Solar panels: 1st year’s results

Solar Volt

***NERD ALERT!!!***

I’ve been waiting a year for this: The analysis to see if solar panels were a good idea or not. If you don’t care about the technical details of the math/spreadsheet, just jump ahead to the “RESULTS” section below.

Oddly, it was during the Winter Solstice that our solar panels were turned on, odd because that’s the shortest day of daylight all year long. I’ve been waiting for a year to see where we are, in energy generation, in order to understand if this was a good investment for us. To make it easier for me to analyze our results, I downloaded solar panel data from January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2017. What follows is what I found.

Here’s how our generation went, over the previous year:Solar Generation 2017As expected, there was more energy generated during the Summer than the Winter. It’s pretty simple to understand: The sun is up longer each day, during the Summer (in the Northern Hemisphere), due to the Earth’s axis tilt, in relation to the plane of its orbit around the sun. This was expected and the vendor’s projections showed this was going to happen. The vendor we went with, estimated we’d generate 15,810 kwh per year.

Our average annual usage, over the three years we’ve lived at this residence, is 23,766 kWh per year. In 2017, we used 25,001.974 kWh, or about 5% more than an average year.

Our actual energy generation was 13,408.39 kWh, a 2,401 kWh shortfall, or about a 15% shortfall, from the estimated production our vendor expected. We used 17,477.092 kWh from the grid and sold 5,883.508 kWh back to our electricity provider, Green Mountain Energy. This resulted in a net usage, from the grid, of 11,593.584 kWh. We selected Green Mountain Energy, as our electricity provider, because they buy our surplus generation at the same price that they charge for electricity they sell to us. This seemed to make it easier to do a year-end analysis. They upped our rate from 8.6¢ per kWh to 11.5¢ per kWh for their “Solar Buy Back” plan. Should we have stayed with the lower rate and given them our surplus production for free? There was no way for me to estimate this. Also, they didn’t mention this when we signed up. The salesperson, although we mentioned our new solar panels several times on the phone call and asked about solar buy-back, failed to put us on the correct plan. We were under the impression we were getting the electricity at 8.6¢ per kWh. Two months into the contract, I called to ask why I wasn’t seeing any solar buy-back on our bill. That’s when they realized we were on the wrong plan. I was not pleased to hear this.

Part of the solar panel installation included having a new meter installed. The “smart meter” allowed for electricity to be tracked as it flowed from the grid into our home and from our home to the grid (when the solar panels were producing more electricity than our home was using). Both my electricity provider and I could access this data in a CVS file format, perfect for importing into a spreadsheet for analysis.

At the end of the first year, I downloaded the CVS file and it was GIGANTIC. The original spreadsheet, covering the entire year in 15 minute segments was over 70,000 rows long. generation (solar panel surplus) and consumption (from the grid) were on separate rows. For the purposes of analysis, I combined the two rows for each 15 minute snapshot into a single row, reducing the number of rows to only 35,041 rows. Only?!?!?

My first question was whether the electric company had cheated me by knowing that most people won’t check to see if they actually bought as much surplus as the panels created. The electric company’s website allowed me to see my daily use of their electricity as monthly bar graphs, but did not let me download it as a spreadsheet. I had to click on each day’s bar, in the graph, to see the usage. I then manually entered that day’s value into a new column I added to my spreadsheet. To compare with the 15 minute intervals, I had to add all the increments for a day (96 rows for most days) so that I had comparable numbers. I then added a new column to add those results. I added a test equation for each day to see if what the electric company said we used matched what the smart meter said we used. I also added a column for each day to total up the surplus electricity we generated (if any) for all the 15 minute segments of the day, in order to see what we were selling back to the grid.

After all that work, I found that Green Mountain is a trustworthy company. But there was an issue. The work was so laborious, that I tried copying the equations from one day to the next. Once I had a month’s worth of equations, I tried copying and pasting a month at a time. I felt I must have messed up somewhere because the equations were supposed to end up on the row of the last 15 minute segment for each day, but it didn’t work that way. What had I done wrong???

I fixed the error when it first occurred and then tried copying and painting a month at a time again. When I had completed the year, I noticed the error had occurred a second time! As I scrolled through the data, I found one day where four rows seemed to be repeated, (but the usage values were different) and I found another day where an entire hour was missing. On March 12th, it jumped from 2:00AM to 3:00AM and on November 5th, the hour from 1:00AM to 2:00AM was duplicated. What the hell???

D’oh!!! It was due to Daylight Savings Time starting and ending!

Once I had the spreadsheet completed, I could finally start to evaluate electric provider pricing plans to determine (based on real world data) which pricing plan was most beneficial to us. Here’s what I found. Green Mountain’s Solar Buy Back, even though at a higher kWh rate, saved us about $21 per month, over the lower rate that did not buy back surplus energy.

My next stop was Texas’ Power To Choose website. In Texas, electricity providers are, by law, broken up into three groups: power generation, power delivery and power retailing. In my case Green Mountain Energy was my electricity retailer. Oncor is the company that maintains the power lines and is paid by the kWh to transfer electricity from the generation plant to my home (this charge is added to my electric bill from the retailer). Green Mountain, in turn buys electricity from the power generation plants. This split of the industry has increased competition and helped keep costs lower than in other areas of the country, but also makes it difficult for EV charging networks, because they cannot sell electricity, by the kWh, to the end user. They have to charge by the time your EV is plugged in. This means slower charging EVs are penalized. They may get the same amount of electricity, but pay more because they are connected longer to get it.

I knew of companies, like TXU, that offered time-of-use plans, giving the consumer a lower price at night (when grid demand is lower) than during the day (when demand is higher). This called for a new section of the spreadsheet, where I could differentiate between night kWh and day kWh. I checked the TXU website and found that the customer can pick one of three start times for the night rate. The duration of the night pricing would be the same, eight hours. At night, TXU’s electricity is free but, during the day, their price per kWh is higher than companies that don’t differentiate between day and night rates. The new section of the website would allow me to analyze this to compare electric rates. Unfortunately, the free nights plan does not buy my excess solar generation, so that had to be taken into consideration as well. As I read about the TXU plan, after adding the new section to the spreadsheet, I realized their electricity is 90% from non-renewable sources, so that plan would not work for us. It was the lowest priced plan I evaluated with the spreadsheet, besting our Green Mountain plan by about $32 per month on average.

I continued to search for electricity providers on the Power To Choose site, looking for companies that offered time-of-use plans that sourced their energy from renewable sources. There was only one: a company named “Volt.” Imagine that! Volt designates twelve full hours at night rate, but it’s 9:00PM to 8:59AM. The consumer cannot pick the start time. Their night energy is not free, but is at a lower rate than daytime. So, once again, it was time to add functionality to the spreadsheet. This proved to be higher than our Green Mountain buy-back plan by about $$5 per month. This meant that, without the ability to predict production or day/night balance, we had selected the best plan that also provided 100% renewable energy, when provided by the grid.

Adding this spreadsheet capability gave me more insight into my electricity usage as well as the ability to compare these providers to one another effectively.

RESULTS

As I mentioned before, solar panels generate more energy in the Summer than Winter, because the sun is visible much longer then. Here’s the breakdown of our energy usage from the grid and from the panels, by month:Solar vs Grid by MonthIt is also important to have your panels facing south. The front of our house faces south, but as you can see in the first picture in this post, the roof does not slant down toward the front of our house. This means each bank of panels only produces near full capacity for about half of each day.

As you can see from the chart above, both total usage and solar generation were highest in the Summer. Our heating system uses natural gas, so our electric usage drops precipitously in the Winter. Here’s the numbers:Energy Results TableSolar vs Grid pieThe far right column shows the percentage of solar versus grid energy used. The peak for solar percentage was 72.5% in April, when mild temperatures and sunny days kept energy demand low and production of the panels high. The worst performance was 35.5% solar in December, when skies were often cloudy and colder temperatures meant our electric mileage of our Volts was low, so electric demand for charging was greater. How these two sources would compete, month by month was a mystery to me, until I had the data in hand. Of course, this was after I’d had the panels for an entire year, so this insight came too late to help inform our decision on whether to add the panels or not. Another bit of data gleaned: I could see exactly how the two sources of power ranked. 54% of the electricity we used came from the solar panels and 46% from the grid (by kWh).

Day vs Night pieThe day/night section I added to the spreadsheet allowed me to easily see when we use electricity and it was a real eye-opener. Unlike most people, in Texas, our energy usage is biased to nighttime use. We have up to three Chevy Volts charging at night and those can account for over half of our total usage, on some days. This makes the time-of-use plans look very interesting. It also means we should possibly be evaluating battery storage, in the event we select a plan that doesn’t offer surplus energy buy-back.

So finally I had come to the moment of truth: Was it a good idea to go solar or not? To get to the answer, I created yet another table that analyzed the financial side of this. There were basically a few things to compare:

  • The actual cost over the last year, compared to energy purchases without panels,
  • Comparing time-of-use plans to energy purchases without panels,
  • Comparing time-of-use plans to plans with or without solar surplus buy back.

Here’s that table:Financial ResultsHere’s what you’re seeing in the table above:

The first three rows are are the price to buy electricity, the price the electric company pays for surplus energy generated by the solar panels (which can be zero for some companies) and the price I’d be paying if I did not have the solar panels.

The next four rows (blue & yellow background) are the day and night prices for a company that offers time-of-use pricing and the start and end times for the night pricing. Those companies typically do not have a buy-back of surplus energy.

The next four rows are how the year actually went in kWh usage as well as the costs associated.

The next two rows (blue & yellow background) are the costs involved with time-of-use providers.

The “Cost For Solar Panels” row is the monthly payment for our solar panels, after applying the 30% Federal Income Tax Credit. This payment has to be taken into account, as a cost of energy used, if I’m being completely honest with myself (and you).

The next line is interesting. In Texas, adding solar panels to a home, on average, increases the value of the property by $15,000 but the state does not tax that additional property value. This tax savings has to be considered as a reduction to my costs and therefore an energy savings. The $15,000 increased value, in my opinion cannot be considered, since it won’t be realized, until we sell our home and move away.

GME std plan vs. solar buy backAs can be seen in the partial table above, we are paying $76.05 more for electricity, per month, than we did without the solar panels. For all the comparisons below, I am using the non-solar panel plan from Green Mountain, so everything, including our last year’s results, are being compared to the same benchmark. The tax savings amount to $35 per month, reducing this deficit to $41.05 per month. The cost of the solar panels, after tax credit, was $23,436, which we financed over their 20 year warranty period.

Next, I compared The free nights from TXU. There are three possible start times, 8PM, 9PM or 10PM. All have 9 hours of free energy. All three plans would cost us more than Green Mountain’s current non-solar rate by $104.56, $113.44 and $121.72, respectively. Since the buy-back plan is only $76.05 over the non-solar plan and because TXU’s plan is only 10% renewable energy, this is a non-starter for us. (see below)

8PM start:

TXU Free Nights 8PM

9PM start:TXU Free Nights 9PM

10PM start:TXU Free Nights 10PMNext up is Volt’s reduced price nights plan, which uses 100% renewable energy. Even this plan is more expensive than Green Mountain’s solar buy-back, by about $6 per month.Volt plan

Are you starting to see why I love my spreadsheet? 😉 With this tool, I will be able to realistically compare plans, based on our actual usage scenario. These plans used to be completely opaque to me.

Part of the expected payback is the expected rise in the cost of electricity. Only time will tell if that comes to pass. When we first selected Green Mountain Energy as a 100% renewable energy provider, about 15 years ago, we paid a premium for their product. In time, it became competitive and I feel the early adopters, like us, helped Texas become the number one state in wind-generated electricity. Once again, I’m on the bleeding edge, and am proud to be so.

P.S. I am now very interested in battery backup technology for my solar panels…once they become more affordable. I’m also considering adding more panels when they come down more in price.

Solar Panel Generation: 150 day report

Solar Volt

My 2017 Chevy Volt (The Silver Surfer) being charged by the sun! This shows only one of the four groupings of panels on The Duck (what I call our house).

If you would like to contact our solar panel provider, click here to email them.

It has been 150 days, since our solar panel system went on line. We started generating electricity from solar energy, on December 21st. The 150 days ended on today. Our solar panels generated a total of 5,387 kWh or, in other words, almost 5.4 megawatts. These 150 days are not the most conducive to energy production, since they began with December 21st, exactly on the Winter Solstice of 2016. As you may know, the Winter Solstice is known as “the shortest day of the year.” It’s really the day with the shortest period of sunlight. You may also think that means the day of the least solar energy generation. That, it is not, as overcast longer days can result in lower energy generation. With this in mind, if we just divide the total amount of energy generated so far, by 150 days and multiply by 365 days (to get an estimate of annual production), we would arrive at a figure of 13.11 mWh per year. Since these 150 days are not average, over the year, we can expect our total annual production to be more than that. Our solar panel provider estimated that our annual production would be close to 16 mWh. I am not sure it will get that high, but if we average both these figures, a compromise estimate of 14.55 mWh is produced. More on this later…

Our highest single day of energy generation so far, was May 4th. On that day, our solar panels generated 60.41 kWh, which is just slightly more than the Chevy Bolt EV‘s battery capacity. The least energy generated in a single day, so far, was 4.4 kWh on December 23rd. Another low production day was March 5th, when 5.66 kWh were generated. As you can see, daily production can vary greatly, as is illustrated in the upper chart below.150 day solar energy production chartsAs you start to look at larger blocks of time, the pattern smoothes out. In the lower chart, by looking at weekly system output, you can see the trend toward higher energy generation. Weeks 21, 51 & 53, were obviously not a full seven days.

To see the pattern a little better, we can look at it by calendar month (below). The current month only shows the first 19 days, resulting in 1,090 kWh. Using the daily average generated in the month, I expect May’s result to be the highest on the chart at approximately 1,778 kWh, a total so high, as to be off this chart.Monthly kWh

How was last month’s bill affected by the solar panels? I’m glad you asked! We used 1,676 kWh total. Our average usage for this month, over the last 3 years has been 1,492 kWh, but this month has been warmer than usual. Of this amount, 433 kWh came from our electricity provider, Green Mountain Energy and 1,243 kWh came from the solar panels. We generated 74% of the electricity we used. Our Green Mountain Energy bill was $20.57. The payment on the solar panel system is $154.54. So, our total electric cost was $175.11 last month. If we didn’t have the solar panels, our bill would have been $133.96, so we overpaid by $41.15 last month. (this will vary, so more on that later)

Green Mountain Energy, currently 😉 charges us 11.6¢ per kWh, the “solar rate” we got, when we switched providers. They buy any overproduction at the same, retail rate in monthly (billing cycle blocks). Before we got on the “Solar Buy-Back Plan,” our rate was 8.5¢ per kWh. This means they are actually buying back at somewhat less than retail, since the rate was lower when we were on a normal energy rate plane. However, when I created a spreadsheet, to check the financial soundness of getting solar panels, we still came out ahead, when compared to a company that charged the lower rate but bought back overage at wholesale, instead of retail. It’s jumping through math like this that discourages people from getting solar panels, because they just can’t tell if it makes economic sense or not.

As you may know, I love making spreadsheets and performing analyses, so…yay!

Our solar panels (38 in all) cost $33,480, including permits and installation. The federal government’s tax incentive for solar panels is 30%, or in our case $10,044, leaving us with a cost of $23,436 in out-of-pocket expenses. One really cool feature of our solar financing plan, is that the first payment is due one year after the panels are installed and operational. This gives the buyer time to realize the tax credit and pay it into the loan, resulting is a monthly payment, based on the system price, after the tax credit is applied. We financed the panels over 20 years, resulting in a monthly payment of $154.54.

So, the big question is: Are we paying more for electricity + solar panels per month that we were for electricity alone? We still don’t know definitively, and won’t until we’ve analyzed a full year of data. However we can now start to make an educated guess.

If the solar panel company is correct, and our solar panel system generates 16 mWh of electricity over the full year (and that is still a distinct possibility), the total cost we’ll pay per month for electricity + solar panels, would be 13¢ less, than just buying electricity from our provider at the higher rate they’re charging now. However, if we compare the total amount we were paying on the previous plan, we could pay as much as $61 per month more, on average, than we were, which is about a 36% increase. We expected to pay more, during the first few years and reap the benefit of lower overall cost, as energy prices go up, over time. Again, only time will tell. The rate we’re paying now per kWh is approximately the same as the U.S. national average rate per kWh.

Here’s what we feel we are getting for this:

  • We generate ZERO pollution, for the energy we use during the day, because we generate it from the sun. Even though Green Mountain Energy provides “100% renewable energy,” during times of low winds or low solar generation, Green Mountain Energy has to buy energy from non-renewable sources, to keep the lights on, which do generate pollution. To make the claim that they’re 100% renewable, Green Mountain will purchase energy from other renewable energy companies, to offset the dirty energy they had to purchase during these shortages.
  • If we add a battery backup to the system, these benefits would continue after sunset, when the batteries would continue to provide electricity, after sunset, or during a blackout or brownout.
  • THIS IS PROBABLY THE BIGGEST FACTOR: On average, in Texas, solar panels add $15K of value to the home, when it comes time to sell. Once this is taken into account, the solar panels really only cost us $8,436, that $61 per month is eliminated. Our system is larger than the average residential system installed in Texas, so the actual cost may be even lower than that! This means that we’re really at break even now, with additional savings as energy prices rise, over time.

In late December, I will have a full year’s worth of data and will revisit this, but at this point I think we made a very good financial (and ecological) decision.

If you would like to contact our solar panel provider, click here to email them.

and the metamorphosis continues… onto the roof! (like Santa)

If you would like to contact our solar panel provider, click here to email them.

I’ve written before, about how a freak car accident, back in 2011, altered the trajectory of my life. Having to suddenly get a new (to me) car, without having money saved for a big down payment, pushed me into trying various inexpensive (i.e. cheap) used cars. I was a Lexus snob back then and the idea of driving Corollas, Priuses (Prii?) and their ilk sickened me.

OUR SOLAR PANELS ARE INSTALLED AND ARE OPERATIONAL!!!Solar output graph

The Big Switch

The Big Switch (both literally and metaphorically)

We have completed the final inspection, by the city. The electricity deliver service, Oncor, has reprogrammed our meter to allow our electricity provider to credit our account for the electricity we generate. The last step is for our electric provider to move our account over to a “solar plan.” Today, I started the system, just to make sure everything was working and the image above is the live energy report of the test.

At least three neighbors have told my wife that they’d like information on our panels, as they have been considering them, too. Although we’ve seen vehicles from solar panel providers in the neighborhood, we were the first to take the leap.

Due to our roof layout, our solar panels have been split into four groups. To maximize output of the system, we have one micro inverter for every two panels. If shade falls on a panel, unlike systems with just one inverter, the output of the remaining panels remains high. Single inverter systems would reduce the output of the panels in full sunlight to match the output of the one in the shade (or so I’m told).

Panel Layout (actual)

Panel Layout (actual)

Once the panels were installed, I noticed the actual layout did not match the original plan. I updated the drawing above, to reflect this (using Pixelmator, not a CAD program). I didn’t ask, but I believe the layout had to be changed, due to the micro inverters. Since each micro inverter handles two panels, each panel group would need to have an even number of panels. The Northeast and Southwest groups originally had odd numbers of panels. By moving one, from the Southwest group to the Northeast group, an even number of panels was attained for both groupings.

South Panels

South-facing solar panels

Northeast Panels

The Northeast Panels

The Northwest Panels

The Northwest Panels

The Southwest Panels

The Southwest Panels

If you would like to contact our solar panel provider, click here to email them.

Just as I did, with my leap-of-faith into plug-in vehicles, I will be meticulously tracking the results of this investment and reporting those results back to you. There are many variables, that have kept me from knowing exactly what the financial impact of the solar panel system will be. In Texas, regulation of the electric industry created three tiers of businesses:

  • Electricity generators (coal-burning plants, natural gas fired plants, renewable energy generators (solar/wind/hydrodynamic),
  • Electricity delivery companies (transfers electricity generated from the generator to the energy retailer), and
  • Energy retailers (those who sell to the end users.)

The end-user (me) deals with the retailers. The retailers buy the electricity from the generators, allowing the end-user to select 100% renewable energy or whatever is cheapest or anything in-between. We have a low priced provider which only pays wholesale rates for any electric overage we generate. This overage is calculated on a monthly basis, so even if we generate much more electricity than we use for a week, but generate less than we use the other weeks of that month, we could have no overage. As I understand it, the electricity we generate replaces demand from the grid, so that doesn’t fall under the wholesale/retail issue, unless we generate an overage for the entire month. However, as the salesperson was answering my questions, I got the distinct impression that they really didn’t understand my questions or didn’t really know the answer. It was like looking for plug-in vehicles, back in 2012.

The electricity delivery company is dictated by where the end-user’s home/business is located. They charge a per-kWh fee to move the electrons around from generator to end-user. This is the company you call, if there is a power outage, power line down or other non-sales issue.

The power source is selected by the retailers and packaged as a product offered to customers. We are on a 100% renewable plan, with a locked rate for three years, of which we’ve used 16 months so far.

Our previous energy provider, and a previous employer of mine, Green Mountain Energy buys back electric overages at full retail, but their per-kWh rate is 3 cents higher. Until I actually receive a bill, with our panels’ energy recorded, I won’t know the best way to proceed. If we terminate our current contract early, we will incur a $300 penalty, but it may be worth it.

Only time will tell. But I will report results, be they good, bad or ugly.

A decades-long dream is realized

Solar Happy BuzzI have wanted solar panels on my home, since the mid-1980s. Back then, the cost was prohibitive and my income was limited. Heck, I could barely afford the mortgage! Over time, the cost of solar has come down and financing options, including leasing the panels, were created. Our acquisition of a plug-in vehicle changed us, and continues to change us.

We were on the same treadmill as most Americans, starting out with a small home, moving up in quality and size every ten years or so, until we reached the largest and nicest home we’d probably ever need. We were living in Colleyville, Texas (a suburb in the Dallas / Fort Worth area), when I was involved in a car accident that totaled my Lexus ES300. The guy that rear-ended my Lexus was texting while driving and had not noticed that the entire freeway had come to a stop. Since then, I have become a pretty vehement opposer of texting while driving.

I started shopping for my dream car, a two-seat convertible, but my wife Bonnie objected. She was concerned that if her car broke down, while our daughter was with her, I would be unable to pick them both up, due to seating limitations. She found a very nice, preowned Lexus SC430 at a Dallas dealer and sent the information about it to me. I went on a test drive and was ready to buy, but looking at the monthly payment plus the terrible gas mileage the car offered, decided to keep looking. I ended up inheriting my wife’s ES300 and she got a Toyota Highlander Hybrid (our first foray into fuel-efficient vehicles).

Solar Into GarageEventually that last Lexus started having problems, so I started car shopping once more. Then one day, I came across the documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Gasoline was very expensive and the documentary got me thinking about alternatives to convertible sport cars. There were so many questions to answer, though. I started my research and shopping and had a brief flirtation with the Nissan Leaf. My wife fixed that, and on August 12, 2012, I leased a Chevy Volt. As I mentioned above, this event changed our lives much more than we ever could have predicted.

Solar In Garage

Not that I’ve been very diligent, but it looks like my stained glass project will be on the back burner for a while… At least Bonnie and I can both still access the EV chargers!

We grew dissatisfied with the life we had been pursuing. We didn’t want the swimming pool we hardly used (and the maintenance and energy costs it entailed). We didn’t want the huge house, with rooms we almost never entered. Two of my three daughters had reached adulthood and moved out, so our home started to seem, well, almost an obscenity, to us. We built a new, smaller home, and placed a priority on energy efficiency. When we found a builder we liked, we asked if there were any rules against adding solar panels. We were directed to a website that showed the homeowner association rules, so we checked it out. The rules regarding solar panels exactly mirrored the Texas law on them. We had no problem with the requirements, so we contracted to get the house built.

Solar Permit

Crossing t’s and dotting i’s

The HOA opposed our plans. Texas changed the law so that HOAs could not prevent us from installing solar panels. We reached out to Solar City once more for a proposal, but their lease pricing had gone up so much, it was no longer feasible. We looked around and found a new solar panel provider, EnergyOne. We also had decided to switch from leasing to buying our solar panels.

Now that you’re up-to-date on all that, here’s the thing: OUR SOLAR PANELS HAVE BEEN DELIVERED AND INSTALLATION HAS COMMENCED!!!!! Of course, on the day the installation was to commence, it began to rain. The local forecast calls for rain, and much cooler temperatures, over the next four days.

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin’ me late
Is keepin’ me waitin’

Installation TruckHere are some other photos, as things get underway:

Solar Man On Roof

Braver than me.

Solar South Roof

Mounting brackets on South-facing roof

Solar South Zoom

zoomed in

Solar West Roof

West-facing roof (South section)

Solar West Zoom

zoomed in

I will keep posting about the panel installation and will write about our return on investment, as I collect data, over the months/years.

 

Solar update: FINAL REGULATORY APPROVAL BEFORE INSTALLATION!!!

EnergyONE logoToday is a memorable day for two reasons:

  • It’s my wife’s birthday
  • We have received the final regulatory approval for our solar panels

We have waited almost three years for this day. You may recall, our home owner’s association originally rejected our application to have solar panels added on our roof because, “We think they look ugly.”

Since then, the state of Texas made it impossible for our HOA to deny this to us (or to anyone in a neighborhood of over 50 homes). The HOA sent out a notice that they would no longer oppose those wanting to get solar panels, so we reapplied for them and our application was approved.

Then we had to locate a vendor. Solar City’s lease rates had gone up so much, over the last few years, making their product too expensive, when compared to electricity from the grid. We ended up deciding to buy, rather than lease and selected EnergyONE as our provider. One thing that changed, in the intervening years, seems to be inverters. The new system has a micro inverter for each panel, so that panels receiving shade will not cause non-shaded panels to reduce output. The Solar City system had just two inverters, one for panels facing East and one for those facing West.

Our current (no pun intended) electricity provider, BeyondPower, although a provider of 100% renewable energy, only pays wholesale for energy overage reimbursement. Our previous provider, Green Mountain Energy, pays retail but has a significantly higher price per kWh, than BeyondPower. We will have to see which one ends up being the less expensive choice, once we’ve got a few months of solar, under our belts.

We will be powering our three Chevy Volts from the sun!

Actual installation and testing should begin soon, so stay tuned for updates!Layout Drawing

Shouting at the Rain

oil rig explosionThose that know me, know that I’m all about environmental issues, but I’m really getting tired of things like this. As long as there’s a profit to be made, extracting oil offshore, it will continue. When the return on investment fails to cover the costs of extraction, it will stop.

It really is that simple.

You want to stop offshore drilling? Then the price of oil has to drop.

How do we get that to happen? Well, my college economics class taught me that reducing demand reduces price.

Stop whining about offshore drilling, if you’re driving a vehicle that uses gasoline. Instead get a vehicle that doesn’t use it at all (Leaf, i8, Tesla, Bolt [later this year] etc), or at the very least, get a car that only uses it rarely (Volt, ELR, C-Max Energi, Fusion Energi, etc). There are PLENTY of vehicles out there that are viable, even while charging infrastructure is being built. I’m living proof of that. Of course, this isn’t a viable approach for large families or those who live in apartments, YET. There WILL be viable solutions for those people as well, ONCE THE AUTO MANUFACTURERS SEE CONSUMER DEMAND FOR THESE VEHICLES INCREASE.

When oil prices collapsed recently, many of my friends in the oil patch lost their jobs. That happened to me, back in the mid-80’s. I left the oil and gas industry, in 1985, and never considered going back to it. Fortunately, my job skills were transferable to other industries. Many in oil & gas today, don’t have transferrable skills. We have to also find ways to reemploy those workers, in other industries. This will entail a cost, for which we must have a plan. I’ve long believed that, due to the rapidly changing world, we must all continue to learn new skills throughout our careers.

Once you’ve changed the vehicle you drive, follow up by selecting an electricity provider that offers 100% renewable energy (Green Mountain, Beyond Power, etc) or install solar panels (or wind turbine, if you have the space…) at your home.

To change the world, you must first change yourself, not try to force the change on others.

Walk the walk, BEFORE you talk the talk.

A new chapter to our solar saga…

I haven’t written about this in a while, so for detailed background, you can get up-to-speed by reading this, this, this, this, this,and finally, this. For those that want a quick catch-me-up, here we go:

We built a new house in 2013, mentioning several times to the salesperson and construction manager, that we planned on putting up solar panels.

We were told the Homeowner’s Association has established rules for solar panels, which we downloaded and read. The HOA rules exactly matched the state statute (good!).

We applied to the HOA, per the required steps, our solar panel system design and our request was denied. I explained to the HOA President that, once the neighborhood was no longer under development, we would be able to get our panels, if our immediate neighbors (5 residences) had no objections. He said he’d resubmit our application. It was rejected a second time.

I received an email today, from a solar energy advocate, stating,

I just wanted to let you know that bill SB 1626 (the consolidated bill with HB 3539) was signed by the governor yesterday.  The amended law goes into effect Sept 1, 2015.  Going forward, the loophole to block solar will only exist for developments with fewer than 51 planned residential units.

Information about the bill can be found below.

Texas Legislature Online
Bill Alert 
84(R) SB 1626
Relating to the regulation by a developer of the installation of solar energy devices in a residential subdivision.
5/23/2015 E Signed by the Governor

The new law, tightens the loophole that has prevented us from getting our solar energy system, specifically this line:

(f) During the development period, the declarant may prohibit or restrict a property owner from installing a solar energy device.

In other words, a developer, currently developing a neighborhood, can deny an application for solar panels. Our neighborhood has about 8 lots left to be sold, before our neighborhood is finished with its development.

But there’s more!

A new “phase” of the neighborhood has begun development. The homes are different models than ours and the layout is more dense with greenbelts. I have been agonizing over this development. Does this new “phase” constitute the continued development of our neighborhood, further delaying completion of the neighborhood, and consequently, delaying our solar panel system even longer?

The email I received and the text of the new law would seem to resolve the issue:SB 1626Our neighborhood has well over 50 lots and the addition of a new “phase” only serves to increase that number. Now it appears all we have to do is wait for September 1st to proceed, unless the HOA generously allows us to move forward, during the high sunshine months.

I hate to be at odds with members of our neighborhood over this issue, but we have had the intention of adding panels to our new home before construction was ever begun, and made those intentions known to the developer. I’ll keep you posted on developments…