Working with the sun

Local couple invests in solar panels for their home

By: Kevin Bunch | C&G Newspapers | Published June 25, 2014

METRO DETROIT — For people tired of their electric bills, going green is a solid alternative to living by candlelight.

Solar panels have been around for decades, but the prices for them have come down over the past few years to a range affordable to homeowners. Prasad Gullapalli, president of Srinergy in Novi, said the technology has caused the price to drop since he started his solar panel business four years ago.

“Like any technology, it is on that price curve where it is getting pretty aggressive pricing,” Gullapalli said. “A $10,000 system (four years ago), we can put together now for $6,000.”

The money and savings side of the equation is enticing to people looking to zero out their electric bills, but Gullapalli said the other factor is helping people realize they can live greener. He said his company wants to promote more social responsibility as people try to reduce their carbon footprint — the amount of carbon waste a person puts into the environment.

Both were the major factors in Eastpointe residents Alysa Diebolt and her husband, Cardi DeMonaco, deciding to get solar panels installed on their home. Diebolt said they started looking into putting them on the building around Thanksgiving last year after her husband received a promotional email through his job for a free quote from Srinergy.

“We give our electrical bill information to them, and based on that, they recommend a number of panels and the size of the inverter,” Diebolt said. “They have an engineer who does all that.”

Diebolt said they held off on installing the panels until winter finally broke, and then they installed the panels over the course of two days in May. City inspectors came out and made sure everything was fine shortly afterward, and then on June 12, DTE sent someone to check the system and activate it, she said.

Their electric bills should drop from an average of $50 a month to $0 within a couple months, as the solar array on their roof generates power and delivers it into the electrical grid.

“Everything is still the same: if the power goes out, the power goes out because the inverter on the back on the house is just sending everything we’re making to DTE, and we’re getting credits for that,” Diebolt said.

Their solar panels were financed through Michigan Saves, a state banking and credit union program that allows people to take out loans with zero down, Gullapalli said.

Diebolt said their loan runs for 7-10 years, and she added that they should get about 30 percent of it back as a tax break, as long as they remember to do so on their 2014 taxes. In the interim, the loan payments are about $50 a month, which is about the same as their electric bills would have been.

She said if they start using more energy in the future, or if they have children down the line, they could simply add panels to their rooftop or onto the garage, as long as they face the south side to catch the maximum amount of sun.

Additionally, if they ever decide to sell the house, Diebolt said the panels make it more desirable to potential buyers.

Diebolt said they have not seen a great deal of public reaction in real life, though a neighbor remarked that it could become a “keeping up with the Joneses” situation, but after sharing photos of the work on Facebook, they received a lot of positive feedback from people.

“I posted on Facebook, and it took us four days to get a hundred likes,” she said.  “People from all over were asking how we did this and what company we used. … We’ve gotten messages from a bunch of total strangers.”

The price for solar panels should stop falling and stabilize within the next few years, Gullapalli said, like other electronics.

“Like any other laptop or a smartphone, you can see (they are) like around $399, $499 price points,” Gullapalli said. “So, we’ll see in the next few years, it’s going to reach a point where it’s going to stabilize, but it’s not going to be drastically declining like 10 percent, 20 percent.”

He said that solar panels typically have a warranty for about 25 years, but they can last beyond that point.

Diebolt said people could go to to calculate their carbon footprint, based on how much traveling they do and their average bills.