Story 2014-09-19 2SKB California Basking in Record Amount of Electricity from Solar

California Basking in Record Amount of Electricity from Solar

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in science on (#2SKB)
The modern era of solar electricity got under way in 1954 as Bell Laboratory scientists unveiled a “solar battery” made from silicon that was used to power a toy Ferris wheel and a radio. In recent years, solar has boomed as costs have declined and government policies have favored a renewable energy source that can help combat climate change.

California’s solar energy generation hit a record earlier this year, accounting for 6 percent of energy from the California Independent System Operator, which manages the bulk of the state’s flow of electricity. Last year’s growth in solar capacity was greater than all earlier years combined. The state backs solar through financial incentives and a law that requires utilities derive 33 percent of their energy from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Good news for responsible energy generation.
Reply 21 comments

Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-19 14:24 (#2SM0)

I really, really wanted to get into solar for my home a year or two ago, until I discovered the hard facts.

1. It is completely unfeasible for a typical home to go completely "off-grid" due to the humongous cost, space, and maintenance required for all the batteries to smooth the day/night load patterns.

2. So the vast majority of installations are "grid-tied", meaning they pull power from the normal grid, and sometimes feed power back into it.

3. Even with the generous incentives, pay-back time for an initial investment is at least 4-7 years, during which time that $20,000 might have been better spent in a mutual fund.

4. I didn't really have $20,000 lying around anyway.

There are leasing options that mitigate some of this, but not entirely. Do you really want to be paying Elon Musk (investor in SolarCity) every month in perpetuity instead of your electric company?

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 2, Informative)

by kwerle@pipedot.org on 2014-09-19 16:06 (#2SM4)

I'm a coder for SolarCity.
1. It is completely unfeasible for a typical home to go completely "off-grid" due to the humongous cost, space, and maintenance required for all the batteries to smooth the day/night load patterns.
And there are rainy days. And rainy weeks. That's what the grid is for.
Batteries will be cheaper when Elon finishes the GigaFactory - but that's no reason to wait for solar - just for the batteries.
2. So the vast majority of installations are "grid-tied", meaning they pull power from the normal grid, and sometimes feed power back into it.
Like a big battery.
3. Even with the generous incentives, pay-back time for an initial investment is at least 4-7 years, during which time that $20,000 might have been better spent in a mutual fund.
.. payback in 4-7, leaving you with more than 20 years of profit. Unless you plan on moving in the next 4-7, in which case things get a bit murky. I think the general population does not yet appropriately value panels on the roof of the house they're buying.
4. I didn't really have $20,000 lying around anyway.
Next point...
There are leasing options that mitigate some of this, but not entirely. Do you really want to be paying Elon Musk (investor in SolarCity) every month in perpetuity instead of your electric company?
So this is the bottom line: you would rather pay your electric company to continue business as usual instead of lowering your energy costs and (if you care) carbon footprint by getting panels installed for free on your roof.

Seriously. WTF?

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-19 18:42 (#2SM5)

Nothing is free. You think I, and my creditors, and my credit rating, simply won't notice that I just took on an additional $25,000 in debt to hold someone ELSE's equipment on my aging roof and garage? Equipment that, by the terms of your faux-lease, you will come and remove at the end, doing who-knows-what to my now-20-years-older shingles? What about the need to replace the roof in the interim? What ABOUT the home's resale value for all the years that there's complicated equipment, lease, and service deal attached to the house?

Yes, it's a very appealing deal, but please don't pretend it's a no-brainer. If it were I'd already have the system (as would many more people steadfastly ignoring the salesshills in Home Depot and elsewhere, who represent all sorts of startups).

There are other concerns (panel degradation, actually declining utility rates in some areas, questionable solar exposure in the northeast, disappearing companies and resold leases, parts supply and repair issues, etc.) that I've read about too. Oh yeah, and the electric companies starting to RAISE rates and/or eliminate discounts for grid-tied users, because they claim the usage pattern of those customers is costing them money and the sold-back power is of little value to them (supposedly).

It absolutely is the future, no doubt, but frankly it still costs too much. I would prefer to see it required as part of new building codes. (I have no connection to either solar or power companies.)

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by kwerle@pipedot.org on 2014-09-19 20:04 (#2SMF)

I'm a coder, I don't speak for SolarCity, I'm not a lawyer or a construction person.

Point by point.
Nothing is free.
OK, we can quibble about things that are $0 out of pocket. Let's.
You think I, and my creditors, and my credit rating, simply won't notice that I just took on an additional $25,000 in debt to hold someone ELSE's equipment on my aging roof and garage?
If your creditors take umbridge at your investing of $0 in order to reduce your monthly energy bill, and the fact that you continue to pay it off, I'm thinking you might want new creditors.
Equipment that, by the terms of your faux-lease, you will come and remove at the end, doing who-knows-what to my now-20-years-older shingles?
http://www.solarcity.com/commercial/homebuilders
You generally have four options at the end of the Lease:
  • Request to renew the agreement in five year increments up to two times
  • Have SolarCity remove the system for free
  • Purchase the system (varies by state)
  • Upgrade to a new system
What about the need to replace the roof in the interim?
Last I heard, minimal fee for SolarCity to remove and then replace the system while you re-roof. Again, I'm not a lawyer, rep, etc - and I can't find a reference to it online.
What ABOUT the home's resale value for all the years that there's complicated equipment, lease, and service deal attached to the house?
Again, not a lawyer, but this is probably the trickiest one:
http://www.solarcity.com/commercial/homebuilders

When you sell your home, you may transfer your Lease to the homebuyer at no charge. SolarCity will provide a Lease Transfer Agreement for both parties to sign and SolarCity to execute. You must provide SolarCity notice of your intent to transfer in accord with the terms of the Lease to ensure that the Lease transfer process is completed in a timely manner. Execution of the Lease transfer document by SolarCity relieves the previous Lease owner of Lease obligations. For additional questions, contact the SolarCity Customer Care Team at:CustomerCare@solarcity.com or (888) 765-2489 x5999.

I've bought 2 homes (and sold one), and one more paper to sign doesn't seem like a big deal to me...
Yes, it's a very appealing deal, but please don't pretend it's a no-brainer. If it were I'd already have the system (as would many more people steadfastly ignoring the salesshills in Home Depot and elsewhere, who represent all sorts of startups).
It's not a no brainer. If you think it's likely you will move in the next 5-10 years, then there is some cause to consider. If you don't consume much electricity, then it might not be financially viable for you at this time. But if you're not moving and you consume a reasonable amount of energy, then it's pretty straightforward.

And, frankly, if you do a lease and you end up moving in a year - no biggie. It's not like you spent money to get the system installed.
There are other concerns (panel degradation, actually declining utility rates in some areas, questionable solar exposure in the northeast, disappearing companies and resold leases, parts supply and repair issues, etc.) that I've read about too.
http://www.solarcity.com/commercial/homebuilders
How does the performance guarantee work?
SolarCity guarantees that your system will produce as much electricity as we promise, or we will pay you back. This takes into account normal weather variation and solar panel performance over time. The amount of electricity we promise to deliver is stated in your contract. We track your system performance through our SolarGuard monitoring service. For additional questions, contact the SolarCity Customer Care Team at CustomerCare@solarcity.com or (888) 765-2489 x5999.
Oh yeah, and the electric companies starting to RAISE rates and/or eliminate discounts for grid-tied users, because they claim the usage pattern of those customers is costing them money and the sold-back power is of little value to them (supposedly).
We can't control grid companies. I have colorful things to say about those kinds of practices, but I'm not a lawyer, rep, etc.
It absolutely is the future, no doubt, but frankly it still costs too much. I would prefer to see it required as part of new building codes. (I have no connection to either solar or power companies.)
For many people, it is the present. Not all. My sister lives in Washington (mid state). Her power is insanely inexpensive (lots of hydro) and they have lots of weather. Solar isn't for her (at this time). But in areas with lots of sun that run AC a lot, solar is a no brainer.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-19 21:09 (#2SMG)

"If your creditors take umbridge at your investing of $0 in order to reduce your monthly energy bill, and the fact that you continue to pay it off, I'm thinking you might want new creditors."

Thanks, I appreciate your thoroughness and that you responded to my points seriously. However, that particular line is silly -- we would be quite literally taking on an additional $20-something thousand dollars in personal debt, and I don't see how you can dismiss that. It's not a secured mortgage -- it's the same as taking on $25,000 in personal credit card debt, or a new car lease. The moment the lease is signed, WE OWE YOU THAT MUCH MONEY and are paying it off. It's a VERY significant debt. I honestly don't think Experian gives two crapturds that I'm "doing it for a good cause".

At least, I think that's how it works from my layman's point of view. (Techie, not a lawyer, accountant, or solar system employee.)

The other response I thought was a bit iffy was "And, frankly, if you do a lease and you end up moving in a year - no biggie. It's not like you spent money to get the system installed." You're completely forgetting that for many potential buyers the very existence of the panels and system, even aside from thet lease issue, can be a turn-off. Not everyone is happy to take on someone else's great home improvement. Again, I think panels should be the NORM, but they're currently not and some people would think of them as equivalent to a moat -- an wanted, oddball feature.

But again, thanks for the point by point.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by kwerle@pipedot.org on 2014-09-19 22:08 (#2SMM)

I have a pretty skewed vision of debt. I have virtually none beside the home and the monthly visa that I pay off.

Even so, the debt on the panels is not like the debt on your car.

http://www.solarcity.com/commercial/homebuilders
What happens if the solar panels or inverter need repair?
If we're alerted of a problem through SolarGuard, we will give you call to help diagnose the problem and dispatch a repair team to fix it if needed. SolarCity will perform all equipment repairs at no cost to you.

I don't know what that looks like on financial documents, but part of the reason SolarCity can put panels on your roof for no money down is the fact that it is so low risk. People pay their energy bill, and there isn't much that will go wrong with 'em.

I don't know credit scores, but I know there is such a thing as "healthy debt" and "unhealthy debt". A mortgage generally falls in the former. Credit cards generally the latter. I'm thinking that panels are more like the former than the latter.

Yeah, moving after a year might be harder if you have panels on your roof. I expect/hope that attitude will change over time as more folks get panels and become aware of the benefits. If you have a high energy bill, I think that'd be the biggest factor in deciding whether or not to go solar.

Thank you for a reasonable discussion, too!

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by zafiro17@pipedot.org on 2014-09-19 18:52 (#2SM8)

Interesting to have a solarcity guy with us. And Bryan has a working solar system at his place, if memory recalls. Looking forward to hearing more here. I'm absolutely getting ready to build a system when I get a chance. I'm at a higher latitude with a not-huge roof, but the hell with it, it's too interesting not to try, and I'm looking forward to those 16 years of lowered electrical bills. There are apparently some tax credits too.

Glad those Californians are basking in solar, since they seem to be low on water this year. Can't have it all?

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 2, Informative)

by kwerle@pipedot.org on 2014-09-19 19:35 (#2SMB)

It's not California. It's Hawaii and Germany. Solar in the US is mostly embarrassingly low.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Germany
On midday of Saturday May 26, 2012, solar energy provided over 40% of total electricity consumption in Germany, and 20% for the 24h-day.
I think they hit 50% this past summer, but I can't find a trivial reference.

And I can't easily find any recent Hawaii records for solar production.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by zafiro17@pipedot.org on 2014-09-19 19:41 (#2SMC)

As usual, Germany doesn't screw around. Their rate of adoption of renewables should be the envy of the world, if anyone cared. And the reason no one cares is that the oil economy is still 'business as usual' and prices aren't so unreasonable that people are pinched.

Let's see the MiddleEast go up in flames, the price of petrol skyrocket, and then let's see if anyone is interested in solar.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by evilviper@pipedot.org on 2014-09-19 23:16 (#2SMQ)

The Middle East only has oil, which isn't used for electric generation almost anywhere, so solar panels aren't a direct replacement. Rising oil prices would spur adoption of PEVs, which might slightly increase electric prices, indirectly, but not too badly. A study of PEV owners shows they choose the option of peak/off-peak metering from the electric company, and then charge their EVs starting right at midnight, when rates are lowest. The higher electrical demand makes PV more attractive at homes with PEVs, too, but it's still a rather indirect relationship.

Germany certainly has a lot of solar capacity installed, but I don't think ANYBODY wants to copy that model... They got it done by driving electricity prices through the roof, several times higher than the highest electric prices in the US, to pay for it.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by bryan@pipedot.org on 2014-09-20 10:34 (#2SN8)

I've added some info on my solar installation to my journal:

Solar Power - Part 1
Solar Power - Part 2
Solar Power - Part 3

Also, you can view my hourly production stats since August 2013 in a neat graphical form or the raw table form.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-20 12:53 (#2SNA)

Hey Bryan nice writeup! FYI those 3 links all point to episode 1. It took some elite URL hacking to read the rest of your series.

Glad you like your system. A little surprised your payback is that long even though the investment was under $10K.

Just two critical comments:

1. What about that reliance on the remote Internet service for all monitoring and reporting? What happens if they go out of business? I'd much rather see a local option.

2. Your Leaf comparison is a bit slanted. That's a $30,000 car versus my well equipped 35mpg gas econobox that cost less than half that. That's an awfully big differential to make back on 50-100 miles per day (say $7 in gas) even with your "free" electricity.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by evilviper@pipedot.org on 2014-09-20 18:01 (#2SNK)

On the high-end of 100mi/day (just 5 days/week), I get close to $3,000/year in gasoline, for a break-even of just 5 years.

And that's being extra-generous to your "35mpg gas econobox," since you'll waste gas idling in traffic, while an EV won't, your mileage will suffer significantly in city driving, you might have to go significantly out-of-your-way to fuel-up, etc.

I tend to agree the payoff isn't there if you don't drive as much, but there's a significant use-case where PEVs already do pay-off, right now, and I'd love to see a small plug-in hybrid SUV...

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-21 14:24 (#2SQ2)

Yeah, and I'm quibbling now, but the thing is Bryan was trying to count the electrocar savings towards his solar payback. Can't count it twice. :-)

I think most EV buyers are willing to admit it's no slam dunk purely economically. Bryan did so below.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 2, Interesting)

by bryan@pipedot.org on 2014-09-20 21:45 (#2SNT)

A little surprised your payback is that long even though the investment was under $10K.
Ya, I live in an area with very cheap electricity. With my bill previously only being $85 a month, it takes a while to pay off $9000.
What about that reliance on the remote Internet service for all monitoring and reporting? What happens if they go out of business? I'd much rather see a local option.
I would too. That's why I slurp the data off their servers into my own database every day. If they go out of business, I'll at least still have my current data set. Of course, their own webpage is set up to display the statistic data too - I'm sure a lot of their customers wouldn't have the ability/desire to code up their own database and host a web interface like I did.
Your Leaf comparison is a bit slanted. That's a $30,000 car versus my well equipped 35mpg gas econobox that cost less than half that.
I totally agree that the Leaf is more expensive than similar sized ICE cars. Sure, I'd rather have only spent $15-20k on it, but I really wanted an electric plug in vehicle. When I bought my VW Jetta new in 2002, I swore that it would be my last gas-powered vehicle. For many years, while all the major car manufacturers totally ignored EVs, I dreaded having to go the home-made route and build everything myself if my Jetta ever died. But then Tesla happened. The Prius became popular. Nissan bet big on the Leaf, and even Chevy came out with the Volt.

So, I was already looking to replace my 12 year old car with something... Here are the models that I test-drove/researched:
  • Plug in Prius (nearly no range on EV alone due to small 4.4 kWh battery)
  • Chevy Volt (over $50k and little more than a hybrid with a small battery)
  • Tesla Model S (nice, but too expensive for my blood, sorry)
  • Nissan Leaf (correct range, zero emissions, heck of a lot cheaper than a Tesla)
Obviously, I picked the Leaf. The U.S. has a nice $7,500 federal rebate on the first "X" number of EV cars produced for each model. I was expecting to keep driving my ageing Jetta for a few more years, but the "X" number was just about to be reached for the Leaf. So I bought the bullet a little early so that I could get the full federal rebate.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by kwerle@pipedot.org on 2014-09-20 17:46 (#2SNH)

Not that it's hard to figure out, but all 3 of those links point to the first page.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 2, Funny)

by eviljim@pipedot.org on 2014-09-23 04:41 (#2ST6)

I'm just spending nights wandering around stealing everyone's solar garden lights, eventually I'll have enough little panels to power my house, no cost... if I steal car batteries also.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by zafiro17@pipedot.org on 2014-09-27 20:37 (#2SZM)

Make sure to steal the garden gnomes too, then - great way to decorate your place.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by eviljim@pipedot.org on 2014-09-29 02:00 (#2T02)

And they'll stop the Scandinavians stealing back their panels. nice one.

Re: Economics Still Not Quite There? (Score: 1)

by kwerle@pipedot.org on 2014-10-09 02:53 (#2T6C)

Probably a dead horse, but I wanted to mention that SolarCity has just announced a financing program whereby you own the panels and they will [fully] finance 'em. That way you own the panels for as little as $0 down - as much as you own anything with a mortgage.

Mostly this takes care of the transfer issue if you sell your house. I think there are also states that have issues with third parties owning parts of a home.

Again, not a lawyer, rep, etc.

http://www.solarcity.com/residential/mypower-solar-loan