yolo solar

PG&E burns, solar rises

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It goes without saying — but, here we say it — that last week was a really bad week for PG&E. Surprising? No, it was a runaway train wreck apt to happen, particularly as PG&E’s liabilities for the San Bruno gas line explosions and wildfires over the past two years amplified. A few months ago — pre-PGE bankruptcy — California PUC Chairman Michael Picker opined, “PG&E is too big to succeed.”

What’s next for PG&E? Myriad opinions have been tendered over the past week. While there’s no consensus, one thing is clear: PG&E’s rates are going to increase; we, the ratepayers, will bear part of the burden.

There’s also consensus that those of us who have solar (300,000+ net-metering customers in PG&E territory) are safe. PG&E cannot arbitrarily change current net-metering rules, as established by the PUC. Furthermore, solar/distributed generation is part of the solution, not an element of the problem. When property owners generate electricity via solar panels, energy use is centralized and the burden on the grid is mitigated. Solar is safe and secure.

Over the past week, we’ve chatted with a dozen or so prospective solar homeowners. Why solar, why now? we ask. Almost verbatim responses: Now that PG&E is going into bankruptcy and rates are destined to rise, the time seems right. (Secondarily, several homeowners have shared they view solar as a sage investment vis-a-vis volatile financial markets; solar generates a ~15% annual yield.)

While PG&E’s future is unknown, solar provides certainty for homeowners. Today, PG&E’s baseline (“Tier 1”) electricity rate is 22 cents per kWh. For Repower homeowners, the amortized cost to generate solar electricity is ~8 cents per kWh. With PG&E, you are at risk of (and have no control over) future rate increases. When you go solar, you lock in your price of electricity for 25 years.

And, the sun always rises :)

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.

The oh-so-beautiful Tesla solar roof: Trophy wife or trusted companion?

I want a Tesla solar roof.

There, I said it. And I admit I’m under the spell of Elon (with a capital E). He’s enchanting and innovative, a visionary with extraordinary aesthetic taste. He is hell-bent on building THE sustainable energy company of the future. Elon rocks.

I spent 15 minutes Friday night fixated on Tesla’s solar roof (and Powerwall) announcement. Set at Universal Studios, it was like a scene out of Truman Show: Was it real? Time will tell. Here's the video.

Enchantment to the side, I have a few questions for Elon prior to pulling the trigger on a Tesla solar roof (in addition to recommending the solution for friends and neighbors). Elon, I will buy and recommend your roof if:

1. As you stated, the cost is the same or less than installing a new roof and traditional solar PV system.

2. The solar shingles’ electricity generation capacity is proven and backed by a 25-year, third-party warranty.

3. The quality of the roof is the same or superior to traditional roofs, both its insulating capacity and protection versus leaks.

4. It’s easy to install and replace the singles (versus Dow’s recently-killed Powerhouse solar shingle).

5. The roof can endure standard stomping and pounding, be it a person walking or a tree limb tumbling.

6. My local jurisdiction will permit its installation.

7. It can be installed by a reputable, third-party contractor; as you know, Elon, SolarCity is not known for their quality workmanship.

8. It qualifies for the 30% federal tax credit.

9. I can insure it.

Elon, if you nail the above you will be well along your way in building a sustainable and profitable, end-to-end clean energy juggernaut. Until then, please focus on ramping production of the Model 3 ... my $1,000 deposit is burning a mini hole in your pocket!

Electric cars + solar panels: Does 1+1=3?

A quick note of thanks to The Enterprise for publishing the below article online today and in tomorrow's print edition. You can access the story here, and below is the prose.

A few times each week, we tender conversations with homeowners who own (or are considering purchasing) an electric vehicle and are thereby contemplating installing solar panels.

The psychology is similar: Electric cars (and solar) are good for the environment, and electric cars (and solar) are pragmatic/less expensive than the alternatives. Seems like a no-brainer – power your electric vehicle with cheap, clean energy generated by your solar panels.

But, is it?

Since 2010, nearly half of all plug-in electric vehicles sold in the United States are registered in California; the top-three models — Chevrolet’s Volt, Nissan’s Leaf and Tesla’s Model S — dominate the electric highway.

(And, many see the advent of Chevy’s all-electric Bolt in late 2016 and Tesla’s Model 3 — my deposit is in; please, Elon, late 2017? — as a tipping point for electric vehicles.)

Similarly, nearly half of all solar electric systems in the U.S. sit atop California households. (As we’ve shared, nearly one in four single-family residences in Davis now has a solar electric system, far out-pacing an estimated 5-percent penetration in PG&E territory.)

As transportation is increasingly electrified and energy generation is decentralized (from carbon-based, utility delivery to solar-generated, homeowner systems), does going solar to power your home and transport make sense? Let’s do the math.

Electricity costs
We have had the fortune of helping several hundred Yolo County homeowners evaluate solar. What we’ve learned: Their average cost of PG&E electricity is 25 cents per kWh, and their median monthly electricity bill is $185. Conversely, their cost to generate solar electricity averages 8 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), amortized over the warrantied life of their solar panels. Solar saves money.

Transportation costs
For comparison, let’s assume an average car is driven 12,000 miles each year. If the car averages 25 miles per gallon, powered by petroleum, it will guzzle 480 gallons of gas annually. At $2.50 per gallon, annual fuel costs are $1,200, or 10 cents per mile.

Electric vehicles yield, on average, 4 miles of range per kWh. Hence, you will consume 3,000 kWh to drive 12,000 miles. If you are purchasing electricity from PG&E, your annual “fuel” cost is $750 (or, 6 cents per mile). If your electric car is powered by solar, your annual cost is $240 (2 cents per mile).

And, of course, if you charge at your workplace or one of a half-dozen free sites downtown, your cost is lower.

Environmental benefits
I can’t conceive an environmental virtue of driving a gas-powered car, though admittedly my family owns three (along with an all-electric vehicle). The environmental outcomes of electrifying your transportation with solar, though, are striking.

According to the EPA, over three years (36,000 miles) the greenhouse gas equivalents of clean transportation are:

* Retirement of 12.84 metric tons of carbon dioxide;
* Planting 320 tree seedlings, grown for 10 years; or,
* Averting 4.08 tons of waste sent to a landfill.

Many suns will set before electric vehicles become mainstream. Though cool and cheap and clean, their drawbacks are obvious: Range anxiety (Can I get from here to there?), charging anxiety (Do I need to charge it?), technology phobia (Is it too early/will it work?).

Danny Kennedy, managing director of California Clean Energy Fund, recently opined, “We’re now in a tech world, rather than a resource world. Resources are bound by scarcity — the more you use them, the more expensive they become. With tech, the more you use it, the cheaper it becomes.”

As the cost of solar and electric cars continue to descend, as the efficacy of both improve, and as PG&E rates further escalate, it will become increasingly difficult to dispute solar-fueled transportation.

The future is bright.