Category Archives: Household

November 2019 Solar PV and Nissan Leaf EV Performance

November was an ugly month for solar photovoltaic production:

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Why?  My system was disconnected and shut down due to a planned upgrade.  The guys from Moxie Solar installed an additional 8 panels and the attendant “balance of system” components like a new grid tie inverter.  The 8 additional panels represent an approximate 62% increase in nameplate capacity for my system.  Given the orientation and installation location are virtually the same as the previous 16 panels I expect to see an approximate 62% increase in solar production once the array is powered up.

This has to be one of the most frustrating parts of a solar installation.  The rooftop install and other system components were done in a little more than a working day.  The city inspection was done in about fifteen minutes and done a few days after installation.  The permission to operate and the simple act of flipping the switch?  I am still waiting.

See most of those zero production days in the last week of November?  That is the cost of waiting for someone to come over from the electric utility and watch a person from the solar installer flip a switch.   It is like a bad anecdote about union rules from the 1980s.  Soon…the switch will be flipped soon.

This might also be the last month for a while where I seen an average of over 5 miles per kilowatt hour in my Nissan Leaf.  For the month I drove a total of 619 miles that used 123.8 kWh of electricity at an average efficiency of 5.0 miles per kWh.  At an average carbon intensity, I avoided emitting ~702 pounds of CO2.

What November really taught me is that cold weather kind of sucks for an EV.  My particular Nissan Leaf is not equipped with the heat pump, so it relies on a resistive heater to provide any level of defrost in cold weather.  Most of the time my trips are short enough that I just deal with a cold cabin while the heated seat and steering wheel keep me cozy.  Put three passengers in the car and the windows start to fog up pretty quick with hot breath.  There is nothing so dispiriting as watching the guess-o-meter drop by 30% or more when you turn on the heat.

It is not enough to dissuade me from recommending an EV in general or an older Nissan Leaf in particular.  There is something to be said for taking advantage of a market dynamic like extreme depreciation.  You can have your Tesla Model 3.  I will take my solar panels, Nissan Leaf, and decarbonized home to the bank every day.

The Financial Math Behind Decarbonization

What if I told you that for the price of a base model Tesla Model 3—good luck actually finding one—you could decarbonize your household?

What if I told you that this is not a thought exercise but an examination of steps already taken?

Are you ready?

The price for base Tesla Model 3 is ~$35,000.  That is the price assuming that you can actually purchase the so-called “standard range” model and before any applicable tax credits.  For the purposes of this discussion I am going to leave tax credits aside for the time being.  So, we are working with a starting price of $35,000.

For that price you get an electric vehicle that has to draw power from the grid, which depending upon your locale and power company may support coal fired electricity.  It may also support fracking for natural gas or the nuclear power energy, assuming any of that industry remains in your region.

What else could you do with that $35,000?

Over the course of the past two and half years I have installed solar photovoltaic panels on my roof in two phases.  Why two phases?  Initially, my power company would only allow my roof mounted solar photovoltaic array to exceed my annual consumption—based on average expected production—by ~10% or so.  Considering how little electricity my household used in comparison to the average this worked out to a system of 4.64 kWh.  This initial phase cost me ~$11,000 before tax credits at the state and federal level.

In the past month I added ~62% more capacity to my existing solar photovoltaic array at a cost of ~$7,500.  In the past year I added an electric vehicle to the mix, which has upped my household consumption, in addition to a few winter months in 2019 where my prior panels were covered under deep snow curtailing production.  We also forgot to turn off a garage heater, which ran up the electric bill in February.  All told these changes goosed our consumption just enough to allow me to install an additional eight panels on my roof.

As it stands right now the photovoltaic array on my roof has a nameplate capacity of 7.52 kWh.  This was complete at a total cost of ~$18,500 before any tax credits.  Remember, we are leaving tax credits aside for the moment.  Assuming my household usage patterns hold—including one electric vehicle—this system will produce more than 100% of my household’s electricity requirements for the year.  The estimated excess production should allow me to replace my natural gas water heater with an electric air source heat pump model further reducing my household requirements for fossil fuels.  With the water heater replaced in the next year my household will only use natural gas for the forced air furnace in the colder months.  Trust me, I am looking at options to replace that as well.

What about the electric vehicle?  This is where the power of the market and a realistic assessment of one’s needs come into play.

A Tesla Model 3 is a fine automobile.  Dollar for dollar, it may be the best vehicle on the market right now when one considers its relative performance and environmental bona fides.  However, it still costs $35,000.

In January of this year I purchased a used Nissan Leaf for ~$11,500.  The Leaf had ~33K miles on the odometer, but the battery was in great condition being that the 2015 and later model years utilized an updated architecture that corrected some of the prior model years’ most glaring problems.  A purchase price of more than eleven thousand dollars might sound like a lot, but this was a car that retailed for more than $30,000 when new.  Losing two thirds of car’s value without high mileage is crazy town.  Or, good for the person who can take advantage.

If one can live with a lesser range, one can take advantage of the market punishing these older EVs for not being up to Tesla’s newer standards.  If one drives in town, for the most part, there is no disadvantage.  In almost a year of daily driving I have had just one instance of the range “guess-o-meter” dropping below ten miles remaining and I have never experienced the indignity of “turtle mode.”

How does this all add up?  Total cost for me to purchase an EV to replace all of my daily driver miles and enough solar photovoltaic capacity to power me entire household, including EV electricity requirements, was less than $30,000 before any tax incentives.  Compared to a $35K Tesla Model 3 I would say that I ended up in a better place.  Five thousand or so dollars better, mind you.

This is not to diminish the decision of someone purchasing a Tesla or any other EV.  Rather, it is to illustrate that there is an alternative path to decarbonization that is neither as expensive as portrayed by many and without any appreciable downsides.

The future is now.

This is What the Future Looks Like

Last week the installers from Moxie Solar completed the installation of eight additional solar photovoltaic panels on my west facing roof and the attendant upgrades to the electrical system (e.g. larger inverter).

Here is what 62% additional solar capacity looks like from the road:

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See anything?  That is right, you do not see anything out of the ordinary save for a standard suburban house.

Here is what that same additional solar capacity looks like from the west side of the house:

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This is what the future looks like.  Twenty four panels—sixteen 290W panels and eight 360W panels—producing green electricity every time the sun sends its rays our way.  These panels do their thing every day without nary a thought or action from me.  Silent and motionless these panels produce clean electricity.  This solar array will produce more than 100% of my household’s electricity needs including an electric vehicle.

If this is not the future than I have no idea of what will come to pass.

Every Fifth Flush is Free

One of the goals I had for 2019 was to replace the toilets in my house with high efficiency models.  A toilet’s efficiency is measured in the amount of water used per flush (e.g. 1.6 gallons per flush).

When my house was built almost ten years ago three 1.6 gallon per flush “builder basic” toilets were installed.  Up until the past year the toilets have worked with relatively little trouble save for the occasional clog from an overzealous use of toilet paper.  In the past month or so, two of the high use toilets have begun to develop the annoying habit of not sealing after a flush so the water runs continuously until someone jiggles the handle.

Repairing a toilet can send someone down the rabbit hole of wildly different parts.  Do you have a 2, 2.75, or 3 inch tank outlet?  Well, if you want to repair that leaky flapper get ready to find out.  Even if you happen to figure out the exact size be prepared for one brand of part to not fit quite right so you spend the day at Lowe’s or Home Depot staring blankly at toilet flappers, repair kits, or the mirage of a six pack of beer to get you through the nightmare.

Or, you can just replace the whole toilet. This is the route that I chose to take.  I chose to install a Kohler Transpose:

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I went the complete replacement route over a replacing the “guts” of the old toilet because as I disassembled the old toilet I found the rubber gaskets to be falling apart.  Not enough to cause a leak, but it did cause me to question just how much life was left in the entire system.

The Transpose’s selling point over similar toilets was its smooth sides.  No visible trapway snaking down to the drain hole, collecting dust, and just being kind of a pain in the ass to clean.  Not a problem now.

The new toilet uses 1.28 gallons per flush versus the old toilet’s 1.6 gallons per flush.  The .32 gallons per flush saved equals 1.28 gallons after four flushes, so the fifth is “free.”  At least that is the math that I am sticking to in my head.  A twenty percent savings per flush is a big deal.  Imagine the pressure on our municipal water systems that could be reduced if every toilet suddenly became twenty percent or more efficient overnight.

Per my New Year’s “goal” I was setting out to replace all of the toilets in my house.  I think, based on usage patterns, I am only going to replace the two high volume commodes.  The toilet in our basement is used infrequently and the water savings will hardly make up for the cost/embodied energy of a new toilet.

NOTE: I bought the Kohler Transpose toilet with my own money, installed it of my own free will, and receive nothing of any kind from Kohler. 

October 2019 Solar Production and EV Performance

October 2019 was an okay month for solar production:

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As you can see, my solar array exceeded the production of 2017 but fell short of what was produced in 2018.  Those are the breaks.  All in, my household ended up down ~229 kWh.

Granted, a lot of this delta between consumption and production can be accounted for by the Nissan Leaf sitting in my garage.  For the month of October I drove 900.3 miles at an average efficiency of 5.4 miles per kWh.  Total electricity consumption to drive my EV was ~167 kWh.  This represents an approximate savings of 1,034 pounds of CO2 versus driving my prior vehicle.

For the year I have driven 6,794 miles with an average efficiency of 5.3 miles per kWh.  Assuming all of the electricity I have used comes from the grid at an average carbon intensity for my region I have saved ~7,767 pounds of CO2 from being emitted.

What is really a good sign is that I should really be in the black when it comes to consumption versus production within a month or so.  My local electric cooperative approved my revised interconnection agreement and an additional 8 360 watt solar panels are waiting to be installed.  A weekend with snow has kind of messed up everyone’s schedule around these parts so I am just waiting for the phone call from the installers.  Any day now.

An extra 62% production capacity will put me well above my consumption numbers, including my EV’s needs and a few electrification projects I have pending, for the foreseeable future.  For the year I estimate that I would be ahead of consumption by 1,858 kWh assuming similar weather patterns.  That is a lot of cushion to further decarbonize my household.

Stuff I Like: FloWorks Drying Rack

So much handwashing.  I have lamented the state of handwashing in my house now that my focus the past six weeks or so has been the reduction of single use plastics in things like school lunches.  What this really translates into is eliminating single use zipper style bags for sandwiches and grapes.  Two lunches equals four bags per day which works out to twenty bags per week.

Seven or so weeks into the school year and we have already saved approximately 140 bags from making their way into the landfill.  However, this has meant a change in the evening ritual.  For me it means an additional four things to wash by hand and leave to dry for the next day.  Unlike water bottles or coffee mugs, reusable bags are kind of a pain to wash and dry.  The drying aspect is especially troublesome.

Enter the FloWorks Drying Rack:

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This thing works and does not look like a refugee from a baby supply store.  It claims to be made from repurposed birch and ash wood and plywood scavenged from furniture makers in Canada.  Good on them, eh.

The whole thing also skinnies down to a cylinder that can be stored in a normal size utensil drawer:

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This is super handy when you are spending a day cleaning the kitchen counters and want everything out of sight.  I am not going all Marie Kondo in my kitchen, but I do love it when there is a place for everything and the clutter is eliminated.

It may not be the biggest change you make this year, but eliminating the disposal of plastic bags on a daily basis is a good place to make a dent in your consumption of single use plastic items.

Note: I purchased the FloWorks Drying Rack with my own funds and receive nothing in return from the manufacturer.  I also receive nothing in return from the linked store, which in this case is Amazon much to my chagrin.

An Efficient Middle Finger Aimed at Donald Trump

Since the election of Donald Trump the world has seemed a little topsy turvy.  Facts are not facts anymore.  Lies are alternative facts.  And god knows what else has changed in the last twenty minutes.

In September, the great cheese puff announced that the Department of Energy was going to propose rules to roll back or delay efficiency requirements for categories of bulbs that account for approximately half of the sockets in the United States.

Why?  There was the usual word salad of free market, decreased regulation, Obama, freedom, America, choice…you get the idea.  The kicker may have been that Trump feels the new light bulbs make him look orange. Uh, bro, the reason you look orange is because you go to the same spray tan place as the kids on the Jersey Shore.  Do not take skin regimen tips from Snooky.

In honor of our idiotic president’s lame ideas and his minions seemingly inability do anything positive for the country I decided to extend a metaphorical middle finger and replace the fourteen reflector light bulbs in my basement:

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Out went fourteen incandescent and in went fourteen LEDS.  This is the low hanging fruit of efficiency improvements in any household.

Now, why hadn’t I done this sooner?  Honestly, until recently these were very low use lights in our basement.  Until we finished the very large craft table and set my daughter up for piano lessons these lights might not have been turned on all week.  With winter on the way the kids are downstairs a lot more and the lights are on a lot more.

If we can keep making changes like this during the current moronic administration, imagine what the changes will look like under a political environment that actually supports positive change?  I am sure that Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that.