What’s The Best Option For Home Solar?

Well, this option looks pretty good

Installing a solar system in your home involves more than nailing some Home Depot panels to your roof.

To be smart about this you need to hire someone who can engineer the entire project, integrating the panels with the inverter, (see, you didn’t even know you needed one of those thingys), and batteries, and hooking up with the electric utility, if you want to be grid tied. See, you didn’t even know about grid tie, so how do you think your brother in law is going to build this for you? And what do you think will happen to your roof if you hire the lowest bidder?

We talked to Francisco Vargas, owner of Innovacion Solar. He has degrees in both electrical engineering and mechanical engineering. He tells us many of the people who have gone into the solar business in Los Cabos have done so just because they find themselves living here and need a job. Vargas tells us his company has been installing and maintaining professional grade solar in Los Cabos since 2009. The entire system is guaranteed for five years, installation, equipment, and labor. The panels are guaranteed for 25 years, including hanging tight to the roof in our periodic hurricanes. Batteries are guaranteed to about seven years, depending on the brand. They cost about $500 each and you will need about eight for a 2000 square foot house.

“Panels made in China are about 16% efficient” Vargas tells us, “While panels we buy from the United States and Canada are about 18.5% efficient. You get what you pay for.” Which panels you choose has a lot to do with how much you want to spend up front, and on how much room you have on your roof. “Many of the roofs we have to work with have limited useable space,” he tells us. The average system will take about 15 to 20 panels at 18.5% efficiency

Another problem here is that many developments won’t let solar panels be visible on the roof.

Vargas goes on to tell us you can expect a return on investment, (ROI) of about five years, way more than in most parts of the United States because electricity is so much more expensive here.

So let’s talk about tying to the grid. Read the companion piece in this issue for more information on that, but basically that’s all about selling your excess sunshine to CFE, the electric utility. For now it’s very doable and impacts your ROI in a very positive way. But, as we explained in depth, we won’t always be able to do that because we will run out of storage capacity in La Paz. Nobody can tell us when that limit will be reached because big players are coming into the market, builders of so called “solar farms”. Those are vast, vast arrays of solar panels, that will soak up our sunshine. They will be required to sell that sunshine to CFE, which will mark it up and sell it to us, the consumer who always seems to take it in the shorts.

So, you’ve decided to get on the solar train now, while you can tie into the grid and be grandfathered in forever. How do you decide if you want to use your gardener or your brother in law or a real company? And how do you know a real company when you see it?

Going back to Francisco Vargas at Innovacion Solar, we learn that there is a National Electric Code, called NEC, and it’s best to use a company that’s a member. He also suggests you use a company that builds to U.S. standards. Most important, if you’re a layman, he advises you get some personal testimonials from satisfied customers, hopefully a customer who has held on to his panels through one of our hurricanes.

It’s also helpful to use a company sophisticated enough to track a system on their computer. Vargas showed us on his computer how he could bring up numerous charts and graphs on all his customers, checking on the efficiency of their system, as well as the general health of their solar, and how much they are getting, how much they have banked with CFE, and how much they can expect to get back tonight. In this way, they can send a maintenance guy out there before you even know you have a problem. This is a particularly good feature if the homeowner is not here full time. That homeowner can also tap into the health report of their solar system.

Vargas wants us to point out one more thing to watch out for when choosing your solar company. “If you’re saving dollars on engineering, you’re doomed to fail” is what he says. Don’t skimp, it must be designed right, for your house. And, very important, you must use a company that knows how to smooth the way with CFE so you can bank power with them for night time. Most local solar companies don’t know how to get those permits in place and locked before CFE gets full and stops us little guys from tying to their grid. Especially foreign companies who may not be comfortable with a Mexican utility.

So. If you’ve been thinking of going solar, don’t screw around, do it now.