Going Solar: How going off-grid can and can’t help

February 13th, 2012

We installed solar electric in July 2007 in Northern California. When you install solar in PG&E territory you change from a residential customer to a commercial producer and receive a monthly accounting. As days become shorter and colder we use more electricity and we’re starting to eat into our summer surplus. Next July will tell if we properly projected our usage and size of our system. Real Goods Solar  (then operating as Marin Solar) did our installation and we are extraordinarily pleased with their service and work. We used Sunpower panels which, at the time, were the most efficient panels available.

Being an accountant, a cost-benefit analysis was a must. Being house rich and cash poor we took out a HELOC loan to pay for the system but our monthly payments are equal to our previous average electric bill. The previous 3 years electric bills increased annually an average of 12% so, just keeping the monthly payment the same  for the next 20 years will protect us from energy inflation.

Many of the Federal & State tax credits which allowed us an affordable system are no longer be offered but at least one utility CEO has gone on record as projecting that your own solar will be cheaper than the grid between 2014 and 2016 due to decreasing PV costs

I’ve been considering a solar battery charger to keep those pesky batteries on cell phones, iPods & cameras on ready call. Some research though is making me reconsider. The jury is still out on this decision.

Update, July 2011: PG&E, calculated our year-end discrepancy and we owed the equivalent of one to 1-1/2 month’s bill to them at year-end. This is mainly because much of the family decided that “since we have solar, it doesn’t matter how much electricity we use” – NOT! All being said, I think we calculated our optimal usage and number of panels appropriately. As the children move out of the house we should be able to run a surplus and sell back to PG&E under California Public Utilities Commission ruling on Net Energy Metering (NEM) .

We’re looking into solar thermal (hot water).  I understand it, there is great variation on recommended systems depending on what part of the country that you live in so read this \”Homeowners Perspective\”, based in the San Francisco Bay area, with that in mind. Search out solar hot water information based in your local area for the best info for you.

Resolve to be less “Consumed” in 2009

December 11th, 2008
The holidays bring out the consumer in us even as we try to scale back. In addition to the waste we personally produce, there is a tremendous taxation of our earth in the farming, mining, manufacturing, transportation and sale of most every item we purchase and use.           

Despite my rantings about sustainability, I’ve discovered I have a long, long way to go even though I’ve made much progress. One of the best websites to find a good overall look at your personal & family sustainability footprint is Consumer Consequences . After you input your information you have the ability to compare yourself with others in different categories: house, energy, transportation, food, etc. It helped me identify which areas I should make more efforts in the coming year.

I’ve been reading online the NPR special report “Consumed” that was broadcast November 2007 and highly recommend checking it out:

Its goal is to answer the question, “Is the consumer economy sustainable?” in a serious way. They tackle the question in a comprehensive manner, with a lot of breadth but, if you don’t want to be overwhelmed, just choose one or two that most interest you.

A partial list of the featured topics: ecological footprint, landfills and the waste disposal sector, consumer debt, air pollution, freegans, marketing, junk mail, energy independence, the effect of consumer culture on mental and emotional well-being, carbon tax, food miles, fashion obsolescence, the green economy, e-waste, clean tech, globalization, Bhutan’s happiness index.

Interesting things to ponder as we consider resolutions for 2009.