A decade of running on sunshine

Written By Tina Boniface

On December 31, 2015

At a Glance:

Read our latest customer interview with Lafayette homeowner Joe Werne as he talks about his 4.5-kilowatt SunPower solar power system recently installed by Independent Power Systems.

“I am creating the world I want to live in.”

In 2006 there were a mere 100 kilowatts of grid-tied solar in Colorado. It took the voter passage of Amendment 37 – the nation’s first voter-approved Renewable Energy Standard (RES) – to change that. As 2015 comes to a close, there are thousands of solar-powered homes in Colorado, generating over 430 MW (430,000 kilowatts) of electricity.

Joe Werne, a Lafayette homeowner was one of the very first to take advantage of the incentives provided by Amendment 37.

A scientist (engaged in geophysical and astrophysical research), Joe was well aware of the value of a solar system. For him, going solar was primarily a means to live in alignment with his values, and secondarily he recognized an excellent investment.

“With solar panels, I know my electricity is coming from a clean, sustainable source. Solar allows me to live in alignment with my values, to live more sustainably. I sleep better knowing I’m reducing my reliance on fossil fuels. Though the financial benefit of a solar system is compelling, it is secondary for me.

No electric bill. Beautiful system

“I paid for all my electricity in 2006. No more monthly bills for me. In fact, my utility sent me a check every year – till this year when I opted to roll over my excess kilowatt-hours instead.

“Without the incentives provided by Amendment 37’s rebates and REC, my 4.5-kilowatt system would have cost $30,000. But the incentives and the solar investment tax credit dropped the cost to $9,000.

Joe’s was one of the first systems that Independent Power Systems (IPS) installed in Colorado. And it was one of Colorado’s first solar PV installations to use SunPower panels.

“I got exactly what I wanted: all black SunPower panels and an all-black frame. The system looks sleek and integrates beautifully with my home.

No issues

“There are no moving parts. I pay no attention to my system. The panels just sit on my roof and pump out electricity. The original inverter was noisy, but IPS swapped it out within a week, and there have been no more issues.

 

While panel output does degrade by a fraction of a percent over time, Joe says he has seen no noticeable drop in his system’s performance.

“SunPower makes an excellent product. I expect my system will perform productively beyond its 25-year warranty period.”

The Challenge: Powering my car on sunlight.

“I just bought an all-electric Nissan Leaf, and the challenge for my second decade of solar is to use the extra energy my system produces to drive on sunlight too. I want my meter to continue going backward, even fueling my car!”

Joe is generating close to three months of extra electricity a year and banking it. He’s counting on this reserve to power his EV.

“To squeeze more efficiency out of my system for my car, I’ve changed most of my incandescent lightbulbs to dimmable LEDs. The LEDs use ten percent of the energy of an incandescent bulb and have a much longer lifespan. Initially, they cost more, but I know I’ll save in the long run.”

“If I have to add a few panels, I will. By using high-efficiency SunPower panels, I didn’t squander roof space. But I might be able to manage with what I have now.”

The future is driving on electricity

“Similar to my PV system, the EV’s power plant has essentially no moving parts, just the engine rotor. And there’s no engine oil, transmission fluid or gasoline to mess with. These cars take very little maintenance. The batteries will likely need to be replaced in five to ten years, depending on how I take care of them.”

“People worry that EVs have a limited range – about 100 miles. But think about it, most of us rarely drive more than 20 – 30 miles a day.”

“We need to change the way we think. Remember, people once thought the internal combustion engine was a crazy idea – all those gas stations we’d need to build across the country!”

ground-mounted solar system

Joe sees the not-enough-range worry as an excuse grounded in an antiquated way of thinking.

“You’re not going to be stranded. For every gas pump in the U.S., there are 10,000 outlets. Just plug your car in at home at night, like you do your phone.

“At eleven cents per kWh, it costs $10 to drive 400 miles in my new Leaf, as opposed to $50 in the gas-powered Audi I used to drive But for me it costs nothing since I stopped paying for electricity at home back in 2006.”

High standard of living. No suffering.

“None of the energy efficiency tricks I’ve implemented cause me any suffering; they come from being smarter, not stingier. I have a modern home that’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I do pay attention to my energy usage though. I use about 445 kilowatt-hours/month.” (911 kWh is the average residential consumption in the U.S.)

 

“We can all do better; we have to try. The U.S. is just 5% of the world’s population, but we use close to 25% of the world’s natural resources.”

“I enjoy educating others…”

…about what is possible, about what solar can do for you. Going solar is part of keeping yourself, your family, your community, and your planet healthy.”

“By going solar, you get to participate in helping to create a sustainable future. You get to be a leader in a new and more responsible way of living on our planet.”

System Specifications:

  • 4.515 kW PV Array
  • (21) 215 Watt SunPower Black Panels
  • Total Output: 59,386 kWh
  • 112,300 lbs (56.15 tons) of greenhouse gases saved
    • This is equivalent to:*
    • Preventing the burning of 27 tons of coal
    • Planting 131 trees
    • Preventing the consumption of 118 barrels of oil

About Joe Werne

Joe is a senior research scientist engaged in geophysical and astrophysical research.

*Equivalency calculations are derived from information provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Dan Perata

About the Author

Tina Boniface loves to travel, and has worked with people of all ages and cultures in her many journeys. She is a skilled communicator with nearly two decades worth of experience teaching ESL at various American colleges and universities as well as extensive social media and editorial experience. She is fluent in English and French, with intermediate proficiency in Spanish, Italian, and German. In her free time, Tina enjoys a variety of outdoor activities, reading extensively, cooking, eating, and practicing yoga.  

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1 Comment

  1. Johnny weiss

    Greetings Joe… And guess what! We have nearly identical home solar PV systems! Best, Johnny

    Reply

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