Retired accountant crunches numbers, figures big savings by putting solar panels on barn roof

Richard Hollinger, of rural Huntington, says many people don’t even notice the solar panels on the south side of his pole barn roof. Hollinger has saved hundreds of dollars on his electric bill since having the system installed.
Richard Hollinger, of rural Huntington, says many people don’t even notice the solar panels on the south side of his pole barn roof. Hollinger has saved hundreds of dollars on his electric bill since having the system installed. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin

Originally published Oct. 27, 2016.

Richard Hollinger, of rural Huntington, has found the perfect use for the roof of the pole barn out in back of his house, and it will likely save him more than $1,000 in utility bills this year alone.

Hollinger, a retired accountant, crunched the numbers and invested around $22,000 to put 45 solar panels on the south-facing roof of the barn.

Hollinger became interested in obtaining solar power when he saw numerous wind and solar collectors whenever he went to visit his sister in California.

“I’ve always had a curiosity for alternative ways to save energy and natural resources,” he explains. “So in 2014 I went on a tour, when Huntington County was debating whether to have a wind ordinance or whether they wanted to have this wind farm and what it would destroy.”

He and his family toured various installations by Solar Energy Systems, of Nappanee, and were sold on solar.

“With wind, you have to have wind blowing for the wind generators to work,” he says. “For solar, the first thing people need to understand is, that since we’ve installed that we’ve generated electricity every day … rain, shine or snow.”

How it works is similar to wind, hydro or other energy “producers,” Holl-inger says. The panels must be south-facing and can either be installed on a roof or mounted on land. They collect the sun’s energy in DC (direct current) form, then convert it to AC (alternating current) form before sending it to his all-electric home, where it is used. If there is more energy produced than needed it is sent to his electric company “on the grid,” selling it back. Last month the Hollingers sold 7,500 kilowatts (kWh) back to REMC at the wholesale price of 5 cents per kWh – or $375.

Hollinger’s electric bill has also gone on a diet – from $1,546 for nine months of service last year, to only $700 the first nine months of 2016 — a savings of around $100 per month.

And recently, the Hollinger family took a vacation, and came back to an electric bill of $2.14. Last year it was $151 during the same period.
“Solar doesn’t go on vacation,” he adds. “You can go on vacation, and you can come back, and the solar continually generates, because the sun comes up every day.”

Hollinger has a backup battery in case of failure, but hasn’t had to use it. If the panels don’t create enough energy he can pull power from REMC for what he needs.

The only disadvantages he can see are that the panels don’t generate energy at night and some homeowners may not have a direct southern exposure.

“When people complain about wind and the big generators and it interrupts the landscape and the beauty, you can’t interrupt the beauty of my pole building,” he says. “It looks just as good before or after. There’s no noise.”

Hollinger says his experience has made him “extremely happy.” Some of his family members have since installed their own solar systems, and he thinks people should not let the cost of installation keep them from considering solar power for their own homes.

“The cost is continually coming down, because as they develop this, there is a manufacturer edge, where as they get better at it, they produce it cheaper,” he says. “That same system today might be $19,000.”

In addition, he has been able to save 30 percent of the installation cost in tax credits on his federal tax return.

Hollinger says the installation is warranted for 25 years and will pay for itself in 13 years. He can monitor the panels’ daily output from his laptop computer, which also provides other information and even a weather report. An interesting gauge is the amount of carbon dioxide saved by using the solar panels, verifying its green benefits.

“I put it in to save money, but if you’re into these ecology things and environmental benefits, I’ve saved 24,629 pounds of CO2,” he says. “That’s the equivalent of 620 trees planted. In other words, it would take 620 trees to digest or counteract that much CO2.”

Hollinger says in the future, he looks for solar panels on houses the size of roof shingles. He guesses that in less than 10 years, instead of placing shingles on homes, solar shingles can be installed that are lapped together tightly and look more like a regular roof than a solar collector. He hopes homeowners will take advantage of it.

“I just say, the sun’s a natural resource, and it’s a terrible natural resource to waste,” he adds. “It certainly lowers the bill.”