Wednesday, October 24, 2012

September update

Well, I am still a month behind.  October is nearly over and I am just getting time to write up how things went in September.  My total bill for September was $152, with usage at 1,023 KWh.  Solar generation was 754 KWh.  Last year, for the same total energy usage, my bill would have been $443.  So, a savings of $291.  Of course, had I had the medical allowance and the TOU billing, my bill would have been only $214, leaving a $62 savings for the solar alone, but that is an unfair comparison.  My effective rate from PG&E wasjust 14.9 cents per KWh.  When I add in the free solar, it lowers the effective rate per KWh to just 8.5 cents per KWh.  My effective rates per KWh last year were over 30 cents per KWh.

As for total solar generation last month, it was just 689.67 vs an expected generation of 735 KWh.  Total generation is now almost 1000 KWh under what was projected.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

August update

When I first started tracking my solar production, I was looking multiple times a day at how the panels were doing.  This was back in March.  Now, I check once a month or so.  Not sure if that is because I am so busy at work, or because the newness has worn off.

Anyway, the numbers for August are in (and have been for a few weeks).  I finally got around to seeing how I did.  My bill from PG&E was $205 for the month.  Total usage was 1330 KWh, with an additional 814.92 KWh coming from the panels.  Had I not had the solar panels, my cost would have been $562.  Even with the medical allowance, it would only have gone down to $410.  So, my savings for the month were significant, over $350 for the month.

However, according to the projections, my generation was supposed to be 863 KWh.  I am still about 10% below the production target for the year.  We will see how this trend continues.  So far, April was the only month I was close to the target production, and I have never met, let alone exceeded the target.

Monday, August 20, 2012

July update, better late than never

I have been trying to get around to posting my July update for almost a month now, and never seemed to have the time to do it.  I finally decided it had to be done, or I would have to do the August update at the same time!

My power usage was the highest it has been, by far, since I have had the solar panels installed.  Total usage from PG&E was 1166KWh, with solar generation being another 789.9 KWh.  A lot of this had to do with the weather, as it has been over 100 degrees here most of the summer.  In addition, my youngest daughter managed to break her arm, resulting in her being in a cast for 4 weeks, and not being able to be very active, resulting in a lot of home time for the family.

With the usage being so high, my costs skyrocketed.  PG&E charged $194.80 for the month.  The good news is that had I used the same amount of power last year, my cost would have been $508!  So, while my costs were pretty high this month, they are much lower than they would have been.

The monthly total solar generation for July was 810.6 KWh, vs an expected 921 (the expected values were adjusted downwards recently).  For the year so far, the estimates are about 10% higher than the actual.  Hopefully, it gets made up in the back half of the year!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why I went Solar

    I have been asked a few times why I decided to go solar.  I am not someone that has ever been considered an environmentalist.  I leave that to my sister.  However, I can say this decision was all about green.  As in money.
     A few years ago, we moved from Folsom, CA to Cameron Park, CA.  A distance of about 12 miles.  In Folsom, we had natural gas for heat, the clothes dryer, the stove, and the hot water heater.  In Cameron Park, we are 100% electric.  In Folsom, electricity was provided by SMUD, in Cameron park it is PG&E.  I never knew what a difference it makes.  Our combined gas and electric bills in Folsom rarely exceeded $200 a month, and were often half that.  My first power bill in Cameron Park exceeded $600.  Talk about sticker shock.
     We did what we could to reduce the electric bill.  I replaced the 15 year old AC unit with a brand new one.  I was promised 20% savings on electricity the first year.  It was more like 5%.  Not good enough.  Electricity prices kept increasing, and my monthly bill remained way too high.  I kept hearing ads for solar on the radio promising savings, but I didn't think it was real.
      I called a few companies, and had them come give the sales pitch to us.  I did the math, and the payback periods for buying the system were long.  I am an engineer, I put the data in spreadsheets, I ran projections.  Even with the government incentives, the numbers didn't pencil out.  I dropped it for a few years.   More ads came along, promising new pricing models.  I took a look again.
      This time, the numbers came out closer.  I could achieve $60-$70 a month in savings with no upfront costs.  This was better, but would require me to commit to a long term contract.  Another company came in, and the numbers were similar.  I was on the fence.  Then, Real Goods came back with a new promotion.  I could get the same pricing they had offered before, but the first year would be free.  Now, instead of saving $60-$70 a month, I would be saving over $200 a month the first year.  I finally pulled the trigger.
      Results so far have been in line with expectations.  One thing I learned is that PG&E net billing method calls for me to pay only some of the taxes each month, resulting in a bill of about $12.  At the end of a year (I assume after my February bill), PG&E will send a bill for the net cost of what I used.  This essentially means they are providing me with a free loan.  Another side benefit.
      The key thing I have found is to take a look at all the data the salesmen throw at you, and make sure to do your own analysis.  Your savings can vary quite a bit depending on the plan you pick and how much you invest.  Sometimes, investing a little more actually lowers your savings quite a bit.  Always run the numbers, and figure out where your break even point is.

Monday, July 2, 2012

June Update

Since I was on vacation for the past week, I didn't have a chance to post about the totals from my June bill and so I will combine that with the June actual vs expected.

To start with the simple one, June generation was 786.56 KWh, while expected was 938.  While there was only 1 day of low generation in June, the higher temperatures apparently lower the efficiency of the panels, so I never had a day above 28.5 KWh generated, and had only 1 day below 23 KWh (in fact, it was only 2 days under 25 KWh, with the second lowest day coming in just over 23 KWh).  So far, the total generated is up to 2865 KWh, while the expected was 3317.  When I called Real Goods last month to ask about this, they said the expected was too high and they would work with the web guys to get that fixed, but so far, it is unchanged.  According to my contract, the estimated generation from year 1 is 7545 KWh, while the guaranteed total is 7168 KWh.  There is no breakdown by month in the contract, so I don't know if I am on track or not.  I am 4 months in, and at roughly 40% of the guaranteed number (and 38% of the estimated number).

Now for the more interesting part.  I once again used negative peak power (-18 KWh).  But, I used more part peak and offpeak power than last month (a total of 521 KWh vs 353 KWh), probably due to the increased temperature.  My total PG&E bill was $49.56 this month.  If I had used the same amount of power last year, the bill would have been $287.43.  The medical exception alone would have reduced that to  $176.20.  With solar, the medical exception doesn't even kick in, since I stayed below the baseline.  Solar this month saved me $237.87.  So, it is right in line with the $90-$100 dollar savings I expected to have if I had to pay for solar ($141 a month next year, since the first year is free!).

Monday, June 4, 2012

Real Goods makes good

I posted about all the issues I had prior to getting solar system installed.  I have talked with several customer service reps and managers at Real Goods, going over the problems, and all apologized and told me it would be corrected.  I few weeks ago, I received a call from Ben, who is an operations Manager at Real goods.  He once again apologized, and offered me a "virtual installation".  I had never heard of the that, but he explained that they would pretend my system got installed on the original date, and send me a check for the amount I would have saved on my PG&E bill for the delays.  It sounded great.  I am not sure how they calculated the amount, but when they came up with $600, I decided not to dig any deeper.  It took a few weeks, but on Saturday, the check arrived.  So, now my net cost for the system is no longer $0, it has gone down to -$600!

Friday, June 1, 2012

May totals are in

Well, the May totals are in, and it looks like there may be an issue. According to the Generated vs Expected chart, I was supposed to hit 930 KWh of solar generation in May.  However, the total generation was only 831 KWh.  I don't think the weather was a major factor, as there were only 2 days of sub-par generation.  On May 3rd, the system only generated around 11 KWh, and on May 26th, it was 16.5 KWh.  Otherwise, no day in the month yielded less than 22KWh or more than 31 KWh.  May 5th was when the system peaked at just over 30 KWh for the day.  The system is designed for 5.6 KWh max, and it looks like the most I am ever seeing is 4.5 KWh instantaneous power.  I called my contact at Real Goods, to ask about why it is generating less than expected, and it looks like they will need to send someone out to check the system out and see what is going on.  I'll see what they find.