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Solar Panels on Garage Roof 

Solar shingles on the garage have produce about 1,100 kWh per year for the last six years providing 20 to 25 percent of the electric power needed for the home.

Solar pioneer touts Conservation

Location: North Minneapolis

System type: Solar electric, 1.2 kW, Unisolar solar shingles with a Sunnyboy inverter; Solar thermal, two 4x8 collector panels (64 square feet), with an 80-gallon storage tank

State Solar Rebate: $2,448

For Brian Ross there’s much more to solar power than the financial payback.

“If we’re talking about payback, we’re probably talking two or three decades for me,” said Brian Ross. “I didn't do this for the financial benefits.”

Rather, Ross said he installed separate solar electric and solar thermal systems in his north Minneapolis home/business more than six years ago “to be environmentally friendly, to watch my carbon footprint.” The price and financial incentives for residential solar systems then were not as attractive as they are today. (He was, however, among the first to receive a state solar rebate of nearly $2,450.) But that didn’t stop him from launching a 1.2 kW solar electric system, one of the first to be supported in part by the Minnesota Solar Electric Rebate Program.

“When I first put up the PV [photovoltaic] system, I remember sitting there on a sunny day in May, pondering my investment,” said Ross. “I had just sunk a lot of money into this [a net $7,000] and I was wondering, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ I was having a little post-installation letdown and second-guessing myself. And then I walked over to the electric meter and saw it spinning backward; my solar shingles were producing more energy than I was using, and I was putting clean energy on the grid. That moment crystallized everything; my system was worth every penny.”

Ross hasn’t questioned himself ever since.

Solar electricity

Solar shingles on his garage serve a dual purpose of electricity generation and roofing shingles. They have produced about 1,100 kWh per year for the last six years, providing about 20 to 25 percent of the electric power needed for the home. He purchases wind power from his utility company’s green pricing program for the remainder of the home’s electric needs.

Solar Panels on House

Two 4-by-8 foot thermal collectors are part of a closed-loop glycol thermal system that provides energy for about 75 percent of the household's hot water needs.

Solar hot water

Two 4- by 8-foot solar thermal collectors, mounted on the south-facing side of the home’s roof, are part of a closed-loop glycol thermal system that provides about 75 percent of the household’s hot water needs. The collectors supply hot water to an 80-gallon storage tank which feeds preheated water to a 24-gallon indirect water heater that runs off his high-efficiency boiler. During the summer, the solar thermal system provides nearly all of the household’s hot water needs, while in the winter, the system relies more on natural gas to heat water.

Ross said the motivation to implement his solar system was part “technical fascination” and part energy conservation, but there were additional features. “It certainly removes the uncertainty of gas and electric prices,” he said. “With solar, the fuel is free and it’s never going to run out. Also, a solar system increases the value of my home and makes it almost energy-independent. I can put energy generated that we don’t use back on the grid and the utility pays me [in our net metered system].”

Ross was clearly an “early adopter” of solar energy and a huge advocate of renewable energy. He is an urban planner who provides energy policy consultation for local governments, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. He’s also the coordinator of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Solar America Cities Program.

Ross has made other energy-efficient improvements to his home, including the installation of a high-efficiency sealed combustion boiler that also supplies an indirect water heater, ENERGY STAR appliances, and lighting that was completely converted to compact fluorescent and LED. But he’s not calculating financial payback.

“When you talk about solar, it seems people want to talk about payback, yet rarely does anyone talk about payback for other major purchases,” he said. “To the naysayers I say: I’m already there -I've gotten my payback.”

To learn more

Minnesota offers a solar rebate program for both solar electric and solar thermal installations. Funds are limited and program detail may changed. In addition, there is currently a 30% federal tax credit for qualifying solar installations. Many utility companies also offer rebates and incentives for solar installations.

For a complete listing of all available government and utility incentives, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

For more information, visit the Division of Energy Resources.