Guide to solar Panels
The author's home, in Massachusetts.
FORTUNE - American homeowners added more solar power generating capacity during the third quarter of 2013 than ever before, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association: 186 megawatts, up nearly 50% year over year. A tiny part of that - 0.002% - was recently installed on the gently sloping, south-facing roof over my kitchen in suburban Boston.
Mine is a 15-panel, 3.75 kilowatt system, designed to replace about 80% of what my family would normally draw from the grid. If it produces as promised for at least 25 years, we’ll cut our household carbon footprint by 62 tons and save $25, 000 in utility bills. Total upfront cost: $12, 951. Payback period, thanks to a ridiculously attractive package of state and federal incentives: less than five years. I know, why would anyone not?
I love my new power plant. Because I can, I monitor it compulsively, on my laptop and on my phone. At this moment, for instance - 11:45 AM on a bright, bitter-cold January day - my roof is generating 2.51 kilowatts of electricity. Since the dog is the only one at home, I’m pretty sure my meter is running backwards. That warms me.
That said, I’ve learned a few things over the past several months that I probably should have known going in. Nothing that would have changed my mind, but still. Herewith, my surprises:
The incentives are generous, to be sure, but harvesting them all takes vigilance, effort, and time. This year I’m anticipating a 30% tax credit from the feds worth about $3, 800, plus another $1, 000 from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Alas, I won’t see that money until tax time, which in my case, as a habitual extension-filer, may not be until late summer.