Tag Archives: electricity

This is What the Future Looks Like

People frequently ask me what I think the future looks like.  Rarely do I provide a coherent answer because what I think will happen is constantly changing based on the conditions of the day.  There do exist some constants, however, and solar power is one of those constants.

Why?  For one, it is easy.  Once the panels are installed your array will just sit on your roof producing electricity regardless of what you do.  When you go to work the panels produce electricity.  When you go on vacation the panels produce electricity.  It is the ultimate in “set it and forget it” environmentally beneficial behaviors.

Second, you can see the impact at a household level.  If my utility purchased electricity produced by wind turbines I have no real concept of what that means to me.  Was 15% of my electricity produced by the wind?  More?  Less?  However, with solar panels installed you get a very local idea of how much energy you have produced versus how much you have consumed.  Witness this portion of my latest utility bill:

Electricity Usage House September.png

Notice the lack of green bars from April through August?  That signifies my solar array produced all or more of the electricity that I consumed during that period.  Sometimes my math and the utility company’s math will not align because billing periods do not align with calendar months but the general outlines agree.

Now, imagine approximately 60% more solar photovoltaic capacity being added to this chart.  The contract has been signed, the check has been sent, the plans have been approved, and the panels are waiting in a local warehouse for my system expansion.  I am just waiting to hear when the installers are scheduled to make it happen.

This is what the future looks like.

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Short December Days Lead to Low Solar Output

 

December 21st was the shortest day of 2018.   Given the short days of December solar output is usually fairly dismal:

December 2018

A monthly total of ~157 kWh is roughly on par with the prior year’s production, so it is a trend that December basically sucks for solar.  At least it will get better in January as the days get longer!

On a related note, I am a few days away from signing on the dotted line for a used Nissan Leaf EV.  The next step is to contact the good people at Moxie Solar, the installers of my current solar array, to see about expanding my system.  In order to produce enough electricity for my anticipated driving I will need to install at least 8 290 watt panels but I would like to install anywhere from 12 to 14 290 watt panels.  We shall see what they say.

Until next time.

 

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.

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.

An Ugly Month for Solar in November

November was ugly.  Especially in terms of solar production from my rooftop solar photovoltaic system:

November 2017 solar.jpg

The production was nice and steady save for some real dog days when the system produced less than 3 kWh per day.  I am really surprised by the actual production numbers because the system is producing far below my calculated expectations, which were based on fairly pessimistic assumptions.

Like October there is a sort of silver lining.  Even though my photovoltaic system produced slightly more than 212 kWh for the month I consumed less than 300 kWh in total, including both grid and on-site consumption.  Considering how much the family has been staying at home and cooking at home I am going to consider this a victory.  It will be interesting to see what the numbers look like in December with a long holiday vacation at the end of the month.

On the bright side, it looks like solar is contagious.  Two new systems went live over the past week and I know of at least two more that are going live soon.  This is in addition to the several systems going up that I can see on my way to work.  Each one of these systems is like a little dagger in the black heart of the coal economy.

The “Downside” of Staying at Home More

In a quest to save money and consume fewer resources my family has been staying around the house a lot lately.  I tried to make it sound fancy by saying we were focusing on a home based life or economy, but the truth was much simpler.

The reality of the situation is that the transition has been fairly straightforward.  No more “convenience” trips for weeknight dinners.  Instead I meal plan for the entire week—including the provisioning of leftovers for those nights where activities keep us away from home until almost eight o’clock in the evening.  No more “shopping” trips that are really just excuses to walk around like a zombie consumer with the vague notion of buying something you deemed necessary.  Instead we have spent a lot of time the last month or so going through our closets and getting rid of the stuff that clogs our home.  There are probably a dozen or more examples of what this home based life is like in practice.

We are not perfect.  Not by a long shot and it was never the intention.  We still like to go out to eat, but we have cut it down to once during the weekends and we try to go local.  No chains for us, but mostly because the local restaurants are the ones that serve the local beers.  It’s a virtuous circle like that.

The one downside, however, has been that our consumption of electricity at home has gone up.  It makes sense as more time at home cooking dinner and just living would equal more energy consumption.  It was just not something that I had counted on when making my calculations for my solar photovoltaic system.

It is not a large delta—approximately 40 kWh or about $5 per month.  Given the cloudy nature of October and November, so far, we have been outstripping the production of the solar photovoltaic system.

On the plus side, we have traded somewhat hidden energy consumption and overt monetary costs for a modest increase in electricity consumption and significant monetary savings.  Consider that the $5 a month in electricity costs is offsetting a single meal out of the house per weak or slightly more than four meals out of the house per month.  At an average cost of $30, which is conservative given my habit of ordering whatever local tipple is on tap, we are a net positive of $125 for the month without accounting for the energy savings of not driving as much.  Should I consider myself more than $1400 in the black?  Maybe.

The calculation is a little facetious, but it gets at a more salient point about the hidden energy costs of our decisions.  I have no doubt that it takes just as much energy or more to produce a meal at a restaurant when everything is considered—power, plant, and equipment so to speak for those with an accounting bent—that even though we have increased our household electricity consumption somewhat, we are saving both in terms of energy and money.  Something to consider as well is the reduced driving costs to and from such convenience meals.  A few miles here and a few miles there starts to add up to some real savings when you multiply things out over the course of a year.