Sunny Makes Money

Don't like your electric bill? Build your own power station

Dawn and David Vaught.

Most people shrug and write a check after getting a high electricity bill. David Vaught, department chair of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and his wife Dawn, had a different response. They set up their own power generating station to make their own electricity after paying a $500 invoice.

Earlier this year, Vaught installed two solar arrays on his farm to supplement, and often replace, power from the grid. On a sunny afternoon, his 64 panels produce up to 100 kilowatts of power per day, more than enough to run his home and shop. So far, his system has generated about 2.1 megawatts per month on average, twice his monthly use.

Vaught’s equipment is a grid-connected system. Here, his arrays are connected to the local utility electrical grid to complement his normal utility-supplied power supply. During most days, his array supplies more energy than he consumes, meaning he uses no other power during most peak-load times.

Solar-generated electricity that he doesn’t use is made available to the utility back through the grid, resulting in a small but reoccurring “avoided cost” credit from the power provider.

Vaught’s system doesn’t include batteries to store power, so he remains on the grid at night and on cloudy days. Still, his utility bill has shrunk to a fraction of his old bill.

Solar arrays don’t come cheap – the initial cash outlay was high. Tax credits and rebates reduced that hit. Vaught figures the arrays, which have a service life of 25-30 years, will pay for themselves in 5-6 years, essentially providing free electricity after that. As Vaught expects grid-produced electrical costs to increase soon due to environmental legislation, his investment may pay for itself even sooner.

Owning an array has other benefits as well. An app allows him to monitor his electrical use in real-time. Vaught can also count the carbon credits he has accrued. So far, the app states that he saved nearly seven tons of carbon that would otherwise have gone into the atmosphere by a coal-burning power plant.  This is roughly the equivalent of 170 trees, according to the app. The visual image on the app will turn into a forest as he accrues new trees.

There’s another financial benefit, although one that the Vaughts aren’t expecting to take advantage of anytime soon. According to the Appraisal Journal, a solar electric system increases a home’s value by $20 for every $1 in annual utility bill savings.