Categories: "Utilities"


  07:24:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 455 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, SCE, Residential Solar

Clean Power Alliance is Coming - is that a Good Thing?

Clean Power AllianceThe Community Choice Aggregator (CCA) for LA County, Clean Power Alliance (CPA), is set to begin service to SCE customers in 31 cities starting February 1.  As this has just sort of been announced as a fiat accompli with very little information to consumers, we wanted to set the stage for an analysis that we will be publishing that should answer the question - is this a good thing or not?

Let’s start with the basics, what is a CCA? Here’s a definition from an EPA website:

Community choice aggregation (CCA), also known as municipal aggregation, are programs that allow local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents, businesses, and municipal accounts from an alternative supplier while still receiving transmission and distribution service from their existing utility provider. CCAs are an attractive option for communities that want more local control over their electricity sources, more green power than is offered by the default utility, and/or lower electricity prices. By aggregating demand, communities gain leverage to negotiate better rates with competitive suppliers and choose greener power sources.

That means that current SCE customers would still receive their service via SCE (including billing) but the energy is actually provided by the CCA, in this case CPA, at one of three rates: “Lean” (which is 36% renewables and lower than SCE), “Clean” (which is 50% renewables and comparable to SCE), and “Green” (which is 100% renewables and higher than SCE).  Different cities can choose for their residents the “default” rate - for example, Arcadia chose Lean, Alhambra chose Clean, and South Pasadena chose Green - but individual consumers can override that default and pick the rate they prefer.  (You can find the present list of cities switching to CPA and their default rates here.)

However, the only portion of the bill affected is the energy charge, which is generally a smaller component than is delivery.  For example, here is a comparison for SCE customers on the Domestic rate for what they pay now compared to under the “Lean” option from CPA:

SCE Domestic vs CPA Rate

So your savings is about 10% on the first 300 or so kWh (or about $5), but if you make it into the highest tier, your savings drops to just 4.5% on the largest usage.   (Interestingly, SCE’s delivery rates changed a lot more than what is seen in this shift to CPA’s Lean rate.  In particular, the delivery charge for the lowest tier went up by 5.8% as of January 1st, and by 22% for Tier 3 - ouch!)

You can find the complete list of CPA’s rates as of this writing, here.

This Domestic rate is the easiest to review - in a subsequent post we will talk about Time-of-Use rates (relevant to recent and future solar owners) and how to make the right choice to maximize your savings.

Watch this space.



  08:43:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 445 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, PWP

Pasadena Adopts New Integrated Resource Plan

Pasadena adopts IRP

As 2018 drew to a close, the Pasadena City Council adopted a new Integrated Resource Plan that shows the path forward for the City in the coming years. Not surprisingly, there are some big changes in store as PWP moves away from fossil fuels and toward a greener future. Here’s our take…

Where are we now?

We love Pasadena, but it has a long way to go before it becomes as green as we would like it to be.  For example, here is PWP’s latest power content label that shows the sources of its electricity, compared to California as a whole:

PWP 2017 Power Content Label


Yikes! 31% of our power overall comes from burning coal - compared to just 4% for the state overall!  

Somewhat surprising is the relatively low amount of natural gas in the mix, given that the Glenarm power plant is now entirely fueled by natural gas.

On the other hand, the City is doing very well in utilizing biomass and waste materials as a fuel source, well ahead of such efforts in the state as a whole.

So it is clear that a great deal of work is yet to be done, and it is the intent of the newly adopted IRP to show the way.

One thing that jumps out of the new plan is that coal is to be eliminated entirely by June of 2027 when existing supply contracts expire, and no new coal contracts will be signed.  Moreover, that plant is scheduled to switch to natural gas by 2025, so coal burning for PWP should end by then.

Distributed Energy Resources

As of the writing of the IRP, there were 1,303 PWP customers who have installed solar power systems at their homes or commercial/non-profit sites.  Collectively, those systems amount to 10.4 MW of installed capacity, with an estimated annual production of 16,600 MWh of energy.  That makes the average installed system size just under 8 kW.

One baffling detail in the planning section of the report: relying on a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) analysis by the Lazard consulting firm, they assert that the LCOE of residential solar (after allowing for the federal tax credit) is from 14.5-24¢/kWh!  Frankly, we aren’t sure how they arrived at that number, since our projects generally project an LCOE in the 9-11¢/kWh range.

So more solar is in PWP’s future, but they won’t be supporting it on homes, schools, or businesses anymore.  Sad.

Other Takeaways…

Here are a couple more takeaways from the 249-page report:

  • The City is planning on installing 122 EV charging stations in the next few years
  • Electric bill increases would range from roughly 2.7% for residential customers, and up to 3.4% for commercial customers

You can find the entire report here: Pasadena’s Integrated Resource Plan.


  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!


  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?


  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!

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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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