Archive for Friday, January 14, 2011

Incentives, new technology prompt Lawrence homeowner to install solar panels

Chris Claterbos talks about the solar panels he recently installed on his Lawrence home. Claterbos designed his home 24 years ago with solar energy in mind and waited until it made economic sense to install them.

January 14, 2011


Chris Claterbos has six solar panels on his roof now, but he plans to add more. When he built his home more than 20 years ago, he planned for the eventual installation of solar panels.

Chris Claterbos has six solar panels on his roof now, but he plans to add more. When he built his home more than 20 years ago, he planned for the eventual installation of solar panels.

Chris Claterbos added solar panels last month to his Lawrence home after waiting nearly 24 years. The panels also have the latest solar technology. Recently covered by snow, the panels’ energy output last week was small, but will increase when they can process more sunlight.

Chris Claterbos added solar panels last month to his Lawrence home after waiting nearly 24 years. The panels also have the latest solar technology. Recently covered by snow, the panels’ energy output last week was small, but will increase when they can process more sunlight.

With the 1970s energy crisis still fresh on his mind, Chris Claterbos built his Lawrence home with the intent to one day generate solar electricity.

Twenty-four years later, the idea made economic sense.

“It just took a little longer than I thought,” the Lawrence resident said.

Spurred by more efficient solar technology, a drop in the price of solar panels and a 30 percent federal tax rebate, Claterbos put six solar panels on his roof this winter.

“Now I can afford it,” Claterbos said.

An added incentive was the state’s recently passed net metering law, which requires utility companies to pay homeowners for unused energy that goes back into the electric system.

Claterbos is among the growing number of homeowners who have decided that the time has come for solar energy.

For the past several years, solar energy has been growing at a rate of 45 to 50 percent, said Seth Masia, deputy editor of Solar Today, a magazine published by the nonprofit advocacy organization American Solar Energy Society.

But in 2010, the number jumped by 115 percent, largely because of the federal tax rebate and falling cost of solar panels.

“It is just booming,” Masia said.

Kevin Good of Good Energy Solutions said that locally he has seen a steady rise in people ready to take the plunge toward solar energy.

“In the last two months, I’ve really noticed an increase,” said Good, who installed Claterbos’ solar panels.

In the case of Claterbos, the six panels, which at maximum capacity generate 225 watts each, costs a total of $8,000 to install. That number doesn’t include the 30 percent tax rebate he will receive.

Covered in the several inches of snow Lawrence received recently, the panels were generating just enough electricity to power two compact fluorescent lights. Soon, however, Claterbos predicts the panels will be able to cover 20 to 30 percent of his electrical demand.

From the savings on his electric bill, Claterbos expects to have the solar panel system paid off within seven and a half years.

With a house designed for solar energy, Claterbos was a good candidate because he had taken steps to make his home as energy efficient as possible.

“You bring down your energy loads first. Then you do renewables,” Good said.

Claterbos used a relatively new technology for his solar panels known as microinverters, which convert DC power to AC power for each panel.

In the more traditional solar panel system, the DC to AC power conversion occurs in a big box on the side of the building that connects the entire system. In this system, the amount of energy a series of solar panels generates is restricted to the panel that is collecting the least amount energy. So, if just one panel is in the shade or not working properly, the entire series loses its maximum potential for generating electricity.

With microinverter technology, each panel generates its own level of energy.

Because panels can be added one or two at a time, they are convenient for homeowners who want to increase capacity as they can afford it, Masia said.

For Claterbos, it was crucial to start using solar energy. Soon, he intends to install 12 to 14 more panels, which he thinks will cover all of his electrical demand minus the air conditioning.

“My goal, I’m going to retire not too far from now, and I don’t want to have an electric bill. Period,” he said.


LogicMan 7 years, 5 months ago


An interesting choice that may payoff in the future.

Have you completed an interconnect agreement with the power company? If not, I think they can choose to cut you off!

Are these microconverters compatible with the new smart-meters being installed? For example, will they allow power to go upstream, and give you credit for it?

cclaterbos 7 years, 5 months ago

My panels are tied to the grid thru a bi-directional meter installed by Westar. I have an agreement with Westar where they credit me on power generated by my panels. Right now I generate during the day and consume, more than I generated, during the night.

Christine has pictures and videos I gave here. I had hoped she would post them.


Dan Alexander 7 years, 5 months ago

Makes sense that you would try and reduce expenditures for your life as a retiree, though not a home owner yet, this is very intriguing. Good job!

LogicMan 7 years, 5 months ago

Thanks -- a couple of pics are now up. I hope the smartmeters' contractor knows not to swap-out your special meter. You might want to put a note on it.

It looks as if you need a soft pushbroom with a really long handle to get that snow off!

A huge bird trap! Haven't seen one of those for years. It's pointed to KC -- for high-def (w/ or w/o satellite)? And well-grounded, I assume.

Some yard work, and a paint job in the plans for the spring? :-)

monkeyhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

“Clean energy” plant closes after receiving 58 million in subsidies

A clean energy company is closing its factory in Massachusetts, just two years after it opened the solar plant with about $58-million in taxpayer subsidies, the Boston Globe reported. Evergreen Solar calls itself a victim of weak demand and competition from cheaper suppliers in China.

The newspaper describes Evergreen Solar’s closing a major hit to Democratic Governor Deval Patrick’s efforts to make Massachusetts a hub of the emerging clean-energy industry.

“The administration persuaded Evergreen to build at Devens with a package of grants, land, loans, and other aid originally valued at $76 million. The company ended up taking about $58 million, one of the largest aid packages Massachusetts has provided to a private company,” the newspaper reported.

Gov. Patrick, a VIP at Evergreen’s 2008 ribbon cutting, was heavily criticized by his rivals in 2010 for providing so much public aid to a company during tight fiscal times.

The Evergreen closing will eliminate 800 jobs in the commonwealth, the Globe reported."

"Obama raises gas prices by choking oil supply

Meanwhile, at the federal level, Obama is raising gas prices to appease his environmentalist faction.

For the past nine months, Pres. Barack Obama has unilaterally taken steps that will lead to higher gas prices for struggling consumers, and fewer jobs and economic growth for our nation. Now Obama’s handpicked oil-spill commission (made up of environmentalists and political allies) has recommended more steps that will take us farther down that path of needless economic chaos — and, unsurprisingly, President Obama has responded to this report by looking into additional unilateral actions he can take outside the oversight of Congress."

"BP confirms talks with Russia's Rosneft

Kirk Larson 7 years, 5 months ago

If we had invested more in solar technologies years ago, we wouldn't have let the Chinese surpass us in solar tech. They are the biggest producers of photovoltaics. What ever happened to American technical superiority? It ended when Reagan removed the solar panels from the White House.

overthemoon 7 years, 5 months ago

Gas prices are not controlled by the President. Reports from international sources place the blame on rising costs on the soft demand in the US due to continued economic difficulties. I read your reference to the blog post (always reliable, those anonymous bloggers) and followed the blog references. All leading to conservative rags that assert that the oil drilling ban is to blame for world wide increase in crude oil prices. That's BS. There has been no ban on continued extraction of wells that are active, just on NEW drilling. Besides, there is far too small a percentage of the world oil supply coming out of the gulf or us waters to have such an effect on the world market...which sets the prices for crude world wide.

SirReal 7 years, 5 months ago

An essay on made-up Obama theories posted on a solar panel article....? Can you say conspiracy theory lunatic?

larrytdog 7 years, 5 months ago

Wait a minute. The math doesn't work! 225W x 6 panels = enough power to run a hair dryer, or a microwave. This guy just spent $8K to run a hair dryer? Even with 20 panels maxed that's only 1/6 of the 200 Amp capacity of a normal, small house.

Here's hopping he doesn't want to add a plug in hybrid to the mix.

cclaterbos 7 years, 5 months ago

Today, when I was interviewed, the panels were covered in snow. When they are not covered and the sun is shining I produce 1.2 -1.3kW / hour. Since the sun is not out as long this time of year I only produce 5-6 kW /day. In a month or so we will be producing 8kW or over 200kW /month.

The next increment of panels will cost much less so my costs per kW will be less, and I still get federal tax credits as well.

larrytdog 7 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for the reply. Just for fun, I looked at my electric bill. Over the last 13 months, I used 1000 KW/hr per month--obviously, a lot more in the summer, a lot less in the winter. How much space would 30 panels take up?

overthemoon 7 years, 5 months ago

good question. the article doesn't give dimensions.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

How do you manage to use so much?

We average somewhere between 12-20 kwh/day, which would translate to about 480kwh/month.

TNPlates 7 years, 5 months ago

Do I have this right - 6 x 225 = 1350 watts of rated capacity? What brand solar panels are you using? Thanks.

Duffman 7 years, 5 months ago

It appears to me that 18 to 20 panels would fit within the space his rooftop provides but structurally this is a questionable addition without a thorough restructuring of the roof. (one would think as I am by no means an expert) .

cclaterbos 7 years, 5 months ago

I could have chosen less expensive panels, since just about any panel can be used with the Enphase microinverter. Instead my 33" x 66' panels are made in the US by Schott. Schott is a leader in the field and have been producing panels for decades. These panels are lighter and stronger than most others and are about the same price as the Chinese panels and the quality is unquestionably better. They are guaranteed for 25 years and can handle 90mph winds and very large hail storms. The weight load is only 4 pounds per square foot so it is really not a structural problem. My system is made all in the US and installed with local labor. I chose Kevin Good's company to do the installation because he is both local and a leader in Kansas in the use Solar Energy. They were able to install my panels in about a day and their workmanship and support has been excellent.

My energy bill averages between 620 and 730 kW/month, with peaks above that in the summer. On average I should be able to get 5-6 hours of peak output per day. Winter is much less due to the low angle of the sun and shorter days. With this new system I can track the daily production of each panel and this will help me determine what I need to add in the next phase. With the SmartMeter coming in the late spring I will also be able to measure my daily demand so that I can better manage my system and reduce my energy footprint.

In my small way this is my way of giving back to the local economy and the country. I hope that others can learn from my experience.

puddleglum 7 years, 5 months ago

best quote in forever: "My goal, I’m going to retire not too far from now, and I don’t want to have an electric bill. Period,” we share the same dream. This guy is my new hero! USA made, check. local installation, check eliminate dependence upon monopolized utility 'self-regulated' rates, check i'm saving this article and getting on the wagon with my tax return! more articles like this, please

7 years, 5 months ago

chris thank you for answering such detailed and informative questions in the comments section. one day soon i wish i will be doing the same as you so it's extremely helpful to me to read other's first hand experience. :-)

Lawrence_Pilot 7 years, 5 months ago

Jeez, you know you're in Backwardsville when this constitutes news. Come on...hundreds of thousands of people have done this. Yawn.

puddleglum 7 years, 5 months ago

yeah, we need more breaking news stories like how to be Vegan....

Lawrence-pilot, you gotta raise your flaps and bark about countless other articles.

and take your 'hate' back to k-state.

put it in their basketball trophy case, there is plenty of room in there.

Judgesmails 7 years, 5 months ago

"yeah, we need more breaking news stories like how to be Vegan."


Clark Coan 7 years, 5 months ago

The key is to reduce the load by buying energy efficient appliances and LED lightbulbs.

However, it's still expensive for most homeowners even when you include the federal tax credit (many states have credits but of course Kansas doesn't) and the net metering (Kansas finally go into 21st Century on this).

What do you do about central air?

coderob 7 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for moving us down the solar cost curve, Chris! If more people follow your lead, it will be even cheaper in the future!

pace 7 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for the story and thanks cclaterbos for the riveting comment details. My friend has geo thermal heating and cooling. It is nice to see the dreams of different energy use coming true. The panels are something I will include in my new dream home plans. i will also consider them for this old house but I hate investing much more in my homey shack. ,

cclaterbos 7 years, 5 months ago

I was considering changing out my old furnace and central air last summer but prices were too high and so I decided to go solar. My existing gas furnace is original but still is 93% efficient! I really wanted to go with a Heat Pump but having a gas furnace as backup was going to cost me way too much for only heating when the temperature was below 25 degrees. Not sure if all electric is the better way to go. Solar is not a good way to go for resistive heating. Still looking at better solutions. There is no longer any incentive for ALL ELECTRIC Homes, maybe that will come back!

Bill Griffith 7 years, 5 months ago

That is a superb idea-then the payback on solar will only be about 3 months.

puddleglum 7 years, 5 months ago

Clean. Safe. Reliable. Domestic ... Sufficient ..... Nuclear

yeah, just ask the inhabitants of pripyat, Ukraine!

reactor 3 is a real model for nuclear power-you can czech it out on google earth, if it is night time, just look for the glow

lounger 7 years, 5 months ago

Hey good for you Chris! I think it is a wise move for sure.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.