Dear PoPville – Anyone Have Solar Panels?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Barbara.K

“Dear PoPville,

A question for PoPVilles readers who have had solar panels installed on their roofs. Which contractor did you use (or who would you recommend?)? How long was the permitting and installation process? With the installation credit from DC eliminated, but the 30% federal tax credit intact, are these still worth the investment?”

17 Comment

  • I haven’t pulled the trigger yet because I’m trying to decide between owning a system vs. going with Solar City, Sungevity or a similar company where you buy electricity from them and they basically rent out your roof and install and maintain the panels. A Solar City bid earlier this year showed that I can get more than 50% of my electricy from solar.

    I’m presently part of a solar cooperative in my ward. The plan is to get a group of 20 + contract with one company. The idea is that we’ll get a break on the installation and permitting and rebates will be easier and streamlined.

    • I’d be very nervous about renting out my roof to this company. They might build a sweet roof deck up there, and keep you up all night with their loud parties in the summer.

  • just make sure no one can erect a building between you and the sun!

    • Unless the building was erected on top of your house, that shouldn’t be a problem.

      • not true. there was a post on here not too long ago about it.
        there are many buildings in dc that get no direct sunlight due to larger buildings going up.

  • We worked with the solar coop in Mt. P and it was great. We got a bulk deal, the incentives made the economics a no-brainer. Used Solar Solutions, who were excellent.

  • I’ve had a 2.2kwh system on my roof since 2010. In spring and fall (no AC, but days still long and sun high in sky) I can cover the electricity 100% except on laundry days because of the electric dryer. The summer I generate the most, but use the most too because of AC. All in all my electricity bill averages around $50 year round (budget billing). I’m selling my SRECS on the open market through Sol Systems and that currently pays about $450 every 4-5 months, which covers the electric bills and then some. You can sell your SRECS for an up front payment instead to offset installation cost if you prefer.

    Definitely been a winner for our household, though we took advantage of the DC credit too. When we installed we were getting a new roof anyway, and installed thin-film solar. The new roofing material was the support for the solar so we got the federal credit off of the roof install essentially.

  • I did solar panels on my own (w/out a coop or other neighbors signing up) and used Astrum Solar. They were much better than other companies (Solar City, and another one whose name is escaping me now) in the design. I have a number skylights and an a/c compressor on my roof, so I needed some differently sized panels in order to maximize the size of my solar system. Solar City and the other couldn’t get me anywhere near a production size that would make sense. Astrum could, but they were a nightmare to deal with and remain so (I have them sell my SRECs too). I have friends who have used other companies. The general consensus that I’ve heard is that the salespeople make all sorts of commitments on what they can do, then the installers come out and can’t do anything near what the salespeople said. That is what happened with me and Solar City. That said, I love my panels and it was worth the hassle to put them up.

    Any solar company will take care of the permitting for you. They will also calculate how long it will take for your system to pay for itself and will lay out different payment options and you can see how that affects your ROI. You also do not need a huge group in order to get big savings. A smaller group of houses may make sense becuase then you do not lose control over the process — e.g., who is the client, is their interest the same as yours, will your installation be delayed becuase there are so many others in front of you, is each house going to get the same set up, etc. I would look for 4 or 5 people who are ready to sign contracts now, and negotiate with a much smaller group so you get some degree of personalized service.

  • I also received the Solar City pitch. Fairly slick, but beware their assumptions regarding the annual cost increase of traditional energy costs. I redid their calculations with different (i.e. more realistic assumptions based on some basic internet research) and the ROI came way down to the point that I’m willing to wait for the technology to develop and become cheaper as opposed to locking myself in for two decades with existing technology. Bottom line: don’t take the assumptions they use in their ROI calculations without checking them against reality. Several neighbors have gone with Solar City and had a good experience. However, for us it didn’t feel like the right decision.

  • If you are nervous about doing it yourself, you can go in on a bulk purchase (and save some money). I’m doing one right now with my office at WWF (World Wildlife Fund) that’s still open to anyone in the DC metro area:

    They are just about to pick the solar installer, so I can’t speak to the process of actually getting the panels on the roof, but so far it’s been as easy as filling out a form.

  • Hello all. My name is Ben Breiterman and I work with Solar Solution here in Petworth and also live in the area as a renter currently. We have installed over 400 systems throughout the city and since we are all DC residents we understand the evaluation process when looking into solar. We offer both the leasing and purchase options for homeowners but like to leave the final decision up to the customer as both options have pros and cons on a case by case basis. Both options will allow you to invest in clean renewable energy for the long term and save a little money while you are at it!

    We have worked with DCSUN for the past 4 years and continue to support their efforts in helping DC become a greener city. I encourage anyone interested to check out our website to look over the various incentives and credits you can receive. And if you would like we can provide you with a free estimate and proposal for a solar energy system.

    The website is

    Happy (Sunny) New Year everybody!


  • I got 21 panels (makes ~1k worth of juice annually) on my roof from Solar Solution on 14th St this summer. I got the DC grant money although it was less than they were giving in 2012. My system should pay for itself in 6-7 years which is fine with me as I plan to be here at least that long.

    They were easy to work with and did a good job. Somehow during the installation the power going to my rooftop condensing unit got nicked and shorted/tripped the breaker, they fixed it the next day (they were already coming that day so it wasn’t really another service call but there was no finger pointing or complications when it came to fixing it which is always nice).

    I’ve got no tall trees nearby and all my neighbors own and likely will not sell anytime soon so I get good sun and don’t anticipate any popups ruining my investment.

    FWIW I got a bid from Solar City to see what that was all about. Aside from wanting to outright own my panels I didn’t like that their ‘installation cost’ was more than double what Solar Solution bid. Obviously you don’t pay any of that but it struck me as a shady business practice as they got me the estimate very quickly via google maps and never sent anyone out. My thinking is that they expect to be the 1st call most people make and by showing exorbitant install costs they sticker shock people out of the idea of buying their own. My neighbor has a Solar City install so I’ve seen both side-by-side, there is nothing special about her install that would make it cost so much more, as a matter of fact my neighbor’s panels weren’t graded correctly so they were dirty as water was pooling on them instead of draining off and washing them.

    One thing to keep in mind is that Pepco successfully lobbied to keep private citizens out of the energy biz so you can only build a solar array up to ~110% of your usage, so if you have a big roof and all gas appliances you will not be able to max out your system. I have a small roof and mostly electric appliances so I was able to max out. If you are planning to go solar and want to max out, find ways to pump up your electric bill over a 1 year period (any kind of electric heater will use a ton, always on dehumidifiers, grow lights, let your neighbors mooch off you, etc) I don’t know for sure but I doubt they can make you take it down if you go over down the road but you won’t be able to get a permit for an oversize system. I think you can now own panels on a roof other than your own though so if you have extra space and a friend/family member who lives in a basement condo they can get their panels on your roof (family style solar yall).

    Hope this helps.

  • I looked at getting solar panels in 2009 and again last year. I don’t use enough electricity to make solar worthwhile (gas boiler, hot water heater and stove). I would expect my electric bill to be zero with still a good amount of solar energy going back into the grid. As far as I understand Pepco would give me credit but wouldn’t buy excess energy. My calculations show I’d carry a credit year after year. As costs come down, it may at some point be worthwhile.

  • It’s great to hear that you’re interested in solar panels! It’s an excellent time to buy considering solar prices have fallen 80% over the last 5 years. Because of the drop in price and government incentives, installation of residential solar panel systems within DC neighborhoods has grown significantly. To answer your question, yes the investment is still worth it without the DC installation credit.

    In terms of choosing an installer, there are a lot of great options available in the DC area. In fact, right now World Wildlife Fund (WWF) & DC SUN are facilitating a bulk purchase of solar panels. This purchase originally started as a perk for WWF employees, and is now open to all DC residents, as well as Maryland & VA residents.

    For those unfamiliar with bulk purchase programs, it’s a way to bring down the cost of solar by 20% or more through combining the purchasing power of a large group of residents. The bulk purchase process works by putting out a request for proposals to several installers and asking them to bid. A committee made up of interested individuals, who signed up for the purchase, reviews the proposals. For this bulk purchase, an installer was recently selected who is giving participants a great deal that they couldn’t find on their own. These are the prices that we have ended up with:

    Price for a 3kW (average size) system before incentives = $9,000
    Price of the system after the 30% federal tax credit and Solar Renewable Energy Credit Upfront Payment = $2,550
    Out of pocket cost to own after the estimated average energy saving in year one = $ 2,070
    (Note: these costs only hold true for DC residents– it will be higher for MD & VA folks because the SREC payment is lower or does not exist)

    To get back to your question of whether or not it’s worth it from a financial perspective, while every household has different energy needs and consumption habits, estimated energy savings in one year for a solar system in DC is $480. Typical payback times are 3-6 years. After that you’re just getting free energy! And solar systems last 25+ years, which means thousands of dollars in savings over the system’s lifetime.

    This bulk purchase program is still open to interested homeowners, so you and anyone you know can join at these prices. It only takes a few minutes to sign up for the bulk purchase ( and it will be open through January.

    Lynn Englum
    World Wildlife Fund Employee & DC resident
    Note: WWF does not receive any payment for facilitating this bulk purchase process

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