For Randy Buckner renewable energy isn’t about saving the planet or “doing the right thing”, although he says that is definitely a part of it. For Randy, choosing alternative renewable energy sources is the smart thing to do from a financial perspective. Randy is a data man. He’s the type of guy that doesn’t just install solar and forget it. He wants to know exactly what installing solar means to his bottom line and he can tell you that in exactly 8.1 years (or less) his solar system will be making him money. For Randy, solar was an investment, one that is giving him 8.0% ROI.
Randy built his house from the ground up about five years ago, and in doing so he made choices that would make it a very energy-efficient home. Rather than the standard HVAC system he installed a horizontal closed loop geothermal system which takes the cool air from the ground and circulates that into the house, and not forcing the HVAC system to work overtime trying to cool extremely hot or heat extremely cool air. The air below ground is a constant 55° all year around resulting in less work and a more energy-efficient system.
Geothermal (or ground source) systems are more energy-efficient because they are heating warmer air in the winter and cooling cooler air in the summer (as compared to the outside temperature). The system involves two parts, the heat pump and the underground pipes. Since the warmer or cooler air is not having to be created, only transported, no fuel is burned.
Horizontal systems are great for people who have large amounts of land. A series of six pipes are laid horizontally below the frost line, requiring no drilling. The closed loop system recirculates the same water and antifreeze solution continually. This water solution absorbs the warmer (or cooler) air from the ground and transports it back into the home where it is then converted to air and distributed throughout the home.
It sounds complicated but it’s really simple –you have a more efficient system that isn’t having to work as hard. A system that isn’t having to work as hard equates to lower utility bills, and that’s the bottom line for Randy and his wife.
In addition to the geothermal system, Randy installed low-e windows throughout the home, and opted for LED lighting over traditional options. He also had spray-foam insulation installed throughout the house as it was being built. He didn’t stop at just the walls but made sure that the inside of the roof was also covered, and used the left-over shavings as added sound-proofing and insulation in the ceiling between the first and second floor. The house has two air-handling units –one for downstairs (which is their main living area) and a second for the upstairs, which is used only when the grandchildren come to visit. This, again helps improve energy efficiency and cuts their utility bills because they aren’t heating or cooling the upstairs when it’s not in use.
It seems like they invested quite a bit into energy efficiency, but really when building a new home that you intend to live in for the rest of your life these are affordable investments. Randy knew that he would get a solid return on investment in comfort, and dollars. And, because of this he had no trouble selling these budgetary upgrades to his wife.
It took Randy almost five years before he took the next step and installed solar. He says the delay was partially because their horse barn had to come first. However, once it was installed, giving him the perfect place to put his solar panels, he knew it was time. Of course, convincing his wife took a little doing. He had to show her the money, so to speak, and how it would pay off in the long-run.
About a year ago Randy installed his 20 kW solar PV array –a 6-string, grid-tied system. Being grid tied allows the Buckners to sell their energy to the grid, and buy back what they need. He said their system produces about 60% of what their home typically uses, but because they sell at a slightly higher rate than they buy at it works out nicely.
The 6-string system is connected to 3 inverters (2 strings per inverter), with 12-13 panels per string. They are grid-tied through the TVA Green Power Providers program. Through this program they are paid a rate of .04 cents over retail for the first ten years, then after that they are paid the standard retail rate. They have two meters on the side of their home, one measuring what they are using, and the other measuring what they are selling.
Their utility bills now shows line items for what they use, as well as what is purchased by TVA, resulting in a net amount that they either owe or are owed. Additionally, they get a check each month from the Green Power Provider for the difference in the two rates. When they combine that amount with the tax credit they received and the ability to depreciate the system as part of their attached business, the savings are astounding. Basically, they received over half of their investment back in the first year just from those savings.
As mentioned, Randy is all about the numbers. He even took the time to sit me down and show me the data. He has a software package that came with his solar system (a package that most people probably don’t use) which constantly shows the energy created, hour by hour. He keeps this data and updates his own spreadsheets on a regular basis so that he knows exactly what his system is doing. If there’s a change or it seems his system may not be working just right, he knows it. He can also tell you exactly the amount he’s getting paid on a day-to-day basis, and this is how he knows exactly when he can expect to start seeing profits from his system.
I asked Randy why it wouldn’t be better to be off-the-grid, that way if the power goes out they’d still have power. He pointed to the financial side of the equation as the answer. Not only would he have to invest in batteries for storage of the power, this way he will eventually not only be providing his own power but he will be getting paid to do so.