We selected Rhino Renewables Solar & Electric as our solar system designer and installer by comparing their negotiated final bid with those of two other western North Carolina solar companies and one large regional solar company. We weighed heavily the details and costs of different systems and our interpretation of the technical merits and the forthrightness of the people we talked with. We selected a near zero-metering system with some restrictions on roof location and panel array size. Rhino designed a 30 solar panel array (about 12.9 kW) using a Sol-Ark 12kW inverter/controller with a 15 kW battery backup system for those all too common nightly grid outages which happen a few times a year in our Blue Ridge area. I was slightly surprised and reassured when Rhino’s system designer and vice president turned up to be one of the installation crew, carefully lifting many of the 55-pound panels up to the roof of our home.
Without hesitancy, I was impressed with all the Rhino crew for their efficiency and diligence installing our system. They even let me help them, at no additional cost! Everything about Rhino's design has worked well even when dealing with a new edition of the Sol-Ark inverter-controller. So far, so good. We have been operating the photovoltaic array for about 45 days within the late July to early September period (2021). Our first bill from Duke Energy arrived recently and we had no net billable kWh and extra kWh credits for our future nightly energy resupply from Duke. Yes, that will change to a net Duke power demand in the coming winter’s short days. So, we have yet to learn much.
We had some delays in installation due to international shipping constraints for some components (like so many other commodities during our ongoing pandemic). But everything got done within 30 days of starting with a total of only 3 crew days on site. They all were very accommodating of my many questions as we progressed. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about home electrical systems as I have installed complete home electric systems in our previous two homes (but not solar). A neighboring handyman commented that the installation in our garage was really neatly done in both the wiring and arrangement of components. I concur.
We had our solar system array turned on July 28, this year. That was the day Duke Energy put in the new meter and they gave us formal permission to operate (i.e., turn on the photovoltaic array). We have approximately 45 days of operating experience. As we worked, I talked some with Rhino about future possible modifications (i.e., more solar panels, additional batteries, or a second inverter) and how those changes could be done so that we are aware of such costs. We even roughed in a circuit for a future electric car charger in the garage. We now plan to gain a year of experience with our system to learn what (if anything) might merit improvement.
One thing I have learned, based on our critical circuits analysis (prior to our final design) is that we spend about a quarter of our electric energy, either from the grid or from our solar system, merely heating a conventional water heater. Very soon, we plan to replace this water heater with an electric heat pump type which should lower this fraction of our energy use to about 7%. Its cost can be also claimed as a federal tax credit and, thus, will pay for itself within two years. The Sol-Ark data monitoring system allows us to observe our home’s energy demands and steers us to smarter decisions about how and when we use all our appliances.
Brian S., Brevard, NC