tucson readers. But it was cool of them to make the offer.

Over all I'm very pleased with the company. The work crew was impeccably professional. The gentleman who came out to set up the computer monitoring part was too. [They have a program we can use to monitor our energy usage, it's parallel to the Tendril program TEP has been beta testing, and we were lucky enough to get in on, but unfortunately we can't use them together. Our Tendril went offline.] The administrative staff was also amazing. They tried to keep us informed with as much information as they had.

Even when they didn't have much information.

That has to be my only problem with the whole thing, SunPower's lack of professionalism. It seems like a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing! Not something that you want to recommend, that's for sure.

They have a good product though, and I'm hoping that they can get their own administrative offices in order. My husband suggested that maybe it was a case of just not being able to keep up with the demand, and he might very well be right! It could just be that not everyone knows what the hell they're supposed to be doing [you know how it goes, “I thought he was taking care of that!” “No, I thought you were!” It happens.]

Either way, I don't think it's incompetence, so much as confusion, and that's easy enough to rectify.


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