davis solar panels

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.

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.

 

 

Does solar increase my home’s value?

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We are asked, often, if solar increases (upon resale) the value of a home. The short answer is yes: There are myriad studies that quantify the increase in a home's value (presuming, of course, the solar system is owned versus leased; if leased, it could devalue the home). However, we posit that you should not assume solar will increase your home's value ... there are too many unknown unknowns, including market conditions when you sell and, most important, the value the buyer will place on solar.

Fortunately, there's an effective, easy to use, free tool that calculates the increase in a home's value with solar. Developed by Energy Sense Finance (and funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative), PV Value walks you through a series of questions to quantify the value of your existing solar system. Take a peek and let us know if you have any questions.

In addition, Energy Sense recently released the U.S. Solar Market Value ReportThe intent was to help homeowners and other real estate professionals make an informed decision regarding how to value and whether to maintain (or remove) an existing solar system.

The report reveals that the mean value for an existing solar system in 2016 was $3.93/watt in California. (Interestingly, new solar systems, net of the 30% federal tax credit, cost ~$2.50 per watt.) The inflated value of a new versus old system amplifies the value of solar ... the future utility savings, even when discounted, significantly exceed the cost of a new system.

The report also addresses new versus older systems, and found that older solar systems do, in fact, retain their value. Specifically, a 12-year old solar system was found to retain 50 percent of the value of new systems installed in 2016. This means that, not only do homeowners with solar have the opportunity to save on monthly energy bills, they also have equity in the system itself, which retains significant value over time.

Again, take a few minutes, poke around, and feel free to contact us if you have questions. For home buyers, home sellers and real estate professionals, at a minimum this tool can help value existing solar systems and thereby determine whether it makes sense to install a new system.

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!

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’

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!

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.

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.