Review for Texas Solar Outfitters
Overall a good job, but some learnings along the way.
This is a short review of my experience with Texas Solar Outfitters (TSO) and my journey to solar energy. Three years ago I was inspired by Elon Musk's dedication to clean energy and his efforts to manufacture a desirable electric car. As a result, I decided to start my investigation into solar power. As someone who is retired, I wanted to migrate to a reasonable, cost predictable energy source for my house. In addition, I thought, how cool would it be to be "fossil fuel free" - ironic as I made my career with "big oil". I began my engagement with TSO three years ago, with Cal Morton coming out to give me an overview of the system, cost, and generation options. The good news was my house was a great candidate for a solar system. The bad news was that my roof was almost 15 years old. I decided that it made no sense to install a new solar system only to have to take it off a few years later. So I made the decision to install a new roof and delayed the system installation a year. Roofs are expensive! The following year I got back in touch with Cal and we proceeded to spec out a system. My goal was to have a system big enough to cover most of my energy needs and provide the energy for future electric vehicles. I decided to go "deep" and cover the south facing roof with panels. After signing the initial contract, due travel, order time, and schedule delays, installation began about four months later. I was impressed with the design and engineering work, which was comprehensive and detailed (although there was one significant item missed. On installation day Cal's team showed up bright and early to begin the two day effort. The following is a summary of what went right, wrong, and what I would do different. Although the text of "what went wrong" takes up most of the review, I want to share this to help future buyers with their installations. Overall, it has been a good experience and I would recommend TSO to prospective customers.
What went right:
Prompt and polite installation staff
Cleaned up after their work.
Good hand over to CenterPoint
Willingness to assist with problems and issues
What didn't go so well:
First let me say, that mistakes happen in life and sometimes "who is at fault" is not clear or is shared between the customer and installer. So I think that it is more important how a vendor recovers from a mistake, than if one is made. In this respect, TSO did a good job of responding and addressing all the issues. I have put some detail around each issue to help future customers.
Panel Placement & Cosmetics
Panel placement on the room was different from the reviewed engineering drawings. The design called for the panels to be placed in a continuous rectangle - but crew put gaps to accommodate vent pipes in the roof. This had no functional impact but was a bit disappointing. There had been a miscommunication between the design and install teams. Bottom line - if having vent pipes interrupt the panel placement, you should get them adjusted prior to installation.
To achieve a great looking system, the goal was to have all the mounting hardware in black. Unfortunately, one of the splicing bars was silver and a couple end-caps were missing. This took a second visit to correct.
Electrical Provider Activation
After installation, Cal recommend a solar buy back program from Reliant Electric that could be used with the now generating solar system. To connect up the to the grid a "DRG" agreement between the homeowner and CenterPoint (grid provider) is required. This outlines each parties responsibilities and obligations. This was done quickly, with Cal's help, and the system went online producing energy within a week of installation. I then signed up with Reliant Energy for their "solar buyback" plan and then left the country for two months. While gone, I was able to remotely monitor the system and saw a significant reduction in my bill. However, it wasn't until I returned home, that I thought I should be seeing a much smaller bill given the size of my solar system. After some discussion with Reliant, I discovered they require a second "DRG" agreement before they will begin any credit for energy put back on the grid. As a result for several months, although my bill was lower, I was not getting the credit I expected. Cal helped me identify the issue and with some "wrangling" with Reliant, everything got straightened out. So far during the winter months, I have been running a credit balance with them. Yeah! Just remember to check your first / second bill closely to ensure you are being billed correctly.
Breaker Box Cleanup
As part of my installation, we specified the installation of the "Ted Pro Home Energy Monitor" system which would allow me to see real time my electrical usage and generation. With this system you can monitor both overall and specific targeted device electrical consumption (e.g. air conditioning). This system was installed with connections to the main breaker box. A few months after installation, I needed to turn some breakers off. I could hardly open the breaker panel door. It turns out that the electricians had done a poor job with the wire management and installation, resulting in some panel miss-alignment. Given this is the heart of my electrical wiring, I was quite unhappy with this. I contact Cal and after a few weeks of scheduling mis-fires, he was able to get a qualified electrical to come out and straighten things up. My learning is to inspect every aspect of the system before signing off.
CenterPoint Connecting Sizing
The most significant issue was that the engineering design failed to catch that the existing connection from the main breaker box to the CenterPoint junction box was undersized for the new application. Although the system could be activated after installation, the addition of two additional 240V circuits in the garage (future electric cars) could not be activated. When the house was constructed (yr.2000), the builder had put in a "minimum spec" aluminum cable to the CenterPoint junction box. The additional load of the 240v outlets exceeded it's average rating. This resulted in a long discussion and search for an electrical contractor to trench and lay new cable to the junction box. Cal was very helpful and found a local electrical contractor that would retrench and install the cable. This required two days and a disconnection / reconnection order with CenterPoint. In addition, the areas of the yard where the trenching was done required new sod the be laid. The learning was to be sure your contractor inspects all aspects of your electrical system before signing off on the engineering.
Now that the system is fully operational, it has been great getting "free" electricity. The system to date has been trouble and maintenance free.
Purchasing a solar system system is a long term investment, but one that provides a lot of personal satisfaction, good for the environment and will save you money over time. If you are purchasing a new home or have one under construction, solar should be part of your plan. I also believe that electric cars will be the answer for the majority of urban drivers. Bloomberg News has just recently written an opinion article where they predict another "oil crash" in part due to the conversion to electric transportation. This article can be viewed at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/audio/2016-02-26/bloomberg-advantage-electric-cars-to-take-off-within-10-years . I believe renewable energy such as solar will continue to help make the USA self-sustaining for it's energy needs and contribute to better environment.
All the best to Cal and his team at Texas Solar Outfitters.
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