Rob and Robin Burr’s solar panel array provides power for their entire house.

Rob and Robin Burr’s solar panel array provides power for their entire house.

Living in the “Sunshine State” does bring to mind having solar-powered homes. Moving from concept to practical day-to-day living, however, comes with a lot of questions and not always confidence in who can provide answers. One local Redland couple, Robert and Robin Burr, have made the leap after completing extensive research. As they say, “For those considering the upgrade to solar electric at their home or small business, there's good news from Solar United Neighbors of Florida (SUN FL), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people go solar, join together, and fight for their energy rights.”

The Miami-Dade Solar Co-op of SUN FL is open with online details and interactive sessions designed to provide information for residents who wish to understand the specifics of installing solar panels on their roof to produce clean, green energy from the sun. As an overview, SUN FL solicits bids from solar companies with deep discounts for members, competing for the best price, equipment, and features. A committee of members meets to methodically go over three detailed bid proposals, then votes to engage the best firm to provide equipment and services to all the members of their group.

The Burrs joined the co-op last year and participated in the information sessions and the selection committee, learning a great deal about all aspects of going solar. "Solar United Neighbors gave us the information, the infrastructure, the confidence, and the opportunity to join with our neighbors in choosing the best deal for our needs," said Robert Burr. "It was a great win-win deal for all involved."

He explained the economics in their case. "We previously had quotes in the $2.75 to $3.50 per watt range for our solar installation.

The final price we negotiated with our group's installer was really close to the average FL co-op pricing of $2.25, so we saved a bundle." Their monthly power bills averaged about $189, from a low of $125 in the winter to a high of $240 in the middle of summer. As co-op members, they were able to finance the entire system for about $200 a month -- almost the same as they previously paid for their monthly electric bill. They now generate enough clean solar power from their roof to match their needs and they're protected from future increases in the cost of electricity. "We still get a bill from FPL every month since we're still connected to the grid, but we only pay the minimum of about $9 a month for the hookup," said Robin Burr.

During the day when the sun shines brightly, their rooftop solar system makes more than enough energy to power their home, providing excess to the grid, which powers their neighbors’ homes. In the evening, as their solar panels quit producing energy, they take power from the grid. Their electric meter keeps track of the difference between the amount they send to the grid in the daytime versus the amount they receive from the grid in the evening. They only pay the net difference on the monthly invoice from FPL. This is known as net metering.

They began the actual conversion process in late May 2019 and installation was concluded and the system turned on in mid-August. The “hands-on time” required was only three days to install the mounting rails, mount the solar panels, connect the panels to the solar inverter, and connect the inverter to the main circuit breaker box in the garage.

"We owe our success to Solar United Neighbors and their community co-op program,” said Robert. "With their guidance and resources, we avoided many of the pitfalls and mistakes others have made. We feel good about contributing to less pollution and enjoy the independence and resiliency of producing our own clean energy.

We also learned a lot about home battery systems and are watching the market closely to decide when that additional equipment makes sense for us at our home."

Home batteries can store up excess energy from the solar panels in the daytime to provide power to the home in the evening, or in times of power outages and hurricanes. These batteries eliminate the need for an auxiliary power generator.

Reducing the cost, and therefore increasing availability of batteries is an on-going effort within the industry. This is seen by many experts as a key element in the potential for millions of homes to convert to solar.

The Burrs may not be stopping with only the house. They currently drive a hybrid crossover car, but are strongly considering upgrading to an EV (electric vehicle) in the near future to eliminate the cost of gasoline and use their own solar panels to power their car, as well as the house, for free.

For more information about Solar United Neighbors of Florida's coop for Miami-Dade County, visit their web site, ttps://coops.solarunitedneighbors.org/miami or contact South Florida Program Coordinator Laura Tellez via email at flteam@solarunitedneighbors.org.

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