Sea Bright Solar, a PV system design and installation company, provided the Ptaks with an estimate for a batteryless 5.44 kilowatt (KW) solar-electric system that would offset all their home’s annual electricity usage. The Ptaks took advantage of Sea Bright’s payment program of floating the rebate, a common practice among New Jersey installers that allows customers to divide the after-rebate cost into installments. To ease any impact on their budget, they divvied the total cost into three payments: a deposit, a payment upon equipment delivery, and a final payment after the system passed local electrical and building inspections.
Since the system’s installation in 2005, besides eliminating their electricity bill and saving them $780 in their first year, it has earned the Ptaks $1,000 through SREC sales. In 2006, on the system’s first anniversary, they also received a $65 check from Jersey Central Power & Light for the surplus energy their system generated.
The Ptaks predict additional “future” savings beyond their utility bills and SRECs if they ever decide to sell their home. According to a report funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, every dollar saved in utility bills the first year that a PV system is installed represents a $20 increase in property value. Based on this estimate, the Ptaks’ PV system’s first-year savings would translate into a property value increase of $15,600—well above their initial investment of about $13,000. Not factoring in the increase in property value, their financial break-even point to recoup the system’s initial cost will only be about eight years.
Their home PV system’s many benefits inspired Peter and Tanya to consider solar electricity for their two rental homes, across the street from their house. After some serious number-crunching, they realized installing PV systems on the two rentals would make them eligible for a combined rebate of more than $50,000. Plus, they’d own the SREC production of their rental properties’ systems, estimated to generate about $2,500 in annual income. Installing the systems as a business venture also meant the Ptaks could take a 30% federal investment tax credit.
It was too good to pass up. In the fall of 2006, the Ptaks had a 5.27 KW system installed on one three-bedroom, single-family rental property and a 4.59 KW system installed on their other Cape Cod-style rental home, as part of a Solar Energy International PV design and installation class. Three primary criteria determined the size of each system: the area of the available south-facing roof, the Ptaks’ desire to eliminate as much of the buildings’ grid electricity use as possible, and a unique rebate policy that considers two adjacent properties with the same owner to be eligible for one combined rebate. Under the current NJCEP solar rebate schedule, the greatest rebate is available on systems that are no greater than 10 KW. To maximize the rebate, Sea Bright Solar’s system design fully utilized the available roof space on both houses, for a combined system size of 9.86 KW—just under the maximum.
“Before installing the PV systems, I found that our renters had a tendency to use—if not waste—more energy than we, as homeowners, did,” says Peter. Housemates typically would split the electric bill evenly, resulting in lower individual costs—with little incentive to conserve energy. Peter and Tanya were interested in encouraging more energy conservation, while passing the solar savings on to their tenants. They charge their tenants about 90% of the utility value for the solar-generated electricity, while the tenants are responsible for paying any utility balance beyond what the PV system generates. “Charging a slightly reduced rate for electricity makes it more enticing for them to rent,” says Peter. “This keeps the properties rented longer, which keeps our profit margin higher over the years.”
The Ptaks are passionate about the practical benefits of tapping into the sun for electricity. They now have a minimal to nonexistent electric bill and annually receive a check for any surplus electricity their systems generate. They are also proud to have effectively reduced their “carbon footprint,” environmental pollution, and other associated impacts of burning fossil fuels. Their home’s PV system alone saves about 9,100 pounds of carbon dioxide, 32 pounds of nitrogen oxide, and 52 pounds of sulfur dioxide from being emitted each year, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates.