Tag Archives: photovoltaic

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.

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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.

An October Solar Surprise

October 2017 was kind of an ugly month for my solar photovoltaic system.  I calculated an expected production of approximately 400 kWh and saw production come in at just over 265 kWh.  This works out to about 66% of the predicted output.  Here is how ugly it was:

Solar October 2017.png

Do you see the period of time from October 10th through the 14th?  It must have been almost night out there all day.  What happened?

Easy.  Eastern Iowa saw some seriously gray conditions throughout the month.  Apparently we are entering into the so-called “stratus season” when local climate conditions produce low hanging stratus cloud formations that block out the sun.  November and December are apparently the worst months for this condition.  Awesome.

On the bright side I only ended up using approximately 73 kWh of grid electricity this month, which is not very much in the grand scheme of things.  Considering how well September turned out in terms of production I think I am still ahead of the game by about 64 kWh since my system became active at the end of August.  I will take net positive as we head into the gray months of November and December.

Turning the Lights off at Work

It is my opinion that I have cut down my household electricity consumption to a fairly good range.  For a family of four living in an above average sized home using 360 to 390 kWh per month on a twelve month rolling average feels like a success.  Furthermore, I am offsetting more than 100% of that electricity consumption via the solar photovoltaic system on my roof.

Although my children generally groan when I tell them to head back downstairs to turn off lights when they are done playing with LEGOS or practicing piano they understand what is behind the request.  Heck, my son has turned into a little eco-warrior albeit in his own way.  For some reason he is focused on people who smoke.  His frequent refrain when we pass someone smoking is, “Why do people smoke?  It’s not good for them, it is expensive, and the smoke is bad for the environment.”  If only we all could follow the logic of a six year old.

However, much of my days is not spent at home but at work.  It is a fairly standard office setting.  A lot of cubicles, a smattering of offices, and a handful of conference rooms.  It is the type of office environment that would not be out of place in a half hour sitcom or the movie Office Space.  Fortunately my days are not interrupted by Lundberg.

Surprisingly in a recent renovation of the office space some automatic lighting controls were installed that switch lighting on and off based on movement.  This prevents offices and common areas from being lit up all night long when none is occupying the space.  I say surprisingly because the company I work for is not well known for its forward leaning facilities plan.

The conference rooms do not have these features.  Lights are still controlled by wall mounted switches and projectors for presentations have indeterminate timers.  No matter how many LEDs I switch off in my own home, it cannot compare to switching off the conference room lights at the end of the day before going home.  Heck, I turn off the lights in the three conference rooms I pass on my way to get hot water for tea whenever these rooms are unoccupied.

The computer projectors, though, drive me insane.  When these things are blazing away it is like leaving a 300W incandescent bulb burning.  Ever seen a 300W incandescent bulb?  It’s freaking bright and hot.  A couple of taps on a remote is all it takes to turn these machines off yet most meetings adjourn with the projectors being left on regardless of a meeting taking place in the same room or not.

I now find myself turning into the light and projector police at work.  What about you?  Do you turn the lights off at work?

We Have the Tools to Create Meaningful Change

For the first time in my memory, which stretches back to the now fuzzy early 1980s, I feel that we have the tools to positively combat climate change available at a personal level.  No longer are we limited to advocating for municipal recycling, agitating McDonald’s to get rid of polystyrene clamshells, or hanging our undergarments out to dry in the sun.  Hey, it was the 1980s and I wanted save the whales so I spent a lot of time writing letters to McDonald’s threatening to boycott Happy Meals forever unless they got rid of those old school burger boxes.

Let me use solar power as an example of a tool that we have available down here at a personal level.  Consider the cost per watt in dollar terms from 1977 until 2015:

Price_history_of_silicon_PV_cells_since_1977.svg.png

In simple mathematical terms that is a decline in price per way of over 99.5%.  Whereas a solar photovoltaic system was probably only something that strange science teacher who drove an ancient Volvo actually had on his house is now something a lot more people can install.

Take my solar photovoltaic installation.  In a little more than two half days and for a cost of less than $11K I had 4.64 kWh of solar installed in a single array on a west facing garage roof.  After tax credits the total cost will come in somewhere around $6K.  For six thousand dollars I now produce all of my electricity needs from the sun.  Granted, it is a grid tie system so I use traditional utility power on occasion.

Yes, I use a lot less electricity than the average peer house but it’s not like I live in an off-grid yurt.  I have a typically large American refrigerator, I run the air conditioning when it is hot, I have a large screen television that gets turned on to watch football games, and so on.  Hell, I have an electric dryer and range.  The point is that you can use a lot less electricity and produce it all via the sun with a fairly minimal investment and without sacrificing the quality of life we have come to assume is natural in the United States.  This is not Ed Begley Jr. being eco-dramatic on Living with Ed.

Even better is that none of the technology used in a solar system is in its infancy, so the maturity of the design is well along which means the systems are reliable.  No one is going to be spending hours up on a roof trying to figure out why the panels are not producing any juice.  The solid state system just sits on top of the roof generating power from the sun without any moving parts or noise.  Day in and day out whenever the sun shines and even when it does not.  If that is not a powerful tool to combat carbon emissions and the resultant climate change I do not know what would qualify.

Going solar is just one of the many tools available to us to make a difference.  We all need to take a moment and examine our lives.  What are the activities that we engage in that have an outsize impact on our carbon emissions.  Tools exist and are available to us that can ameliorate almost any source of emissions if we are willing to make the effort.

Given the horrible state of national leadership on climate issues it is incumbent upon us as concerned individuals to make every effort and deploy every tool.  You might feel good about yourself when you sign a petition, but it has to go further than that if we are to have any hope of a sustainable and equitable future on this planet.

My goal over the next few months is to really examine what the tools are that can help me—a guy living a fairly normal suburban life with three other people in eastern Iowa—eliminate my carbon emissions.

Friday Linkage 10/6/2017

This country is messed up in so many ways.  What has happened in the past weeks in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas are horrific reminders of the role our politicians play in responding to disasters and shaping our future.  However, we are saddled with Trump and his merry band of Republican sycophants who care for nothing more than self-adulation, guns, and tax cuts.  In reality, Trump cares only about self-adulation and Republicans really only care about tax cuts but both are willing to use the issue of gun rights to get their desired outcomes.

I do hold out hope that there is a better and more constructive future in the works as the coalition that has propped up the right wing for the past twenty years fractures under its own internal pressures and external demographic realities.

On to the links…

The McKibben Effect: A Case Study in How Radical Environmentalism Can Work—It’s not radical if the end goal is the survival of humanity as a species.  It’s only radical because the forces opposed have deduced that the easiest way to create opposition is to label something as radical in an effort to saddle it with semantic baggage.

Skiing IS Politics—The personal is political and it always has been.

New Era of Solar Power is Now Upon Us—According to the International Energy Agency, two-thirds of the power installed in 2016 was solar.  The same agency predicts that solar growth will be the highest of any energy source through at least 2022.

US Renewables Grew 10% In 1st Half Of 2017—That is a damn good number for the first half of the year given that the number usually spikes in the second half due to large projects coming on line before the year’s end.

Growth of Green Energy Sector Surges in Minnesota—Clean and green energy is producing a lot of jobs in a lot of places.  No one really thinks about Minnesota being a hot spot for solar, but solar is big business now.

What’s Up in Coal Country: Alternative-Energy Jobs—This is what the future looks like.  It is not Trump’s attempt to use clowns like Rick Perry to prop up the coal industry for the benefit of a few crony capitalists.  It is about providing jobs for people in an industry that can help make the world a better place.

Courts are Waking up to the Cost of Climate Change—The guy at the top and his minions—here’s looking at you Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke—may be tools of the fossil fuel industry, but it looks like the rest of the world is realizing the true costs of these fuels need to take into account externalities.

Here are the Actual Tax Rates the Biggest Companies in America Pay—As the debate over tax reform…errr tax cuts heats up in Washington D.C. take note of what is really happening.  American companies do not pay higher taxes than their counterparts in Europe.  However, you will hear this time and again in the coming months.  It is a right wing myth.

Americans Have Soured on Junk Food. Don’t Worry, Food Companies Have a Plan.—Americans no longer mindlessly consume ever more Big Macs, Whoppers, and whatever the hell Taco Bell is making today.  Oh, we still consume the veritable shit ton of junk food but the growth has stalled.  On to the developing world the titans of garbage in a paper sack say.

Bicycle Highway in the Netherlands Built Using Recycled Toilet Paper—Leave it to the freaking Dutch to build a bike path out of recycled toilet paper.

This Entire Barley Field was Planted and Harvested without Humans—Automation in farming may happen before automation in our personal automobiles.  I do not know what the positives and negatives are of this development but robotic farming is kind of cool.

Which Is Better for the Environment: Meatless Mondays or #NoRedOctober?—Why not do both?

A Full Month of Solar in September

September 2017 was the first full month with solar providing electricity for my home.  Yay!

The numbers are in and things look good.  For the entire month my solar photovoltaic system produced 509.63 kWh of electricity.  Compared with my estimated based on average solar radiation, my array’s azimuth, and other factors I predicted the system would produce approximately 536 kWh in September.  The system ended up at around 95% of the estimate.

This is a mixed bag, but the weather played a factor.  It was cool and cloudy for a good chunk of the month, so we used little to no air conditioning save for a few days when it decided to reach into the nineties.  Thanks climate change.

In terms of production versus consumption I ended the month producing an excess of approximately 130 kWh of electricity.  I will be very interested to see what my bill looks like with a full month of the bi-directional meter installed.  Last month’s bifurcated bill was an absolute mess to understand.

Also, the thrill of monitoring my photovoltaic system’s production has not really worn off.  On sunny days I loved to check and see how much the system is producing.  Every kWh feels like a small victory.