Getting Solar Panels in Charlottesville

As I write this, our 6.9kW Solar Panel system is almost ready to go, pending Dominion installing a new meter. I’ve written before about the economics of solar power and how they make financial sense even in a state like Virginia with no incentives. I’ll talk about the power production from the panels a little later. First, I’ll go about the shopping process. All prices below are before federal rebate.

Solar Panels

To start with I emailed or called almost every solar installer I could find that worked in Charlottesville – Altenergy, Sigora Solar, Genesis Home and Energy, Solar Connexion, Baker Renewable Energy, Entero Energy and some more that I can’t recall.

I got initial quotes from everyone and they ranged from ballpark estimates of $3.50/W – $5/W installed for a 5kW system. Eventually, after some negotiation and attempting to maximize the system in our budget, I got prices ranging from $2.50/W – $3.10/W from my top three choices based on the responses I received.

The first was Solar Connexion, based out of Blacksburg. Their quote was the highest of the three but they have been in business the longest and offered the longest workmanship warranty on their work. They offered me a choice of various panels from LG Monocrystalline Panels to Chinese Polycrystalline panels. However, they did not do micro-inverters. For slightly over our 3$/W approximate budget, they could give us 20x260W LG Mono panels or 22x240W Trina panels. They wouldn’t do >300W panels because they didn’t want to deal with the larger physical size.

The second was Sigora Solar. They exclusively offered SolarWorld Mono Panels and offered the second longest workmanship warranty. They initially offered 220W Panels and if those suit your need, I’m sure they can get you a fantastic deal on those. But after some negotiation and research, they offered me some very nice 270W Mono panels for a very good price, slightly under the price/W that Solar Connexion offered. They also do not do micro-inverters.

However, we finally ended up going with Genesis Home and Energy because Randy from Genesis was flexible with designing a system in any way we wanted. He offered us the widest possible choice of panels to use with either string or micro-inverters and gave us pricing for both options with various different panels. He was willing to use any top-tier manufacturer panel that was currently available on sale. He managed to find us a great deal on 315W JA Solar panels and came in significantly under the price of the other two. In fact, our price with micro-inverters would have been comparable per Watt with the other two. But thanks to the great deal on the panels, we decided against micro-inverters, instead going for more wattage. Randy also used a PowerOne dual MPPT inverter, instead of a Sunnyboy, which seems to be the most popular choice, because it treats the panels like two independent strings. Even with the SolarWorld 270W mono panels, which friends of ours are also getting from Genesis, their price was well under the other two.

Now that the shopping is done, on to power production from the panels. On average we use about 1200kWh/month (taken from the last one year of data, this is higher than usual thanks to the current insane winter – one year monthly average before this winter was 1030kWh). According to PVWatts, the system will generate about 725kWh/month or 60% – 70 % of our energy usage.

Since we are in the Dominion Solar Purchase Program, our payoff for the panels (using price after Federal rebate) is about 10 years. The chart below assumes that the Solar Purchase program will no longer exist after five years. It assumes 0.7% annual panel output degradation and 3% increase in the price of electricity every year.

If you are considering the Dominion Solar Purchase program, you need to act quickly. They only have about 50kW of additional space in the program as of this writing. If you are unable to get into the Solar Purchase program, the payoff increases to 12 years. Still assuming 0.7% panel degradation and 3% electricity rate increase.

Electric Car Shopping in Virginia

Red 2013 Nissan Leaf This March we leased a new Nissan Leaf as Parchayi’s new car and we got a great deal on a zero down 2 year lease with a car the exact color and trim level she wanted. However getting that wasn’t easy. So here is my guide on shopping for a car, especially if you are in Virginia.


  1. Online Chat with all the dealers in your area and anywhere within a 100 mile radius and get initial offers
  2. Send the lowest offer from all of them in a second round to all the dealers asking for the offer being beaten
  3. A lot of dealers will drop out at this point but don’t worry, see step 5
  4. For dealers further away from your house ask for Home delivery (we had to ask for that because we were unsure the Leaf could make it to our house from many of the far away dealers
  5. Wait a day or two now. The managers of all the dealers will send you an email. At this point respond that their dealership wasn’t competitive with the other offers
  6. Now you’ll have price match or beat offers from everyone
  7. Send the lowest offer to everyone again to see who bites

In our case I contacted:

  • Colonial Nissan (local dealer in Charlottesville)
  • Brown’s Fairfax Nissan
  • Priority Nissan of Richmond
  • Pohanka Nissan Fredericksburg
  • Sheehy Nissan of Mechanicsville
  • Nissan of Chantilly

In the first round, to my surprise, Colonial Nissan was the lowest priced dealer. By the time the third round came along, the monthly price of the lease has dropped 90$ from where originally started and the lowest was Pohanka Nissan and they also offered free home delivery.

However, we eventually ended up buying the car form Colonial Nissan because they not only matched the lowest offer, they were the only dealer to offer to find the car with the color and trim we wanted. The had the car shipped from a dealer in Maryland. No other dealer offered anything beyond what they had on their lot.

I also looked at the Ford Focus and did the same with Ford dealers. However the Focus is not competitively priced with the Leaf. Plus our local dealer has no plans to carry the Focus Electric so it felt uncomfortable having a car that possibly couldn’t be serviced locally, especially since it is a first generation car. The Leaf is in it’s third year.

Foam Tiles – Great Looking Easy DIY Flooring

Foam TilesWe recently finished a room in our basement and we wanted to pick an economical and easy to DIY flooring option. We considered vinyl tile, loose lay vinyl and rubber flooring amongst others. We were iffy on woods and laminates because this is a basement even though it is walkout and not damp thanks to the precast walls plus that wouldn’t exactly be “easy” DIY.

Finally we ended up going with Foam Tiles – these look sufficiently like wood, are soft to walk on. It took us an hour or so to do the whole room – just put them together like a puzzle. And they are easy to cut using a big scissor or a utility knife. They dont need to be glued or stuck or anything, just lay then down and done. The good part is they are cheap and easy to replace individually. They seem fairy sturdy but I think sharp objects, dragging furniture without some moving pads etc. will damage them.

As far as fitting together goes the tiles are really good. You can only tell edges by looking for the puzzle pattern or looking at just the right angle. If you do decide to get these, they are not exactly 24×24 because of the way edges are counted in the tile size. Assume they are 23×23 while calculating what you need.

We bought our tiles from Rubber Flooring Inc.  They have good fast shipping and it was free for these tiles. After we were done we noticed a damaged tile. The company offered to send us a replacement immediately. The tiles cost us about 2$/sq ft including wastage.

Panoramas in 1000 x 288 WordPress Headers

Here are some WordPress headers for the Twenty Eleven theme or any theme where you can customize the header size (like the new Twenty Twelve theme).

These are a few Panoramas made from pictures that I have taken over the years:

If you are interested in the original high res panorama files, please comment on this post to contact me. If you would like to use these as headers, feel free to do so unmodified and with the copyright notice intact.

Separate the Movies from the Books

That is Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher, the character in my favorite series of books. Here is what Jack Reacher looks like in the books:

Name: Jack Reacher (no middle name)
Born: October 29th
Measurements: 6’5″, 220-250 lbs., 50″ chest
Hair: Dirty-blond
Eyes: Ice blue
Clothing: 3XLT coat, 95 cm. pants’ inseam

Other than that, Reacher owns almost nothing and doesn’t like to drive. Definitely doesn’t wear fancy clothes. Definitely would not have to budge even 0.1″ trying to hold on to random dude.

Reacher is a “wall of muscle”. Tom cruise on the other hand is shorter than me. I completely forgot about this announcement from a few months ago until I saw the trailer which reminded me again of the absurdity of the casting.

Couldn’t they just get The Rock?

I guess I have to keep my book life separate from my movie life. Try hard to imagine the movie as completely separate from the books.

If you are a Reacher fan disappointed by Tom Cruise being Reacher and laughing at the stupid camera angles in the trailer, here is a youtube comment that sums everything up:

“Tom cruise play jack reacher is like a black midget play Thor”

P.S. Here is a picture of The Rock (Reacher height exactly) next to Mark Wahlberg, who apparently is the same height as Tom Cruise (according to Google):