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.

Old Refrigerators & Freezers are Top Energy $ Wasters

March 5th, 2010

1997 was the year that Amana won a department of energy prize for developing a refrigerator technology that cut energy usage 50%. Sadly, I bought my new top-of-the line model in 1996. You can learn from my mistake, though. Because they are on 24/7, refrigerators and freezers are a household’s top energy user. If you have a pre-2000 model, take a close look at your paperwork for it’ EnergyStar rating.

Here’s an Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator to help you determine if your annual savings might quickly repay the cost of a new refrigerator.

PG&E & other utilities are starting to offer rebates for old fridges, as well.

Consolidating so you can eliminate an extra fridge or freezer is a good first step. Keeping both your fridge & freezer compartments full, even if just with water jugs keeps them operating more efficiently, is another.

Wako has many more details on her Everyday Sustainable blog, so I won’t repeat.