Giving thanks, one solar panel at a time

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We’ve had the fortune of helping several hundred property owners go solar. All told, more than 7,500 solar panels shine in our community via RepowerYolo’s guidance. To wit, thank you to property owners who have entrusted us and, thereby, are making the planet a better place, solar panel by panel.

We are occasionally asked, “What makes you tick?” (i.e., why do you do what you do?). Simply, what gets us up in the morning is the growing and aggregate environmental and financial impact of solar systems populated throughout our community. For kicks (and ticks), each solar panel, over its 25-year life, eliminates 7.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of:

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And, each panel, over its warrantied life, generates ~$3,000 in PG&E savings.

Combined, the 7,500 solar panels composing RepowerYolo systems are projected to eliminate 56,250 metric tons of CO2 (or the equivalent of taking 12,000 cars off the road, switching 1.9 million incandescent bulbs to LEDs, or planting 1.5 million tree seedlings). And, our clients are projected to save $22.5 million in utility bills. 

That makes us proud and thankful. Gobble gobble to you and yours.

P.S. - Click here to check out the EPA's Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator ... terrific tool that has yet to be closeted by the Trump Administration!

108 degrees. In San Luis Obispo. In late October.

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San Luis Obispo is known for its beauty, SLO pace and mild climate. To me, admittedly biased because I attended Cal Poly three decades ago, it's Utopia.

Two weeks ago -- October 24, 2017 -- San Luis sizzled, blistering to a record high of 108 degrees. Coincidentally, my oldest son, Scott, a freshman at Cal Poly, gave a speech that afternoon. The topic: Climate change. Irony of ironies.

The day and my son's speech, which was inspired in part by TED Talks delivered by Bill McKibben and Amory Lovins, reminded me of the wealth of climate change comrades in arms in our community. I engaged three colleagues to share three simple, every day tips to combat our changing climate.

First, my tireless and delightful friend, Lynne Nittler, who has and continues to do more to make our community and planet a better place than anyone I know:

  1. Eat less meat!  Try just one day a week.  If we all replaced beef with beans, the U.S. would meet 75% of its Paris Accord commitment!  The fall season veggies are delicious!
  2. Leave the car at home and ride a bike these beautiful fall days!  It's a pleasure, it spares the air, and it's good for your health.
  3. Check your doors and windows for leaks now and replace insulation/weather stripping as needed.  Winter is coming...we think.  (I happen to have a door that shifted with the heat this summer and the weather stripping needs to be changed now, so I'm noticing this.)

Next, a new acquaintance and long-time Davis resident, Bernadette Balics, proprietor of the awesome, impactful Ecological Landscape Design:

  1. Idle off: Turn off your car engine when you are parked and using your cell phone.
  2. Ride your bike or walk to the grocery store once.  Just try it out, on a beautiful day, when you don't have to buy a huge carload of groceries.
  3. Pay your gardener more to rake and sweep instead of using a leaf blower.  Or gift him/her with a high quality electric blower.

And, no what-to-do-about-our-changing-climate conversation would be complete without input from THE GREAT John Mott-Smith:

  1. "Just do one thing." Many people are numbed by the number and variety of actions they can take and don’t know how to choose. Michael Pollan opined that doing just one thing, no matter what it is, gets people off the dime and moving towards doing more.
  2. Reduce heating and AC. Assuming this is for folks in Davis, this is the biggest thing that is easy to do and can involve several actions, one of which should apply to anybody, old young, renter, owner; set the thermostat, check/replace your filter, open windows at night etc, for the really ambitious look into a whole house fan.
  3. When the Valley Clean Energy Alliance (VCEA) is activated in fall of 18, don’t opt out. Find out more now. Every household and business customer will be be at least 50% renewables by doing nothing other than staying in VCEA rather than opting out for PG&E.
  4. You only asked for three, but here is one more: Seriously consider solar. It is the best thing you can do. (Note: I swear we did not tickle this out of John!)

Your thoughts? Pragmatic and simple climate curing measures abound. Please share. Thanks.

Shining light on Repower

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by the UC Davis Graduate School of Management last week. Aside from unearned ego inflation, the session was reflective and prospective: We dug back to our roots at the GSM, contemporaneously navel-gazed, and shared a few thoughts about the future. Net-net, extremely proud to be an Aggie and thankful to the GSM for sharing a little Repower love!

Solar tax credit: Is death on the horizon?

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This happened Monday at the Kentucky Farm Bureau:

“I would do away with these incentives that we give to wind and solar."

So opined Scott Pruitt, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency. (Operative word: Protection.)

Anybody with half a pulse and a room-temperature-plus IQ could have seen it coming. After all, it’s written into the Koch Brothers’ playbook, and the Trump Administration is hell bent on aborting anything created or supported by the Obama Administration.

As we expressed a few weeks ago, it would defy logic, economics and common sense if the Republic Congress (rubber-stamped by President Trump) killed the clean energy tax credit. Why deter the fastest growing industry and most vibrant job creation engine in the U.S.? To spite the previous administration? To appease petroleum companies?

I’ve been accused of being overly optimistic, an ignoramus, by colleagues who have seen this coming. No chance, I’d pout, they can’t be that stupid (to dis-incentivize property owners from going solar). Pollutin’ Pruitt’s gonna do it, my environmental friends bemoaned.

I hope they’re wrong. I hope logic prevails, common sense is applied, job creation and environmental protection trump ideology.

But, my posture that there’s no financial urgency to go solar — net-metering is here to stay; the tax credit is written in to the tax code through 2020; PG&E rates continue to escalate — holds less weight. Any property owner who is contemplating solar, and wants to ensure they earn the 30% federal tax credit, should act soon. Before it’s too late.

Is there urgency to go solar? The times they are a-changin'

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Over the past few years, we have stressed — STRESSED — to property owners that there is NO urgency to go solar. Here’s a blog post elaborating our perspective on the lack of urgency, and the importance of doing your homework, when evaluating solar.

To quote Bobby Dylan, the times they are a-changin’.

Retrospective

We posited there was no urgency to go solar based on the three-to-four year windows (until expiration) of the 30% federal tax credit and PG&E’s Net-Metering program. Furthermore, solar panel prices eased a bit over the past few years, while PG&E’s rates continued to inflate (22% in 2016; another 8.5% increase this year). The tax credit is locked in, PG&E’s net-metering is galvanized, and the economics of going solar are improving. Take your time, we counseled.

Contemporary perspective

Regardless of your partisanship, solar is in the political cross hairs. Drill baby drill. Climate change is a hoax. Coal is our future. Political chestnuts and hyperbole voiced to rouse the base, but defying logic and economics: Solar is the fastest growing industry in the U.S. (adding jobs at 20x the rate of the economy), and solar has created more jobs than any industry in the country over the past 4-5 years. Furthermore, it’s quite libertarian to enable property owners to create their own energy, hence the bi-partisan extension of the federal tax credit at the end of 2015.

Over the past few months, domestic politics and the macro economy have defied logic and contemporary history:

1. Demand for Tier 1 (investment-grade) solar panels has exploded in China and India, thus constraining supply in the United States (and thereby slighting increasing solar panel prices for the first time).

2. On Friday, the US International Trade Agency (ITC) ruled in favor of two US-based, now insolvent solar panel manufacturers, Suniva and Solar World, agreeing their businesses were harmed due to the supply of lower cost, internationally-manufactured solar panels. The companies are seeking a 40-cent per watt tariff and a floor price of 78 cents per watt on imported solar modules. (In today’s market, such taxes would increase the cost of solar panels by 50-65%, with no viable US-made alternative.) President Trump is expected to issue a final ruling by year’s end. In the interim, large-scale solar project developers are hoarding supply of solar panels, thus increasing the cost (demand > supply) of solar modules for the entire industry.

3. Daily, there are rumblings that a Republican-inspired tax or budget bill will axe the clean energy tax credit, thus dis-incentivizing those who want to transition to clean energy. (Fact: The oil and gas industry receives more than 10X the tax credits/incentives as the clean energy industry. Another fact: Facts don’t matter.)

What to do? We cannot control the macro economy, the president’s actions, or congressional politicking. Instead, we are controlling what we can by securing as many high-quality solar panels as possible, in wake of what’s going on. Prices may increase, tax credits may perish, but solar in PG&E territory will continue to generate attractive, risk-adjusted investment returns. Property owners will continue to transition away from carbon while insulating themselves against future electricity rate increases, most likely with a greater urgency now.

Dylan, circa 1963:

The line it is drawn

The curse it is cast

The slow one now

Will later be fast

As the present now

Will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’

Yolo Shines Today

Today was a great day. We had the pleasure of donating several thousand dollars to local nonprofit organizations, in the name of RepowerYolo homeowners. (When homeowners go solar, we donate $500 to the local charity of their choice; we call this YoloShines.) 

Today our community shined:

Sounds trite, but it's more fun giving away money than making (or spending) money. The essential fabric of our community is strengthened. Please join us in supporting these -- and dozens of other -- worthy organizations in our community.

Expanding your solar system to charge an electric vehicle

Increasingly — at least once each week — we are contacted by solar homeowners who recently purchased, or are contemplating buying, an electric vehicle (eV). To wit, they are interested in adding panels to their current solar system to cover fueling (charging!) their new eV.

The good news: Solar-charged electric vehicles are the least expensive form of four-wheel transportation, let alone the virtue of aborting fossil fuels. For RepowerYolo homeowners, the average cost to generate solar electricity on their rooftop is 8 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). For every kWh of charge, eV owners garner ~4 miles of range. Hence, if you have an electric car that’s powered by sunshine, your cost to drive is ~2 cents per mile.

The challenge: While it’s technically (almost lego-esque) easy to add solar panels to a system, the process is, unfortunately, somewhat pricey. There are two scenarios:

1. Your current inverter has sufficient capacity to accommodate additional panels. If this is the case, then the challenge is locating and purchasing comparable (wattage) solar panels. Depending on the vintage of your current system, this could be simple, or it may be that you need to purchase used/refurbished panels.

2. Your current inverter cannot accommodate additional solar panels. Thereby — this is what I did when I added nine panels on my roof to charge my Leaf — you need to either add a second inverter or proceed with micro-inverters. Again, securing compatible panels is the next step.

In both scenarios, we are required to perform full design-engineering-permitting for your additional solar capacity. Though this is not complicated, it adds to the cost; it’s not simply lego-esque, snap-a-few-panels-in-and-go.

An additional caveat: Homeowners can only claim the 30% Federal tax credit once every five years. So, if you went solar in the past five years, you may want to wait until you re-qualify for the credit. 

Net-net, we’re happy to help. There’s no cost to receive an assessment of your current system, analysis of your historical net-energy use, modeling of your future electricity demand (for your eV), and an analysis + recommendations for your additional solar capacity. Feel free to contact us or swing my our workspace.

A clean solar panel is a happy solar panel: Simple tips for cleaning your solar panels

In mid-June it rained. Hard. In Davis, California. Call it what you’d like: Weird weather, climate change, global warming. One thing’s for sure with the unseasonal rains: Solar panels (and their owners) were smiling on a rainy June day. Now that the rains have subsided and peak-solar generation season is in full swing, our solar panels are collecting dust and pollen and bird droppings. The panels are increasingly frowning.

What’s a solar owner to do?

Solar PV systems require modest maintenance (read: cleaning) to maximize production efficiency. Below are a few tips that will help guide your steps over the life of the system. First, the warnings: exercise great care in accessing the panels. Roof materials get unexpectedly slick. And it’s easy to damage many roofs.

Keep in mind that many owners do nothing for the entire time they own the system. Equipment failures are rare and when they occur, it’s within six months of the installation. Panels are designed to last 25-years or more; inverters last at least 12 years. In short, none of the conditions mentioned below impacts many owners. Still, for those seeking full information, keep reading.

If your home or business is powered by solar, there are three options:

1. Do nothing (i.e., let the rain cleanse your panels).

2. Do it yourself (periodically clean your panels).

3. Hire a cleaning service.

Option #1 (do nothing), obviously, generates the least amount of electricity. Option #3 (hire a professional to clean your panels) optimizes efficiency, but can be quite expensive; the cost of doing so oftentimes exceeds the value of your increased solar generation. (Researchers at UC San Diego concluded, “You definitely wouldn’t get your money back after hiring someone to wash your rooftop panels.”) Herein we focus on the most common alternative: Do it yourself.

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.

Generally, we recommend cleaning your panels every six weeks, commencing in early June (given that our last rains, typically, occur around Picnic Day) and continuing through early September. Hence, 3-4 cleanings every six weeks will suffice.

We monitor the production of 100+ solar systems in our community. Thereby, we can tell when a homeowner has cleaned their panels … solar production increases 5-6%, and then gradually decreases. In addition to our general rule-of-thumb — cleaning every six weeks during peak production season (late May through mid-September — it’s worthy to keep an eye on your web-based monitoring system to gauge if/when your panels would like a bath.

And, of course, feel free to contact us if you have questions.

Evaluating solar options? The Model T days are over; four key considerations.

You've decided it's time to (re)-investigate installing solar. Your hesitancy may be logical: You do not need to go solar, and you’re unsure how to assess and assemble the pieces, let alone compare offerings. It can be puzzling. Your caution (and even procrastination) actually positions you well. The solar industry has improved dramatically from the Model T days.

Early car buyers had similar concerns: Do I buy internal combustion engine, electric, or steam? What starter makes sense? What about the brakes, or the dashboard, or the tire lifetime? Do I need a car? If so, who can I trust and will it work/be dependable?

Homeowners who went solar in the early days had to consider panel composition, wiring, inverter design, roof attachments, warranties, and even potential fire hazards. Fortunately, solar equipment is now similar to automotive offers from the early ‘80s. We no longer need to ask about where the engine was made, the engine compression, the electrical system, etc. For cars, we now shop for benefits and outcomes, and we have specific metrics to help gauge alternatives: fuel efficiency, acceleration (zero-to-60), safety test results, stopping distance plus all the new features and benefits available.

For solar, here's what matters most on the equipment front (i.e., questions you should engage and pose to your solar provider):

  1. What is the likelihood the system will generate the annual energy forecasted? Thereby, can the solar company point to a significant group of local, monitored homes and compare forecast to actual generation? A simple metric to calculate system productivity: total annual electricity (kWh)/system size (kW-DC). For south-facing systems with no shade, this number should be about 1,500 kWh/kW. East- and west-facing systems produce ~8% less. (The likelihood of actually generating the energy promised falls dramatically as the actual productivity value increases above this threshold.) And, don’t get confused by panel efficiency: It simply reduces the area required for a system, and has a modest impact on the system’s production.
  2. Does the equipment come from Tier-1, investment-grade suppliers? For solar panels: Canadian Solar, SunPower, LG and a handful of others qualify. For inverters: SMA, SolarEdge, and ABB.
  3. What is the likelihood my product warranties will be valid? Amplifying the above point, the current and future financial stability of the manufacturer is imperative. A 25-year warranty is only as good as the company behind it; do your homework (or, better yet, press your solar provider to evidence the manufacturers’ solvency).
  4. How do I know I’m getting a fair price? One way to standardize pricing for an apples-to-apples assessment: Divide system cost by the the system size (watts), so you have the cost per watt. The gross investment (pre-tax credit) for most home systems today should be $3.50 per watt or less for a Tier-1 system installed by a first-rate contractor.

Solar is transitioning from an art form to science. In so doing, your task is simplified as you endeavor to generate your own power. (And, solar, in our opinion, is the only investment in your home that generates a reliable return.)

Thank you

Yesterday we were named the Best Solar Company in Yolo County by Davis Enterprise readers.

Wow.

We are honored. We are humbled. And, we are more committed than ever to help members of our community evaluate and go solar.

Above all, thank you to property owners who have trusted us to shepherd their solar process. More than 7,000 Repower solar panels smile at the sun today thanks to you. 

Thanks too to our parents who raised us, our wives who support us, our children who keep it real, and our friends — be it over a beer or bite, on the tennis courts or golf course, or in the boxing ring or gym — for keeping our egos in check!

And thank you to the dozens of community and nonprofit organizations we collaborate with. Since we have not spent a dime on advertising or marketing — and we do not employ salespeople — the organic word-of-mouth of our comrades has been imperative to our growth. Thereby, we are proud to have donated more than $40,000 to local nonprofits through our YoloShines program.

This is the first year the Enterprise entertained votes for Best Solar Company in Yolo County. Some say, "it's about time solar got its due." We believe it's a signal solar has come of age, particularly since one-in-four Davis homeowners now have solar PV systems.

Best is an superlative, subjective adjective. At risk of sounding trite, here's what we do to earn the trust of our community: Deliver high-quality solar systems installed by a first-rate contractor at a competitive price. Thereby, ensure property owners get what they paid for, and make sure the solar system does what it’s supposed to. We are there every step of the way — from initial assessment to financing to design and engineering to permitting to installation to PG&E interconnection to solar system monitoring. That’s our job, and we both love it and take it seriously.

Finally (and importantly!), congratulations to our friends who also were honored as Best in Yolo County … we’ll have beers soon to celebrate:

It’s a pleasure to do business with you and collectively serve our community.

PG&E just raised its rates (again!); what’s going on and what can I do?

Effective March 1, PG&E condensed the tiers of its E-1 residential rate schedule (the tariff most homeowners employ). And, again, electricity rates went up, this time by ~8%. What’s the story and what can I do, if anything?

First, a little background. Every few years, PG&E submits a three-year budget to the California Public Utilities Corp (CPUC), aka, their “rate case”. Therein, they propose myriad rate schedules for commercial, agricultural, residential and other customer groups. The CPUC eventually approves PG&E’s budget, but that’s not the end; over the ensuing three-year period, rate schedules are modified (read: rates are increased) to reflect contemporary PG&E expenses. Over the past two years, PG&E’s residential rates have increased ~43%. Ouch.

Like it or not, inflationary pressures on PG&E’s rates are somewhat just:

  • Replacement of aged infrastructure (e.g., natural gas lines; updated the grid);
  • Retirement of idled assets (e.g., “peaker” power plants; Diablo Canyon);
  • Reduction in generation of inexpensive hydro electricity (due to the drought);
  • AB 32 and the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS); and,
  • Long-term power purchase contracts.

And, living here, we have no choice but to love the one we’re with, at least until Valley Clean Energy Alliance (VCEA) launches. (Side note: PG&E has commenced its fear-and-smear campaign regarding VCEA and community choice energy … it’s gonna get ugly.)

Homeowners have four rate schedules to choose from:

  • E1 (the most common rate): Electricity is priced based on tiers (monthly usage).
  • EV: Time-of-use pricing for electric vehicle owners.
  • E-TOU (A): Time-of-use pricing, with “peak” periods from 3:00-8:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
  • E-TOU (B): Also time-of-use, with peak pricing from 4:00-9:00 p.m.

So, what’s a homeowner to do? Here are a few simple ways to reduce your utility costs:

1. Go to PG&E’s website, log in to your (or create an) account and select “Compare Rate Plans” in the right column. Based on the time and volume of your electricity use, PG&E — such kind souls! — will quantify your costs under the above scenarios and suggest the least expensive rate schedule. More than likely, one of the time-of-use plans will reduce your bill.

2. Change your behavior. No, not your comfort (or the way you live), but your electricity use. Simple things like doing laundry in the morning, on weekends, or after 9:00 p.m. will lower your costs. So too, if you have a pool, will changing the time your pump runs; start it at 11:00 p.m. And, in the summer cool your home in the morning and early afternoon, then turn off your AC at 3:00.

3. Replace incandescent and CFL bulbs with LEDs. This is not even low hanging fruit in the energy savings world; it’s fruit laying on the ground. 

4. If you have a swimming pool, install a variable speed pool pump. Thereby you can reduce the electricity consumed by your pool by ~70%. Davis Home Trends, Leslies and several other stores can lend a hand.

5. If you haven’t done so already, go solar and insulate yourself from future PG&E rate increases. (No duh, eh?)

And, of course, feel free to contact us or stop by. As Jackson Browne once mused, we may not have the answer, but we believe we’ve got a plan.

The coolest organization in our cool city

Sunday, in arms with our comrades Indigo, we had the great honor of hosting Cool Davis’ annual donor celebration. Magnificent vino was poured by Senders Wines and tasty eats were tendered by ChickPeas, tantalizing the palettes of several dozen community leaders. In addition to honoring those committed to enhancing the sustainability of our community, we toasted Indigo's wonderful abode, the first zero net-energy commercial building in Davis (now boasting a beautiful, 46-panel solar array!). A good time was had by all, with special thanks to Judy Moores, Lynne Nittler, Chris Granger and Kerry Daane Loux for their orchestration.

During the event, we shared an update regarding RepowerYolo’s impact, in concert with Cool Davis’ Double Up on Solar Davis campaign. Over the past few years, Repower has helped homeowners install more than 5,500 solar panels. Panel by panel, home by home, the aggregate clean energy impact is pretty cool. Namely, the clean electricity generated by Repower homeowners is the equivalent of: 

- eliminating 16,696 metric tons of carbon dioxide;

- taking 3,519 cars off the road; and,

- planting 429,224 trees

To boot, Repower homeowners are projected to save a cumulative $9,804,774 in PG&E expenses. That makes us smile, and we deeply appreciate the support and confidence of the community.

Back to the coolest organization in our cool city. Cool Davis is the little engine that IS making a difference, proactively fulfilling its mission to "inspire our community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to a changing climate, and improve the quality of life for all.”

Here’s how you can get involved:

1. Act: If you would like a hand reducing your carbon footprint, here are a few examples of how you can take action.

2. Donate: Like all nonprofit organizations, Cool Davis can use your support and we engage you to join Repower in making a contribution. Our assurance: Every dollar Cool Davis raises is invested in pragmatic, impactful measures. 

3. Volunteer: There are myriad ways to get involved, beginning with Cool Davis’ Coalition and Partner forum. Attend and you’ll learn more about last year’s Sustainability Summit, along with recent post election community gatherings on Environmental Justice and Climate Change. Come prepared to work on planning forums, and forming working groups on local policy dialogue and discussing new collaborative projects.

4. Learn: Cool Davis’ website has a wealth of useful tips and tools … click here for the latest news, and here to explore resources.

We are grateful for our collaboration with Cool Davis and their mutual commitment to make Davis a more sustainable place. The time to act is now. Please join us!

$500 rebate from PG&E for electric vehicle owners

Occasionally, we'll stumble upon something that sounds too good to be true. Not fake news, but are-you-kidding-me offers. This one's good and real: A $500 rebate from PG&E to any current electric vehicle owner. No joke, no strings attached. The program commenced yesterday; here's an excerpt from Green Car Reports story:

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) now offers a $500 "Clean Fuel Rebate" for customers with electric cars.

The program, which just launched yesterday, is the result of California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which among other provisions, gives credits to utilities whose customers use home electricity to charge electric cars.

PG&E hopes to pass the value of those credits back to those customers, according to a company press release.

To be eligible, customers simply need an active PG&E residential account.

Customers can apply for a rebate for their own electric cars, or apply on behalf of an electric-car owner in their household (or a tenant, in multi-family households), after gaining that owner's permission.

Applicants need only a PG&E account number and a scanned image of the car's registration or sales/lease agreement, which can be be submitted through a web page set up for the program.

Feel free to contact us if you have questions or have trouble securing your rebate. And, for a day, we can all smile when we think about PG&E!

Thinking about going solar? Five key considerations

There’s a lot of sunshine being monetized by our community. In Davis alone, one in four single family residences have solar PV systems (versus approximately 5% in PG&E territory). Such rapid adoption is driven by four factors: PG&E’s ever-escalating electricity rates, a sharp decline in the cost of solar systems, the 30% federal tax credit, and (increasingly) grand concerns about our climate and planet.

The formative stage of the Repower program involved extensive research. We assessed the quality, reliability and pricing of solar equipment; the efficacy of solar installation contractors; the pricing (through a group purchase program) of solar; the most viable financing options; and, the most systematic installation methodology. Since pulling the pieces together and enabling the Repower program, we have had the fortune of helping more homeowners in our community invest in solar than any other solar provider.

If you are pondering going solar, here are five key considerations:

1. How long do you intend to reside in your home? If your horizon is less than five years, think twice; if more than five (and given you have a de facto agreement with PG&E to purchase electricity), dig deep.

2. What is the condition (and remaining life) of your roof? Solar systems have a 25-year production warranty. Though it is possible (and common) to replace a roof with an existing solar system, if your roof’s remaining life is less than 10 years, you should consider replacing all or part (i.e., the portion under the solar panels) of your roof.

3. What are the installation contractor’s qualifications? Thereby, it’s critical to speak with local homeowners who have worked with the contractor. Furthermore, you should seek a 10-year workmanship warranty and ensure the installation contractor is financially solvent. Finally, the contractor’s experience with your type of roof is paramount.

4. Who manufacturers the solar panels and inverter(s)? The assessment herein is twofold: What is the efficacy and reliability of the products, and what is the financial solvency (i.e., strength of balance sheet) of the manufacturer, and thus the validity of their performance warranty. Bloomberg qualifies a dozen or so solar panel manufacturers as “Tier 1” or “investment grade” … make sure you’re purchasing a product from this class.

5. Who will own the system and/or how will you pay for it? Frankly, leasing a solar system — whereby your solar panels are owned by a third-party, tax equity fund — is a raw deal for homeowners. You should own your system. Many homeowners employ a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or credit union financing (Yolo Federal Credit Union) to finance their solar system. (Contact us if you would like to learn more about Property Assessed Clean Energy [PACE] financing … we helped developed the first PACE programs in Sacramento and Yolo counties.)

 

At the end of the day, you'd like to know the likelihood your solar system will meet or exceed its energy forecast. Most solar companies use the same forecasting tools. It's the assumptions that feed these models that vary. You should feel confident the forecast presented is reasonable and not some pie-in-the-sky result. Hence, ask solar companies the proportion of systems installed that meet or exceed the originally forecast energy generation. (You should also ask the number of systems monitored to ensure it's a meaningful proportion.)

We do not have all the answers — there is no surefire, perfect solar solution — but we do have strong opinions and extensive experience in our community. Nobody wants to get a bad deal or make a short-sighted decision; filtering through the noise of pesky solar solicitations can be migraine-inducing. To wit, feel free to contact us if you need a hand.

President-elect Tump + the future of solar

So, it happened. President-elect Donald Trump. The ramifications are yet to be seen, but based on more than one-dozen conversations since the election with prospective solar investors (residential and commercial property owners), a valid concern has been floated: What will happen to the 30% federal solar (renewable energy) tax credit?

First, what we know: Mr. Trump has bemoaned climate change as a “hoax.” He has committed to revitalizing the coal industry and boosting national development of non-clean (read: natural gas and oil) energy sources. And, he has — for selfish reasons, given his on-the-coast golf course in the UK — denounced wind farms. Furthermore, he has floated climate science denier Myron Ebell as a potential director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Clean air, clean water, viable species, and solar tax credits be damned.

But, in my conversations with concerned folk, I’m trying to apply logic and common sense. First, the solar industry has created more jobs in the US over the past five years than any other industry, and it’s the fastest growing sector in the economy -- more than 200,000 patriots are employed in the solar industry. The solar industry is growing 12x faster than the overall economy. Solar creates jobs; republicans like job growth. Second, when property owners opt to invest in and create their own energy, they are exercising their (energy and investment) independence. Who’s to argue with an individual’s right to create their own energy? Decentralization of energy — creation, distribution, investment — is something both sides of the aisle should logically agree with. (Fact: 85% of Americans and 84% of republicans support solar.)

My fear: Uneducated idealism will trump logic, facts, statistics and applied common sense. The reality that the fossil fuels industry receives more than 10x the incentives (tax credits included) of renewable energy will be cast aside by powerful coal and gas industries. 

My hope: Renewable energy (and solar in particular) is a roaring bonfire in our country that ideologues and industrialists can’t stop. Our economy and our environment benefit every time a property owner opts to invest in clean energy. It’s their choice, and it makes sense; if it did not, they would not do it.

The reality: Those of us who believe in and champion clean energy investment cannot simply apply logic and common sense. We will need to fight, use facts, and trumpet the job-percolating, economic-resonating virtues of our profession and passion. Solar is now and it is happening … we cannot allow the momentum to become no-mentum.