Category Archives: Household

March 2020 Solar Production and EV Efficiency

My solar monitoring platform was available for an entire month and all of the panels on my solar system were fully functional.  This led to a pretty good March for solar production:

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Just under 578 kWh for the month.  This compares with ~316 kWh in 2019 and ~424 kWh in 2018 or an increase of ~83% and ~36% over each of those years respectively.  My guess is that the average year-over-year production increase will fall somewhere in the middle of those two on average over the course of the next year.  Only time will tell.

For the month, my household ended up “net positive” ~67 kWh.  My household was also “net positive” in March.  It is my assumption that the next couple of months will be big “net positive” months in terms of electricity consumption versus production since the period before the hot summer months is generally light on consumption.

One factor driving a lower level of electricity consumption is the fact that we are not driving much, if at all, as a household due to COVID-19.  All of my children’s activities have been cancelled and we are working from home.  I cannot remember if I have charged my Nissan Leaf in the two weeks we have been home from an aborted spring ski trip to Colorado.

For the month, I drove my Nissan Leaf ~652 miles at an average efficiency of 5.3 miles per kWh.  Almost all of those miles were in the two weeks before we locked down at home.  I “saved” ~746 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions compared to driving my truck assuming that I pulled all of the electricity from the grid at my utility’s average carbon intensity.  In the first quarter I have “saved” ~2,785 ponds of carbon dioxide emissions.  Given that I am now producing more electricity via my solar panels than my household is consuming, including EV charging, those carbon dioxide savings are even greater.  The same logic goes for the fuel cost savings.

April is going to be a weird month for sure.

A Home Based Life in the Age of COVID-19

We are all living a home based life now if we are following the recommendations of health officials for limiting contact with the broader public.  The oddity of this situation for my household is that this is something we had been trying to accomplish over the last year or so to varying levels of success.

Now, with COVID-19’s spread leading to varying degrees of closure, we are all being forced to live a home based life.

We are increasingly working from home and it seems like everyone is using Zoom to keep in touch.

We are eating most, if not all, our meals from our own kitchens as restaurants are being forced to close or go to take-out only service and grocery stores cease offering prepared food.

We have stopped shopping in retail stores and waves of closures have shown us just how little we actually need to shop for in most cases.

We have dramatically reduced our daily driving, cratering demand for oil, and reducing the amount of transportation related pollution in our skies.

None of this is “good” because it comes as a result of an external crisis rather than internal determination, but it can illuminate a future that is a little less focused on pure consumer consumption and go-go lifestyles centered on fast paced work cultures.

Granted, a lot of us are going a little stir crazy as our kids are entering another week away from school and there are just so many dishes.  Multiple meals a day inside the house and snacks make so much work for hands already stripped of moisture from vigorous hand washing.

Back to Full Strength

At least in terms of solar photovoltaic production.  Last week I wrote about my solar array having a single panel that seemed to be out of commission for some reason.  I was able to diagnose this via the monitoring platform that is part of my system from Moxie Solar.

Here is what things look like today:

Physical Layour Fixed

You will notice the formerly inoperable panel in the top right corner is producing electricity like a good boy.  The problem was a loose connection that took about five minutes for a tech to diagnose and repair.

Now I can put a few more clean, green electrons back into the grid.

The Importance of Solar System Monitoring

Once a solar system is installed, the local utility has signed off, and the city inspectors give the go-ahead there is a moment of relief as the lever is finally pushed into place.  Once operational, your photovoltaic array sends clean and green electrons through your home’s electrical system and out into the world.  Hopefully.

A lot of monitoring systems give you a picture of the total photovoltaic system.  You can usually see how much the system is producing in aggregate and maybe you get a picture of your production versus consumption.  However, there is a level of system monitoring below this aggregate level that is critically important.

Take a look at the following system layout:

Solar Physical Layout

Notice anything odd?  Look at the top left corner.  Notice the panel producing 0 kWh of electricity?  Something is wrong.  It could be a bad panel.  It could be a bad connection.

Had I not had access to a panel by panel breakdown of production I would never know that one of my panels was not producing.  Now it is easy to request service and it should be a quick fix rather than a laborious process of diagnosing the malfunctioning part of the system.

February 2020 Solar Production and EV Efficiency

The monitoring platform for my expanded photovoltaic array is back online:

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It was only turned on for the last few days of the month, so I do not know how the system performed for the entirety of February.  However, in just four days the system recorded more production than the entire month of February last year.  Granted, the array was under ten inches or more of snow for most of that time last year.

Overall, I ended up nearly even in terms of production versus consumption.  The actual number was approximately 4 kWh “ahead.”  I am figuring that I will end up “ahead” of consumption for most months here on out until January rolls around again.

The crazy thing was that if I had driven a normal amount this month I would have been even more in the black.  Due to a work commitment out of town for an entire week I drove approximately 50% more miles per day on average in the month of February.  Those highway miles added up to a lot of extra driving at a not so efficient clip.

For the month of February I drove ~973 miles at an average efficiency of 4.6 miles per kilowatt hour.  That driving used ~212 kWh of electricity and saved ~1,086 pounds of CO2 being emitted, assuming all electricity was pulled from the grid at an average carbon intensity for my region of the country, versus if those same miles were driven in my truck.

Who Owns Your Grocery Store?

Take a moment and consider the following statistics:

Groceries and food are unique in that all Americans buy groceries and food—the difference being that food can be purchased both in its ingredient form (e.g. groceries) and its prepared form (e.g. restaurant meals)—regardless of income level, race, etc.  This is literally something that we all should be interested in.

I would contend, however, that most consumers do not give a second thought to groceries outside of what they write on weekly shopping lists.  Granted, there are informed consumers who seek to maximize their grocery dollars or seek to spend their grocery dollars on products that match a certain set of beliefs.  In a nearly $850 billion market there are a lot of people who just go about their business in a routine.

It’s not merely about funneling dollars from corporations that do not share your beliefs—although that is a big part of the allure—but also about creating an economic system where small purveyors can access markets.  If you are a producer of anything, be it food or lawn mowers or children’s toys, supply to Walmart means being big.  Like really big.  If you are a local grower with a seasonal schedule Walmart or Kroger will not even take your call.

However, these are the kinds of enterprises that we need to support in a world where our food increasingly comes from fewer and fewer suppliers.  It is not a sustainable or resilient system to have single points of failure for entire segments of our food system.  That is where we stand right now.  If Tyson Foods went out of business tomorrow how much chicken would disappear from the shelves of your grocery store?  My guess is a lot.

This is where our grocery spend comes into play.  We can choose to spend our grocery dollars on a daily basis at stores that support local providers.  The best part is that this is not a change that requires a serious capital outlay—like buying an EV or installing solar panels—and it does not require large lifestyle changes—you are still shopping for groceries after all.

The goal is to find a locally owned retailer of groceries and shop there as much as possible.  It’s a little like George W. Bush imploring the American people to go shopping after the attacks on September 11th.

It’s a little more complex than that, but the idea is extremely simple.

In my household we spend an average of ~$770 per month on groceries based on actual spend going back to last summer.  Yes, I have a problem with tracking things on spreadsheets.  My goal is to direct as much of that monthly spend to local retailers and providers of food.  It is fairly easy for me to shop local since I have access to an excellent cooperative grocery store—NewPi—and a vibrant selection of farmers’ markets when the weather improves.  I would contend that most people also have access to these kinds of retail outlets.  Take a moment and find your local coop.

As it stands right now for the year, our household spend is ~40% local.  There is much room for improvement.

First Step in a Path Toward Deeper Decarbonization

Once you have purchased an electric vehicle—in my case a used 2015 Nissan Leaf—and installed solar panels—in my case a total of 24 panels for a nameplate capacity of ~7.5 kWh—you are left with a question: how do I further decarbonize my household?

If you live in a single family home in the United States there are a surprising number of places where fossil fuels are being used on a daily basis.  Most home owners do not really consider these sources of carbon emissions.

Consider the lawn.  Anyone with an inkling of environmental conscience understands that the turf grass monoculture that dominates our landscape is essentially a hellscape of inappropriate plants, harmful chemicals, and energy intensive maintenance.

In my household we have abandoned the chemicals and I am ripping out sections of turf grass as often as I can in order for it to be replaced with perennials suited for my region.  However, I am left with some amount of turf grass and social expectation that this grass be mowed on a semi-regular basis.

Trust me, I have pushed the bounds of both social expectations and legal ramifications over the years by allowing parts of my lawn to go weeks without seeing the spinning blade of a lawn mower.

Nonetheless, I am bound to some degree to maintain a well-manicured lawn.  As a good suburban homeowner I spent the last nine years mowing my lawn with a traditional gas powered push mower.  I dutifully filled it up with a small amount of ethanol free gasoline every few weeks and spent about an hour clipping my grass down to the maximum height setting.

Thankfully, a series of mechanical mishaps aligned with my desire to rid myself of this pollution spewing beast.  How much pollution does a mower release, you ask?  It depends upon the source and methodology, but according the EPA lawn mowing accounts for up to 5% of the United State’s total air pollution.  Not to mention the millions of gallons of gasoline that are spilled filling mowers.   Add in the oil required for four stroke engines and you have a lot of fossil fuels being consumed to keep our lawns high and tight.

Now, I could have rolled old school with a reel mower as someone will surely point out.  I would also ask that person if they have ever mowed more than a few hundred square feet with one of these contraptions.  Seriously, another eco-minded neighbor bought one and every household with an interest tried it once.  Reel mowers are the Zima of lawn care.  You try it once and never think about it again.

Strolling the aisles of my local Home Depot—an activity one is likely to engage in when waiting for your child to complete soccer practice—I noticed a clearance sticker on a Ryobi cordless electric mower.  Now was the time to jump on the electric lawn mowing bandwagon.

For less than the cost online of a regular push mower—battery electric or ice—I took home a battery electric self-propelled mower.  The 40V mower came with a single 5-amp hour battery.  If I believe the online reviews this battery should provide about 45 minutes to 1 hour of cutting depending upon usage.  We shall see.

Additionally, I purchased an extra battery online.  The cool thing about the 40V Ryobi tool line is that with such a large installed base there is a healthy aftermarket in third party batteries.  I was able to get a compatible battery rated at 6-amp hours for less than $80.  With two batteries I should have more than enough capacity to complete mowing my lawn.  Again, we shall see.

For the first time in forever I am looking forward to the beginning of lawn care season if only to see how the electric revolution applies.  The march toward a deeper level of decarbonization carries on.