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Hello Sunshine! – Solar Panels
By Lisa Magalian

We moved out of our South Miami house to do a 500 square foot addition. It was supposed to take three to six months. About a year and a half later we finally said that is enough and scheduled the movers! We installed energy efficient impact windows and doors, strapped our roof and sprayed high r-value foam insulation in the attic, added insulation behind all interior perimeter walls, and added tankless water heaters, an energy efficient AC system, energy star appliances and LED lighting throughout.

Our home is hurricane hardened and now we wanted to mitigate the possibility of being without electricity during power outages. We considered installing a generator but of course I protested the idea of having a fuel tank buried underground and not to mention the loud, noisy generator blaring on a weekly basis during maintenance runs and after a storm. One day we received a notification from our South Miami Mayor inviting city residents to his home to learn about his solar system. It piqued our curiosity so we visited his home and asked lots of questions. We continued to do research and scheduled consultations with various solar companies.

Okay, I’m not a solar expert, but I learned a few things during the process. Of course, the basics are that the sun’s energy is used to generate electricity through a system of panels. The DC electricity produced by solar panels is sent to a power inverter for conversion to AC, which is the type of power that is delivered to homes. We discovered there are a variety of solar system technologies, particularly with inverters and panel systems, with varying degrees of cost, reliability and efficiency. Our original thinking was that we would be “off-the-grid,” that is, no longer tied to FPL, especially during storm related outages. Nope. Even with solar panels you are on the FPL electrical grid. Technically your system produces electricity that goes to FPL, which is subtracted from your actual consumption. When FPL goes down, your home has no power even though you have solar panels.

The solution for producing electricity and using it during power outages is a solar battery back-up system. Most companies offer these systems, but not all are able to handle the power requirements of a particular house and only recently are battery systems capable of handling central AC units. Forget it if you have an older AC unit; too much start up electrical surge.

In mid-October we contracted with a company located in Palmetto Bay, and our solar system was recently installed. We opted for an eighteen high efficiency panel system that is estimated to produce 75% of our annual kilowatt usage. To monitor, a cool phone app allows you to see your electrical production and consumption. So far we are pretty much breaking even (Sae image below).

Hopefully, our next FPL bill will be $9, which is the minimum FPL fee. Installation of the new-to-the-market battery back up system has been delayed by the manufacturer, but we’re scheduled for later this month. Now, through the wonders of mechanical engineering, we have harnessed the sun’s energy, hardened the structure of our home, and we are making a smaller ecological footprint.

Hello sunshine! We really do live in paradise.