Categories: "Utilities"

05/30/18

  02:52:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 321 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Energy Efficiency, Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy

Solar Policy: A Victory and a Challenge

As a reader of this blog, you care about solar policy making, and are no doubt aware that the utilities are constantly trying to erode the value of solar.  Recently we notched a big win, but at the same time the need for vigilance is ever greater.  Here’s our take…

An Historic Win

First the win - as you have no doubt heard, starting in 2020, California will require that all new single-family homes include a solar power system.  (At present, about one in five new homes has solar added when built.)  This will help California meet its ambitious goals regarding greenhouse gas emissions, and will continue California’s leadership in home energy efficiency.

An Ongoing Challenge

As exciting as that news was, it makes it far to easy to overlook the constant, ongoing efforts of utilities, particularly the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), like SCE, to erode the value of solar.  Case in point, SCE has a rate case before the California Public Utilities Commission that attempts to create rate structures that are blatantly hostile to solar power systems.  That means that SCE customers who installed solar in good faith, could see the value of their investment diminished thanks to a concerted effort by SCE to do just that!

Solar Rights Alliance

Fortunately you don’t have to take this lying down.  The Solar Rights Alliance (formerly known as Solar Citisuns) is working to organize solar system owners into a potent political force to push back against the army of lobbyists employed by the IOUs.  There are over 700,000 solar system owners in California - that is an interest group that needs to be heard.  By joining the Solar Rights Alliance you will help to make sure that your interests are being heard by legislators and regulators alike.

It is easy to join: just follow this link to become an active member of the Solar Rights Alliance.  The IOUs have the lobbyists, but we have the people!  Be heard - join today!

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04/10/18

  10:20:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1339 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, PWP, SCE, Energy Efficiency, Residential Solar

My Electric Bill is So High! Will Solar Help? Part 1: How High is High?

We hear it all the time: “My electric bill is so high, I just want to stick it to [insert name of utility here]!  Can solar help?” Now we are in the business of selling and installing solar, so our preferred answer is, “Of Course!"  But that is not always the answer we end up giving.  So Part 1 of this three-part series focuses on that electric bill to answer a few questions first: 1) How high is it? 2) What can you do to make it lower - pre-solar? And 3) Is your home even a good candidate for going solar?  Let’s look at each in turn…

How High is High?

Ask most any consumer how high their electric bill is and they will all pretty much tell you – too high!  So let’s recognize a few things at the start: if you are a PWP or DWP customer, your electric bills will be lower than your compatriots sufferi, er, living, in SCE territory.  SCE bills monthly, whereas PWP and DWP bill (roughly) every two months.  Most non-solar, residential customers are on a tiered rate structure - that is, the more you use, the more you pay for what you are using.  That said, not all tiered rates are alike: SCE has a true, three-tier rate structure where the cost increases in each subsequent tier, whereas PWP has a bizarre structure where the “highest” tier is actually cheaper than the middle tier!  (I wonder how many PWP customers realize that perverse incentive?) 

Taken together, what can you say about how high is high?  We would break it down roughly this way:

  • $100 per month or less - Solar is probably not going to pencil out for you.  While there are many reasons to go solar besides the economic ones, if your bill is this low, saving money is not going to justify solar.

  • $100 to $300 per month – depending on the other factors discussed below, bills in this range are more likely to have a strong economic justification, particularly in DWP territory, where a small rebate remains to help lower your out-of-pocket cost.

  • $300 or more per month – Solar is exactly what you need!  The higher your bill, the more solar makes sense.  (We had a client with bills that averaged over $1,000 per month!  His payback was four and a half years!)

To illustrate how and why that works, let’s look at the modeling that goes into sizing your system.  (For this analysis we made use of Energy Toolbase, one of the most sophisticated tools available for modeling the performance of PV systems and producing comprehensive, authoritative and transparent solar proposals.)  We created three different usage profiles corresponding to the categories set forth above.  All were SCE customers under the current Domestic rate structure in region 9 (i.e., Altadena).  The first had usage such that their average bill was under $100/month.  The second had bills between $200 and $300/month, and the third had bill in excess of $450/month.  In each case, summer usage was higher than the rest of the year.

Total electric bill savings, middle-use case

Energy Toolbase allows an installer to run multiple simulations of total bill savings based on the size of the system to be installed.  On the right is that output for our middle-case client.  It’s a little hard to see in the small version of the graph (click on it for larger), but the light green line (which represents the savings under the new, SCE-forced rate structure) levels off at 7.9 kW.  That inflection point means that a system sized larger than that is no longer providing a full economic benefit to the client.

We performed similar analyses for the other two use cases to determine the optimal system size, and to then determine their savings and payback.  Here are our results:

Payback as a function of system size

As system size increases, even without assuming any improvement in price based on economy of scale (the system price in each case is $4.00/Watt), it is clear that larger systems have significantly greater return on investment over the life of the system.  If your bills fall into that third use case, you are going to benefit greatly by adding solar.  But in that first use case, not so much.

What can you do to make your bills lower – before adding solar?

However, even if your use case makes sense, it is important to consider some low-hanging fruit before plunking down thousands of dollars on a solar power system.  The two most obvious candidates for investment are pool pumps and air conditioning systems. 

Pool Pumps

Older pool pumps tend to have single speed motors, which means that they draw the same amount of energy all the time.  But harken back to your elementary school science classes: a body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  (Thank you, Isaac Newton!)  What’s that got to do with pool pumps?  Well, all that water in your pool has  a lot of mass and when it is just sitting there it takes a great deal of energy to get it moving - it’s a big body at rest!  But once you get it moving, it is relatively easy to keep it moving, so you need to expend a lot less energy to do so. 

Single-speed pool pump motors don’t get that, and they just keep pumping as hard as they can the entire time they are on.  That is wasteful, and expensive.  A variable-speed pump, on the other hand, embraces the eternal wisdom of Sir Newton, and throttles down over time.  That saves energy, and thus money.  Even better, utilities like SCE will give you a rebate (from SCE that is $200!) toward the cost of installing a variable-speed pool pump.

Updated A/C

The other big opportunity for savings is in an updated A/C system.  Newer systems are significantly more efficient out-of-the-box, and as older systems age, their efficiency decreases, meaning they are costing you more to operate.

Other Savings Opportunities

You don’t really have an old refrigerator running in your garage, do you?  If it is old, it is inefficient, and you’ve just put it in the hottest part of your home (short of the attic) so it has to work really hard to keep that case of beer cold.  Either ditch it altogether, or only run it when that party is about to happen!

How old is your thermostat?  Does it even work, or do you just use it as an on/off switch?  New, smart thermostats can save you money - and there is likely a rebate there, too!

How good a candidate is your home for solar?

Ok, your use case is compelling, even after harvesting all that luscious, low-hanging fruit.  So is it now certain that solar will help?  Um, maybe.  How good of a candidate is your home for solar?

We have written about this at length before, for example here and here.  If you have lots of shading, your house will not be a good candidate – you don’t want to be the owner of a system installed under a tree!

But other issues can change the value proposition for installing solar.  For example, your electrical service might be ancient and undersized, requiring you to spend additional money to upgrade to a newer, larger service.  If you are installing a relatively large PV system, that is a relatively small increase, but on our small use case, upgrading your service panel can add 10 to 15% to the total cost.

Other factors that are not show-stoppers but which increase costs are second-story and/or steeply pitched roofs (both of which just make the labor costs higher because the work goes slower), roofs other than composition shingles, service panels located far from where the array needs to go (like the array on a detached garage but the service panel in on the side of the house with a concrete driveway in between).

How can you know for sure?  Simple, have a professional installer come out and do a proper site evaluation.  So how do you find such a person?  Ah, that is the subject of Part 2: How Do I Find Someone to Trust?

03/28/18

  10:07:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 532 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Utilities, Residential Solar

Rethinking the "Cost" of Solar

We hear a lot about the “cost” of solar when utilities attempt to weaken net metering rules.  “Solar is only for the wealthy,” they say.  “Poorer ratepayers subsidize every rooftop solar installation out there."  “Why should the poorest ratepayers help pay for a more affluent person’s solar system?"  Yes, you hear these claims a lot - generally with little or no data to back it up.  But you know what?  We just got some real data about the cost of solar, and it might change this whole discussion.  Stick around…

California Independent System OperatorThe California Independent System Operator (CalISO) manages the utility grid in California.  They are a great source of information about energy usage, demand, and supply, and they also create an annual spending plan on transmission infrastructure that will be needed to keep the grid humming.  The CalISO Board just adopted their latest spending plan and that is where things get interesting!

In the CalISO press release, the Board agreed to cancel or modify 39 previously approved transmission projects, avoiding an estimated $2.6 billion in future costs!  That is some serious coin - how did this happen?   It turns out that we all did it together - here’s what the Board noted:

The changes were mainly due to changes in local area load forecasts, and strongly influenced by energy efficiency programs and increasing levels of residential, rooftop solar generation. (Emphasis added.)

Home solar rocks!

Turns out, this homeowner is saving all of us money!

This is really important.  Historically CalISO has pretty much ignored the contributions to the grid of residential solar generation since they do not have direct visibility into that production.  (That’s in contrast with utility scale PV systems whose production data is monitored by CalISO.)  What is significant is now, residential solar generation is a sufficiently significant player in the state’s energy mix, that - along with energy efficiency programs - resi solar is changing how CalISO decides to approve transmission infrastructure spending.

Put another way - resi solar just helped save the ratepayers in California some 2.6 billion dollars!

So let’s go back to that whole, “cost” of solar thing.  It seems that thanks to the investments made by hundreds of thousands of individual homeowners throughout the state, installing solar power systems funded mostly out of their own pockets, all ratepayers are getting to share in the return on that investment.  Moreover, this is not a one-time return; those systems with 20+ year life expectancies will continue to help avoid additional infrastructure costs for the next couple of decades.

Which explains why some utilities are not so thrilled by these results.  Turns out that the Investor-Owned Utilities (or IOUs, specifically SCE, PG&E, SDG&E) make their money through rates that are based on providing a guaranteed rate of return on built assets - like transmission lines.  Build fewer transmission lines (or power plants for that matter) and there is a smaller asset base from which to derive that return.  The ratepayers save money, the shareholders of the IOUs make less money.  Oops.

So… the next time someone starts squawking about how resi solar is “installed on the backs of the poor” you might point out that actually, we are saving folks a bunch of money, all the while making the world a greener place!

02/27/18

  03:14:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 347 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Residential Solar, Net Metering

Beware SCE's Attempt to Switch Solar Customers to TOU Rates!

 

Attention SCE customers who installed solar before the NEM 2.0 deadline (that is, you installed solar before July 1, 2017) - we just learned that SCE is sending around notices suggesting that you switch over to a Time-of-Use rate. You do not need to make that switch, and you most likely don’t want to!
Here are the facts…

SCE customers who installed solar systems prior to the transition to Net Energy Metering 2.0 rules ("NEM 1.0 Customers") are grandfathered into their existing tiered rate structures for 20 years following their go-live date.  While the costs under that rate structure may change, the basic design - a tiered rate where you pay more the more you use, versus a time-of-use rate where what you pay is tied to when you use it - is locked in.  For most solar system owners, that is a better deal.

But we just learned that SCE is trying to convince NEM 1.0 Customers to switch to TOU rates.  (You can find their oh-so encouraging web page for the transition here.)  For the vast majority of solar system owners, such a transition is NOT IN YOUR BEST INTEREST!  The TOU rates have their highest charges either from 4-9 or 5-8, and their lowest charges between 8 a.m. and 4 or 5 p.m.  That means that any energy exported back to the grid will be compensated at the lowest rate (unless your system happens to be exporting after 4 or 5 in the evening, not very likely), whereas energy you need to use in the evening will cost you the most!  

Check out these numbers:

SCE's 4-9 p.m. TOU rate      SCE's 5-8 p.m. TOU rate
SCE’s 4-9 p.m. Time-of-Use Summer Rates   SCE’s 5-8 p.m. Time-of-Use Summer Rates

Yikes!  That’s a whopping 49¢/kWh if you select the 5-8 p.m. rate - but you will only earn 23¢/kWh for energy that you export from your solar system!  Not a good deal at all!

The good news is you don’t have to make this switch!  And if you mistakenly were convinced to switch, you have the right to switch back.  (Similar scams are underway in PG&E and SDG&E territory as well.)  If you have questions, give us a call and we will help you to sort this out.

09/22/17

  10:16:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 340 words  
Categories: PWP, GWP, Ranting

Pasadena's Power Mix - Room for Improvement

Run on Sun is proud to call Pasadena home.  We absolutely love this place.  But it isn’t perfect, as evinced by the latest report on where Pasadena gets its power - that’s right, the 2016 Power Supply Content Label is now out, and it is a mixed bag to say the least!  Here’s our take…

Every year, California utilities are required to post a table that reflects the sources of the power that they provide, the “Power Supply Content Label."  We wrote about PWP’s energy mix when the previous label was published, and at the time we noted that coal constituted 34% of the energy supplied, with natural gas another 6% - a full 40% coming from fossil fuels.  Surely a year later the news would be better, right?

Not so much - here it is, read it and weep:

2016 Power Supply Content Label

ENERGY RESOURCES2016 PWP POWER MIX3 (Actual)2016 PWP GREEN POWER MIX4 (Actual)2016 CA POWER MIX2 (for comparison)
Eligible Renewable Total32%100%25%
- Biomass & Waste 16%   2%
- Geothermal 2%   4%
- Eligible Hydroelectric 1%   2%
- Solar 5% 100% 8%
- Wind 8%   9%
Coal 40% 0% 4%
Large Hydroelectric 4% 0% 10%
Natural Gas 12% 0% 37%
Nuclear 7% 0% 9%
Unspecified Sources of Power1 5% 0% 15%
TOTAL100%100%100%

Both coal and natural gas went up!  While the overall statewide mix is just 4% coal, PWP gets 10 times that much, a whopping 40%!  Combined with natural gas and 52% of our power comes from fossil fuels.  Moreover, half of the “renewables” comes from burning biomass and waste, thereby also contributing to greenhouse gas emissions!  (One bright spot - utility scale solar now accounts for 5% of all energy, up from zero the year before.)

Lest you think all of the small munis are as bad, not so.  Glendale Water and Power, in particular, is kicking PWP’s backside, with only 5% from coal, and just 29% from natural gas.  GWP also gets 26% of its power from wind!  (Here’s a link to their power label.)

PWP is making some strides, however.  Last year they replaced a 51-year-old steam plant with a combined cycle turbine unit that can produce power within minutes, compared to the 72-hour start time for the old system.  But at 52% fossil fuels, PWP still has a long way to go!

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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