solar in davis

Why solar, why now? Homeowners speak out

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At times it feels like we are solar psychologists. To effectively help property owners evaluate solar, we ask a lot of questions and — importantly — try out best to listen … two ears, one mouth. 

Our initial consultation with property owners generally begins with a two questions: Why solar? Why now? The sentiment of property owners falls into two camps: Pragmatic/economic, and/or idealistic/environmental.

Over the past month, we have had several dozen conversations with property owners. Here’s a sampling of contemporary reactions to the two Why? questions, shared in no particular order (with a heavy dose of PG&E sentiments):

- I’ve been putting it off; now seems like the right time to go solar.

- I am installing a new roof. Installing solar at the same time seems sensible. (This is common … we are currently orchestrating more than 10 re-roof + solar installations.)

- I looked at solar a while back and it didn’t pencil. Now that the cost of panels has dropped and PG&E’s rates have gone up, I want to learn if it’s feasible.

- PG&E’s rates are going to continue to go up, particularly with their bankruptcy and accrued liabilities for the fires.

- I want to do my part and reduce my carbon footprint.

- I am sick of PG&E and do not trust them.

- I just got an electric vehicle (or, plan to do so soon); now seems like the right time.

- The tax credit is going down at the end of the year (from 30% to 26%) … I do not want to lose out.

- I believe solar is the right way to go from an ecological perspective … we need to produce more clean energy/solar power.

- I just bought my house and it doesn’t have solar.

- I want to improve the value of my home.

- I am installing an electric heat pump, plan to go all-electric powered by solar.

- I believe solar is the right thing to do over the long run, economically and environmentally.

- My bills are really high; I’m tired of paying PG&E.

- PG&E’s problems are only getting worse. With solar, I can lock in my cost of electricity.

- I just retired and will use more electricity in the future.

- Solar is socially responsible, but I’m not sure if it’s financially reasonable.

- I have done everything I can to improve the energy efficiency of my home. Now, it’s time to consider solar.

Our opinions:

- Solar does not make sense for everyone.

- If you intend to own your home for more than five years, solar is worthy of consideration.

- There is no urgency to go solar; do not buy the, “you’ve gotta go solar by this date for this reason.”

- PG&E’s rates will continue to inflate; by what amount and when, nobody knows.

- Solar is the simplest and most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint and mitigate against future PG&E rate increases.

We are happy to engage in a conversation and help you contemplate solar. Feel free to stop by our workspace or contact us today to schedule your no-cost evaluation.

How PG&E’s “EV” rate schedule benefits solar homeowners

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We have had the fortune of helping more than 50 electric vehicle owners go solar. As shared in prior posts, fueling your car with solar electricity is the least expensive form of (automotive) transport: Your amortized cost to generate solar electricity is ~8 cents per kWh, and you yield about four miles per kWh of electricity. Trite but true: Driving on sunshine makes sense.

Better yet, when you enjoy an electric vehicle you can employ PG&E’s “EV” rate schedule. This time-of-use rate program incents EV drivers to charge their car (and shift other electricity demand) to “off-peak” hours, namely 11 pm to 7 am, Monday through Friday, and all weekend/holiday hours, sans 3-7 pm.

Here are PG&E’s “EV” rates per kWh:

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  • Peak (2-9 pm, M-F): $0.33 (winter); $0.48 (summer)

  • Part Peak (7am-2pm; 9-11pm M-F): $0.20 (winter); $0.26 (summer)

  • Off Peak (11pm-7am M-F; weekends/holidays all hours except 3-7pm): $0.13

When your solar panels make more energy than your home uses, you are credited by PG&E via their net-metering program. Hence, the greater the delta (solar generation less household consumption) during “peak” periods, your monetary credits are amplified.

Generally, Repower homeowners who enroll in PG&E’s EV rate schedule only generate ~80% of the electricity they use to cover 100% of their electricity costs. This is simply due to the time-of-use rate schedule and the advantage of buying electricity at a low rate and getting credited at nearly 4x. Very cool.

With apologies for the bevy of metrics, let’s review an example. Below is the electricity use for a fairly standard Davis homeowner who charges their electric vehicle 12,000 miles per year at home.

Pre-solar electricity use and costs (on PG&E’s “E-1” program):

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We then sized and modeled a solar system to eliminate the homeowner’s electricity bill: A 4.8 kW, 15-panel system installed at 270-degree azimuth (due west), no shading. The solar panels are projected to generate 6,493 kWh in year one, thus covering 70% of the homeowner’s electricity use.

If the homeowner did not own an electric vehicle, they would (upon going solar) enroll in PG&E’s “TOU-A” rate schedule. Like the EV rate, TOU-A values electricity based on demand (“peak” period is 3-8 pm), but there’s little difference between peak and off-peak periods.

Solar economics under the default E-TOU (A) rate schedule:

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The homeowner’s year-end, true-up cost would be $645 — the solar system is too small. This is not bad, but …

… under the EV rate schedule, the homeowner generates significant time-of-generation credits/leverage. Their year-end bill would be $108.

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Simple but lucrative: The homeowner will save an additional $500 per year through the EV rate schedule. Contact us today with questions and/or if you’d like a free solar assessment.

50,000 Model 3s in 90 Days: Tesla is Tipping the World

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Tesla reported earnings yesterday. To the surprise of most experts (!), Elon crushed it. In three months, Tesla sold more than 80,000 electric vehicles, including 52,339 Model 3 sedans. And, they made money, registering a $312 million profit and generating more than $800 million in free cash flow. Well done.

We tweeted last month about Tesla’s extraordinary business model and outcomes:

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Further amplifying the above, from yesterday’s Wired story:

At the end of the quarter, Tesla actually welcomed existing customers as volunteers to help deliver cars, as that became the new bottleneck. “I’ve never heard of a case where customers volunteered their time to help a company succeed,” said Musk. “That’s amazing. It chokes me up actually.”

Great news for Tesla, but more important, for the future of electric vehicles (and, thereby, our planet) … an American auto manufacturer is making money selling all-electric cars. Amen.

We have had the fortune of helping more than 60 electric vehicle owners (including ~15 Tesla owners) go solar. The economics of solar are good; solar + electric vehicles are outstanding.

A few anecdotes:

  • Increasingly, we are installing 240A eV outlets in concert with solar systems, in advent of a future/soon-to-come electric vehicle (and its charger). Very simple, efficient and inexpensive process, particularly when bundled with the solar engineering and permit. (And, you get the 30% tax credit on your additional electrical work.)

  • Refresher on the math for increasing your solar system’s size to accommodate eV charging: Simply take the total number of miles/year you anticipate driving (e.g., 12,000), multiply by the percentage of time you will charge at home (e.g., 75%), and divide the number of at-home miles by 4 (e.g., 9,000/4) to calculate the additional electricity load in kWh (in this scenario, 2,250 kWh).

  • The amortized cost to generate solar electricity is ~$0.08 per kWh. Hence, your cost to drive electric is about two cents per mile. (Add in the fact that there’s no maintenance and the picture’s even rosier.)

  • All electric vehicle owners should switch to PG&E’s “EV” rate schedule … the benefits are amplified if you have solar. (We model multiple PG&E rate schedules for Repower homeowners … in most all cases, switching to “EV” is the best case.)

  • We’re working with a number of churches in the community, helping them go solar and install eV chargers … all churches see it as a community benefit, and thus public availability of chargers is going to increase significantly — via churches, local governments, businesses, apartments, hotels, et al — in the near future.

Want to learn more? Feel free to contact us and/or attend a Davis Electric Vehicle Association (DEVA) meeting at our office.

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.

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.

 

 

Tesla Model S vs. 3: First Impressions

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

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

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

I got spoiled by the S.

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

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

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

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

So my conclusion:

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

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

Just wait until 200,000 are on the road.

The future 

🤔

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

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

The fully autonomous can be added later. 

Trump tariff: #Sad #NotFakeNews #TheSunAlwaysRises

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On Monday President Trump instituted a 30% tariff on solar panels manufactured outside the United States. Optics/first take: Defies logic, common sense, and basic economics … not surprising given the ignoramus in chief.

On the surface, it's sad: Ideology trumps reality. Here's a quick summary of the irrationality of POTUS's move: 

  • Solar is the fastest growing industry/job creator in the U.S., and is projected to grow faster than any industry over the next 10 years.
  • Less than 5% of solar panels are manufactured domestically. Why such tepid market share? We cannot produce a reliable, cost-effective product.
  • When property owners go solar, the economy benefits and is decentralized: Less money is paid to utilities, more money is kept (and recirculated) by home- and business-owners.
  • And, the environment benefits, immensely.

In reality — importantly -- it will not matter. The 30% tariff will increase the gross cost (investment) of a solar system by 8-10%, at worst. Much of this inflation has already been priced into the market: Solar panel prices increased $0.15-0.20 per watt in September, in fear of the pending tariff. (We were fortunate to secure enough solar panels (at pre-tariff prices) to supply Repower property owners through early spring.)

And, the first 2.5 gigawatts (GW) -- or, 2,500 megawatts; 2.5 million kilowatts; 2.5 billion watts; simply, ~8 million solar panels -- imported each year are exempt from the tariff. (By comparison, an estimated 7 GW of imported solar modules were installed in the U.S. in 2017.)

Worst-case: The simple payback for a residential system will increase by 4-6 months. From an article in today's Politico:

Since solar cells and panels make up only a fraction of a new solar system's costs, analysts expect the tariffs to bump up overall installed prices by 6 percent for residential rooftops and about 10 percent for utility-scale plants. Rocky Mountain Institute's own analysis says that the ongoing decline in solar installation costs will wipe out the price increases from the tariff in 18 months.

It could have been worse, and many solar industry leaders are relieved the Trumpster did not throw the solar industry in the dumpster. Solar is a but a crumb of our economic pie, and the tariff is much like a small sliver in your had: Temporary pain, but long-term it's nothing.

Solar is an ever-growing bonfire. Even with the tariff, solar-generated electricity still much less expensive that utility electricity (i.e., you can generate solar energy for ~8 cents per kWh; the average cost in PG&E territory is 26 cents/kWh). Again, from Politico:  

"I don’t want to suggest that anyone is invulnerable," said Greg Wetstone, CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy. "But we have a tremendous amount of momentum in the marketplace. I think the administration understands it's not in their interest to get in the way of the driver that is producing tremendous amounts of investment and creating jobs."

Be calm, solar on.

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.

YoloShines: Yolo Crisis Nursery

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As we’ve shared, every time a homeowner goes solar we donate $500 to the local nonprofit of their choice. We call this program “YoloShines,” in great part because we believe nonprofit organizations are the underlying fabric of our community — they make it shine! — and, thereby, we have a responsibility to support such groups.

Over the past year, seven Repower homeowners have selected Yolo Crisis Nursery (YCN) for their YoloShines gift; hence, we had the fortune of donating $3,500 to YCN in 2017. In an effort to shine a light on YCN and engage the community to join us in our support, here’s a quick profile of the organization.

First, a story that amplifies the impact of YCN:

About one year ago, a distraught young mom named Jess first came the Yolo Crisis Nursery.  After the birth of Jess’s second child she was home alone with her newborn and her toddler, and realized she was having trouble caring for them both by herself.  Jess’s decision to call the Nursery probably saved her baby’s life.

Over the phone, YCN staff invited Jess to bring both children to the Nursery, where we could care for them at no cost and give her a much-needed break.  Once the family arrived, the situation took a dramatic turn.  Executive Director Heather Sleuter looked at the baby and saw that he was far too listless.  She asked when he had last been fed.  Jess said she could not remember.

Heather directed one of our caregivers to comfort and care for the toddler and then drove both the baby and Jess to the hospital. 

The emergency room staff attended to the child, successfully treating him for severe dehydration.  The doctor told us the baby had come within hours of death.  Meanwhile, Jess received the medical attention she needed.  County authorities made arrangements for both children to move into temporary foster care.

While county officials and Jess worked toward family reunification, her health stabilized and the children eventually returned home.  The family was then enrolled in YCN’s Family Life Skills Program.  A Nursery staff member visited the family’s home for two hours a week for 12 weeks for hands-on parenting education.  Families who complete our program significantly increase the likelihood that they will remain together,’

Today, a year later, this family is doing well.  Jess is working and the children are happily enrolled in day care and preschool.

Wow. Thanks to Cam Stoufer with YCN for sharing the story of lives saved and changed.

All organizations have a purpose … Why does Yolo Crisis Nursery exist? The mission of the Yolo Crisis Nursery is to provide early intervention services to nurture healthy and resilient children, strengthen parents and preserve families. Our vision is that every child in Yolo County grows up in a safe, loving and stable home. The Nursery’s overarching goal is to prevent child abuse and neglect among young vulnerable children by partnering emergency childcare with wrap-around services for families in trauma or crisis. In doing so we keep children safe and families whole in our community.

In 2017, Yolo Crisis Nursery’s accomplishments included:

  • Families receiving childcare services who did not become clients of CPS: 99%
  • Families linked to case management counseling and community resources: 267
  • Families completing referral to wrap-around services: 98%
  • Children served and childcare slots provided: 178 (individual count - up 45% over previous year) and 2,342

Very significantly, 98% of the families the Nursery serves do not become clients of Child Protective Services.

Now, our punchline ... here’s how you can help (monetarily, personally, professionally): Yolo Crisis Nursery is a 501c3 nonprofit organization (Tax ID #47-1006055) which welcomes support from individuals, businesses, foundations, service and faith-based organizations in our community.  The Nursery provides care packages to our families and in-kind support is always welcome in the form of diapers, formula, clothes toys and other items for children.  Volunteer service projects occur throughout the year to maintain and enhance the Nursery facility for our children and families.  Volunteer positions are available annually on the Board of Directors and ongoing as members of the Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery, the fundraising and advocacy auxiliary of the Nursery.  Lastly, the community is invited to participate in the annual Krustaceans for Kids Crab Feed to support the Nursery’s programs.  This year the Crab Feed will be held on Saturday, March 24 at the Woodland Community and Senior Center from 6:00 to 9:00 pm.  Tickets and sponsorships are on sale now.  More information is available at: www.yolocrisisnursery.org.

Please join us in supporting Yolo Crisis Nursery, a shining light in our community.

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’

A clean solar panel is a happy solar panel: Simple tips for cleaning your solar panels

In mid-June it rained. Hard. In Davis, California. Call it what you’d like: Weird weather, climate change, global warming. One thing’s for sure with the unseasonal rains: Solar panels (and their owners) were smiling on a rainy June day. Now that the rains have subsided and peak-solar generation season is in full swing, our solar panels are collecting dust and pollen and bird droppings. The panels are increasingly frowning.

What’s a solar owner to do?

Solar PV systems require modest maintenance (read: cleaning) to maximize production efficiency. Below are a few tips that will help guide your steps over the life of the system. First, the warnings: exercise great care in accessing the panels. Roof materials get unexpectedly slick. And it’s easy to damage many roofs.

Keep in mind that many owners do nothing for the entire time they own the system. Equipment failures are rare and when they occur, it’s within six months of the installation. Panels are designed to last 25-years or more; inverters last at least 12 years. In short, none of the conditions mentioned below impacts many owners. Still, for those seeking full information, keep reading.

If your home or business is powered by solar, there are three options:

1. Do nothing (i.e., let the rain cleanse your panels).

2. Do it yourself (periodically clean your panels).

3. Hire a cleaning service.

Option #1 (do nothing), obviously, generates the least amount of electricity. Option #3 (hire a professional to clean your panels) optimizes efficiency, but can be quite expensive; the cost of doing so oftentimes exceeds the value of your increased solar generation. (Researchers at UC San Diego concluded, “You definitely wouldn’t get your money back after hiring someone to wash your rooftop panels.”) Herein we focus on the most common alternative: Do it yourself.

As solar panels have no moving parts, the main area of maintenance is to keep them clean. We recommend to check the panels periodically especially during dry periods when precipitating dust occurs with the morning dew. Dirty panels can reduce electricity production as much as 8-12% (results from Department of Energy studies vary). Most dirt can be easily removed with water sprayed from a hose or from rainfall. (Do NOT use high-pressure sprayers as it can damage the seals around the frame.) Important: Wash/spray the panels in the morning to reduce drastic temperature changes. If you cannot ascend your roof, simply spray from the ground and let gravity do the trick … a small wave of water will cleanse most dust. Do not scrub the panels with any harsh materials. If a brush is needed, make sure it has soft bristles, or opt for a common window squeegee. If you notice rapid dirt build up—or bird droppings—then more frequent cleanings are warranted.

Generally, we recommend cleaning your panels every six weeks, commencing in early June (given that our last rains, typically, occur around Picnic Day) and continuing through early September. Hence, 3-4 cleanings every six weeks will suffice.

We monitor the production of 100+ solar systems in our community. Thereby, we can tell when a homeowner has cleaned their panels … solar production increases 5-6%, and then gradually decreases. In addition to our general rule-of-thumb — cleaning every six weeks during peak production season (late May through mid-September — it’s worthy to keep an eye on your web-based monitoring system to gauge if/when your panels would like a bath.

And, of course, feel free to contact us if you have questions.

PG&E just raised its rates (again!); what’s going on and what can I do?

Effective March 1, PG&E condensed the tiers of its E-1 residential rate schedule (the tariff most homeowners employ). And, again, electricity rates went up, this time by ~8%. What’s the story and what can I do, if anything?

First, a little background. Every few years, PG&E submits a three-year budget to the California Public Utilities Corp (CPUC), aka, their “rate case”. Therein, they propose myriad rate schedules for commercial, agricultural, residential and other customer groups. The CPUC eventually approves PG&E’s budget, but that’s not the end; over the ensuing three-year period, rate schedules are modified (read: rates are increased) to reflect contemporary PG&E expenses. Over the past two years, PG&E’s residential rates have increased ~43%. Ouch.

Like it or not, inflationary pressures on PG&E’s rates are somewhat just:

  • Replacement of aged infrastructure (e.g., natural gas lines; updated the grid);
  • Retirement of idled assets (e.g., “peaker” power plants; Diablo Canyon);
  • Reduction in generation of inexpensive hydro electricity (due to the drought);
  • AB 32 and the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS); and,
  • Long-term power purchase contracts.

And, living here, we have no choice but to love the one we’re with, at least until Valley Clean Energy Alliance (VCEA) launches. (Side note: PG&E has commenced its fear-and-smear campaign regarding VCEA and community choice energy … it’s gonna get ugly.)

Homeowners have four rate schedules to choose from:

  • E1 (the most common rate): Electricity is priced based on tiers (monthly usage).
  • EV: Time-of-use pricing for electric vehicle owners.
  • E-TOU (A): Time-of-use pricing, with “peak” periods from 3:00-8:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
  • E-TOU (B): Also time-of-use, with peak pricing from 4:00-9:00 p.m.

So, what’s a homeowner to do? Here are a few simple ways to reduce your utility costs:

1. Go to PG&E’s website, log in to your (or create an) account and select “Compare Rate Plans” in the right column. Based on the time and volume of your electricity use, PG&E — such kind souls! — will quantify your costs under the above scenarios and suggest the least expensive rate schedule. More than likely, one of the time-of-use plans will reduce your bill.

2. Change your behavior. No, not your comfort (or the way you live), but your electricity use. Simple things like doing laundry in the morning, on weekends, or after 9:00 p.m. will lower your costs. So too, if you have a pool, will changing the time your pump runs; start it at 11:00 p.m. And, in the summer cool your home in the morning and early afternoon, then turn off your AC at 3:00.

3. Replace incandescent and CFL bulbs with LEDs. This is not even low hanging fruit in the energy savings world; it’s fruit laying on the ground. 

4. If you have a swimming pool, install a variable speed pool pump. Thereby you can reduce the electricity consumed by your pool by ~70%. Davis Home Trends, Leslies and several other stores can lend a hand.

5. If you haven’t done so already, go solar and insulate yourself from future PG&E rate increases. (No duh, eh?)

And, of course, feel free to contact us or stop by. As Jackson Browne once mused, we may not have the answer, but we believe we’ve got a plan.

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.

President-elect Tump + the future of solar

So, it happened. President-elect Donald Trump. The ramifications are yet to be seen, but based on more than one-dozen conversations since the election with prospective solar investors (residential and commercial property owners), a valid concern has been floated: What will happen to the 30% federal solar (renewable energy) tax credit?

First, what we know: Mr. Trump has bemoaned climate change as a “hoax.” He has committed to revitalizing the coal industry and boosting national development of non-clean (read: natural gas and oil) energy sources. And, he has — for selfish reasons, given his on-the-coast golf course in the UK — denounced wind farms. Furthermore, he has floated climate science denier Myron Ebell as a potential director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Clean air, clean water, viable species, and solar tax credits be damned.

But, in my conversations with concerned folk, I’m trying to apply logic and common sense. First, the solar industry has created more jobs in the US over the past five years than any other industry, and it’s the fastest growing sector in the economy -- more than 200,000 patriots are employed in the solar industry. The solar industry is growing 12x faster than the overall economy. Solar creates jobs; republicans like job growth. Second, when property owners opt to invest in and create their own energy, they are exercising their (energy and investment) independence. Who’s to argue with an individual’s right to create their own energy? Decentralization of energy — creation, distribution, investment — is something both sides of the aisle should logically agree with. (Fact: 85% of Americans and 84% of republicans support solar.)

My fear: Uneducated idealism will trump logic, facts, statistics and applied common sense. The reality that the fossil fuels industry receives more than 10x the incentives (tax credits included) of renewable energy will be cast aside by powerful coal and gas industries. 

My hope: Renewable energy (and solar in particular) is a roaring bonfire in our country that ideologues and industrialists can’t stop. Our economy and our environment benefit every time a property owner opts to invest in clean energy. It’s their choice, and it makes sense; if it did not, they would not do it.

The reality: Those of us who believe in and champion clean energy investment cannot simply apply logic and common sense. We will need to fight, use facts, and trumpet the job-percolating, economic-resonating virtues of our profession and passion. Solar is now and it is happening … we cannot allow the momentum to become no-mentum.