Half a Year of Solar (almost)

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Our solar panels were activated five months ago, at the end of July. That was a couple months later than we had been hoping, but the modules we ordered were in short supply at the time.

Since then, perhaps the most remarkable thing about living with solar power is just how drama-free the whole thing is. It took a fair amount of effort and planning to get the system installed. But now that it's in place, it just sort of sits there and generates power.

Now that we've had the solar panels in place for almost half a year, here are a few observations in no particular order:

  • Probably the coolest part of the whole system is not the solar panels but the power monitoring system. This lets us view, in real time, how much power we're using and how much we're generating. This turns out to be a great motivator to turn off lights when we leave the room and otherwise look for ways to save energy. We have cut our household energy consumption by about 10% just thanks to having this tool.
  • The TenK┬ámodules are performing as advertised when we have partial shade. One reason for selecting this brand was that the roof over our garage (which is where half the solar panels were installed) gets a lot of dappled shade in the winter months, and TenK modules are designed to be highly shade tolerant. Most solar panels will lose a large fraction of their power output if there's even a small patch of shade, but the TenK modules keep generating under these conditions.
  • Speaking of shade....solar panels don't generate much power when it's cloudy, and we're in the middle of the cloudiest stretch of weather in Minneapolis since the 1960's. November and December are normally the cloudiest and darkest months of the year, but we have literally had only two even partly sunny days in the past three weeks.
  • However, despite the clouds we have had relatively little snow cover. Since it's impossible to clear the snow off half of the solar panels, persistent snow cover is also pretty bad for our power production.
  • Speaking of snow, when the panels are covered in snow and the temperature gets above freezing for a few hours, all the snow and ice tends to slide off in a big clump. From inside the house it sounds like being underneath an avalanche (which is pretty much what it is).
  • We've had a few neighbors ask about solar, but it happens that ours is one of the few houses in the neighborhood that's suitable for solar panels. That's the downside to living in an area with a lot of big trees.