Why solar, why now? Homeowners speak out

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At times it feels like we are solar psychologists. To effectively help property owners evaluate solar, we ask a lot of questions and — importantly — try out best to listen … two ears, one mouth. 

Our initial consultation with property owners generally begins with a two questions: Why solar? Why now? The sentiment of property owners falls into two camps: Pragmatic/economic, and/or idealistic/environmental.

Over the past month, we have had several dozen conversations with property owners. Here’s a sampling of contemporary reactions to the two Why? questions, shared in no particular order (with a heavy dose of PG&E sentiments):

- I’ve been putting it off; now seems like the right time to go solar.

- I am installing a new roof. Installing solar at the same time seems sensible. (This is common … we are currently orchestrating more than 10 re-roof + solar installations.)

- I looked at solar a while back and it didn’t pencil. Now that the cost of panels has dropped and PG&E’s rates have gone up, I want to learn if it’s feasible.

- PG&E’s rates are going to continue to go up, particularly with their bankruptcy and accrued liabilities for the fires.

- I want to do my part and reduce my carbon footprint.

- I am sick of PG&E and do not trust them.

- I just got an electric vehicle (or, plan to do so soon); now seems like the right time.

- The tax credit is going down at the end of the year (from 30% to 26%) … I do not want to lose out.

- I believe solar is the right way to go from an ecological perspective … we need to produce more clean energy/solar power.

- I just bought my house and it doesn’t have solar.

- I want to improve the value of my home.

- I am installing an electric heat pump, plan to go all-electric powered by solar.

- I believe solar is the right thing to do over the long run, economically and environmentally.

- My bills are really high; I’m tired of paying PG&E.

- PG&E’s problems are only getting worse. With solar, I can lock in my cost of electricity.

- I just retired and will use more electricity in the future.

- Solar is socially responsible, but I’m not sure if it’s financially reasonable.

- I have done everything I can to improve the energy efficiency of my home. Now, it’s time to consider solar.

Our opinions:

- Solar does not make sense for everyone.

- If you intend to own your home for more than five years, solar is worthy of consideration.

- There is no urgency to go solar; do not buy the, “you’ve gotta go solar by this date for this reason.”

- PG&E’s rates will continue to inflate; by what amount and when, nobody knows.

- Solar is the simplest and most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint and mitigate against future PG&E rate increases.

We are happy to engage in a conversation and help you contemplate solar. Feel free to stop by our workspace or contact us today to schedule your no-cost evaluation.

How PG&E’s “EV” rate schedule benefits solar homeowners

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We have had the fortune of helping more than 50 electric vehicle owners go solar. As shared in prior posts, fueling your car with solar electricity is the least expensive form of (automotive) transport: Your amortized cost to generate solar electricity is ~8 cents per kWh, and you yield about four miles per kWh of electricity. Trite but true: Driving on sunshine makes sense.

Better yet, when you enjoy an electric vehicle you can employ PG&E’s “EV” rate schedule. This time-of-use rate program incents EV drivers to charge their car (and shift other electricity demand) to “off-peak” hours, namely 11 pm to 7 am, Monday through Friday, and all weekend/holiday hours, sans 3-7 pm.

Here are PG&E’s “EV” rates per kWh:

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  • Peak (2-9 pm, M-F): $0.33 (winter); $0.48 (summer)

  • Part Peak (7am-2pm; 9-11pm M-F): $0.20 (winter); $0.26 (summer)

  • Off Peak (11pm-7am M-F; weekends/holidays all hours except 3-7pm): $0.13

When your solar panels make more energy than your home uses, you are credited by PG&E via their net-metering program. Hence, the greater the delta (solar generation less household consumption) during “peak” periods, your monetary credits are amplified.

Generally, Repower homeowners who enroll in PG&E’s EV rate schedule only generate ~80% of the electricity they use to cover 100% of their electricity costs. This is simply due to the time-of-use rate schedule and the advantage of buying electricity at a low rate and getting credited at nearly 4x. Very cool.

With apologies for the bevy of metrics, let’s review an example. Below is the electricity use for a fairly standard Davis homeowner who charges their electric vehicle 12,000 miles per year at home.

Pre-solar electricity use and costs (on PG&E’s “E-1” program):

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We then sized and modeled a solar system to eliminate the homeowner’s electricity bill: A 4.8 kW, 15-panel system installed at 270-degree azimuth (due west), no shading. The solar panels are projected to generate 6,493 kWh in year one, thus covering 70% of the homeowner’s electricity use.

If the homeowner did not own an electric vehicle, they would (upon going solar) enroll in PG&E’s “TOU-A” rate schedule. Like the EV rate, TOU-A values electricity based on demand (“peak” period is 3-8 pm), but there’s little difference between peak and off-peak periods.

Solar economics under the default E-TOU (A) rate schedule:

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The homeowner’s year-end, true-up cost would be $645 — the solar system is too small. This is not bad, but …

… under the EV rate schedule, the homeowner generates significant time-of-generation credits/leverage. Their year-end bill would be $108.

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Simple but lucrative: The homeowner will save an additional $500 per year through the EV rate schedule. Contact us today with questions and/or if you’d like a free solar assessment.

Purchased a home and want to add solar panels? Five considerations to ponder

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This week, we have been engaged by three new homeowners to help them evaluate solar. Thereby, we begin with a simple, open-ended question: Why solar, why now? Responses vary, but generally their motive is twofold: Why not, since I just bought my home; and, PG&E’s rates are only going to go up. While we agree with the latter, we believe the former warrants consideration.

Before adding solar to your recently purchased home, here are five considerations:

1. The condition of your roof. Since new homebuyers have recently had their roof inspected, they have an objective evaluation regarding the condition and remaining life of their roof. In simple terms, if your roof has less than 10 years of remaining/warrantied life, you do not want to install solar (on such roof planes); if your roof has 10+ years, you’re in good shape.

2. Historical/future electricity use. Since new homeowners have limited (or zero) electricity use data, we recommend one of four approaches (to forecast future use and accurately size and model their prospective solar system):

  • Live in your home for 12 months and, thereby, quantify how much electricity you will use.

  • Wait until you have occupied your home for six months -- particularly 1-2 months of summer use, when electricity demand peaks. (Thereby, we can model 12 months of electricity demand based on your use pattern and comparable homes).

  • Employ comparable homes’ electricity use (based on their vintage, neighborhood, size, occupancy, etcetera) to model your home’s future electricity use. Fortunately, we have several hundred data sets — electricity use patterns for homes in all neighborhoods in our community — to approximate future use.

  • If it’s not too late, request 12 months of PG&E data from the home seller. Oftentimes, this is a futile effort, but it’s worth trying.

3. Home improvements. Stating the obvious: Many new homeowners improve their homes. Adding a pool and/or hot tub will increase your electricity use, as would replacing your furnace with an electric heat pump (an increasingly common practice for Repower homeowners). Conversely, replacing windows, adding insulation, or installing a variable speed pool pump reduces your electricity use. In all cases, we model the impact vis-a-vis solar system sizing.

4. Electric vehicle. If you own — or intend to purchase, in the next 12-24 months — an eV, you’d  want to factor future charging of your car into the sizing of your solar system. We find that eVs travel 4 miles per kWh of electricity. The math is simple: Take the number of miles/year you anticipate driving and multiply it by the percentage of charging you believe will be done at home (versus your workplace, public chargers, etc.). Then, divide the number by 4 to quantify additional electricity use (in kWh). For example, if you intend to drive 10,000 miles per year and charge your car 80% of the time at home (fueling 8,000 miles), you will consume 2,000 kWh of electricity.

5. Your electrical panel. Though adding solar does not increase your electrical demand, we need to ensure your electrical panel has sufficient capacity (or space) to accommodate the solar inverter. Furthermore, we will evaluate non-solar changes to your electrical demand — car charger, spa, swimming pool, heat pump, etcetera — to determine your panel’s amenability. (We perform load calculations and review your future electricity use with the city or county to ensure solar will work.)

 Net-net, going solar is simple, but there are a few nuances worthy of consideration … particularly if you recently purchased a home. Feel free to contact us to learn more and receive a free solar assessment.

PG&E burns, solar rises

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It goes without saying — but, here we say it — that last week was a really bad week for PG&E. Surprising? No, it was a runaway train wreck apt to happen, particularly as PG&E’s liabilities for the San Bruno gas line explosions and wildfires over the past two years amplified. A few months ago — pre-PGE bankruptcy — California PUC Chairman Michael Picker opined, “PG&E is too big to succeed.”

What’s next for PG&E? Myriad opinions have been tendered over the past week. While there’s no consensus, one thing is clear: PG&E’s rates are going to increase; we, the ratepayers, will bear part of the burden.

There’s also consensus that those of us who have solar (300,000+ net-metering customers in PG&E territory) are safe. PG&E cannot arbitrarily change current net-metering rules, as established by the PUC. Furthermore, solar/distributed generation is part of the solution, not an element of the problem. When property owners generate electricity via solar panels, energy use is centralized and the burden on the grid is mitigated. Solar is safe and secure.

Over the past week, we’ve chatted with a dozen or so prospective solar homeowners. Why solar, why now? we ask. Almost verbatim responses: Now that PG&E is going into bankruptcy and rates are destined to rise, the time seems right. (Secondarily, several homeowners have shared they view solar as a sage investment vis-a-vis volatile financial markets; solar generates a ~15% annual yield.)

While PG&E’s future is unknown, solar provides certainty for homeowners. Today, PG&E’s baseline (“Tier 1”) electricity rate is 22 cents per kWh. For Repower homeowners, the amortized cost to generate solar electricity is ~8 cents per kWh. With PG&E, you are at risk of (and have no control over) future rate increases. When you go solar, you lock in your price of electricity for 25 years.

And, the sun always rises :)

en fuego

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This is what inaction looks and smells and tastes like. Our collective inability to move the ball forward, to get people to acknowledge and care about climate change is paying catastrophic dividends. And, it’s only going to get worse, before it gets better. Take a deep breath of air and consider how fortunate we are — to simply inhale carcinogens — relative to families in Paradise. Horrible.

First, here are two options to support victims of the Camp fire:

- UC Davis Fire Department: Accepting donation through Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m.

- Camp Fire Support, including an option to support our friends and colleagues at Chico Electric

Second, the most succinct summary we’ve seen evidencing what’s going is a Twitter thread composed this weekend by Daniel Swain, a climate researcher at UCLA and other institutes. It’s not just the north winds; they blow every year. And, we can’t place blame simply on the lack of rainfall this fall, though it normally should be 4-5 inches in Paradise so far. Further, our planet is warming — the past five years have been the hottest on record — but that’s not it. It is the terrible tonic of the three: Our world is warming, rain the fall is dwindling, and the winds are gonna howl. This is the climate change reckoning.

Building on the above, Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, shared an interactive scatter graph contrasting average temperatures and rainfall. This one is sobering.

Third, this reminds me of the Lorax. Facing a dystopian end after the Oncler and his crew decimated the environment, the Lorax stumbles upon a call to action: UNLESS. 

What we’re experiencing is past the new normal, unless we collectively confront the disaster head on.

The two most impactful measures you can take to reduce your carbon footprint are to electrify your transportation and go solar: Cut carbon from your car and home. Individually, our impact is marginal … another electric vehicle and a few dozen solar panels will not move the planet’s thermostat. But, collectively we can … it’s here and now, it’s economical and sustainable. Let’s move from “unless” to “yes”.

Valley Clean Energy is here: Choice is good for solar homeowners

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Change can be a good thing. Or, it can be bad. Or, somewhere in between.

Choice, however, is good. If you had one option — for anything you do or buy — you’re stuck. You have no choice and must opt for the sole solution.

Choice enables consumers to make a decision, to weigh options and decide what’s in their best interest. Choice makes markets healthy and efficient, thus benefiting consumers.

For the past few generations, Yolo County residents have not had a choice regarding their electricity: PG&E, the de facto monopoly, was it. That ceased in June with the debut of Valley Clean Energy (VCE). Though nothing changed with our electricity delivery, customer service and billing, VCE was a change that confused some. This is understandable: Consumers now had a choice.

As we’ve shared in prior posts (here, here and here), if you do not have solar panels, VCE is a no brainer: Participate and you’ll save a few bucks each month while reducing your carbon footprint. Or, stick with PG&E and pay more to an investor-owned utility for dirtier energy. Case closed.

Furthermore, if you have solar or are considering going solar, VCE is a viable option. It provides solar homeowners with a choice for how to net-meter their electricity.

When VCE commenced its solar net-metering program in June, we identified and shared a few (in our opinion) flaws to their accounting methodology. In short order, VCE staff absorbed our input, consulted the public, and amended their solar program. This efficient, transparent and productive process evidences the virtue of a publicly-controlled program. (Imagine trying to get PG&E to modify their solar program … no chance.)

Effective January 1, 2019, VCE’s new net-metering program will take effect and homeowners with solar will have a choice. Here’s a quick summary:

  • If you installed solar before June 1, 2018 you will stick with your annual true-up date (that you currently employ with PG&E) and you will be enrolled in VCE’s program at your true-up.

  • If you went solar after June 1, 2018, your annual true-up date will be in March.

  • In both cases, your net-metering accounting will occur every month (versus once/year with PG&E). At the end of your 12-month solar accounting calendar, your true up ($) will be the same, except …

  • … with VCE, if your solar system generates more electricity than you use in a given month, you will receive an additional one-cent per kWh credit.

Importantly, when you go solar, you receive “permission to operate” from PG&E and you are grandfathered in for 20 years under the prevailing (California Public Utilities Commission mandated) net-metering program. Participating in VCE’s net-metering program does not impact your 20-year utility agreement. (This is critical; we received written acknowledgement from PG&E.)

So, congratulations, you now have a choice. Options are good and, for solar homeowners, VCE will put a few extra dollars in your pocket without harming your solar interconnection agreement.

Feel free to stop by our workspace or contact us with questions. Viva community choice!

Is my solar working?

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Since today is election day, this post should engage, “Is my democracy working,” versus concentrating on the vitality of solar systems. Late tonight we’ll (hopefully) get an answer to the former; today we will concentrate on the latter.

We field a handful of calls each month from owners of existing solar systems, posing a simple question: I’m not sure if my solar system is working; can you help? For the 200+ Repower homeowners — and thanks to real-time solar system monitoring — we keep an eye on their systems. Twice each week, we: 1. Check to ensure the system is operating; and, 2. Gauge each system’s electricity generation vis-a-vis National Renewable Energy Lab projections. 

Two quick observations about Repower solar systems: We have yet to have a solar panel fail (out of 11,000+), and the median system is generating 4.6% more energy than we modeled. To the former, it’s what homeowners should expect: Solar panels are tested by the manufacturer and prior to when they’re installed; they have no moving parts; and, if they work day one, they should not fail. Solar systems simply work.

That said, the calls we receive are from homeowners who had their systems installed by another solar company. Oftentimes, a new homeowner adopts a solar system (with their purchase of the home) and has no idea when it was installed, which panels and inverters were employed, who installed it, and how it’s doing. They simply know they have a solar system and want to understand how its doing.

To wit, two approaches:

  1. Contract the solar installation contractor and engage them to diagnose your system’s performance. (Apologies for being terse!)

  2. If you do not know who installed the system (or, if the solar company is no longer in business), contact us and we will assess your system (at no cost). For our initial diagnosis, the following vitals will propel our assessment:

- System specifications (installation date, solar panel model and quantity, inverter type).

- PG&E net-metering data (we will share how to obtain).

- A few photographs/screen shots of your inverter’s screen.

With the above, we can determine if your solar system is performing as it should.

Finally, a quick binary check (to check your solar sanity :) : Green is good, yellow or red is bad. If your inverter’s light is green (during the day), that means it’s generating power; if it’s yellow or red, the inverter (most likely) has faulted.

Feel free to stop by our workspace or contact us with questions. Like democracies, solar should work for you.

50,000 Model 3s in 90 Days: Tesla is Tipping the World

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Tesla reported earnings yesterday. To the surprise of most experts (!), Elon crushed it. In three months, Tesla sold more than 80,000 electric vehicles, including 52,339 Model 3 sedans. And, they made money, registering a $312 million profit and generating more than $800 million in free cash flow. Well done.

We tweeted last month about Tesla’s extraordinary business model and outcomes:

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Further amplifying the above, from yesterday’s Wired story:

At the end of the quarter, Tesla actually welcomed existing customers as volunteers to help deliver cars, as that became the new bottleneck. “I’ve never heard of a case where customers volunteered their time to help a company succeed,” said Musk. “That’s amazing. It chokes me up actually.”

Great news for Tesla, but more important, for the future of electric vehicles (and, thereby, our planet) … an American auto manufacturer is making money selling all-electric cars. Amen.

We have had the fortune of helping more than 60 electric vehicle owners (including ~15 Tesla owners) go solar. The economics of solar are good; solar + electric vehicles are outstanding.

A few anecdotes:

  • Increasingly, we are installing 240A eV outlets in concert with solar systems, in advent of a future/soon-to-come electric vehicle (and its charger). Very simple, efficient and inexpensive process, particularly when bundled with the solar engineering and permit. (And, you get the 30% tax credit on your additional electrical work.)

  • Refresher on the math for increasing your solar system’s size to accommodate eV charging: Simply take the total number of miles/year you anticipate driving (e.g., 12,000), multiply by the percentage of time you will charge at home (e.g., 75%), and divide the number of at-home miles by 4 (e.g., 9,000/4) to calculate the additional electricity load in kWh (in this scenario, 2,250 kWh).

  • The amortized cost to generate solar electricity is ~$0.08 per kWh. Hence, your cost to drive electric is about two cents per mile. (Add in the fact that there’s no maintenance and the picture’s even rosier.)

  • All electric vehicle owners should switch to PG&E’s “EV” rate schedule … the benefits are amplified if you have solar. (We model multiple PG&E rate schedules for Repower homeowners … in most all cases, switching to “EV” is the best case.)

  • We’re working with a number of churches in the community, helping them go solar and install eV chargers … all churches see it as a community benefit, and thus public availability of chargers is going to increase significantly — via churches, local governments, businesses, apartments, hotels, et al — in the near future.

Want to learn more? Feel free to contact us and/or attend a Davis Electric Vehicle Association (DEVA) meeting at our office.

I am going solar. Now.

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We have the fortune of exploring solar with dozens of homeowners each month. No two conversations are the same, but common themes prevail. We normally commence with a simple question: Why solar, why now (in terms of the homeowner’s interest)?

Solar is not a panacea and it does not make sense for all homeowners. Further, there is no single, silver bullet that prompts people to pull the trigger; here are a selection of “why solar, why now” anecdotes from homeowners:

1. PG&E: Opinions sway from virtual venom to distrust to steady rate inflation to I’m sick of paying PG&E so much every month. As you may have noticed, PG&E raised residential electricity rates ~42% over the past three years, and there’s more to come …

2. Climate change: Everyone wants to do their part, and solar is a the most impactful measure a homeowner can employ to reduce their carbon footprint. Furthermore, our state is burning (no-duh) and homeowners acknowledge the latent liabilities PG&E is accruing for the Santa Rosa, Redding and other fires; there’s a general belief (we agree) that ratepayers will bear financial responsibility for PG&E’s liabilities. Hence, going solar insulates you from future rate increases.

3. Donald Tariff Trump: Regardless of your political stripes, nobody likes to pay more for something. President Trump’s first two tariffs were applied to washing machines and solar panels. (Washing machines?) Fortunately, the quantity of solar panels imported into the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2017 increased 1900% (versus Q4-2016); the solar industry has been working through a surplus of stockpiled, pre-tariff solar panels. However, supply is dwindling — prices have most likely bottomed — and the solar industry foresees tariffs in the next few months.

4. Donald Tax Credit Trump: There’s much concern among homeowners that the POTUS will eliminate the 30% federal tax credit (for solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy). For now, the tax credit is galvanized into the tax code, at the full 30%, through the end of 2019. We believe it is unlikely Congress (and then Trump) will abort the credit; perhaps we’re being overly naive! The safe bet, of course, is to lock it in in 2018.

5. Investment accounts: This one’s common … if I’m making less than 1% in my checking/money market account and I’m nervous about the stock market and my 401K, solar is an investment vehicle where I can confidently generate 12%+ annual returns. We agree, and the math is quite simple. 

6. I need a new roof: We are currently helping six homeowners who are replacing their roof and, in concert, installing solar panels. The timing is perfect to maximize and optimize warranties from the roof material and solar panel manufacturers (minimum of 25 years) and the roof and solar installation contractors (25 years). Importantly, we orchestrate the process (roof + solar) on behalf of homeowners.

7. Electric vehicle: This one’s a no-brainer, particularly if you plan to own your home for at least five years. Leveraging PG&E’s electric vehicle rate schedule (EV-A), our typical eV + solar homeowner only needs their solar system to generate ~80% of the electricity they use to offset 100% of their electricity costs. (Simple math: Your amortized cost to generate solar electricity is in the 8 cents per kWh range, and you will garner ~4 miles of charger per kWh … so, your cost to drive is ~2 cents per mile.)

Are we missing any obvious motivations (to go solar)? If so, please advise, or feel free to contact us if you’d like to amplify any (or all) of the above.

Understanding your PG&E-Valley Clean Energy Bill

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Valley Clean Energy (VCE) commenced service as an alternative electricity provider June 1. As discussed here, this is great news … your electricity costs will be reduced by ~2-3% and you will enjoy (though you can’t see/taste/touch the electrons!) cleaner electricity. (If you’re among the 7,000 property owners in Davis, Woodland and unincorporated Yolo County who have already gone solar, this article has no utility for you; here’s a recent article about Valley Clean Energy’s Net Energy Metering program.)

Now that we’re a few months into VCE’s service, many homeowners are trying to interpret their new (PG&E + VCE) electricity bill. Here’s a quick tutorial:

  • Page three of your PG&E statement quantifies your electricity use and charges. (Yes, July was a brutally warm month; electricity use/costs are quite high for most everyone.) Therein, you will see two additions:
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  1. A Generation Credit representing your Valley Clean Energy credit for the electricity generation component of your use.
  2. A Power Charge Indifference Adjustment, essentially the fee PG&E charges to participated in VCE.

Next, turn to page four to review “Details of VALLEY CLEAN ENERGY ALLIANCE Electric Generation Charges”. Per the below, there is a net charge of $93.28.

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Finally, simple math to determine how much you will pay relative to PG&E:

- VCE Electricity Generation Charge: $93.28

- Power Charge Indifference Adjustment: $43.90

- Less, PG&E Generation Credit: -$141.43

Hence, under the above scenario the homeowner saved $4.25 this month through VCE.

Annualized, this homeowner will save ~$40 for participating in VCE. It’s not enough to buy a bottle of Jordan cab, but perhaps you can enjoy a tasty meal at Mikuni’s.

Valley Clean Energy works.

Lions and tigers and ash on my solar panels, oh my!

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What a brutal few weeks it has been. Our climate is speaking to us: We can see, taste and smell it. And, our solar panels are not happy either. Analogous to what you see on your windshield, solar panels are clouded with ash from the Mendo Complex and Carr fires (of late) and others. Yuck … makes me want to hop on a tree stump and paraphrase Dr. Seuss: I AM THE LORAX AND I SPEAK FOR THE SOLAR PANELS, FOR THE PANELS HAVE NO TONGUES, NOW LISTEN TO ME!

We monitor 200+ Repower homeowners’ solar systems 2-3 times each week, evaluating their solar generation vis-a-vis National Renewable Energy Lab projections. Though it’s at the bottom of residual impacts of the fires — we’re simply talking about electricity generation! — our solar systems are generating 10-20% less electricity over the past 10 days. Some days are worse than others … Monday (August 6) was horribly suffocating for solar panels.

What to do? Here’s an excerpt from an article we composed last summer about keeping your solar panels clean:

As solar panels have no moving parts, the main area of maintenance is to keep them clean. We recommend to check the panels periodically especially during dry periods when precipitating dust occurs with the morning dew. Dirty panels can reduce electricity production as much as 8-12% (results from Department of Energy studies vary). Most dirt can be easily removed with water sprayed from a hose or from rainfall. (Do NOT use high-pressure sprayers as it can damage the seals around the frame.) Important: Wash/spray the panels in the morning to reduce drastic temperature changes. If you cannot ascend your roof, simply spray from the ground and let gravity do the trick … a small wave of water will cleanse most dust. Do not scrub the panels with any harsh materials. If a brush is needed, make sure it has soft bristles, or opt for a common window squeegee. If you notice rapid dirt build up—or bird droppings—then more frequent cleanings are warranted.

Feel free to contact us if you have questions about how and when to clean your solar panels. And, most important, let’s hope the fires cease and our air quality improves.

Valley Clean Energy + Solar: Just the facts

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Our community cares. A lot, about a lot of stuff. With conviction, unfortunately, there’s oftentimes confusion. Valley Clean Energy (VCE) is a contemporary example.

On April 18, we provided our perspective regarding VCE. In short order, it became the most-read blog post in the history of our site. Again, lots of curiosity (and some confusion), especially via several NextDoor threads.

As we originally opined, if you do not have solar, VCE is a no brainer: Do it (read: do not opt out) and you’ll save a few bucks and enjoy cleaner electricity. Nothing changes with your service — PG&E still manages the grid and bills you. There’s no downside (unless you’re an anti-government conspiracy theorist). Effective June 1, you were enrolled in VCE … enjoy!

Back in April, we were less definitive about VCE for the ~7,000 NEM (net-energy metering, or solar) customers in Davis, Woodland and unincorporated Yolo County. At that point, our recommendation was to love the one you’re with: Stick with PG&E until a few details (read: our concerns) were ironed out. Thereafter, we invested considerable time working with VCE staff to mitigate our concerns and improve VCE’s net-metering program. We also recommended they put the program on hold.

Fortunately, VCE was all ears and brains: They tabled the NEM program, listened to our concerns, analyzed our recommended changes, and revised their net-metering program. Then, they held public forums in Davis and Woodland … more than 90 people attended each. VCE is diligently doing the right thing.

We reached out to Jim Parks, Director, Customer Care and Marketing with VCE, for his perspective:

Here is what we are proposing, pending VCE Board approval in September.

  • Residential NEM customers will keep their annual billing cycle unless their annual balance exceeds $500.  Then they will go to monthly billing.
  • NEM customers will retain their existing true-up date.
  • VCE pays 1 cent per kWh more than PG&E for excess energy on a monthly basis. This will roll over as credits during excess generation months and will be trued-up on the annual true-up date if needed.  Over $100  credit balances will be paid to customer. Under $100 balance will roll over as a credit.
  • For excess energy at the end of the year, VCE pays what PG&E pays (wholesale) plus 1 cent per kWh, providing a financial benefit to NEM customers.
  • The transition from PG&E to VCE will occur on the customers true-up date in 2019.  This means that NEM customers will be moving to VCE over the course of the entire year, depending on their true-up date.

The transition from PG&E to VCE will be seamless to NEM customers and they will automatically receive the higher incentives that VCE provides. Customers also receive other VCE benefits including choice of providers, local control, higher levels of green and carbon-free energy, and reinvestment in the community.

Thanks, Jim. Count us in. 

And, a final note: This process of rapid improvement and adaptation would not occur with an investor-owned utility. VCE listened to its constituents, applied common sense and logic, and improved their solar program … in a matter of months. Yet another reason why local control makes sense, let alone the virtues of reducing utility bills and our carbon footprints.

Feel free to contact us or stop by if you’d like to discuss further.

City of Davis Environmental Recognition Award: Business

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Tuesday night we were honored to receive the 2017 Environmental Recognition Award from the City of Davis. Candidly, it was humbling and nerve-wracking. Here's a link to a video of the ceremony, and below are my rambling, bambling thoughts:

This is like the Academy Awards for us climate geeks, the anti-Scott Pruit. Thank you very much.

I am a solar simpleton. Credit for this award goes to the several hundred property owners we have helped go solar, and the little organization that is the sustainability heartbeat of our community, Cool Davis.

Ours is a community that greatly values sustainability. We value walking and riding our bikes. Driving cars that get good gas mileage, that perhaps are electric. We value making our own energy and growing our own food. We value recycling. We value conserving. And, with all those values, any time any of us do these things, it puts more money back in to our community, because we’re not paying more for gas or electricity or food.

Hence, sustainability to me is not just simply about reducing our GHGs and carbon footprint, but it’s about building a sustainable economy. But, our values have no value if we fail to make an investment in our community. We’re simply winking in the dark, kinda kidding ourselves. Because without an investment, our values are just that: They have no value.

I would like to thank the Council, the Natural Resources Commission, blah blah, mumble mumble.

Past recipients include several of our friends, colleagues, and partners in the climate change fight ... here's a list of businesses that have been honored:

1995 – Ridge Builders Group, Inc.
1996 – Davis Energy Group
1997 – Davis Food Co–op
1998 – Tandem Properties, Inc.
1999 – Calgene LLC
2000 – (none)
2001 – Davis Food Co–Op
2002 – (none)
2003 – Screaming Squeegee Screen Printing & Embroidery
2004 – Sunmart, Inc.
2005 – Harrington Place
2006 – Island Ink Jet
2007 – (none)
2008 – MAK Design+Build, Inc.
2009 – Kiwi Tree
2010 – Hallmark Inn
2011 – Waste Busters
2012 – Café Italia
2013 – Da Vinci High Charter Academy
2014 – (none)
2015 – Neighborhood Partners, LLC
2016 – Sierra Energy
2017 – Indigo Hammond + Playle Architects;  Whole System Designs

Muchas gracias to all for providing us the opportunity to serve our community and planet. Again, we are honored.

Shade on my solar panels: What to do?

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A few times each week we tender discussions with homeowners (who are interested in going solar) that begin with a similar question: How do I know if my home/roof is a good candidate for solar, given shading from surrounding trees? Or, perhaps it's a statement: Solar won't work at my home because I have too much shading.

With kudos and thanks to THE GREAT Mike Kluk -- one of hundreds of terrific Cool Davis volunteers that propel our community's sustainability -- we now have an in-depth look at technologies we employ to help mitigate shading (and, thereby, maximize electricity generation of solar panels that are shaded). Mike just published an article in The Enterprise, Rooftop solar: Partial fixes for partial shade. If you're contemplating solar, it's well worth a read.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Mike to help inform his research and prose. An excerpt:

Every residential solar installation is unique. Roof size, angle, and orientation to the sun all affect production. But for installations where intermittent shading is an issue, the addition of optimizers or microinverters typically increases production from 15 to as much as 25%. Over the lifetime of a system, 20 to 30 years typically, that is a tremendous amount of power that you will not need to pay for.

Our take: Solar does not work for everyone. However, by employing SolarEdge's power optimizers, the downside of shading is mitigated.

Most important, we are happy to perform an assessment and quantify the impact of shading. The end result may be a no-go, but it's worth contemplating.

 

 

Aggie thanks

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This was fun. A few months ago, we had the pleasure of sitting down with UC Davis staff for a retrospective and prospective discussion. Here's a link to the spring 2018 AggieXtra publication.

Therein we explored what it means to be an Aggie, why UC Davis is best-prepared to tackled the world's foremost challenges, the pragmatic and idealistic value of solar, and fond recollections of my late dad, Charlie.

One story I failed to relay: In the early 1970s, when I was toddling at Birch Lane Elementary and my parents were grinding through graduate school, my dad started a company, East Davis Hot Tub Works. Redwood hot tubs were all the rage, particularly when married with solar thermal (hot water heating systems). Many a weekend was spent tagging along with my dad, visiting Davis homes, and observing the installation of hot tubs, decks and thermal systems. My dad was grinding to put food on the table while he completed his PhD in Environmental Toxicology; I, perhaps, was learning a lesson about the value of renewable energy (and serving our community too).

My dad went on to start California Analytical Labs, eventually growing it into the largest environmental testing laboratory in the country. He had a license plate that reflected his passion: Cal Labs was the "BMF LAB". Years later -- when he engaged with the Cal Aggie Alumni Association, UC Davis Foundation and UC Regents -- he would bend many an ear: UC Davis is the Best Mother F@#$*&! University. Period. (BMF UC?)

Many thanks to our comrades at UC Davis for sharing our story.