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 :)

Solar on a wood-shake roof? Ask Nextdoor

Since its inception a few years ago, my wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed the utility, efficiency and candor of Nextdoor. If you're not familiar with the web site, it's a community, neighborhood-specific forum, a virtual over-the-fence, at-the-mailbox medium for neighbors to communicate. Garage sale? Lost pet? Furniture to sell or giveaway? Break-in to report? Recommendation for a fence-building contractor? 

Nextdoor is terrific. It enables neighbors to earnestly communicate. And, it's a darn good neighborhood watchdog.

Yesterday, my mom, who lives in El Macero, called. Three times. (I was in a meeting.) Then texted, in caps: DID YOU SEE NEXTDOOR?????

I logged in, fearful Maxwell, our labrador, was roaming the mean streets of Willowbank. Fortunately, no lost pet ... simply a solar question from a neighbor:

We are hoping to get solar panels installed to alleviate some of the cost of PG&E. However, we have a wood shake roof. So far, I have not found any company that will put solar on that type of roof. Does anyone know if this is possible, or know of a company that does it? Would appreciate any insight.

I grinned: We've had the fortune of helping a dozen or so homeowners (who have wood-shake roofs) go solar. It's not as straight forward as installing solar on a tile or composition roof, but certainly doable (if your contractor is experienced).

Scrolling down through the neighborhood commentary, here's where my grin grew to a smile:

You might check with Chris at Repower Yolo in downtown Davis.

We also used Repower Yolo ( They were wonderful to work with and did a spectacular job! Their installers not only knew the solar system, but were also very experienced with roofing. And they're local!

Talk to Chris or John at Repower. I did two homes, wood shake and copper and was very pleased. 

We also used Chris at RepowerYolo and were very happy with the process, and extremely happy with our non-existent electricity bills.

We also used Chris and John at they had the best price, impeccable service and attention to detail, and highest quality solar equipment- local company who doesn't advertise and saves homeowners a lot of money- We love our solar panels and besides saving a lot of money we feel we are doing our part!! 

Since we do not advertise, cold-call, or employ commission salespeople, such conversations are invaluable. And, it's a key element of how we are able to reduce the cost of solar for Yolo County residents ... whether you have a wood-shake roof or not.

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. 

The #1 reason homeowners do not go solar

We’ve had the fortune of helping hundreds of homeowners evaluate solar. One of the first things we do is try to talk them out of it. Taken aback — Wait, I contacted you because I want to go solar; help me figure out how to do it — homeowners are puzzled. We walk through the primary reasons to not go solar, including how long a homeowner intends to reside in their residence (if less than five years, it probably does not make sense) and the condition of their roof (age/shading).

Net-net, if a homeowner in our community intends to live in their house for at least the next five years, solar pencils.

But, the number one reason homeowners do not go solar is not 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.

Building on the fact that homeowners do not have to go solar is the reality of time: Solar is not a priority, and many homeowners lack time/interest/energy to evaluate whether it makes sense.

Amplifying this, an increasing number of homeowners are tired of solar solicitations: Daily cold calls, propositions when shopping at Home Depot or Costco, direct mail offerings filling their mailboxes, radio ads airing constantly. The sun is abundant, and so too are companies selling solar.

Candid pessimism to the side, solar is booming in our community for one primary reason: economics. The average cost of electricity for homes in Yolo County is $0.24/kilowatt hour. The average amortized cost of solar-generated electricity (for Repower homeowners who own their solar systems) is $0.09/kilowatt hour. 

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

Earth Day thanks

Today is Earth Day. It’s a day of mixed emotions in our shop: Pride and anticipation, gratitude and fortune, reflection and fear. Crazy stuff is happening to our planet, but (through our lens) the future is bright … more and more eyes are opening to what’s happening, and people are taking strides to reduce their carbon impact. We are confident it will continue.

Earth Day is a day of thanks for our team. Specifically, we’d like to thank Repower homeowners. Over the past two years, more homeowners in our community have invested in solar via the Repower group purchase program than any other solar company. More than 2,000 gleaming — especially after today’s rains; yeah! — solar panels welcome the sun at Repower homes. We’re proud and thankful so many homeowners have entrusted us. And, thanks to Repower homeowners, we have donated more than $23,000 to local nonprofit organizations. Yolo Shines!

In mid-2013, solar pivoted from an idealistic to a pragmatic decision. It penciled: The cost of solar-generated electricity dropped below PG&E’s rates. And, it has only gotten better as the cost of solar systems has decreased and PG&E’s rates inflate.

However, the ideals and environmental virtues of solar continue to play a part in homeowners’ decision-making. Here’s the punchline, quantifying the impact of Repower homeowners’ solar systems over the next 25 years:

- Carbon dioxide reduction: 10,596 metric tons

- Equivalent trees planted: 292,356

- Equivalent cars taken off the road: 2,436

Muchas gracias, RepowerYolo homeowners, for making a difference.

P.S. – Wanna make a difference? Go to to learn how you can reduce your carbon footprint. 

P.P.S. – Another cool stat to share: RepowerYolo homeowners are projected to save an aggregate $5,997,621 in PG&E electricity expenses over the warrantied lives of their solar systems. 

P.P.P.S. – Looking for something to do tonight? Catching the Sun premiers on Netflix. Inspirational, informative, a must see!

Tesla Model 3 + Solar PV: Perfect Pair?

A Repower homeowner and Tesla Model S driver asked me this weekend: What impact will Tesla’s just-announced, $35k, 215-mile-per-charge Model 3 have on the solar business? Timely question that prompted navel gazing, given last week’s announcement of the Model 3, the deposit I placed to purchase one, and Repower’s mission to help as many homeowners as possible go solar.

Good question, I replied. Wow, I pondered. Big, I think. Perhaps a game-changer/tipping point for the electric vehicle industry. My thoughts were shallow and streaming, yet to codify.

(BTW, Chuck Jones, one of Repower Director John Walter’s Stanford pals, has a worthy article in Forbes about the Model 3.)

From a car-driving, solar-consuming perspective, a few thoughts:

- Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Saturday that 276,000 $1k deposits have been placed for the Model 3 … in two days. (IMO: The Chevy Bolt is DOA.)

- Today’s reasonably-priced, all-electric vehicles, including my Nissan Leaf, have limited range. Therefore, if you own a contemporary electric vehicle (sans a Tesla S or X), your demand for electricity is moderate.

- Repower homeowners are generating solar electricity for an amortized cost of $0.10 (or less) per kWh.

- For every kWh of electricity, you receive ~4 miles of charge.

You can see where I’m going. For a dollar, you can drive 40 miles (with no emissions). With the Model 3’s extended range, drivers will rack up more electrically-charged miles (versus hybrid electrics like the Volt or my range-constrained Leaf). And, with Tesla’s ever-expanding network of super charging stations, road-tripping to the Bay Area, SoCal, Oregon, et al is now feasible … with a $35k (pre-tax credit) car. At no cost.

What’s the impact on solar for homeowners with extended range electric vehicles? Let’s say you drive 15,000 miles per year and charge your vehicle 50% of the time at home (7,500 miles/year). Divide 7,500 (miles) by 4 (miles/kWh) and you would consume 1,875 kWh of electricity. If your solar system generates ~ 1,400 kWh per kW of capacity, you would need an additional 1.3 kW of solar panels. The math is simple and the trend is, well, trending.

And, the punchline: You purchase a Model 3 for $25,000 (after tax credits); drive 15,000 miles per year (with 50% charging done at home); maintenance with Tesla’s is free; and, your annual automotive expense would be $187.50 for carbon-free, no compromise driving.

That’s cool. Contact us today if you own or are considering acquiring an electric vehicle. 

The future is bright.

Rest at Night, à l'Emily Dickinson

[Originally published June 26, 2015]

Happy Friday! Welcome to Repower's Friday Solar Poetry Corner. After all, in addition to being an extraordinary source of clean, affordable energy, there is a certain poetic element to solar. The Sun, so powerful and constant, well, Emily Dickinson pegged it in Rest at Night. Enjoy!

Rest at Night
The Sun from shining,
Nature—and some Men—
Rest at Noon—some Men—
While Nature
And the Sun—go on—

We Can Lead by Example, Right Here and Right Now, in Yolo

[Originally published June 25, 2015]

All right. Pope Francis's call for swift action on climate change got me to thinking about leadership toward sustainability. Other world leaders, too, are stepping up to the plate. But it occurred to me that there is a lot that each one of us can do to lead on the very real and mighty micro-levels of our families, neighborhoods, and communities. In other words, I realized that we don't need to be world leaders to benefit the world. But we do need to be leaders and we need to lead by our example ... right here in Yolo County.


The Most Popular Guy at the Party

I then remembered  an article I read a while back about the most popular person at a party. The writer asked, "Who do you think the most popular guy at the party is? The one telling tons of jokes? The handsomest? The richest?" No. The most popular guy at the party is the one who listens well to what others are saying...who shows a genuine interest in others. So doesn't it play out that to lead by example requires us also to be genuinely interested in others? 


The Invitation

Humans are insatiably curious about and aware of one another. They are interested in other humans. Large hotel chains experimented with signs that asked their guests to reuse their towels to help reduce water usage and wastewater output. One type of sign provided facts about water usage and towels, assuming that the facts alone were enough to compel people to change their behaviors and reuse their towels. The other type of messaging invited the guests to join all the other people who are already helping to save the environment by reusing their towels. Which type of messaging was most effective? The invitation to join the others at the party! 


Primary Reasons People Go Solar

For most, economics are the primary motivating force behind the decision to go solar. Freedom from PG&E rate hikes. Greatly reduced or Net Zero energy usage.  The fact that solar is clean and green is a great "added benefit." While the economic rationale of going solar is important, there is something more serious at stake here than mere dollars. 


What We Do and Don't Do

It's interesting that, when people see their friends and neighbors going solar, they become interested in going solar, too. What we do and don't do influences the people around us. Not doing whatever we can to mitigate climate change runs counter to the environmental and economic intelligence we need to exercise to get out of this Climate Change Pickle


The Biggest Yes

Yes, going solar usually a sound economic decision. And, yes, it increases the value of your home. And, yes, it frees you from PG&E's ambiguity and rate hikes. But it's bigger than all this. The biggest "yes" is that going solar feels so good because we're taking action to mitigate the damage we've done to the environment, so that Earth can begin to heal. And, by doing so, you invite others to the party. What we do has a big impact. Can you feel the (re)power?

Sunlight Feeds Yolo’s Hungry

[Originally published May 27, 2015]

In 2014, Repower had the pleasure of supporting more than 25 Yolo County nonprofits. Every time a Yolo County homeowner goes solar with us, we donate money to a local organization. You repower your home with sunlight and we help repower our community. What's not to love?

One of our favorite nonprofits is Yolo Food Bank. Yolo Food Bank feeds 17,000 households each month. This year, when you go solar with Repower, we will donate $500 to Yolo Food Bank in your name. That’s one meal a day for a year: Feed 1,500!

Here’s how we do it:

  1. We perform a no-cost solar analysis to review your PG&E bills and evaluate available roof space to help you determine if solar is a good investment for your home.

  2. We evaluate and explain multiple financing options, including programs with no up-front cash outlay, to help you choose the one that’s best for you.

  3. We manage the entire solar process—design, permitting, installation, and financing—for you.

RepowerYolo leverages the power of group purchasing. Combined with Yolo Food Bank's  buying power - through bulk and wholesale purchasing - Repower saves you $3,000-10,000 on your solar installation and the Food Bank stretches each dollar donated to equal $5.50 in food value. That means that your solar system will give Yolo Food Bank $2,750 worth of food to help wipe out hunger in our community. 

Solar: No Longer Just for Idealists

[Originally published April 14, 2015]

The Idealist and the Pragmatist; two sides of the same behavioral coin. For idealists, repowering a home with solar creates a playground for exploration, discovery, bragging rights, and the “cool factor.” The idealists can afford to do the “right” thing. Pragmatists, while also excited about doing new things, are a bit more cautious. Decision-making is driven by doing the “smart” thing.

What does it take for solar to become commonplace? To shift from the “cool” thing to do, to the “smart” thing to do?

With any emerging, high-growth market, potential customers can be segmented into Idealists and Pragmatists, and few markets better exemplify this dichotomy than solar power. The idealists are the likes of James Tennant Baldwin, who in 1977, 138 years after the discovery of the photovoltaic effect, built the world’s first building to be completely powered by wind and solar energy. Idealists are visionaries like President Jimmy Carter, who installed solar panels on the white house in 1977 and created the first federal incentives for solar energy systems.

The answer to my question above, is time. For technologies to become ready for the mass market, it takes time. And that time, that shift, is now. When President Carter repowered the White House with solar, the systems cost in the area of $20/watt. Alternative energy sources used to be too cost prohibitive for the average homeowner, and were limited to wealthy environmentalists and early adopters, the “I’m cool, but I’m not mainstream” group; a fairly small demographic. The high cost was worth the “cool factor.”

Fast forward to today. In 2013, more solar was installed in California than the prior 30 years... Combined. And, in 2013, the average cost of residential solar systems in Yolo County was $4.90 per watt. Today, homeowners who take advantage of the RepowerYolo group discount are enjoying even more significant savings, purchasing solar for $3.30-$4.00/watt. Instead of paying PG&E every month, Yolo County homeowners are profiting from the sun, earning a 10-18% annual investment return while increasing the value of their homes.

What does this mean? It means that solar energy is no longer reserved for the idealists. Repowering a home is now affordable, feasible, and profitable for the average homeowner. And the best part about solar energy? It is now the smart thing to do, while remaining the right and cool thing to do. Solar power reduces or even eliminates your electric bill, it helps the environment, and it’s easy.

The key to successfully repowering your home is to understand and leverage opportunities. Community-centered programs like RepowerYolo help eliminate the guesswork, and assure the best possible price. When a community leverages its purchasing power, homeowners can secure an even greater price reduction than before.

So what is the breakdown? This is the year to repower your home. Solar is easy and affordable, it’s the right thing to do, it is the cool thing to do, and now, it is the smart thing to do.

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.