When Ron Krincek made a routine trip to the Home Depot, he came away with a lot more than just the items he'd set out to buy. Always curious about how solar energy worked, it wasn't until Krincek heard an announcement at the Vauxhall store, which is the largest Home Depot in the U.S., that he decided it was time to learn more.
"I was doing some research at home, reading articles and just trying to understand how it worked and how you can get the return on your investment really quick," he said. "It was interesting and I thought I really need to reach out to somebody.
"I was in Home Depot and I heard an announcement that said Home Depot is proud to partner with PSE&G in a solar program and come talk to us to see if you're a candidate for solar and I thought 'That was it. They're dropping the bomb on me right here. I got to go listen because if I have any interest, I have to go find out.'"
From there, Krincek met the two men who would be instrumental in helping him achieve his goal of becoming more energy efficient through the use of solar power.
Matthew Morra, of Advanced Performance Solar, who is also the director of operations at 20 Home Depot stores in New Jersey, and Kevin Kraft, solar project manager at the Home Depot, helped determine if Krincek's Weston Avenue residence qualified.
Morra said with the use of a satellite, he is able to tell within 10 to 15 minutes whether or not a residence or even a commercial building is potentially suitable for solar panels.
"These guys were great," Krincek explained. "They said 'Let's look at your address.' He looked at where my house was and so he saw it and they put in some numbers to figure out which way it's facing to see if they should go out and do a site survey. When they look at it on the computer, they can either rule it out almost immediately or say, well there's a chance here."
From what was visible from the satellite, Krincek's home appeared to be a good candidate so a site survey was the next step in the process.
Krincek said an electrical engineer measured the roof angle, the tilt of the roof and the angle it faces the sun.
Some issues that can make or break the chances of installing a solar electric system, according to Morra, include:
- shingles cannot be more than 15 years old
- only one layer of shingles must be present
- too much shade from mature trees
- not enough space on roof with southern exposure
Before he could begin the process, Krincek, who grew up on North Hillside Avenue, needed to remove two mature, diseased trees that were not only a hazard but would also cast too much shade over the roof.
After making the requisite calculations, Krincek's home was outfitted with three sets of 12 panels. Each set is called an array. Morra pointed out that panels do not invade the roof but rather are bolted on to rails.
A wire is attached to each array and is connected to inverters in Krincek's basement. Direct current comes in and goes into the inverters and is then converted to alternating current, which is then used in the home.
"When the sun comes up, a light comes on and it actually shows the power that I'm generating right on the screen of the inverter," Krincek said. "It's really fun. You look at it and, as the sun comes up, it shows you how many watts of electricity you're making and the number just keeps climbing."
JCP&L then removed the Krincek's meter and replaced it with what is called a net meter, which reads the amount of power the Krinceks use off the grid, while a second number represents the amount of power Krincek's home is giving back to the grid.
Krincek said one of the highlights in the whole process took place on a chilly but sunny January day when, after having the solar panels installed, he stepped outside only to find the wheel on his old electricity meter going backward.
"I love that, you stand there with a smile on your face," Krincek said, with a laugh.
Despite the cold, as long as the sun's rays are available, the solar panels are hard at work. Kraft explained that often people worry that if skies are cloudy, their system isn't working. He likened the system to a battery or a bank, noting that energy is being stored for later use.
"It all averages out," he said. "If you go on vacation and aren't using electricity at your home or you have a few weeks of cloudy weather, the system is designed to account for those things."
Krincek purchased a 24-foot roof rake that allows him to sweep snow off the panels to maximize the sun's exposure during the winter.
While he said he is used to the look now, at first Krincek was a bit fearful about what the finished product might look like.
"You're a little nervous when someone's going to put something on your roof that's going to change the way your home looks forever," Krincek said. "It's kind of a leap of faith."
After all the necessary measurements and calculations are completed, the system can be installed in just a matter of days, barring any weather delay, Morra explained.
Kraft noted that the panels that Home Depot sells are warrantied for twenty-five years and are an industry leader in terms of efficiency.
Krincek said that he would only have considered doing a project of this scale with a large, reputable company. Kraft agreed, noting that customers who have used other installers have come to Home Depot if they have had problems and were no longer able find the company they used.
"We offer an unmatched level of consumer protection," said Kraft. "You want to know that the company you went with is going to be around to troubleshoot if you need it."
The Krincek family used 12,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in 2010. Their system was designed to generate just over 8,000 kilowatt hours of electricity based on the science of averaging the number of sun, rain, cloud days, based historical records, coupled with where the home sits and the angle of the solar panels.
Krincek was told roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of his electricity bill would be eliminated, an estimate he calls "conservative."
Since installing the system, Krincek has seen his previous monthly electric bill of $220 plummet to $2.20 for the months of February and March.
Krincek shared that the cost of his project, including the panels and a portion of the tree work, was approximately $42,000. While he acknowledged this figure sounds like a lot initially, when the figures are broken down, the system will actually pay for itself in less than five years.
First, he received a 30 percent dollar-for-dollar Federal tax credit for the full amount of the project.
"Take 30 percent of that right off, so that's $13,000 from the government in my 2010 return," said Krincek. "That brings it down to around $29,000. Now here's the great thing about being green. Not only do I get to use whatever free electricity I generate, but my bill for February was $2.20 and my March electric bill was $2.20."
Another way in which Krincek is getting a return on his investment is through a program that was piloted in New Jersey.
"For every 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity that I produce, and I'm going to produce a little more than 8,000, I get what's called a Solar Renewable Energy Certificate or an SREC," Krincek said. "Each SREC is traded on a commodities market bought and sold by electric producers. They can buy them and put us all in a pile to to show the clean energy they've produced. Those SRECs sell for close to $600 dollars each. The price will vary but the average cost is close to $500 over the life. So, my return on my investment, all my monies back, will be given back to me in five years, give or minus a few months."
Customers can participate in the SREC program for 15 years, Kraft noted.
Krincek said he was "a little skeptical" until he "bit the whole bullet" but now couldn't be happier. In fact, seeing the money he has been able to save in his monthly bill and the energy his house has generated has inspired Krincek to make other energy efficient changes to his home.
"Everything they told me has been 150 percent right on," Krincek said. "There was no baloney. Since we did this, my wife and I decided we should become much more energy-efficient in the whole house.
"We used a lot of electricity because the house is unevenly hot and cold. I just got an estimate to rezone the house to three zones. They're telling me I'll save nearly 30 percent of the electric that I was using. I'm hoping very much that that 12,000 (kilowatt hours) that I used last year, I can shave down to 8,000. I'm hoping that I can get my bill close to flat."
According to Advanced Performance Solar's website, the average solar electric system eliminates 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere every year. This is the carbon offset equivalent to planting one and a half acres of trees annually.
Kraft said another great thing is that through the whole process, he and Krincek have become good friends.
"One of the best things is the rapport you build with customers," Kraft said. "It's a three to four month process and the customers are really excited about it and over the course of that time, Ron and I have become good friends."
Krincek said his system has inspired others within his neighborhood to look into solar panels for their homes as well.
For more information, visit www.newjerseysolarfunding.com or email email@example.com