davis solar

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 :)

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!

Tesla Model S vs. 3: First Impressions

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Aunt Laurie and Uncle Clif reside in Portland. They're car peeps, specifically (emphatically) Tesla junkies. In 2013 they registered the first Tesla (a Model S) in Oregon. A few years later, they welcomed a Model X, and quickly jumped in line (and vaulted me to the front, riding shotgun courtesy of their second reservation) when Elon announced the Model 3. 

Laurie and Clif have drank the Tesla kool aide ... they are fanatics. To wit, here's a 48-hours-after-souped-up-Model-3-purchase recap from Aunt Lor:

Something felt odd to me about the 3 so I've had to give it some thought. l think I understand now ...

I got spoiled by the S.

3 not as fancy by far, but heck, it's at least $45k cheaper! (Even tho we bot the interior upgrade, fancier paint, rims, & long range 310 mi battery.)

Positives: It's more nimble, it's shorter by 11", so easier to maneuver round town. It does have more headroom as it is taller. It has spunk for sure, auto park & auto drive features. Simpler controls. Odd no driver dash gages, only an ipad like screen that is placed near center of dash? But now I get it. 

After 1 day I realize that simple design is clearly paving way for no driver & autonomous. Simple steering wheel "almost" feels superfluous in design. iPhone acts as one's fob, like calling Uber.

Clean lines w/smooth front. Elon no longer has to make cars look like other autos to be accepted; I predict more space age looks in near future.

So my conclusion:

The S is the brilliant stepping stone from normal luxury cars to electric luxury cars.

The 3 is stepping stone from human driver elec cars to elec autonomous vehicles. 

Just wait until 200,000 are on the road.

The future 

🤔

IMPORTANT to include enhanced autopilot hardware on your order. It incorporates the eight cameras & smart brains that enable lots of future software upgrades. 

W/o it the car won't be sought after on resale. 

The fully autonomous can be added later. 

Electric cars + solar panels: Does 1+1=3?

A quick note of thanks to The Enterprise for publishing the below article online today and in tomorrow's print edition. You can access the story here, and below is the prose.

A few times each week, we tender conversations with homeowners who own (or are considering purchasing) an electric vehicle and are thereby contemplating installing solar panels.

The psychology is similar: Electric cars (and solar) are good for the environment, and electric cars (and solar) are pragmatic/less expensive than the alternatives. Seems like a no-brainer – power your electric vehicle with cheap, clean energy generated by your solar panels.

But, is it?

Since 2010, nearly half of all plug-in electric vehicles sold in the United States are registered in California; the top-three models — Chevrolet’s Volt, Nissan’s Leaf and Tesla’s Model S — dominate the electric highway.

(And, many see the advent of Chevy’s all-electric Bolt in late 2016 and Tesla’s Model 3 — my deposit is in; please, Elon, late 2017? — as a tipping point for electric vehicles.)

Similarly, nearly half of all solar electric systems in the U.S. sit atop California households. (As we’ve shared, nearly one in four single-family residences in Davis now has a solar electric system, far out-pacing an estimated 5-percent penetration in PG&E territory.)

As transportation is increasingly electrified and energy generation is decentralized (from carbon-based, utility delivery to solar-generated, homeowner systems), does going solar to power your home and transport make sense? Let’s do the math.

Electricity costs
We have had the fortune of helping several hundred Yolo County homeowners evaluate solar. What we’ve learned: Their average cost of PG&E electricity is 25 cents per kWh, and their median monthly electricity bill is $185. Conversely, their cost to generate solar electricity averages 8 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), amortized over the warrantied life of their solar panels. Solar saves money.

Transportation costs
For comparison, let’s assume an average car is driven 12,000 miles each year. If the car averages 25 miles per gallon, powered by petroleum, it will guzzle 480 gallons of gas annually. At $2.50 per gallon, annual fuel costs are $1,200, or 10 cents per mile.

Electric vehicles yield, on average, 4 miles of range per kWh. Hence, you will consume 3,000 kWh to drive 12,000 miles. If you are purchasing electricity from PG&E, your annual “fuel” cost is $750 (or, 6 cents per mile). If your electric car is powered by solar, your annual cost is $240 (2 cents per mile).

And, of course, if you charge at your workplace or one of a half-dozen free sites downtown, your cost is lower.

Environmental benefits
I can’t conceive an environmental virtue of driving a gas-powered car, though admittedly my family owns three (along with an all-electric vehicle). The environmental outcomes of electrifying your transportation with solar, though, are striking.

According to the EPA, over three years (36,000 miles) the greenhouse gas equivalents of clean transportation are:

* Retirement of 12.84 metric tons of carbon dioxide;
* Planting 320 tree seedlings, grown for 10 years; or,
* Averting 4.08 tons of waste sent to a landfill.

Many suns will set before electric vehicles become mainstream. Though cool and cheap and clean, their drawbacks are obvious: Range anxiety (Can I get from here to there?), charging anxiety (Do I need to charge it?), technology phobia (Is it too early/will it work?).

Danny Kennedy, managing director of California Clean Energy Fund, recently opined, “We’re now in a tech world, rather than a resource world. Resources are bound by scarcity — the more you use them, the more expensive they become. With tech, the more you use it, the cheaper it becomes.”

As the cost of solar and electric cars continue to descend, as the efficacy of both improve, and as PG&E rates further escalate, it will become increasingly difficult to dispute solar-fueled transportation.

The future is bright.

To Bolt or not to Bolt

Over the past 10 days, we've had a dozen or so conversations about Chevrolet's soon-to-be-released, all-electric Bolt. Concurrently, my wife is pondering a new car that's efficient, economical and suitable for a Davis-to-UCDMC commute. To wit, to Bolt or not to Bolt?

After all, what's not to like? Significant -- 238 miles -- all-electric range, a decently sporty design, and a good price tag (less than $40k before $7,500 in federal and $2,500 in state incentives). Pundits have proclaimed General Motors (with the Bolt) has beat Tesla (with its Model 3) to the dance.

General take through our lens: Electric vehicles powered by solar-generated electricity make great economic and environmental sense. Quick math:

Electricity costs

We have had the fortune of helping several hundred Yolo County homeowners evaluate solar. What we’ve learned: Their average cost of PG&E electricity is $0.25 per kWh, and their median monthly electricity bill is $185. Conversely, their cost to generate solar electricity averages $0.08 per kilowatt hour (kWh), amortized over the warrantied life of their solar panels. 

Transportation costs

For comparison, let’s assume an average car is driven 12,000 miles each year. If the car averages 25 miles per gallon, powered by petroleum, it will guzzle 480 gallons of gas annually. At $2.50 per gallon, annual fuel costs are $1,200, or $0.10/mile.

Electric vehicles yield, on average, four miles of range per kWh. Hence, you will consume 3,000 kWh to drive 12,000 miles. If you are purchasing electricity from PG&E, your annual “fuel” cost is $750 (or, $0.06/mile). If your electric car is powered by solar, your annual cost is $240 ($0.02/mile). (And, of course, if you charge at your workplace or one of a half-dozen free sites downtown, your cost is lower.)

Back to the Bolt. A few takes floated over the past week:

- Business Insider: The Chevy Bolt still doesn't compare to Tesla's Model 3

- Electrek: The very good Chevy Bolt reviews are in ... everyone forgot to ask the most important question

The latter from Electrek hits -- aside from design/style/brand cache/Elon-halo-effect virtues -- Tesla's sustainable competitive advantage. General Motors (and other automakers) need to get off their collective rears and solve the charging challenge. Their networks are established: Dealerships are sensible locations for super-charger stations.

Until then, the Bolt will be a bit better than my Leaf: Great for local transport and perhaps a trip to the Bay Area or Tahoe, but nonsensical to take to Oregon or Southern California. Here's hoping General Motors and others will tackle the simple (technology) but complex (logistical) challenge of building a charging network.

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Postscript: Great comparison of the Bolt and Model 3 in today's Clean Technica, echoing and amplifying many of our thoughts.

YoloShines: Davis School Arts Foundation

When given the opportunity to speak to students at UCD, be it about innovation, entrepreneurship, or clean energy, one of my favorite stories to relay engages children and creativity. Quick synopsis:

Creative consultant Gordon MacKenzie, during speaking engagements with elementary school students, would ask kindergarteners, “How many of you are artists?” All would raise their hand. But with older kids, an interesting trend develops. Fewer and fewer students identify themselves as artists as they grow up. By sixth grade, only a small percentage raises their hand in response to the same question of being an artist. As kids grow up, they feel the judgmental pressures from others and don’t want to take the risk of being judged as weird.

Unfortunately, our children become normalized to think they can't be or do something. Sad but true, particularly in our community where the pressure to succeed academically is so intense.

Fortunately, there are organizations like the Davis School Arts Foundation (DSAF), an all-volunteer, non-profit organization whose mission it is to raise money for art and music education in the Davis public schools. DSAF believes the value of visual and performing arts is equal to that of other curriculum and essential for the education of the whole child. 

On behalf of RepowerYolo homeowners (and parents of DJUSD children) Matt Donner and Kimberly Grogan, we are pleased to donate $500 to DSAF. Matt's take on the Foundation:

As a musician and artist myself, I am happy and proud to offer any and all support to this worthy cause! We tend to get caught up in academics and athletics here in Davis and it's worth supporting the arts as well!

Please join RepowerYolo, Matt and Kimberly in supporting DSAF and germinating future artists and musicians in our community.

 

Solar Lease, R.I.P.

David Crane, former president & CEO of NRG Energy, is one of the solar industry's most prophetic and emphatic pundits. When he speaks, the industry (and analysts and investors) listen. Crane's latest opine in Tuesday's GreenBiz: TeslaCity: Will car company + solar company = shareholder happiness?

Worthy of a quick read, Crane lambasts national solar leasing companies (including SolarCity) for their fundamentally fragile business models, specifically their practice of "no money down solar leases." Quick anecdote:

But, most of all, SolarCity needed a quick phase-out of zero-money-down, long-term-lease financing, a funding arrangement which once was essential to the kickstarting of the entire industry, but has mutated into the crack cocaine of home solar companies that still depend upon it.

 

We receive calls -- probably two or three a day -- from either prospective solar homeowners who were propositioned a solar lease, or existing solar leaseholders (or their Realtors) who are trying to sell their home (with a leased solar system). Solar leases are sugary-sweet on the surface, but the hangover is brutal. 

I hope SolarCity survives -- we enjoy competing with them. Perhaps they'll figure out how to make money. But, leasing solar systems is a bad deal for homeowners, and potentially fatal for SolarCity and its leasing comrades (e.g., Sunrun, Sungevity, Vivint, et al). RIP, solar lease; Viva la vida, solar ownership!

Davis Enterprise: Why don’t more homeowners go solar?

Belated thanks to the Enterprise for sharing, in Sunday's election-packed edition, our perspective r.e. why (and why not) homeowners go solar. You can read the full article here ... below's a synopsis:

Solar energy is booming in our community. More than 20 percent of single-family residences in Davis have solar electric systems churning out clean and inexpensive electricity atop their rooftops.

The confluence of ever-inflating PG&E rates, significant reductions in the cost of solar panels and solar net-metering (whereby solar homeowners are credited at the full retail price for their clean energy) has swelled solar adoption in Davis.

Going solar always has been an idealistic decision — it’s the right thing to do — and now it’s a pragmatic, sage investment decision, too.

However, solar is not a panacea; it does not make sense for everyone. At RepowerYolo, our solar assessment begins with a qualitative and quantitative homeowner interview. One of the first things we do is try to talk homeowners out of going solar. 

... 

But, the No. 1 reason homeowners do not go solar is less obvious: They do not have to. Solar is a choice; nobody has to do it. Paying your PG&E bill is not a choice; you do it or it’s lights out.

...

Candid pessimism to the side, solar is booming in our community for one primary reason: economics. The average cost of PG&E electricity for homes in Davis we have assessed is 24 cents per kilowatt hour. The average amortized cost of solar-generated electricity for Repower homeowners is 9 cents per kilowatt hour. Net-net, if a homeowner in our community intends to live in his house for at least five years, solar pencils out.

You do not have to pay PG&E when you can profit from the sun.

YoloShines: River City Rowing Club

Yesterday we gave thanks to the Oshima family for their suggestion to donate $500 to the Davis Schools Foundation. It hit home, which made the gift even more special. Today’s recipient of $500 through our YoloShines program strikes a similar family chord.

On behalf of Repower homeowners Don Mooney and Samantha McCarthy, we are pleased to gift $500 to the River City Rowing Club. Here’s the (my) family connection: RCRC’s boat house in West Sac is named after my wife’s late grandfather, Curt Rocca. Grandpa Curt was big into crew in his days at UC Berkeley, and his affinity rippled (perhaps through his myriad business interests in Japan, and hence the Port of Sacramento) to our local crew organization. Very cool.

I have known Don and Samantha’s daughter, Morgan, since she was shorter than a small oar; she and my oldest son, Scott, went through Spanish Immersion together at Montgomery and Chavez. Here’s Don and Samantha’s rationale for supporting RCRC:

We support River City Rowing Club because the coaches work with the teen rowers to inspire them to try their individual best and then beyond while building  a true sense of dedication to the team and sportsmanship. The rowers also learn to set goals and priorities so that they can continue to do well do well in school, crew and life.

Very cool, take two, and it mirrors my family’s support of Davis Water Polo Club (for our oldest son) and Davis Little League (for our youngest).

With the Big Day of Giving nearing, we encourage you to support RCRC. The sun always rises, and so too do committed and aspiring crew athletes.