157: Solar Missteps? Living with Solar for 5 Years

Matt and Sean talk about Matt’s good and bad decisions on solar panels for his home.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “5 Years with Solar Panels – Is It Still Worth It?”: https://youtu.be/hxj8mNzv8PI?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7FwYRnWkpCSkAeFOzrgh5h

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Today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re gonna be talking about Matt’s personal journey into a solar future. Hey everybody, as usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer of sci-fi books for kids and I’m curious as to why my brother’s already laughing. . I’m just generally curious about technology and luckily for me, my brother, the aforementioned brother, is that Matt Ferrell of undecided with Matt Ferrell.

Matt, how you

doing today? I was anticipating that introduction. Okay. Which is why I was already giggling .

How you doing? I’m doing well. Looking forward to a slightly warmer. Sunday afternoon as we record this, gonna try and get outside and get a little bit of sun on my face. And later this week I will be traveling to the US Virgin Islands, where I will find the hottest rock, lay myself upon it and activate lizard brain.

I am gonna be like the gorn that tries to kill Kirk just hissing and dragging my heavy feet around on the sandy beaches and , ignoring all the sulfur and carbon that’s littered around on the beach. Before we get into today’s discussion, which is gonna be about Matt’s most recent episode, which is about his personal journey into solar and the things he’s learned, wanted to share some comments from previous episodes.

This is, Some commentary on episode 1 56, which is about solar panels as well, about new developments and solar panels, and some of the comments were, were these, like this one from Treksh who wrote, I am really looking forward to more and more biotech being integrated into tech. He thinks that maybe one day biology combined with technology will be what is the bleeding edge.

I agree with that. I think that. A fascinating area of, you know, all of our discussions are on solar panels, but what if there’s a point in time where solar panels are partially grown? That kind of mind boggling. Mm-hmm. sci-fi future I think is fascinating. There are also comments like this from Brendan Cummins who wrote, could there be a time when panels are so cheap and easy to recycle that a shorter lifespan would be acceptable?

So I throw that question to you, Matt. Do you think that that is a possibility? Yes, .

Short answer, well done. Yes. Yes. No. If, if that’s the question though, it’s like we don’t want to end up in a similar situation that we did with plastics of the promise of, oh, plastic can be recycled, and it turns out, hey, guess what?

90% of plastic is not recycled. If there actually is a solar panel that does get fully recycled and can be recovered and built into brand new solar panels effectively. Yeah, I don’t think the longevity really matters too much if it’s like if you’re getting 10 years as opposed to 30 years. It’s cheap, really easy to recycle and build new ones.

I think it’s a win-win, but time will tell if we can get to that point.

And for previous discussions we’ve had about solar panels, I, my understanding is the part of it is that there is less and less, it’s like our iPhones where there’s less and less of this part, plus this part and this part gets snapped together.

Yeah. And then you’ve got your thing. It’s more of a, these things are a cohesive, welded, melded. And

so saying like, oh, we can take an old solar panel, pop open the case, replace the innards, and then close it again and give you a new one. That’s not what recycling looks like. That’s not how it, how it works really.

Right. The, they’re, they’re basically fused and to come almost like one thing when, when it’s all done. And so separating those back out again is where the difficulty lies and. Paths to do it. It’s just a matter of how effective they get and how cost effective they get. If we can get there, it’s like a big thumbs up, but otherwise

Yeah, that’s something we should not get bamboozled by.

again. Yeah. There was also this comment from Jesse Griffin who wrote at the one minute, 22nd mark. Yes, they, meaning Matt and I look alike, but Sean is more. Oh, we have various few views. I see why you chose that comment. We have various few viewers and then there was this from Dave Jack who shared this, that Matt.

So thank you, Dave. Thank you, Jesse. Thank you Brendan. And thank youre for your comments. We appreciate you dropping in and now onto our discussion. Five years with solar panels. Is it still worth it? Question mark. Yeah. This episode drops on February 20th, 2023. And Matt, my first question to you is, what was the number, what you talked about your journey, you talked about decision making, you talked about some places where you were like, oops, this was not, Best option, most notably the way that you selected the team that was selected to initially install your power wall, things like that.

Yeah. My question, was there one thing that you did that was kind of an instinctive choice that you, later on were patting yourself on the back for and saying like, wow, I really, that was a smart choice on my part choice?

Uh, I dunno if I would say it was a distinctive choice. Just cuz the nature of, I tend to go down rabbit holes no matter what I buy, what I’m doing.

I tend to like, not just research, like, oh, what’s the best one to get? But like, why is it the best one to get? How does it work? What’s the, what’s all the information I need to know about this? I tend to overanalyze .

This is one of the places for our viewers and listeners who are curious about the differences between me and Mac.

Cause we, we very often come across as like, oh, they’re kind of been locked up with each. Okay. I am very much in the mindset of like, oh, that’s pretty . I’ll get that one. . Whereas Matt will be like, well, you realize that it’s running more me megawatts than this one. And I’m like, mega what? ?

Yes, yes. Here, let Meg get a spreadsheet out of, of what he found about these different products and analyze it.

That’s what I did before getting the actual solar I got installed. So for me, if I was gonna pat myself on the. It was, as I went into it, I knew exactly what I was most likely gonna get for solar production. I knew what I was most likely gonna need before we ever had anybody come into the house and talk to us.

So when we started getting quotes and we started talking to people, there was for me, no shocks of like, okay, that’s about what I was expecting. Oh, that’s about what I was expecting to be able to. And the things that were shocking to me when we were companies, like Tesla said to me, uh, yeah, we’re not gonna install solar in your roof.

They refused to put solar on a roof. Mm-hmm. Because it wasn’t worth it. And that always irritated me. It’s like, how are you telling me what’s worth it when I’ve come up with my own goals and motivations and I wanna do what I wanna do? I found that absurd and that’s why I didn’t get Tesla solar on my roof.

Cause they wouldn’t do it. I’m very happy with my results, and it’s right where I was hoping it would land. So for me, that’s the part where I’m very happy about. Of course, there were, as I talked about in the video, things that happened that I was not expecting. So it’s like I did not do my full due diligence on some of this stuff.

As far as the performance of the solar, well

sometimes, unfortunately, we don’t know what we don’t know, you know? Yeah. And yeah, you know, it sounds like you really stumbled into that, and that’s part of the reason why you’ve put together not only these videos, the training course that you talked about in your video.

Yeah. As we’ve now entered a stage where those of us, like yourself, who are on the more bleeding edge and kind of wandering in and doing all this research, are starting to compile these things. And now there are resources for the. level of consumer, which are the people who are recognizing the benefits, but there’s not yet a built in public understanding of the market in a way that, yes, there is with maybe cars or cell phone carriers, like people walking down the street are gonna see a Verizon store or a T-Mobile, and they’re gonna say, well, those I recognize and I.

That there are people in my life who use those things and I can recognize the value of, of the options that they’re offering as opposed to this other carrier over here who’s less familiar to me. Somebody walking down the street and buying a cell phone feels pretty confident usually about what they’re doing and what they’re looking for.

Somebody walking into a solar panel market doesn’t have that. So the kinds of of videos that you put together and the kinds of course that you’ve tried to. Or about all of that. And that’s where, uh, you know, so much of the value of, of what you’re doing comes from in the same vein of what you just described, where you talked about the frustration of talking to a company and having them say, oh, we’re not interested in doing that for you.

It’s not worth it. Your frustration around that. One of your commenters on the video actually shared that they got into a back and forth with a company that was installing panels on their. because the company was saying, we’re gonna put the panels on your Southwest roof. Mm-hmm. . And from a Sunlight Tracker app that this commenter had used, he identified that the southeast roof was the better option.

It would get more sun during the day. And he went back and forth with the installers about this, and finally they agreed to do it. If he would add two panels, . After having them for more than a year, he can see that the southeast panels do perform better. He gets a high, he gets about, it was a little bit less than 10% more energy from the Southeast panels than the Southwest panels.

And he said it took him that year in seeing like I was right. The. panel installers were not. Right. I was right. And so his advice to your other viewers was, stick to your guns when you’ve done your research, stick to your guns. But he said in hindsight, he realized, oh, the southwest roof was a lower and easier to reach roof.

So the installer may have been looking at it completely from the perspective of that’s gonna be more. So I,

I ran into something similar with my house cause it’s east to west and every installer I talked to wanted to only put it on the west side roof, which is on my backyard, and that my yard is ringed with trees in the backyard.

And, I kept saying to every installer, I, we gotta get it on the front side too. We gotta get on the front side too. And some of them were just like, no, that’s gonna be a waste of money. It’s gonna be a waste of money. And guess what? The installer I went with was like, oh, you wanna put on the front? We think the back’s gonna be best for you, but yeah, sure, we’ll put ’em on the front too.

And they did it. And guess what? If you look at my data, the front is actually more effective at generating electricity in the back. I was right. Cuz I did the, I did the, my own analysis, looked at what was gonna happen and figured. , the front of the house is probably gonna be the better. The back of the house I still wanna do, but it’s not gonna be as good as the front.

And that’s true. Right? So it’s absolutely, I agree with that. Do your own research, do your own calculations. It’s not that hard to do. You just have to know what tools to use to do it and, uh,

stick to your guns. There was also this comment from Richard Fellows who weighed in, in response to Matt’s question of, what’s your experience and what lessons have you learned?

And Richard starts off by saying, well, since you asked, I do have some feedback about my experience putting solar on my house. Some things I stumbled on. One, you cannot just look at your roof area to calculate what you can put up. , there are required setbacks from the edges to allow firefighters to do their jobs.

Two, there apparently are some code requirements for spacing between your electrical panel and your gas line. If you increase your electrical panel current, then that spacing may need to increase. And three, increasing your electrical panel current with your solar may require updating your service line from your power.

So I thought these were some good tips. Mm-hmm. , I’m curious about your video. Matt, were there things that were on your list of, as you were putting this together that for time you were just like this, I just don’t have time to talk about this aspect of it. Do you wanna share a couple of those if they’re, if they’re readily available to


Yeah. There was one that we actually did cut out. It’s like I recorded it, there’s a recording of me doing it, and it was like two. and when I was watching the edit, I was like, oh wow, this suddenly drags, , got that section out. But I went into depth between the microinverter and the string inverter setups.

It’s the two main ways that you do solar panels. And there’s some pros. There’s pros and cons to both and they’re both very different approaches. And they have like string inverters are really good for DC electricity and if you want to, cuz solar panels generate DC. , they come down to the string inverter staying DC and if you have a battery and a DC battery, the DC energy goes right into there.

And then it only gets converted to AC when it goes into the house or out to the grid. Mm-hmm. . And every time you convert between DC and AC you, you get efficiency losses. And so there’s a benefit of keeping things DC as long as you can. And there’s actually a movement to try to get more DC lighting into people’s houses and DC so it’s like, theoretically, if you had DC lighting in your houses, it’s still not getting converted, so it’s coming straight in and mm-hmm.

going straight to your lights and there’s no efficiency losses. , there’s pro on a surface, it’s like, yes, yay. That’s the way to do it, cuz you all that efficiency, efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. Mm-hmm. , it’s like, yeah, but you’re talking about diminishing returns. Especially when you’re talking about a small home.

If you’re talking about like a large hotel, like the hotel Marcello visited, they’re doing this. But it makes sense when you’re talking about like a hundred room hotel. Right? And like just the scale makes it very different from a house. , you get a few efficiency losses. It’s like, okay, I can put an extra panel on my roof and it makes up for all those efficiency losses.

You know what I mean? So it’s like, it’s kind like you can design the system to kind of make up for that deficiency. Mm-hmm. and Microinverters are converting things to AC at the panel. So as soon as the gets generated, it hits the microinverter, converts ac, and then comes down to your, your battery has to get converted to DC to go into the battery back out to AC to come into the house.

So there’s these efficiency losses that happen. Mm. But there’s benefits because I have a shaded yard, and if one panel gets hit by a tree shading it, only that panel has the, the drop in voltage and the rest of the system is humming along a string inverter. Depending on how it’s set up, that one panel hit shade.

Every other panel that’s in that string, suddenly the voltage drops and you’re not getting as. Power output. So shade on a string inverter is a little more challenging than shade on a microinverter. And so for my specific setup, it was like microinverters all the way, right? And talking to solar installers that I know, they talk about how they have virtually no service calls on the microinverters that they’re installing, but they have tons of service calls for string inverters because when your string inverter goes, , your entire system is shut off.

So it’s like . It’s

a C failure. Yeah,

it’s, it’s just like Christmas lights. So there’s these pros and cons to both approaches, and I kind of went into that over a two to three minute span of the video and. I thought, I thought it was geeky, nerdy, fun content, but it was like it really slowed down the pace of the video and it was a little more information that was truly needed, so that’s why I pulled it


Right. I have two more comments. I wanted to share one, which is straight to the topic of what we’ve been talking about, and another one, which is visiting a topic that is tangentially connected to Matt’s video, especially some of the graphics that he shared, some of the visuals that he shared from his own home.

There was this comment from MJ who. Matt, I have followed your solar journey for some time now, and it has actually pushed us to get solar here in Southeast Pennsylvania. We just passed the one year mark. I’m still wondering if we had made the right choice at times when I see the electric bill, but once I do the math, we are still saving with the rise of electric electricity prices.

Batteries are next on my list, but I’m unsure if they’re worth the price. I’m hoping the price will come down here in the next two to three years. Best of luck with the new home. And keep up the good work. What kind of suggestions would you have to MJ as far as like, is the battery worth it? Is the battery worth it now?

Is the battery technology that you’re seeing coming to market in the next year or so worth waiting for?

I’m actually working on a video on this exact topic right now. The short answer would be, it depends because I don’t know exactly what the time of use rates are. If you have time of use rates in your house in Pennsylvania, I don’t know if what the electric exact electricity costs are.

I don’t know what it kind of net metering you might get from your utility. Mm-hmm. , all these things factor into if a battery’s worth it, and right now, because of the cost of batter, . I think it’s a kind of a slim, there’s a slim layer of people that batteries do make sense for financially. Just looking at the financials, when you think of a battery, you can’t look at it just as an roi.

You have to look at it as a quality of life because it acts as a backup, right? Like if you lose power for anything, like you live in Pennsylvania, a big winter storm comes through, knocks out the power for your area for, you know, 12. , you don’t have to worry about throwing the stuff outta your fridge.

You don’t have to worry about, there’s another one of your commenters, right, who lives in Texas, and I didn’t pull this comment, but it was just about this exact thing.

He said that three or four years ago when, when Texas had one of its big hurricanes powering, his neighborhood was out for days and Yep. So after that experience, he had solar and two power walls put into his home. Then this past fall, they had another major storm in Texas. His neighborhood was without power for several days.

His home had electric lights and television. He had his refrigerator running. He was not running his furnace ac he was, he said they have a good fireplace, so the heat from the fireplace was able to keep the house warm. But he said the, the family was able to live very comfortably and in through an experience that a couple of years early had been very, very hard.

So it’s exactly that kind of thing you’re talking

about. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s, I think when you’re talking solar, it’s a really easy discussion to. Roi. This is gonna save you money over long term. It’s like really compelling, and that motivation alone can be a big motivating factor and the energy efficiency and self-sufficiency when it comes to a battery.

You can’t really make that money argument as clearly because it’s gonna run. It’s so razor thin margin right on, on that happening. But it really does come down to quality of life. Where do you live? Do you live in the northeast or northern area? Where do you see a lot of power outages over the, the wintertime or summertime or tornado season or hurricanes?

If you do that in itself could be the value that you’re getting. It’s not money value, it’s quality of life value. So you’ll have to factor that. Uh, but as far as the technology’s available, the tech, the battery’s available today, there’s a technology. It’s, uh, lithium iron, uh, batteries, LFP batteries. Those are the type I strongly suggest for home use.

Nmc, which is what’s usually, usually used like in cars, like Tesla cars. It’s good, but it doesn’t have the cycle life and longevity of an lfp. Mm-hmm. and LFP is a little safer, so it. L fp in your house to me makes way more sense than nmc. So at this point I don’t recommend Tesla power walls, cuz currently they’re nmc, but there are so, and Eco N Phase IQ batteries, uh, there’s all these different companies that have LFP batteries for home.

Those are the ones, if you wanna get one right now, I’d recommend. And then, um, what’s coming a year or two? I wouldn’t say it’s a year or two. It’s probably three years or more. There are. if batteries coming, I don’t think they’re necessarily worth waiting for, cuz I have no idea how much they’re gonna cost.

They could be very expensive. Mm-hmm. . But redox flow batteries, which I’ve talked about for grid scale, there’s a company that’s making one for residential use. It’s about the size of a refrigerator. It’s gonna last 30 plus years. It’s insanely cool. But at the same time, , it’s like, it’s not on the market yet.

And I have, they say it’s gonna be price competitive to a power wall. It’s what they were telling me. . I’m gonna wait and say, so it’s like, I don’t wanna say, wait. I would, I recommend if you want one now or you need one now, just buy one now. No regrets. But it, I would say in the next three to five years, I think the market’s gonna look a little different and it’s gonna be, there’s gonna be a lot more


Mm-hmm. , I wanted to end on this comment from Marcus Leach because I love the, taking a simple series of, of images from Matt’s discussion around his solar panel. Experience and taking it into a, a different, a different place, but with a really amusing anecdote. And Marcus writes, this is in response to Matt talking about getting snow off your solar panels and how he had to purchase a long.

It’s a window cleaner’s broom. Right. Where you’re, it’s basically a roof ring, right? It’s what I bought. And you’re, you’re clearing the snow off of, off of your solar panel so that they don’t slide off as one gigantic sheet of ice decapitating you and your loved ones. Marcus Wrights. I have a friend who worked at a radio astronomy observatory for decades.

They had this standardized intelligence test for the intern. when the big 26 meter dish would fill up with snow, the procedure was to tilt it down and hit it repeatedly with whacking stick and it would come avalanche down. , what was the test? If the students stood behind the dish while whacking it, they passed the test.

Several students, failed the test. Oh no. I can think about 26 meters radius worth. Snow. That’s a

lot of snow. That’s a lot of

snow. That is a lot of snow. And the shape of a dish, it’s probably all going to kind of pool right toward the point where you’re whacking it with the whacking stick. . And I love that it was described as a whacking stick, not a broom.

Not a rake. It’s a whacking stick. There’s a scientific tool. Yeah. Think of the big brains on the astronomers out there are like, I think we need a whacking stick. So listeners, what do you think about all this way into the comments? As you could tell by now, I’m sure our conversation starts and ends with your commentary.

It drives the contact of content of this show. It also has an effect on Matt’s program. He definitely takes the feedback into. His future videos. If you’d like to support the show, please consider reviewing us on Apple, YouTube, Spotify, wherever it was you found this podcast. Go back there, leave a review, subscribe, tell your friends, and if you’d like to more directly support us, you can click the join button on YouTube or you can go to still tbd.fm.

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