Tag Archives: solar

March 2020 Solar Production and EV Efficiency

My solar monitoring platform was available for an entire month and all of the panels on my solar system were fully functional.  This led to a pretty good March for solar production:

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Just under 578 kWh for the month.  This compares with ~316 kWh in 2019 and ~424 kWh in 2018 or an increase of ~83% and ~36% over each of those years respectively.  My guess is that the average year-over-year production increase will fall somewhere in the middle of those two on average over the course of the next year.  Only time will tell.

For the month, my household ended up “net positive” ~67 kWh.  My household was also “net positive” in March.  It is my assumption that the next couple of months will be big “net positive” months in terms of electricity consumption versus production since the period before the hot summer months is generally light on consumption.

One factor driving a lower level of electricity consumption is the fact that we are not driving much, if at all, as a household due to COVID-19.  All of my children’s activities have been cancelled and we are working from home.  I cannot remember if I have charged my Nissan Leaf in the two weeks we have been home from an aborted spring ski trip to Colorado.

For the month, I drove my Nissan Leaf ~652 miles at an average efficiency of 5.3 miles per kWh.  Almost all of those miles were in the two weeks before we locked down at home.  I “saved” ~746 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions compared to driving my truck assuming that I pulled all of the electricity from the grid at my utility’s average carbon intensity.  In the first quarter I have “saved” ~2,785 ponds of carbon dioxide emissions.  Given that I am now producing more electricity via my solar panels than my household is consuming, including EV charging, those carbon dioxide savings are even greater.  The same logic goes for the fuel cost savings.

April is going to be a weird month for sure.

Back to Full Strength

At least in terms of solar photovoltaic production.  Last week I wrote about my solar array having a single panel that seemed to be out of commission for some reason.  I was able to diagnose this via the monitoring platform that is part of my system from Moxie Solar.

Here is what things look like today:

Physical Layour Fixed

You will notice the formerly inoperable panel in the top right corner is producing electricity like a good boy.  The problem was a loose connection that took about five minutes for a tech to diagnose and repair.

Now I can put a few more clean, green electrons back into the grid.

The Importance of Solar System Monitoring

Once a solar system is installed, the local utility has signed off, and the city inspectors give the go-ahead there is a moment of relief as the lever is finally pushed into place.  Once operational, your photovoltaic array sends clean and green electrons through your home’s electrical system and out into the world.  Hopefully.

A lot of monitoring systems give you a picture of the total photovoltaic system.  You can usually see how much the system is producing in aggregate and maybe you get a picture of your production versus consumption.  However, there is a level of system monitoring below this aggregate level that is critically important.

Take a look at the following system layout:

Solar Physical Layout

Notice anything odd?  Look at the top left corner.  Notice the panel producing 0 kWh of electricity?  Something is wrong.  It could be a bad panel.  It could be a bad connection.

Had I not had access to a panel by panel breakdown of production I would never know that one of my panels was not producing.  Now it is easy to request service and it should be a quick fix rather than a laborious process of diagnosing the malfunctioning part of the system.

February 2020 Solar Production and EV Efficiency

The monitoring platform for my expanded photovoltaic array is back online:

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It was only turned on for the last few days of the month, so I do not know how the system performed for the entirety of February.  However, in just four days the system recorded more production than the entire month of February last year.  Granted, the array was under ten inches or more of snow for most of that time last year.

Overall, I ended up nearly even in terms of production versus consumption.  The actual number was approximately 4 kWh “ahead.”  I am figuring that I will end up “ahead” of consumption for most months here on out until January rolls around again.

The crazy thing was that if I had driven a normal amount this month I would have been even more in the black.  Due to a work commitment out of town for an entire week I drove approximately 50% more miles per day on average in the month of February.  Those highway miles added up to a lot of extra driving at a not so efficient clip.

For the month of February I drove ~973 miles at an average efficiency of 4.6 miles per kilowatt hour.  That driving used ~212 kWh of electricity and saved ~1,086 pounds of CO2 being emitted, assuming all electricity was pulled from the grid at an average carbon intensity for my region of the country, versus if those same miles were driven in my truck.

First Step in a Path Toward Deeper Decarbonization

Once you have purchased an electric vehicle—in my case a used 2015 Nissan Leaf—and installed solar panels—in my case a total of 24 panels for a nameplate capacity of ~7.5 kWh—you are left with a question: how do I further decarbonize my household?

If you live in a single family home in the United States there are a surprising number of places where fossil fuels are being used on a daily basis.  Most home owners do not really consider these sources of carbon emissions.

Consider the lawn.  Anyone with an inkling of environmental conscience understands that the turf grass monoculture that dominates our landscape is essentially a hellscape of inappropriate plants, harmful chemicals, and energy intensive maintenance.

In my household we have abandoned the chemicals and I am ripping out sections of turf grass as often as I can in order for it to be replaced with perennials suited for my region.  However, I am left with some amount of turf grass and social expectation that this grass be mowed on a semi-regular basis.

Trust me, I have pushed the bounds of both social expectations and legal ramifications over the years by allowing parts of my lawn to go weeks without seeing the spinning blade of a lawn mower.

Nonetheless, I am bound to some degree to maintain a well-manicured lawn.  As a good suburban homeowner I spent the last nine years mowing my lawn with a traditional gas powered push mower.  I dutifully filled it up with a small amount of ethanol free gasoline every few weeks and spent about an hour clipping my grass down to the maximum height setting.

Thankfully, a series of mechanical mishaps aligned with my desire to rid myself of this pollution spewing beast.  How much pollution does a mower release, you ask?  It depends upon the source and methodology, but according the EPA lawn mowing accounts for up to 5% of the United State’s total air pollution.  Not to mention the millions of gallons of gasoline that are spilled filling mowers.   Add in the oil required for four stroke engines and you have a lot of fossil fuels being consumed to keep our lawns high and tight.

Now, I could have rolled old school with a reel mower as someone will surely point out.  I would also ask that person if they have ever mowed more than a few hundred square feet with one of these contraptions.  Seriously, another eco-minded neighbor bought one and every household with an interest tried it once.  Reel mowers are the Zima of lawn care.  You try it once and never think about it again.

Strolling the aisles of my local Home Depot—an activity one is likely to engage in when waiting for your child to complete soccer practice—I noticed a clearance sticker on a Ryobi cordless electric mower.  Now was the time to jump on the electric lawn mowing bandwagon.

For less than the cost online of a regular push mower—battery electric or ice—I took home a battery electric self-propelled mower.  The 40V mower came with a single 5-amp hour battery.  If I believe the online reviews this battery should provide about 45 minutes to 1 hour of cutting depending upon usage.  We shall see.

Additionally, I purchased an extra battery online.  The cool thing about the 40V Ryobi tool line is that with such a large installed base there is a healthy aftermarket in third party batteries.  I was able to get a compatible battery rated at 6-amp hours for less than $80.  With two batteries I should have more than enough capacity to complete mowing my lawn.  Again, we shall see.

For the first time in forever I am looking forward to the beginning of lawn care season if only to see how the electric revolution applies.  The march toward a deeper level of decarbonization carries on.

January 2020 Solar Production and EV Efficiency

Okay, January kind of sucks if you are living the electrified life.  On average, January and/or February are the worst months for solar production and EV efficiency.  Why?

For my solar photovoltaic array the answer is in two parts: snow and clouds.  For part of the month, it is common for my panels to be covered with snow.  I have tried my best to knock the snow free with a foam roof rake, but this is really just scratching at the surface of the problem.

The second part of the problem is that the month of January is just not that sunny in eastern Iowa.  The sun came out on Saturday and everyone in the house sort of looked surprised.  It was a “Do you remember the last time you saw the sun” kind of moment.

The end result is that you do not make very much electricity.  For the month I am unsure of just how much my PV array produced because my monitoring setup is still not reporting correctly.  Needless to say, I know that I was in the hole ~400 kWh for the month.  Ugh.

The cold weather will also bit you on the rear end when you are driving an EV.  Granted, the cold weather will also impact the efficiency and performance of an ICE vehicle as well.

When you turn on the heat you watch your range and efficiency go into the tank.  On my 2015 Nissan Leaf which uses a resistive heater I can see the “guess o’ meter’s” range drop by at least 30% and more like 40% usually.

If it gets cold enough the “guess o’ meter” will also show less range because the batteries are chilly and cannot discharge as well.

To add insult to injury, regenerative braking is not as effective in the cold weather so more energy is lost to heat in the form of actually using the brake pedal.

However, given all of that downside I still managed to drive 850.5 miles at an average efficiency of 4.7 miles per kilowatt hour.  This compares with the same period last year where I averaged just 3.6 miles per kWh.  I chalk that up to the weather not being quite as harsh and me understanding how to wring more mileage out of my little Nissan Leaf.

For the month I saved ~953 pounds of CO2 from being emitted versus my prior vehicle assuming an average carbon intensity of electricity from the grid.

Like most people in eastern Iowa I am kind of excited to see February be here because it means an end to the ceaseless political ads and a potential break toward more electrified living amenable weather.

Friday Linkage 1/24/2020

Evangelicals who support Donald Trump may welcome the end times—their assumption being that during the end times their beliefs will be rewarded at the expense of others—but watching him stumble through the throngs of the global elite in Davos is just sad.

Do you remember the time when Fox News lost its collective shit that President Obama wore a tan suit to a briefing?  Do you remember the time that the same network again lost its collective shit when President Obama saluted with a disposable coffee cup?  Yeah, I remember all of that and it makes me wonder why they are not losing their collective shit over the degradation of America’s world standing under Donald Trump.

No one respects us anymore.  We are tolerated because of economic size and military might.  It’s like the rich kid who gets invited to a party because he can buy beer.

On to the links…

Homeland Security Listed These Climate Activists as ‘Extremists’ Alongside Mass Killers—We live in a time where people protesting oil and gas projects are treated with more scrutiny than people who advocate for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.

Energy Companies Have a Great Friend At Trump’s Interior Department: Their Former Lobbyist—The Trump administration is the best government that petro-dollars can buy.  If there is one thing a different president could do in January 2021 it is to make life a little harder for oil and gas companies.

Interior Attorney gave False Information to Congress about Contact with Koch Foundation—Need advice?  Of course you would reach out to the Koch Brothers.  Sorry, you would reach out the Koch Brother.  What could the possible conflict of interest be in this case?

How Much Energy Does The US Consume & Where Does It Come From?—In order to decarbonize our economy we need to know where we use energy and where that energy comes from.  This is a guide:

Total-US-energy-usage-Pew

Carbon Offsets Work. But are They an Excuse for Big Companies?—Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, it is an excuse for companies.  However, it is better than doing nothing.

Wind & Solar Power Will Dominate 2020 In US, Despite Trump—It’s cheaper and there are no greenhouse gas emissions.  Yep, that is pretty much a winning formula.

America’s Radioactive Secret—Fracking produces wastewater that is laced with radioactive material.  This is yet another reason to decarbonize.

Germany to Phase out Coal by 2038—2038 seems like a long way away, but I remember partying like it’s 1999 so maybe it is not so far away.  Maybe developments turn this into a 2035 goal or a 2032 goal.

Agrovoltaics Could Help Calm Fears About Renewables For Iowa Farmers—I do not believe that Iowa farmers have any issues or fears about renewables.  How do I know?  Spend any time driving in eastern Iowa and you will see solar arrays on a lot of farms.  Head south of where I live into Washington County and you will see solar arrays just about everywhere.

The JX Ranch—There is a place for ranching and grazing in our ecosystems.  It just takes care and patience to ensure that the practice can restore and sustain the land.  It can be done.

Modified Plants to Curb Climate Change—I get the idea, but this has unintended consequences written all over it.

China Announces Major Phaseout of Single-Use Plastics—I will believe this when I see it happen on the ground in China.  Official laws and announcements are one thing in China as the reality on the ground is often quite different.

Plastic Bags Have Lobbyists. They’re Winning.—The plastic industry is the same as the fossil fuel industry.  Where do you think the raw material for plastic comes from?  Oil and gas.  In fact, the production of feedstocks for industries other than liquid fuel is what drives the profitability of oil and gas refiners.  Without these additional revenue streams the business case for refining liquid fuels would look quite different.

How We Reduced the Environmental Impact of (Almost) Everything We Buy—No one wants to say it, but the best thing you can do for the environment is nothing.  Just stop buying stuff.  If you have to buy something, buy it used.  It is amazing how environmentalism and frugality intersect.

World’s Consumption of Materials Hits Record 100bn Tons a Year—Just stop buying stuff.

The Carbon Footprint of Dinner: How ‘Green’ are Fish Sticks?—The climate impacts of processing are something that we all need to be aware of in this climate crisis time period.  It is silly to truck salad greens thousands of miles and it might be silly to process food into items that only resemble food.

California has Been Passing Tough Animal Welfare Laws. A Court Just Handed the State a Big Victory.—Remember, Republicans only like local control if it favors allowing people to own machine guns and tell you what to do with your own body.  Otherwise, big business should get to make the decisions based on Republican logic.

Spending a Lot On Books? This Browser Extension Tells You if They’re Available at Your Local Library—This browser extension is absolute genius.  Install it.  Use it.