Patrick McVay

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Patrick McVay - Batavia, IL

System Details and Green Efforts:
This grid-tied residential PV system is the second one to be installed in Batavia, IL and began operation on Aug 15, 2012. It is unique because it is built on the roof of a south-facing backyard pavilion (tilted at 20 degrees) because the existing house roof was often shaded by high trees, thus requiring placement away from the house. It consists of sixteen Sunpower SPR-245NE-WHT-D PV panels producing about 3.9 kW and mounted a Unirac Solarmount racking system. The DC power from each panel is converted to standard 120 volt AC current via an Enphase M210-84 microinverter, which is sent through a subpanel and then underground to the house’s smart meter installed by Batavia Electric Company (BEC), the local municipal electricity provider. The power and energy are continuously monitored in real time with an Enphase Envoy Communication Gateway. In addition, BEC provides monthly reports on the electrical energy that the PV system sends to the grid as well as energy consumed from the grid. All data is entered into a spreadsheet so that monthly energy production, use and cost can be computed. Over two years of data have been collected.

Annual PV energy production is approximately 4.8 Mw-hrs with much of the energy produced on sunny days and minimal energy when the panels are snow covered. It meets the electrical energy needs of the residents who are a retired couple. As a result the house is electrically net zero on an annual basis even though grid-tied. All energy sent to the grid is credited at the same rate as energy received from the grid, which is about 12.5 cents/kW-hr. Over the first year of operation and with the ISEA Solar Residential Energy Credit of $253.16, the annual net cost was -$95.48. We are very pleased with our custom PV system.

Why did you go solar?

After obtaining a graduate degree in Global Public Heath from George Washington University in 2002, my wife and I worked in Cape Town, South Africa. We had the opportunity to travel through southern Africa and to see how most people on the globe survive on little energy and water compared to Americans. After returning home in 2010, we decided that upgrading an older house would be a useful way of demonstrating that energy savings can be done even in an existing structure without major changes to the walls or roof. We have done this and found that our household energy intensity was cut in half by adding strategically adding insulation, exchanging old leaky windows for eco-windows, exchanging an old gas furnace for an on-demand water heater and other changes including a solar PV system. Our 1955-build ranch is a good example to others who wish to do something about global warming but don't know how.

What tips do you have for someone considering or moving forward with a solar installation?

First, upfront costs to the individual homeowner or renter can be daunting and often scuttle their desire because they simply cannot afford it. That is why many installations are done for upper middle class homeowners. 

Secondly, it may not be possible to add a PV system to the roof of an existing house for many reasons. 

Thirdly, solar panel installations can be tricky especially in Chicagoland due to its weather: cloudy days for weeks on end especially near the lake, as well as snow, freezing rain, and high winds. We are different from CA and CO where the weather is more benign.

I think that upgrading the energy problems of a residence is more than just adding solar PV. It should be a comprehensive approach that addresses total energy use and starts with an Energy Audit so that energy leaks or a sick building problem (excessively tight) can be corrected first.

Finally, Public-Private Partnership (PPP) neighborhood-based solar PV installations on public buildings, fields or warehouses should be explored so that people who cannot build an individual system can still benefit. I am lucky to have the means, desire and ability to design and build mine but not everyone can do this. Would ISEA be interested in applying for a demonstration grant to build a PPP-PV system in the western suburbs?

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