Category Archives: Household

Over 600 kWh of Solar Power in June, yet Left Wanting More

June 2018 ended with my home’s solar photovoltaic system have produced approximately 619 kWh for the month:

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This is about on par with May’s production, but several things are off.

See that really low production day on June 26th?  The weather was partly sunny or partly cloudy depending upon your weather vernacular.  That was also about the time that the monitoring data from the app that I use went all haywire.  One day it would show no production, but then update with crazy fluctuating production for that same day later.  I am liable to think that the numbers for the month are off as a result.  Since that period of hiccups everything looks fine, but I am suspicious.

Also, watch your meter readings like a hawk.  I received my electric bill from my local electric coop and it was way off.  How off?  Like someone switched the meter readings for production and consumption.  Instead of showing me positive approximately 500 kWh it was showing almost the same number as a deficit.  Granted, it was easy to figure out because I know how to read my meter but it was discouraging to have to go through the process with customer service.

Without telling me the electric coop replaced my bi-directional meter with a newer model.  It is no skin off my back, but I have lost my tracking of how well my system has done since being installed.  That being said I know that I am net positive more than 600 kWh since the system was installed and I am looking forward to a big month of production in July.

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Over 600 kWh of Solar in May

May was a good month.  My solar system produced over 600 kWh of electricity:

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Coupled with the mild weather I ended the month up approximately 284 kWh for the month and a total of approximately 348 kWh since my system was turned on in August 2017.  I am hopeful that the next couple of months will be big producers.  I am also hopeful that I can keep the air conditioning to a minimum, but it has already been extra hot in May with the Memorial Day weekend being just short of a blast furnace.  Damn you climate change!

I believe that the past several months show that we can move toward a 100% renewable energy future without sacrificing modernity, which is what naysayers would have you believe.  We can cut our energy usage a lot with smart use and efficiency so that the leap to renewable energy only is not so large.  It is a lot easier to produce enough electricity via solar panels for a house that uses 300 to 400 kWh per month versus a house that uses the U.S. average of more than 900 kWh a month.

Now, if I could just cut down on my commuting miles a little bit more…

 

April had a Solar Turnaround

Black Friday used to be a big deal in retail because it signified the moment during the year when the establishment turned “into the black” or profitable for the year.  The rest of the holiday shopping season was the profit for the enterprise for the year.  It seems a little doubtful that this story is entirely true, but in this age of Amazon let us give legacy retail its moment.

April was my Black Friday for solar.  Check out picture one:

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And compare that with picture two:

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What’s the big deal?  My bi-drectional electric meter is showing that I consumed (picture 1) less than I have produced (picture 2) since the meter was installed in August last year.  April was a really good month for solar and, just as importantly, a low month for consumption:

April 2018 Solar

April 2018 was the system’s best full month thus far and I am looking forward to the next four months of big production.  Based on my back of the napkin calculations, which are the best kind, I clawed back into net positive energy production by producing a little more than 270 kWh more than I consumed.  Assuming May is not extreme in any way weather wise I should be able to best my consumption from April given how brutal that month was with late season snow and cold.  You can see where the snowstorms rolled in last month when the solar production dropped off.

What Does Meal Planning and Prep Look Like in My Household?

Kind of like this:

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Yes, those are three pans of lasagna cooling off on my deck before being decamped to the freezer in the basement.  Why on the deck?  Why not take advantage of nature’s icebox to save me some kilowatt hours in the freezer?  Plus, it might never actually be spring here in Iowa with low teens temperatures in April.

When we make lasagna in my house we make it in batches of four.  One to bake that day and three to freeze for later.  With just a little more work than making a single pan we have prepared dinners for three more nights.  It’s a multi-faceted effort to really focus on eating at home whenever possible and every shortcut helps.

The recipe is a variation of the one Barila provides on the back of the box of their no boil lasagna noodles. I am sure that somewhere a die-hard Barefoot Contessa fan is shrieking in horror that I would use no boil lasagna noodles and a box recipe, but I digress.  There are, of course, some changes that I make to “spice things up.”

The normal recipe calls for just a pound of Italian sausage.  I up that to a pound and a half, split between sweet and hot varieties.  I also add a diced onion to the sausage while browning and sometimes a shallot as well.  When batching four pans we just dice all of the vegetables ahead of time, brown the sausage for each pan in turn, and let it cool on a plate before assembly.  It does look kind of funny to have four plates of browned sausage sitting on your counter and no dinner to show for it.

The only other trick is to not believe other online recipes that claim you need to thaw the lasagna for twenty four hours before cooking.  Try at least forty eight hours.  At a minimum.  And I would still be checking to see if the center of the pan is still frozen.  I do not know if it is the foil pans or some other issue, but these pans of lasagna are still bricks after just twenty four hours.

 

Easy No Boil Lasagna (Option to Freeze for Later)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Box Barilla® Oven-Ready Lasagne
  • 2 jars marinara sauce
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 lbs lean ground beef or sausage, browned
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 15 oz container ricotta cheese
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil and brown meat until cooked through; season with salt and pepper. Once the sausage begins to release its fat, add diced onion and shallot.  Cook until softened.
  3. In a bowl, combine ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella, and Parmigiano cheese. Stir well.
  4. Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Pour one cup of sauce on the bottom of the dish; spread evenly. Place 3 sheets of lasagne side by side (sheets will expand while baking to the ends of the dish).
  5. Pour 1 cup of sauce and 3/4 cup of cheese mixture on the first layer. Top with ¼ cup mozzarella and 1/3 cup of the cooked meat. Repeat for 3 more layers.
  6. For the final layer, top with 3 lasagne sheets, add remaining sauce and top with cheese mixture and mozzarella.
  7. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake additional 5 minutes to brown the cheese. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.
  8. If freezing, assemble in a foil pan as instructions above and freeze covered. Freeze cheese mixture for the top in a separate bag.
  9. When ready to prepare thaw in refrigerator for at least forty eight hours.
  10. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Check with instant read meat thermometer to ensure doneness.  If the temperature is high enough, top with cheese and bake uncovered for 5-10 minutes.  Otherwise, bake for additional time until appropriate temperature is achieved.

Back in Black…Electricity Wise

A good month or so of solar photovoltaic production and a nine day vacation put me back in the black in terms of energy production and consumption:

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Eighty two kilowatt hours of clean, green solar electricity production above my household consumption to be specific.

As you notice from the image above my bill is not zero or even net positive.  Why?  The dreaded facility charge or connection fee.  What is this?  It is the fee charged by your electricity provider for the use of the grid regardless of your electricity consumption or, in my case, production.

Now, the grid essentially acts as my battery since I have a purely grid-tied solar system.  It does not seem like a heavy burden to bear per month for the security of having electricity on demand.  However, in some states—here’s looking at you Arizona—legislators, hand in hand with their energy company lobbyists, are pursuing fees for connecting solar systems and higher facility charges in general to supposedly offset the costs incurred by these systems being active.  Some states have proposed that solar system owners pay an extra per kilowatt hour fee for each kilowatt hour that they draw from the grid.

This all seems fine and dandy to the people running electric utilities, but it may end up creating the conditions for a death spiral.  As costs for battery storage decrease and solar systems proliferate households may choose to sever their connection to the grid entirely.  In high cost or low reliability locations this is already happening.  As increasing numbers of households leave the grid the existing infrastructure is supported by fewer rate payers increasing the individual household’s share of the costs.  Costs go up and the incentive to sever ties to the grid increases thus more households make the leap.

None of this will occur overnight, so to speak, but the conditions are becoming increasingly favorable for such a transition to take place.

 

March Brought Over 400 kWh of Solar Electricity

For the month of March my solar photovoltaic system produced just a hair over 424 kWh of electricity, which stands as my second best full month since my system went active in the last week of August 2017.  A few things stand out from the month:

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Notice the two major dips in production?  That is the impact of some spring snowfall that covered my panels under at least six inches of heavy, wet snow.  It just goes to show the potential value of a snow rake in upping my production next winter.

The other thing that is interesting, but is not something readily apparent in the production chart, is that the month was just generally more productive each day.  Granted, the days are longer in March.  However, I think that there is something to be said for the intensity of the solar radiation being higher as we head into spring.  The winter months in Iowa are known for being heavily cloud covered and this reduces the overall productivity of the solar system.

The last week, as the sun stays bright until after 7:00 PM, I have noticed that the system is producing well in excess of 3 kWh into the late afternoon/early evening.  This bodes well for the coming summer months when the array will be getting hit with the sun fairly heavily from noon until sunset.

February’s Solar Production Shows Me that I Need a Snow Broom

Check out the week between February 6th and the 13th:

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Notice the difference on either end?  That is what half a foot of Midwestern powder will do to your solar panels.  I lost several days of sunshine that would have easily pushed me past 225 kWh of production for the month.

Now I need to contemplate a snow broom or rake.  This is literally an item I never thought that I would have to consider purchasing.  Is this peak adulting?

As it stands now my system is producing approximately two-thirds of my household needs.  I anticipate that with the increased production going into spring and summer that I should easily produce 100% of my household needs in March.