PAOLA — A Paola resident had a decision to make two years ago for how to spend money he had saved. He could buy a car or he could put solar panels on his house. Jose Mateos chose to go solar.
“I am saving money,” Mateos said. “A car would have just cost me more money with insurance and everything. In the long run, it is just a no-brainer if you have money saved upfront to do it. We get free electricity and we don’t have a carbon footprint.”
Mateos lives with his wife, Elizabeth, 6-year-old son Jude and 2-year-old daughter Marly in the 900 block of Melrose Street in Paola.
“My kids think the solar panels are super cool. It shows the kids that their parents care because we went out of our way to offset our carbon footprint,” Mateos said.
Mateos said he always knew he wanted a solar system, but when he built his home in 2007, the cost was simply too high. Since then, the price has dropped dramatically, plunging from a quote he received of about $65,000 in 2007 to $25,000 in 2015, before factoring in the cost savings of tax rebates and lower electric bills.
“It is quite an investment, but it is important to me to be environmentally conscious,” Mateos said. “I have two children and we cannot rely on fossil fuels forever. Renewable energy is the future. My family and I really work to minimize our impact on the environment.”
The roof of the house is covered with 22 300kW panels for a 6600 kW system, which Mateos said is larger than the typical system. Two of the panels face southwest and one faces south, spread over different areas of the roof and at different angles.
The system also features an “optimizer,” Mateos said, which ensures that each part of the system is producing as much electricity as possible.
“If the panels are all 300 kW, but one is shaded and it drops to 200 kW, the others will drop to 200 kW as well,” he said. “But an optimizer makes the other one keep producing at their full 300 kW even when some are producing less.”
The different angles and areas of the roof allow the system to catch sun through the whole day without maxing out. Overall, he said about 80 percent of his electricity needs are provided by the solar system on his roof.
Mateos said he has no electric bill in the spring and fall, a small bill in the summer, and a slightly larger bill in the winter because the sun is not out as long and he has electric heat, which has to run a lot during the cold months.
“If I had gas heat, my winter bill wouldn’t be much at all,” he said.
Mateos said he should recoup his investment in the system within seven to eight years. If he would have installed the system in 2007 when he built his house, it would have taken about 20 years or more for the investment to pay for itself.
“It just made sense financially in 2015, not in 2007,” Mateos said. “I have a full warranty of 10 years on this brand (of solar panels) and so the system will have paid for itself before the warranty expires. The output is guaranteed at 80 percent even 25 years later and the system has a 30-year life, so it will have paid for itself more than three times over by then.”
Originally, Mateos planned to install the system himself. However, he ended up working with Good Energy Solutions of Lawrence because after crunching the numbers, he found their cost to only be about $4,000 to $5,000 more than it would have cost him to do it on his own.
“If I would have done it myself, that would have been without the warranty,” Mateos said. “It just seemed logical to have them do it and to have all the work backed by warranty. I did have some issues with an inverter, which converts D/C power to A/C power, but they just came out and replaced it free of charge. I am glad I went that route.”
Solar panels are rated to be able to handle quarter size hail at 80 mph, so Mateos said they are not damaged unless the weather is extreme. If a new roof is needed, Mateos said it would cost about $500 to $1,000 to remove and reinstall the solar system, but the solar panels protect the roof from sun and weather.
Interest in solar power is increasing in the area, Mateos said. He has people stopping to look at his system all the time, with neighbors asking him about it and other people contacting him to ask questions.
“The city inspector said I was the first to get a building permit for a solar system in Paola,” Mateos said, “but already since then I have seen one on Highway 68 and one in Hillsdale with solar panels, so it is definitely getting more popular.”