“I can’t sell you solar panels.”
Just by chance I responded to a random email from Enlight, a Gainesville-based company that sells solar roof panels. I answered a few basic questions and they texted me to set up an appointment.
I figured we were the perfect candidates for solar panels. Our house faces directly north, so we’ve got a ton of southern roof exposure on the backyard side. Feeling very green lately, I was confident we’d not only be able to power our house, but even sell energy back to Florida Power and Light. Our monthly electric bill might be zero or less.
As much as this is advertised and as nice as it sounds, it’s not so simple. When I met the sales rep at the door, he immediately said, “I can’t sell you solar panels.” First of all, we’ve got too many trees on the corners of the backyard. A few of the trees are in our yard and we could have had them removed. But the two lots on either side of our house are still filled with thirty to forty foot tall scrub pine trees. They cast enough morning and afternoon shadows on the roof that we wouldn’t generate enough power to reach zero outside power usage.
Did we think our neighbors might be willing to cut down a few trees? Doubtful. The neighbor to our west bought the vacant lot specifically so no one would build on it. I don’t know the neighbor to the east. Plus we’re talking about a lot of trees. At least a dozen or so, and that wouldn’t be cheap. When Hurricane Ian blew through I thought, “Some of those trees might come down after all.” I came to my senses and realized I didn’t want these trees coming down on our houses.
Plus, the salesman told us that local electric company has a minimum monthly charge. No matter now little power you use, you’re gonna pay at least thirty dollars a month. Our monthly electric is only a hundred dollars, so even if we used little or nothing, it would take a long time to break even after investing in solar panels.
I appreciate his honesty. He had driven an hour and a half from his home office to visit us. He had checked satellite views of the property and didn’t see a problem until he pulled up in front of our home. As he left he added, “Don’t let anyone come in and sell you solar. It won’t work till those trees are gone.”
When we walk the neighborhood, I scan for solar panels. In our area they are few and far between. The ones I do see are to heat up the water for a swimming pool. There are a few single panels which I assume are to power a hot water heater. The homes I’ve seen with a roof full of solar panels are on corner lots away from any wooded lots.
The radio is full of solar panel advertisements from a variety of companies. I think Solar Bear has the most creative name at the moment. Online reports are all over the place, but there’s not that much solar power in Florida. Yet. Prices are coming down dramatically. Lots are being cleared quickly to make space for more homes. In a year or so, we’ll have a ton of options. We may be able to install batteries to store power for cloudy days. We might replace part of our roof with solar shingles. Solar hot water is probably a viable option right now. Our camper trailer was prewired for roof solar panels. By the time we have an electric car, it will probably have solar panels on the roof.
When we built our house, most of the lots around us were undeveloped. We didn’t even clear the back fifteen yards of our property. We liked being surrounded by the woods, our little home built in the middle of nature. The trees provided lots of shade and were our friends on hot days, cutting the power needed for air conditioning. The builder deliberately designed our house to let in the light while keeping out the heat. One by one, the lots were cleared, the shade trees were chopped down, and our shade friends were replaced by new neighbors and families. It won’t be long before the woods next to us disappear and I’ll be revisiting our solar options. For years we tried to keep the sun out. Now we’re waiting to let it in.