Tag Archives: solar

Friday Linkage 1/17/2020

It’s a little more than two weeks away from the Iowa caucus and things are getting testy.  Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are feuding about electability.  Tom Steyer is being Tom Steyer.  For some reason people actually think Joe Biden would make a good president.

All of this must be placed against the backdrop of the ultimate goal—defeating Donald Trump in such a demonstrative way that the MAGA hats become just as toxic as Confederate battle flags and white hoods.

On to the links…

Good News, Even in Darkness—It is easy to be pessimistic and it is hard to be optimistic in today’s world, but we must address things in a positive way.  We are in a dark valley.  There is light on the horizon.  We must keep pushing forward.

Negative Carbon Dioxide Emissions—This is the goal.  Not net zero, but net negative.

BlackRock’s Larry Fink: Risks from Climate Change are Bigger than the 2008 Financial Crisis with no Fed to Save Us—When the manager of a massive fund—over $7 trillion dollars in assets managed—says that the investment community better be prepared for climate change I am hoping that the markets listen.

The Solution to the Plastic Waste Crisis? It isn’t Recycling—The solution is to stop buying plastic stuff.  Actually, the answer is to just stop buying so much stuff.  Don’t worry about being a savage minimalist who excises the material demons from their home.  Just stop buying stuff and the space will naturally open up through attrition.

The Dark Side of ‘Compostable’ Take-Out Containers—Even if it is compostable, it is probably ending up in the trash.  If it is not reusable, it is probably ending up in the trash.  Plus, it’s really only compostable in specialized facilities as opposed to the black plastic bin in your backyard.  Trust me, I put one of those corn based forks in my bin as an experiment.  Two years later it still looked pretty much the same.

US Electricity: Solar Up 15%, Wind Up 9%–Now, imagine that these trends keep happening year after year.  The back of the envelope calculations show that solar would double every 4.8 years and wind would double every 8 years.

Iceland Reaches 25% EV Market Share! When Will The World Follow?—The world will follow when we price gasoline according to its impact on the climate.  Once all the externalities are accounted for there is no way people are going to pay a per gallon price for gasoline that is orders of magnitude higher than what we see at the pump today.  Just imagine if the United States figured out how much we spend on military adventures in the Middle East and applied that to each gallon of gasoline sold in the country?

Soil Health Hits the Big Time!—The dirt under our feet is full of possibilities.

Can New Bus Lines Chart a Course to Better Travel Options in the West?—The United States is never going to have the passenger rail network like Europe.  That is a good and a bad thing.  It is good when you consider that Europe will never have the heavy rail cargo network of the United States.  It is bad when you consider that transportation emissions from personal vehicles is such a big part of our climate change puzzle.  Maybe modern bus lines could help fill the gap.

Your $14 Salad’s Not as Eco-Friendly as Advertised — but Sweetgreen’s Trying—The key thing is that the company is trying.  We all need to keep trying.  BTW, who buys a $14 take out salad?

Panera Is Making Its Menu More Plant-Based to Become More Sustainable—The more mainstream vegetarian and vegan options become the better off we are as a society.  There is no reason why every fast food hamburger should not be some version of a Beyond Burger or Impossible Burger.  Why?  These are not the pinnacle of taste and texture.  Plus, the volumes of beef that would be replaced are tremendous.

Skiing is Better Without Performance Trackers—Apps that track our performance on the hill are killing the vibe.  I spent this Christmas break skiing without the Epic Mix app telling me how many vertical feet I had skied or what “badges” I had acquired.  It was freaking glorious.  Do you know what I thought about the whole trip?  Skiing.

December 2019 Solar Production and EV Performance

The additional capacity for my solar photovoltaic array was finally turned on in the middle of December.  For some reason the monitoring software is screwed up—probably because it is tied to the old inverter that is now powering an array for a friend in northeast Iowa.  It is my hope that the issue is resolved in the next few days and I can start comparing total production of the array.

Regardless, I have a decent idea of how I am doing relative to total consumption versus total production using the readout from my bi-directional meter.  For December I ended up using ~208 kWh more than I produced.  Considering that my system was not operational for half of the month I am going to take this as a good sign that I should now produce more than I consume most months out of the year.  In the past December has been one of the worst for solar production.

Knowing my numbers at the beginning of the year it is my estimate that I will be net positive when it comes to total consumption versus total production even including my electricity usage for driving my Nissan Leaf.

For the month of December I drove my Nissan Lead 574.7 miles at an average efficiency of 5.0 miles per kWh.  This translates into a CO2 savings of ~651 pounds compared to driving my prior vehicle assuming an average carbon intensity of electricity from the grid.

For the entire year, I drove my Nissan Leaf ~7,987 miles at an average efficiency of 5.2 miles per kWh.  I think this is a pretty good average efficiency based on what I am seeing on forums and what not.  This represents a savings ~9,119 pounds of CO2 compared to driving my prior vehicle assuming an average carbon intensity of electricity from the grid.  It also represents ~$1,132 savings in fuel costs assuming I draw power from the grid at my residential rate.

Friday Linkage 12/20/2019

This will probably be the last post of 2019 as I am readying for a trip to the mountains where the phones and computers get put away.  People ask me why I love heading to a place that is colder and snowier than home for the holidays and I can only smile.  There is nothing more like freedom from the modern than spending fifteen minutes riding a fixed grip chairlift with just your own thoughts to occupy the time.

Some people meditate.  Some people go to spa retreats.  I seek out secluded and slow lifts.

See you in 2020.

On to the links…

These 91 Companies Paid no Federal Taxes in 2018—Make no mistake, this is a feature of the system as designed by Republicans.  If you want to know why we cannot afford anything at the federal level look no further than corporate tax policy.

U.S. Forest Service Allows Mining Company to Write Its Own Environmental Report, Docs Show—This is just the everyday sort of corruption you get in the Trump administration that never gets any press mentions outside of a very niche set of publications.  It’s like Teapot Dome every day with these people.

Trump’s Food Stamp Cuts Will Be Devastating to Trump Country—How is that MAGA hat working out for you now?

Scientists Feared Unstoppable Emissions from Melting Permafrost. They May have Already Started.—From the “Well, that’s not good news” department comes this little gem.  We may have already started the unstoppable negative feedback loop of climate change.

We Need a Massive Climate War Effort—Now—The thing I do not understand about arguments against combatting climate change is that the skeptics act like the money spent on mitigation is going down a drain.  This is money that will be spent in the United State employing Americans to deploy technologies that will make us less reliant on volatile fossil fuel markets.  It sounds like a national security and economic development package all in one.

Energy Waste: Can We Half Emissions At The Flick Of A Switch?—Probably not half, but my guess is that we could cut our emissions in a quarter just by being more efficient.  Heck, given the number of ways I can see to reduce electricity consumption in my small neighborhood it cannot be that hard.

US has Only One Offshore Wind Energy Farm, but a $70 billion Market is on the Way—I do not really know what $70B in investment buys when it comes to offshore wind.  However, a 12MW turbine capable of producing the power necessary for ~16,000 homes is freaking cool.

Almost Two-Thirds of Australia’s Coal-Fired Generation will be Out by 2040—Why can’t we make this a 2030 goal?  Or 100% shut down by 2040?

Coal Will Remain World’s Largest Source of Electricity Through 2024—Not great news, but in less than five years it will not be the biggest source of electricity.  Cold comfort in a world ravaged by climate change, though.

Dutch Electric Vehicle Sales Explosion-Market will Not Return to Normal—Or, this is the new normal for vehicle sales in the Netherlands:

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I am just surprised to learn that this may be a function of buyers who get company cars.  I thought that was a thing that went out of style with Mad Men.

Daimler is Bringing Electric School Buses to Virginia—Here is an idea: a federal program ot bridge the cost difference between a traditional diesel bus and an electric bus for every school district in America.

IBM’s Cobalt-Free EV Battery Uses Materials Extracted from Seawater—Cobalt is in the news for all the wrong reasons right now.  The thing about these headlines is that it shows the market coming to bear, with all of its resources, on the sticky problem of batteries for EVs.  When it’s a few compliance cars for California, the market does not really care.  When it is for millions of cars across the globe, the market really cares.

University of Arizona to Transition to 100% Renewable Electricity By 2022—Was that really so hard?  Given the nature of the in state rivalry, I have to ask, “Can you do it Arizona State?”

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom To Be 80% Powered By Solar Carport—I often wonder why every surface parking lot is not covered by some form of a solar carport.  Imagine every airport parking lot covered with solar panels.  You can still park there for the low, low price of a percentage of your soul per day but the same area could also be producing clean energy.

This ‘Ponzi Scheme’ Surrounding Development Leaves Most Cities and Towns Functionally Insolvent—Let’s be honest for a moment.  It should surprise no one that big retail and real estate developers are engaged in what is essentialy a Ponzi scheme to get their ticky tacky boxes built.

The Future of Building is Communities that are All-Electric and Ultra-Efficient—Truly deep decarbonization will require us to examine every facet of our energy use, but especially our homes and buildings.

‘It’s pretty staggering’: Returned Online Purchases Often Sent to Landfill, Journalist’s Research Reveals—This is why it is critically important to reduce shopping generally and to reduce shopping form massive online retailers specifically.

Lawn-Mowing Reduction can Help Wildlife, says Study—Can 2020 be the year where we finally stop praying to the gods of manicured lawns?

There’s Nothing Wrong with Repetitive Cooking—This is a sentiment that needs to get pounded into peoples’ skulls.  The single most important thing to my household’s reduction in eating out was the fact that I have a handful of recipes that I can “whip up” from memory on most weeknights.

Plant-Based Meat Takes Center Stage at Kroger—Sometimes it can feel like we live in the future:

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The Downside of Snow

Unlike a lot of people I actually like snow.  I like snow so much that I spend my hard earned money to strap wooden sticks to my feet and fling myself down mountainsides covered with the stuff.  Come to think of it, when I describe my ski trips like that it does not sound so sane.  I digress.

The only problem that I have with snow is that it covers up my solar panels.  Like the two inches of snow that fell overnight:

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After last year’s snowy and cold January and February left my panels snow covered and non-productive I decided to come into this winter prepared.  Enter the SnoBroom:

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Okay, the SnoBroom is just the blue foam blade atop the extendable pole.  The extendable pole might be the true star of this story.  It extends to a maximum of 24’ which seemed like a lot right up until I was clearing snow for real:

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With the pole alone I was able to clear the first row of panels and a portion of the second row.  You can see on the closest panels that I spent some time with a step stool to get additional height.  Yes, I was able to nearly clear the panels.  No, I did not fully clear my array.

In the interest of full disclosure I need to come up with a better approach to clearing the array.  Snow, aluminum steps, and a little liquid moisture make for a precarious endeavor.  Practice makes perfect, right?

The other reason I did not push the issue this afternoon is that the temperature is supposed to be nearly 40 degrees with sunny skies tomorrow.  The snow will take care of itself this time.

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.