net metering

There is no urgency to go solar, except …

It happens too many times each week: Homeowners relay stories about aggravating and misleading solar sales tactics. Three common examples:

1. I was told I have to go solar now because the tax credit’s gonna expire.

Erroneous. Next time you flip on the radio, there’s a good chance you’ll hear an ad exerting that Uncle Sam’s gonna stop giving away free money. First, not true. Second, nothing’s free. Importantly, the 30% solar tax credit was extended through 2021. The tax credit’s not going away.

2. Sam the solar sales guy said PG&E’s net-metering program is about to go away.

Rubbish. As we’ve shared, on January 28, 2016, the California Public Utilities Commission — against the wish of PG&E — expanded the solar net-metering program. The cap was doubled from 5% (of PG&E’s peak demand energy coming from net-metered solar) to 10%. Net metering is not going away.

3. If I go solar by (fill in the blank with a date), I will get a (fill in the blank with a dollar amount) discount.

Insulting. The money has to come from somewhere — the customer, ya think? — and it’s a common psychological sales tactic to employ discounts (buried in the price you pay) to create urgency. Don’t buy in to it.

RepowerYolo has had the fortune of helping more homeowners in our community invest in solar than any other solar company over the past few years. In so doing, we have not spent a dime on sales, marketing, advertising, etcetera … instead, the savings are passed on to homeowners via our group buy program.

So, there’s no urgency — i.e., soon-to-perish financial incentives -- to go solar? Not necessarily. The urgency we see is very straightforward: Once a homeowner is comfortable with the efficacy and reliability of the solar system, the quality of the installation contractor and their workmanship warranty, and the economics (investment and future energy savings), they proceed. After all — to quote many Repower homeowners — why continue writing checks to PG&E when solar is the right and prudent thing to do?

Lions and tigers and bears, oh solar!

Over the past month or so, three regulatory and financial developments have strengthened the investment viability for homeowners who go solar. I love lions, tigers and bears ... let's review the three solar life springs.

1. The 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit was, surprisingly, extended for four years. Originally set to expire at the end of 2016, the tax credit was extended thanks to a bit of horse-trading between  Dems and Republicans in Congress. Via the Omnibus spending bill, Republicans were granted removal of the 40-year ban on exportation of domestic oil. Democrats received an extension of the solar tax credit. An all-of-the-above energy approach? Yes, but to the benefit of homeowners who repower with solar.

2. Today, the California Public Utilities Commission extended solar net-metering for PG&E (and the other two investor-owned utilities') ratepayers. This comes on the heels of the PUC grandfathering -- for 20 years -- net-metering for existing solar customers. Big deal? Yes. It is a continuation of compensating PG&E solar customers at the full retail rate. Doesn't get better. Here's a good overview of the PUC's decision.

3. Commencing January 1, 2016, PG&E raised residential electricity rates 8.7%. Across the board. Predictable but painful (for homeowners who do not have solar). But, higher rates increase the avoided cost -- what you would pay PG&E -- for solar homeowners, thus boosting their investment returns.

Importantly, extensions of the tax credit and net-metering programs temper the urgency to go solar. Homeowners we work with obviously want to monetize the tax credit and receive full value for their solar-generated electricity. They're locked. That said, the primary urgency in their decision is twofold: Do the right thing (for environmental reasons) and stop paying PG&E.

Please contact us if you would like to elaborate any or all of the above. Quite a trifecta in the solar world, and a great month for Yolo County homeowners.

PG&E’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) is Wonderfully Simple

[Originally posted September 1, 2015]

PG&E’s accounting methodology for solar homeowners (aka, Net Energy Metering) is wonderfully simple. It’s the bill credit mechanism that makes solar lucrative for Yolo County homeowners. Unfortunately, many solar homeowners we speak with are caught off guard when they receive their annual “true up” bill from PG&E. In all of these cases, the homeowners have leased their solar system from a national company and said that the company's salesperson did not explain the process.

To wit, when you have solar, here’s how it works:

1. You are enrolled in PG&E’s Net Energy Metering program, and you have a 20-year contract with PG&E whereby they are required to credit you for the solar electricity you generate.

2. When you generate electricity, you are credited at the full retail price (per kilowatt hour), the same rate you pay when you use electricity.

3. As a solar homeowner, you only pay your PG&E electricity bill once a year. Every month, PG&E sends you a Net Energy Metering statement, quantifying and valuing your net electricity use. Some months, you are a net generator (you make more electricity than you use) and PG&E owes you money; conversely, there are months where you use more electricity than you generate and you owe PG&E money.

4. At the end of your 12-month solar year with PG&E, you receive an annual true-up, reconciling each month’s net electricity use. Thereby, if you were a net user, you pay PG&E; if you were a net generator, PG&E pays you.

It’s that simple. Please feel free to contact us — whether you already have solar or are considering it — if you have any questions.

One Year After Going Solar: PG&E True-Up

[Originally posted July 2, 2015]

Happy Repower homeowner Fred Lee went solar a year ago. Yesterday, he emailed us the numbers on his ROI in Solar. Here is what he wrote:

Subject: PGE True-up on our one year of solar cells

PGE has just released the "true-up" on our one year of our solar cells use. 

Last year, before installation of the solar cells, we paid PGE over $5550 for use of electricity. 

The True Up total electric use was $452.20, i.e., our total electric use cost during the past year compared to solar cell generation was a negative $452.20. Therefore we have saved about $6,000 last year as a result of solar cell generation and our reduced rate of electricity use. 

During the past year, we paid $210/month on the Yolo Federal [Credit Union] loan that enabled us to purchase the solar cells. We also saved about $11,000 in our 2014 federal tax credit due to the solar cell purchase.

Thanks for all your help in obtaining our solar cells.  

Fred

Understanding Net Energy Metering and Solar's Relationship with Public Utilities

[Originally published May 12, 2015]

We launched Repower--a community-focused, group purchase program to help our friends and neighbors in Yolo County go solar--18 months ago. After more than 40 residential solar installations, here are a some  observations from PG&E country:

Net Energy Metering (NEM). Net metering helps solar customers, especially when their usage is low in the spring and fall (less air conditioning and heating). In those months, customers bank their surplus energy production and use it to offset summer and winter usage.

ROR. Repower's 40+ installations generate an average of approximatley 6.5 kw--a bit higher than the state average--and customers get their money back in about 6 years, for a rate of return in the 12% range. I characterize solar as a bond investment, i.e., very low risk and steady returns for long periods of time.

Greater Personal Power. Our homeowners value and enjoy the feelings of independence and control that generating their own clean power gives them. Yes, they are tied to their utitlities through Net Energy Metering (NEM), but they are no longer subject to its rate hikes and complicated fee structures. 

Community Choice Aggregation Districts. The Investor Owned Utility's (IOU) general reluctance to change their business models to support locally-generated power is forcing many communities to consider setting up their own Community Choice Aggregation Districts, another poke-in-the-eye to IOUs.

One IOU's Approach. The Modesto Irrigation District, which serves a relatively large customer base in the Central Valley, generates its own power. Because its Net Energy Metering program has already reached capacity, it's no longer available. Instead, solar customers qualify for a new rate structure that lowers their rates across the board. Installing a solar system instantly reduces the total bill by more than 25%, without taking into account the value of the solar generated electricity. While better than nothing, Modesto Irrigation District's fix still falls short of the ROR that homeowners should be getting for the surplus electricity they generate.But, it's a start. 

A Big Game Changer ... Down the Line. On April 30, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed the new Tesla Energy battery for businesses and utility companies. Tesla's relatively inexpensive battery solutions for storing solar-generated electricity will be a game changer, but the extent of the transformation depends in part on the utilities developing favorable rate structures. The other major factor rests with battery development. Tesla's announced battery is intended for backup power supply, not for leveling usage. While Tesla's innovation is exciting, it will take years before it becomes pragmatic and adoptable for IOUs. 
 

Frequently Asked Questions About Solar

[Originally posted February 26, 2015]

How much does a solar system cost?

In the first nine months of 2013, the average per-watt cost of residential solar systems installed in Yolo County was $4.90. Through RepowerYolo’s group purchase program, you will receive the same or higher-quality system at a significant discount, generally 15-25% less than average market prices. For example, a typical home will have a 6 kW (DC) system with a turnkey investment of $24,000 (or less). Your system’s size and cost will depend on your home’s energy use and how much of your PG&E bill you would like to offset.

We are able to offer you a significant discount by aggregating the purchasing power of Yolo County residents and, frankly, by significantly reducing sales and marketing expenses (and the profit we generate).

 

Are PG&E’s rates going to increase?

Over the past 30 years, PG&E’s electricity rates have increased an average of 5.7%; individual years were highly unpredictable, ranging from -3% to more than 8%. PG&E recently requested, in its California Public Utilities Commission rate case, an increase of $5.33 billion in rates over the next three years. If PG&E’s request is approved, electricity rates will, on average, increase 18.8% in 2014, and 6% per year in 2015 and 2016. To be conservative, our analysis for your solar system assumes only 3% annual PG&E cost increases.

PG&E puts you in a tough position: They operate a regulated monopoly (as the only provider of electricity), and you have no say over rate increases. Your bill simply increases. However, with solar you will benefit from PG&E rate increases. Generating your own power locks in the rate you pay for the next 25 years … as PG&E increases its rates, your savings magnify.

 

Will solar increase the value of my home?

Yes, if you own (versus lease) your solar system. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) recently released an analysis that found solar panels add between 3 percent and 4 percent to the value of a home. Their conclusion is consistent with a 2013 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study that found solar panels have a “sizeable effect” on home prices.

 

Can I finance my solar system?

Yes. We work with a number of community banks that provide competitive financing alternatives, and we can help you obtain and assess such options. Furthermore, your home may qualify for financing through Clean Energy Yolo PACE financing program. Clean Energy Yolo funds 100% of the solar system costs, with payments collected through your property taxes over a 20-year period. If you sell your home, the benefit of the solar system (along with the responsibility to make property tax payments) transfers to the new owner.

 

What rebates and incentives are available?

You will receive a Federal Investment Tax Credit of 30% of your total system cost – in essence, a 30% discount (since it’s a dollar-for-dollar tax credit) incentive to go solar. The Investment Tax Credit is available through the end of 2016 and may be carried back one year or forward for 20 years.

 

What are the warranties?

The solar panels and power inverter have standard, 10-year warranties. The panels have a 25-year production warranty, guaranteeing power generation.

 

How long will my solar system last?

Most solar systems outlast their 25-year production warranties; many of the first solar systems installed more than 30 years ago are still going strong. 

 

Is it difficult to switch to solar power?

No. Repowering your home with solar is simple and hassle free. We will get your solar system up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible so that you can start saving money and using clean energy. You won't experience any changes or disruptions inside your home. 

 

What determines how well my system generates electricity?

The efficiency of generating electricity is primarily governed by the amount of light (photons) striking your solar panels. Panels facing south and tilted at an angle equal to your latitude yield the best yields. Shade from trees, other obstructions, or even clouds reduce – but do not eliminate – electricity generation. Other factors influencing generation are related to the efficiency of panels, the inverter, and the quality of the installation (wiring, connections, heat-reducing construction). Optimally oriented, high quality, stationary panels and inverters installed with best practices convert 13-18% of sunlight into electricity.

 

How do I benefit from electricity generated but not used immediately, and do I need batteries?

PG&E’s grid acts as your battery. When you produce more than you use, you generate credits that are applied against what you use. You only pay for the power you use.

 

What happens when it’s cloudy, raining or at night?

Under PG&E’s Net Energy Metering program, you receive a credit for every kilowatt hour of electricity your solar system generates. You will maintain connection to PG&E’s grid and will thus continue to draw power from PG&E (regardless of whether your solar system is generating electricity).

 

How long does it take to install my solar system?

From start to finish, the process will take less than one month – our goal is to get your system up and running as quickly as possible. The length of installation depends on the complexity of your roof, the permitting process, and PG&E interconnection.

 

How am I credited for the electricity my system makes?

PG&E’s net-meter, replacing your current meter, will track the power moving both directions – that is, the electricity produced by the system and sent onto the grid and the power drawn from the grid. Every six months, PG&E will “true-up” your electricity use and solar electricity generation. With solar, there is no disruption to your electrical service. The only change is a reduction in your PG&E bill.

 

Should I wait for new technology?

No, now is really the best time to invest in a solar system with the combination of proven technology, reduced solar system costs, ever-increasing PG&E rates, and Federal tax incentives. The underling benefit of turning sunlight into electricity will not change for as long as we still use electricity to power our homes.

 

What about maintenance?

Your solar energy system requires very little maintenance, largely because it has no moving parts. There is no need to wash or dust photovoltaic panels, but it is important to keep them clear of shade and debris to maximize power generation. We suggest you keep an eye on trees that may shade your system and keep them trimmed. Fortunately, the rain serves as a natural cleaning agent, and occasionally you may want to hose down your panels during dry seasons. When you repower your home, you receive one year of free monitoring and maintenance to ensure your solar system is operating at peak efficiency.