repower yolo

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

Sold sign.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

CoolDavis Profiles RepowerYolo Homeowner Mike Hart

Thanks to our friends and colleagues at CoolDavis for featuring Repower homeowner, and Sierra Energy Founder and CEO, Mike Hart in their July/August newsletter. Here's a link to the article on CoolDavis' site, and below is the profile in full. Thanks, Mike, for making our community and this planet a more sustainable, vibrant place to call home.

Local Businessman Saves Money by Installing Rooftop Solar

Mike Hart's 4 kilowatt solar system returns ten percent on invesment

July 1, 2016

By Carla Arango

Mike Hart, CEO and Founder of Sierra Energy, is saving thousands of dollars every year since he installed solar panels. His desire to reduce his carbon footprint encouraged him to go solar, but that’s not the only thing he has managed to decrease.

“When my energy bill comes, instead of a few hundred dollars a month, it’s now three bucks,” Hart said.

Davis-based business manages the process

Hart consulted with RepowerYolo for his rooftop solar system. “They did a great job. They came out, they oversaw everything. Certainly the most difficult part was getting connections with PG&E, and they handled all of that so I thought that was fantastic,” Hart said.

Hart explains how RepowerYolo took care of everything leaving him worry free.

“I thought going with RepowerYolo was a smart move because they’re local, and they worked with us, they worked with the contractor, they made sure that everything was done right the first time, and they’ve done a very good job just setting this up and making sure our system worked well.”

Ten percent return on investment

Hart installed a 4 kilowatt solar system (sic: it's a 7.95kW system) and paid for it in full. He explains he has received a bigger return on investment than if he had invested his money in a bank.

“If you put money, which I had, in a savings account in the bank, you get about half a percent, less than one percent interest on savings, but if you put that money in your roof instead of the bank you get about ten percent. So you make about 20 times the return on your money.”

“Anyone who doesn’t have rooftop solar, but has money in their bank is making a mistake.”

Hart emphasizes that investing in solar is better than putting money in the bank and said that from a financial perspective, he can’t think of a reason not to have rooftop solar.

An extra layer of insulation

Since installing rooftop solar, Hart and his family have maintained their energy use the same but said their comfort level has increased while their energy bill has decreased.

“We’re saving several hundred dollars a month. When the solar panels are creating the greatest amount of energy, that’s typically when most homes use the greatest amount of power for air conditioning, so it has effectively eliminated those bills for us,” Hart said.

In addition to saving money, the extra layer of all that solar covering part of the roof has made his house cooler, decreasing his need for air conditioning.

“If anything we have an extra layer of insulation on our roof now,” Hart said.

Telling friends

Hart has shown his system to friends and neighbors saying how installing rooftop solar has been a good financial decision for him.

Hart encourages people who are interested in going solar to talk to RepowerYolo.

It’s simple

“I have a hard time understanding why anybody wouldn’t have solar on their roof. It can be done with no cost to you, and if you have the money it’s a great way to make a profit,” Hart said.

“It lowers your carbon footprint, gives you a great financial return, and makes your house cooler, so it’s a pretty easy decision. You don’t have to do anything extra. Once it’s done, it’s done. It’s simple,” Hart said.

SAS: Solar Acronym Soup

All industries are plagued with too many acronyms; the solar industry could top the charts, cluttering myriad technical, utility and financial acronyms into confusing babble-babble. Here are but a few solar sugar plums, from the basic to the sublime:

- BoS: Balance of System (the soft costs — aside from equipment and installation labor — that complete the cost of your solar system).

- CCA/CCE: Community Choice Aggregation/Community Choice Energy (an alternative form of cleaner energy supply … coming to Yolo County in 2017!).

- CPUC: California Public Utilities Commission (the governing/regulatory body that oversees PG&E and other investor-owned utilities in California; aka, friends of solar and consumer choice).

- eV: Electric Vehicle (aka, peanut butter to solar’s jelly).

- GHG: Greenhouse Gas (a [horrible] gas in the atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range).

- IRR: Internal Rate of Return (the interest rate at which the net present value of all the cash flows [both positive and negative] from your solar investment equal zero).

- ITC: Investment Tax Credit (the 30%, one-time federal tax credit you receive when you own your solar system).

- kW: Kilowatt (1,000 watts of energy).

- kWh: Kilowatt Hour (a measure of electrical energy equivalent to a power consumption of 1,000 watts for 1 hour).

- NEM: Net-Energy Metering (the program/mechanism by which solar system owners are credited for the electricity they generate).

- PTO: Permission to Operate (notification from your utility that your solar system is connected to the grid, thus commencing monetary credits).

- PPA: Power Purchase Agreement (an agreement to purchase electricity generated by a solar system [on your roof] that is owned by a third-party, tax equity fund … aka, a bad deal for homeowners vis-a-vis solar ownership).

- PV: Photovoltaic (PV cells in your solar panels are specialized semiconductor diodes that convert visible light into direct current electricity).

- TOU: Time of Use (a utility rate schedule whereby you are credited [for solar] and debited [for electricity use] based on the time of generation/use).

 

And, finally:

- PG&E: Our favorite utility (though they fight solar at every juncture :)

A clean solar panel is a happy solar panel. (But, what’s the cost of happiness?)

One of the beauties of solar panels is their simplicity: They’re static, energy generation systems ... No moving parts, content as a sloth on your roof. Like sloths, they get dirty.

It rained -- barely -- last week. Not enough to even flinch the drought, but a decent amount of wet stuff to clean solar panels. Rain is like exercise for solar panels: Painful during (our production drops because of the clouds!), but fruitful thereafter (we're clean and powerful!).

The sole redeeming residue of climate change/weird weather/drastic drought is that solar systems are generating more energy than anticipated. For example, Repower homeowners' systems over the past two years are pumping out 6-15% more electricity than we had modeled. Little moisture in the ground (read: no fog), fewer clouds, more sunshine. A great potion for solar.

As rains diminish, should I clean (my solar panels) of should I chill? Stock answer for Yolo County homeowners: Clean them -- simply spray with a low-pressure nozzle; no soap or brushes are necessary -- three or four times a year, commencing a month after the last rains. There’s a lot of dirt in the air of our agricultural community. But, upon further review ...

... A 2013 UC San Diego study revealed it's not cost-effective -- and this was pre-drought, pre-water rate hikes -- to clean your solar panels. Synopsis:

Researchers found panels that hadn’t been cleaned, or rained on, for 145 days during a summer drought in California, lost only 7.4 percent of their efficiency. Overall, for a typical residential solar system of 5 kilowatts, washing panels halfway through the summer would translate into a mere $20 gain in electricity production until the summer drought ends—in about 2 ½ months.

Let them rest like a sloth? Perhaps. Sloths are quite happy in the sun.

P.S. - If/when you clean your solar panels, here are a few tips:

- DO NOT use high pressure sprayers as they can damage the seals around the frame. 

- Wash the panels in the morning to reduce drastic temperature changes. 

- Do not scrub the panels with any harsh materials. 

- If a brush is needed, make sure it has soft bristles. 

- If you notice rapid dirt build up—or bird droppings—then more frequent cleanings are warranted.

Solar solicitations

Dad, this is hilarious, my 16-year-old son chuckled. Check out this voicemail I got today on my iPhone: 

If you're a homeowner you should take advantage of this program. Your new solar panels will cut your electric bill in half. So, my job is just to inform you about the program and see if you meet the qualification. Okay?

Click. Fourteen seconds. No name, no company name, just noise. Hilarious (to my son), but annoying too for anyone on the receiving end. 

Another good solar sales solicitation story: In a two-week period, I had three solar salespeople (from three different companies) knock on my door. Their canvas-the-neighborhood pitch went something like this: Hello, my name is Joe, did you know you have qualified to have solar installed for free and slash your PG&E bill immediately?

Really, I'd reply, it’s that easy?

Yes. All you have to do is sign here and we take care of everything.

In each of the three cases — for hugs and giggles — I would drill down regarding the type and quality of solar panels and inverters, the term and strength of their installation warranty, the cost per watt, and whether I could own/purchase the system. Blanks stares/no responses to each question. Amazing.

But here’s where the chortling kicked in to full gear: I asked each salesperson to step out toward the street to take a look at the roof (of my one-story home). Clearly visible from Willowbank Road are two arrays of solar panels. We would then turn the corner and walk down Almond to view three solar arrays on our backyard-facing roof.

Oh. I didn’t know (read: take a peek at my roof).

And, the kicker: All three asked me if I was interested in adding more panels to my system. Kudos for their gumption.

Not that we (Repower) are nobel, but we do not spend a dime on sales/marketing/advertising. No cold calls, door knocks, direct mail, or radio advertisements. Instead, we pass the savings along to friends and neighbors in Yolo County. 

We’ve Repowered Our Visual Brand

[Originally published June 11, 2015]

We’re excited to announce that our new logo is ALIVE! James Goodchap of Goodchap Brand Identity developed our visual brand after a lot of careful listening and strategic thought. Fun was definitely something we wanted to convey. Local. Fresh. Community-based. And, of course, solar.

“The Repower team and I have a longstanding and rich history of working together, so there was already a high level of trust and an understanding of the caliber of thinkers with whom I was working. The brand visual identity had to be distinct, memorable. We were looking for something that had a level of energy and excitement and that reflected the sustainable technology at this pivotal time in our world, when we all must look after the planet. This project resonated with me. As a long-term bicycle commuter, I was thrilled to put my oar in the water and partner with Repower.”

—James Goodchap

Thank you, James!