I await its arrival with bait-like breath…

Back in the late 1980s, I was fortunate enough to ride a “S curve.” I was in the computer-aided design software field, employed by a software company as an Sales Engineer. I was the technical half of a sales team. The software we sold was revolutionary and ended up redefining 3D design. When I started the job, the product was relatively unknown. However, demonstrations of its capabilities blew engineers away. Of course, many were jaded, by years of “smoke-and-mirrors” in software demonstrations. Their experience caused them to fear what they weren’t seeing (i.e. possible bugs or limitations). Adoption was slow at first.

The CEO spoke to the sales teams about “S curves of innovation.” “Basically,” he said, “when a new, revolutionary product debuts, sales start off slowly. As more and more people get exposed to it, the ‘first adopters,’ buy first. These are the people that see where this new product can go, in its development, and want to jump on board as soon as they see it. Next, as those people gain experience in the new product, the tell their friends about it. Other sign up to see a demonstration. The sales curve starts to change. What was a gradual adoption of the technology, becomes a massive uptick, as the masses begin to see what the early adopters grasped from the beginning and jump on the bandwagon. As the years move forward, sales begin to slow down, either because everyone that needs the product has acquired it or a new competition (with a newer technology) enters the market and starts its own S curve.”

S curve

I said I was fortunate, because those who sell a new product, which is at the beginning of the steep increase in sales, become valuable personnel. In just three years, my income tripled! CEOs of companies attempted to recruit me, due to my in-depth understanding of this bold, new product. Life was exceedingly good.

Now I’m starting to see the evidence that I’m about to surf another wave. The evidence first appears, when you look at cumulative sales. Here’s my cumulative plug-in vehicle sales:Cumulative

I can definitely see the slope of the curve taking off. Looking at the S curve chart above, I’m thinking we may be around the 7 or 8 value, on the X (horizontal) axis of the chart. If so, that means there’s a very wild ride coming up very soon. Dealerships who failed to prepare will be left behind and, in my opinion, many will fail to survive. Back in my software days, I saw the demise of many venerated software companies. They had been leaders, in their day, but had failed to innovate. The just coasted on their past successes.

Innovation is not easy. Overcoming market inertia is not easy. But it happens every day.

Image result

A bit of advice here: In your career, YOU are the product. Failure to continually upgrade your skills will destroy you in the modern job market. We no longer need typewriter designers, whalers, livery stables, etc. I started my career in the oilfield manufacturing arena, as a machinist. I became a CNC machine operator (a manufacturing machine controlled by a computer program) and then learned to program those machines. I taught others what I knew and I became a manger. I was fat and happy.

Then, the price of oil collapsed. Houston was devastated. I had to move 250 miles away to find work. My income plummeted.

But I learned my lesson. I had grown my skills, butHawking quote only as they pertained to my specific industry. When that industry collapsed, I was financially damaged. Take note oilfield workers, coal miners, etc: Renewable energy careers are on the upswing just as your career is on the downswing. Have you read much about it? Taken any courses to learn about it? Are you fat and happy, like I was? I highly recommend reading “Who Moved My Cheese?”

I’ve been talking about a tipping point for three years now. As I saw things, the “stickiness” of plug-in vehicles, or the strong likelihood that a plug-in vehicle owner would never go back to a solely gasoline-powered vehicle, as a building swell, of which most people were unaware.

As I mentioned in my February 2018 sales figures, in my 4-1/2 years as an “Evangelist,” I usually saw zero plug-in vehicle sales in January and February. Last year was the first exception. I sold one in each of those two months that year.

This year, I sold 3 in January and 4 in February.

And it gets better from there.

So far this month, I have sold 3 plug-ins and have commitments on another SIX for a total of NINE and it’s not even the midpoint of the month yet!!! These are solid deals. We are just waiting for the vehicles to arrive. The most I’ve ever sold in March was five Volts in 2016, when the 2nd generation Volts started arriving in Texas (the 2016 models were not available in Texas). Other than that one standout month, my best March was one plug-in.

What’s going on here?!?!?

Plug-in salesThe plug-in Chevys are not advertised in Texas (where I am located). Texans are proud of their oil heritage and by-and-large think of EVs as a fad (they’re wrong). Chevy dealers have goals established by General Motors for sales of various vehicle types. Classic Chevrolet has consistently hit around 400% of the goals. In my estimation, most Chevy dealers in Texas won’t hit the target we have, but things are heating up. Here’s some interesting info:

  • I trade vehicles with other Chevy dealers, up to 250 miles away, to get the exact configuration my customer desires (or as close as possible). In the past, the other dealer always wanted a Silverado, Camaro, Tahoe or Corvette in trade for their Bolt EV or Volt. More and more often, they will ask for a plug-in vehicle to replace the plug-in vehicle I’m getting from them.
  • Fewer and fewer dealers have any available for trade and some have been reluctant to let go of their plug-in vehicles.
  • Dealers are now contacting us to trade for one of our plug-ins! This used to never happen!

It may be the optimist in me, but the boost in what would be a lackluster time for plug-in sales, has *almost* convinced me that the wave has truly started, in an indisputable way. Is 2018 the year we’ll look back on, as the year that plug-in vehicles began to roar?

I’ve been preparing for this for five years now. I’m ready.

February 2018 Sales Numbers

This month, I’m going to start the countdown to 200,000 vehicles, for the three manufacturers that can possibly hit that mark this year: General Motors, Tesla Motors and Nissan. Once that happens, these manufacturers are scheduled to have the $7,500 Federal Income Tax Credit begin to phase out. The mechanics of how this happens can be found here. Here’s how it looked as of the end of last month:

Tesla averaged 4,179 vehicle sales per month last year and the Model 3 production is ramping up. If they maintain last year’s rate, Tesla could be at the 200,000 mark by August. General Motors averaged 3,658 plug-in vehicle sales per month last year, but the Bolt EV was not available in all 50 states until August. At that rate, the 200,000 mark would happen in August, as well. That would mean the 200,000 could get cut in half by December 31st of this year. Nissan averaged 936 plug-in vehicle sales per month last year. At that rate, they would hit the 200,000 mark years from now. However, that’s misleading. Their sales, last year, were hampered by the announcement of a new, redesigned Leaf with much better range (although well short of the Model 3 or Bolt EV). Sales lagged for months as consumers waited for the new Leaf. I expect all these manufacturers’ average sales to be much better, but unless they’re phenomenal, Nissan buyer’s will still be getting the full tax credit into 2019.

February 2018 plug-in vehicle sales were up, across the board, which is very abnormal for February.

As I mentioned a couple months ago, I have dropped the Ford C-Max Energi from the tracking, as Ford has decided to end the model. It has been replaced, in my tracking, by the Honda Clarity EV and Hybrid models. I am combining the two plug-in versions of Clarity, but not the hydrogen fuel cell version.

In total vehicle sales, February 2018 was typical. I sold 5 units. The weather was cold and rainy for the last week of the month and traffic was very low.

In the chart below, the February rebound in plug-in sales is obvious. All the curves jump up, in the last month.EV Sales NumbersHere are the February 2018 sales figures, compared to the previous month:

  • Chevy Volt: UP 38% (983 vs. 713)
  • Chevy Bolt EV: UP 21% (1,424 vs. 1,177)
  • Nissan Leaf: UP 497% (895 vs. 150) **new model
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: UP 37% (2,050 vs. 1,496)
  • Tesla Model S: UP 41% (1,125 vs. 800) **estimated
  • Tesla Model X: UP 25% (875 vs. 700) **estimated
  • BMW i3: UP 63% (623 vs. 382) **new model announced
  • Ford Fusion Energi: UP 24% (794 vs. 640)
  • Honda Clarity BEV & PHEV: UP 55% (1,234 vs. 797)
  • Tesla Model 3: UP 33% (2,485 vs. 1,875)

In February, the average price of gasoline dropped from $2.59 per gallon, at the start of the month, to $2.55 at month’s end. The dive was pretty constant, hitting $2.51 on the 18th, bouncing up for a few days, before bottoming out on the 26th at $2.50, before recovering some of its loss.My Sales By Month

I am shocked by the continued robust sales of the Volt and Bolt EV. As you are probably aware, due to the Federal Income Tax Credit on plug-ins, most sales are biased toward the last half of the year, as people start thinking about their income taxes. Until 2017, I had never sold a plug-in vehicle in January or February. In 2017, I only sold one Volt, during each of those months. However, the world is born anew in 2018! In January 2018, I sold two Bolt EVs and a Volt. In February, I sold three Bolt EVs and a Volt. Is this an indicator that we’re moving beyond first adopters of new technology and more into mainstream buyers?My five February 2018 sales were comprised of three Bolt EVs, one Volt, and one Equinox, which means the Bolt EV is rapidly rising, in my overall lifetime sales by model. It is still in 3rd place (42 units), with the Silverado 1500 (55 units) in 2nd place and the Volt (76 units) in first. The Bolt EV got there in eight months. I’ve been selling the other vehicles for 53 months!My Vehicle Sales By ModelBy vehicle type, my lifetime sales are 28% plug-ins, 20% SUVs, 18% pickups (down 1%), 15% sports cars. The rest are sedans & vans (19%).

Plug-in sales, compared to the same month a year ago, were split:

  • Chevy Volt: DOWN 46% (983 vs. 1,820) **Bolt EV effect?
  • Chevy Bolt EV: UP 50% (1,424 vs. 952)
  • Nissan Leaf: DOWN 14% (895 vs. 1,037) **new model
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: UP 51% (2,050 vs. 1,362)
  • Tesla Model S: DOWN 46% (1,125 vs. 1,750)
  • Tesla Model X: UP 9% (875 vs. 800)
  • BMW i3: UP 96% (623 vs. 318)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: DOWN 5% (794 vs. 837)
  • Honda Clarity BEV & PHEV: (was not available in February 2017)
  • Tesla Model 3: (was not available in February 2017)

January 2018 Sales

January 2018 plug-in vehicle sales were significantly down, which is normal for January. There were two exceptions: The Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model 3.

In a repeat of last couple of month’s posts, the chart shown below, shows my Volt and Bolt EV sales by month, over the last four-plus years. I sold three plug-in vehicles in January 2018, which is WAY outside norms. Usually, January sales are slow because everyone is focused on getting the Federal Income Tax Credit in November and December of the previous year. Before this year, I’d only sold one Volt in January and one in February, and that was only for the year 2017. Before that, I’d never sold a plug-in in either month! That red bar in January, in the chart below shows how different January 2018 was for me (in plug-ins, anyway…)My Plug-Ins by MonthIn total vehicle sales, January 2018 was typical. I sold 4 units. In January 2015 and 2017, I sold 4 vehicles. In January 2016, my vehicle sales totaled 10, of many different types. Traffic was terrible that January, but sales were good.

The Bolt EV, in just seven months has become my 3rd highest volume vehicle, surpassing the Corvette. In the chart below, you can see that, in the six months they were available in Texas, my Bolt EV sales totaled 37 units. My best year, in Silverados (2015), was 25 units and my best Volt year (2016, when the 2nd generation first became available) was 27 unitsVehicle Sales By Model & Year Sold

In the chart below, the January downturn in plug-in sales is obvious. The Leaf (light blue line) barely budged upward and the Model 3 (dark purple line that starts in July 2017) jumped up significantly.January 2018 EV Sales NumbersOnce again, I am going to point out the beginning of the adoption curves. The curve taking off the fastest continues to be the Chevy Bolt EV. Last month, its adoption curve has started to turn downward, toward the rest of the pack, but almost every other adoption curve did the same. It will be interesting to see how the new Leaf, i3 and Honda Clarity compete this year. The foremost dark purple line is the Tesla Model 3. January sales helped its adoption start to look like the Bolt EV. Those two models have been seen as major competitors, so the coming year should be interesting to watch.Bolt EV ZoomHere are the January 2018 sales figures, compared to the previous month:

  • Chevy Volt: DOWN 63% (713 vs. 1,937)
  • Chevy Bolt EV: DOWN 64% (1,177 vs. 3,227)
  • Nissan Leaf: UP 47% (150 vs. 102) **new model announced
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 38% (1,496 vs. 2,420)
  • Tesla Model S: DOWN 84% (800 vs. 4,975) **estimated
  • Tesla Model X: DOWN 79% (700 vs. 3,300) **estimated
  • BMW i3: DOWN 43% (382 vs. 672) **new model announced
  • Ford Fusion Energi: DOWN 27% (640 vs. 875)
  • Ford C-Max Energy: DOWN 46% (234 vs. 436) **end of model announced
  • Tesla Model 3: UP 77% (1,875 vs. 1,060)

In January, the average price of gasoline rose from $2.47 per gallon, at the start of the month, to $2.59 at month’s end. Gasoline started out around $2.47 per gallon and remained about the same through the ninth. After that it rose steadily, to $2.55 on the 17th. After a minor dip, over four days, it then rose to the end of the month.My Sales By MonthMy four January 2018 sales were comprised of two Bolt EVs, one Volt, and one Malibu.

Vehicle Sales By ModelBy vehicle type, my lifetime sales are 28% plug-ins, 20% SUVs, 19% pickups, 15% sports cars. The rest are sedans & vans (18%).

Plug-in sales, compared to the same month a year ago, were mostly down, with only two models showing an increase and both were new or revamped models: Bolt EV and the Prius Prime.

  • Chevy Volt: DOWN 56% (713 vs. 1,611) **Bolt EV effect?
  • Chevy Bolt EV: UP 1% (1,177 vs. 1,162)
  • Nissan Leaf: DOWN 81% (150 vs. 772) **new model announced
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 8% (1,496 vs. 1,641)
  • Tesla Model S: DOWN 11% (800 vs. 900)
  • Tesla Model X: DOWN 7% (700 vs. 750)
  • BMW i3: UNCHANGED (382 vs. 382)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: UP 6% (640 vs. 606)
  • Ford C-Max Energi: DOWN 51% (234 vs. 473)
  • Tesla Model 3: (was not available in December 2016)

EV charging infrastructure: Who? How? Why?

EV Charge StationThere have been lots of people asking why the makers of plug-in vehicles, other than Tesla, aren’t getting more involved in charging infrastructure roll-out. I wrote about the business model for charging infrastructure, shortly after getting our first two Chevy Volts. I was considering starting a business that installed and operated EV chargers. The path to profitability did not seem viable to me. In fact, it seemed so difficult to achieve profitability, that I still don’t understand how these companies plan to survive! In Texas, there’s an added obstacle: Only energy retailers can sell electricity to the public on a per-kWh basis and the EV charging companies do not meet that standard (unless the law gets modified). In order to resolve this, many EVSE companies have based charging on time connected. This places an undue burden on EVs that charge more slowly than others. For example, the Gen 1 Chevy Volt charged at about half the speed of a Gen 1 Nissan Leaf. By charging, based on connect time, it’s as if one gasoline-powered vehicle was charged twice as much per gallon than a different gasoline-powered vehicle.

EV Charge StationLooking back, five years later, I’ve realized a few things:

  • Plug-in hybrids do not need to charge on public chargers. There, I said it. Better yet, I’ve lived it. In over five years of driving Volts, I have plugged into a public charger under five times, mostly out of curiosity. WHY would I want to be stuck at a public charger to add ten miles of range for each hour I was charging? I can just pull into a gas station and fill up, if my battery won’t get me home.
  • EV etiquette arguments spring up with shorter-range BEV drivers (Leaf, Spark, iMiEV, etc) complaining that they can’t get home because a hybrid was plugged in. The hybrid camp responds with, “Exactly! That’s why we did the ‘smart’ thing and bought a hybrid.” P.S. The correct answer is, “You’re right. Since you asked politely, I will give up the charging spot to you. I’d rather drive home on gasoline than give the anti-EV crowd another nonsense issue with which to dissuade others from buying plug-in vehicles.
  • I believe the newer, longer-ranged EVs, when being used for driving less than 200 miles per day, also will not have a real need to charge at public chargers. If the owner can charge at home, doing so will open up charging stations to those who cannot charge at home (like apartment dwellers).
  • Our government entities are planning on using budget for DC fast-charging infrastructure to build them, primarily, in large, metropolitan areas. This is where they believe the chargers will be most needed because that’s where the EVs are located. That’s fine for Level 2 chargers, since an EV in a large city, is probably less than 25 miles from home and a one hour charge would satisfy that need. But the most critical need will be between major cities, to help EVs make it from one city to another. This is what Tesla has been building: “Destination chargers.” Being from the western U.S., where there’s hours of driving between major cities, I may have a regional bias here…EV Charge Station
  • We need to be smarter about charging locations: Here are some things to consider:
    • Charging centers cannot replicate gasoline filling stations. Have you ever been to a gas station and thought, “This would be a great place to hang out for a couple hours!”?
    • There has to be another attraction, that the EV owner would actually want to use, to fill the charging time and add revenue for the charging station owner. A movie theater and restaurant are good starts. However, movie theaters probably won’t work for destination chargers, as people will show up at all times, not just when a movie is about to start. To facilitate this, you need the ability to stream a movie from the EVSE to the EV’s infotainment system or passengers’ tablets/phones. In this way, the movie starts right when you arrive. This adds another revenue stream to support the cost of the charger.
    • A nice club, like frequent flyer clubs in airports, could be nice. Very clean, quiet reading rooms, restrooms and nice grounds for picnicking, game rooms/arcades, swimming pools, and gyms would be something most EVers would ante up for. Trailheads with chargers (or buses that go to and from the chargers to the trailheads) for nice one to two hour hikes would be a big hit.
    • These “destination chargers” could be a boon to a small town (since that’s where they’d be located). A nice, downtown shopping area, that could be strolled through, would be an invitation for EV owners and their disposable income to stay a little longer…
    • The destination chargers need to be located where they can do the most to push the evolution of transportation forward. Getting to Colorado from east Texas is very difficult because there are no DC Fast Chargers available to the average EV in the Texas panhandle. Due to this, the EV driver has to plan a route that takes them days out of their way, or find hotels/RV parks, with chargers or outlets available for charging overnight. THIS sounds like an obstacle AND an opportunity for small towns who wants to attract visitors.
    • It would be nice, if there was a small EV-specific garage at the destination chargers. Someone who could top off battery coolant, replace or repair leaking tires, replace 12V batteries, etc. Concerns about getting basic EV service in a small town is surely holding back some buyers.
    • These chargers are not going to help move the switch to fun, clean EV driving, unless they are available. Every state needs to have tough fines/towing laws on the books for vehicles (both plug-in and non-plug-in) that are parked at a charger but not charging. There should be a timer, showing time since charging ceased, to prevent fining someone who got back a little bit late. There should also be video surveillance of the site, for the safety of nighttime charging.
    • One last thing that would help: Each charger should have multiple connectors so that the next driver (and the next?) could go ahead and plug-in, knowing that their EV will wait until the previous EV is through charging, before their EV will begin charging. This can make each charger’s utilization climb because, as long as the next EV is in line and plugged in, the charger will experience no downtime or lost revenue.

EV Charge StationNow, who is to responsible for all this infrastructure?

  • The EV manufacturers (some, very late to the EV game) are up to their eyeballs in developing new EVs and trying to get to profitability. I don’t expect much from their camp.
  • The EVSE manufacturers will probably continue to try to ally themselves with EV manufacturers and offer free charging or free memberships. I’m not sure this will do much for those who have already owned a plug-in vehicle, but it will help ease fears of new EV buyers.
  • The government is getting money from the Volkswagen “diesel-gate” scandal and is applying a lot of that to charging infrastructure. Now might be a good time to use some of that to build destination chargers in a small, strategically located town and getting the town to develop surrounding attractions to grow with the charging site. By doing this, we will quickly determine what works and what doesn’t, in added attractions and revenue streams.EV Charge Station

Another way to tell your dealership is serious about EVs…

I got a call from Tom Durant, the owner of the Chevy dealership, for which I work. He asked me where I was and then asked me to come to his office.

Bolt EV vs. Volt

One thing about me: Whenever this happens, I have a moment of panic, expecting the, “Well, Buzz, we gave this EV thing a good try, but it’s just not working out, so…” talk.

A few minutes later he called again and said, “I’ve got some people for you to meet. Meet us at the bottom of the stairs.” When I arrived, a stream of well-dressed businesspeople were streaming out the door, with Tom in the lead. He introduced them to me as members of the Texas Automobile Dealer’s Association, or TADA. This year, Tom is the chairman of TADA. We wanted me to give the TADA members a tour of “Electric Avenue,” our EV & Hybrid Sales & Learning Center.EA Main Room

As we walked toward my building, I gave them a short history of how I came to be in the car business and what Classic Chevrolet is doing with this new center. I spoke about the “educational sale,” where the customer is going to visit the dealership 4 to 5 times, before making a purchase, instead of buying “on the spot” like in a traditional car sale.

Once inside, the visitors had very good questions for me about what it is like to sell EVs, what concerns customers have, what has surprised me most about driving EVs, how built-out is the charging infrastructure, etc. I felt the questions were so well though-out that these must be questions on the minds of many car dealers today.

If anything, it showed me that, even in oil-rich Texas, car dealers are sitting up and taking notice of plug-in vehicles and want to better understand how to be successful selling them.

Maybe I’m having an impact after all…

When your dealership is serious about EVs…

General Motors requires that any dealership that sells the Bolt EV must have a DC Fast Charger. It does not require that it get installed.DCFCThe charger is over $10K in cost and, at least in the case of Classic Chevrolet, where I work, the additional service we had to bring in more than doubled the project cost.

I’m happy to report that ours was installed this week. I’ve been keeping my inventory charged for test drives and purchase, on our multiple Level 2 chargers. Now, I’m looking forward to the next batch of Bolt EVs to arrive, so I can try this baby out!

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.


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.