Monday, December 26, 2011

Bumps in the road

So far, I am not impressed with the installation process. The first strike was when the install person was supposed to come out and measure the roof for the final step to getting the plans sent to the county. He was supposed to come at 9am on Tuesday, November 22nd. I received a call from him at around 7:30am that day saying he wouldn't be able to make it, and rescheduling for a week later. Not a big deal, but annoying. After that was taken care of, the office called to schedule the install. The proposed date was December 20th, but we were on vacation that week, so I asked to move it to the 27th. This was no problem, and I thought we were all set. I even got a confirmation call on my voice mail on December 20th. When I got back from vacation on 12/22, I called back to confirm. This is where the new issues started. There were apparently issues with the shade measurements taken back in November. I am not sure what the issue is, the operations person I was talking to had not been trained on shade measurements yet, so she didn't know what the problem was. They would work on it and get back to me on Friday, the 23rd. When they called back on Friday, the shade measurement issue was resolved (although, still no explanation as to what the issue was or how it was resolved), but there was a new problem. The panels didn't arrive on the shipment on Friday, so they are unable to proceed with the install this week. The next slot is January 9th. Hopefully, the panels will show up by then, and someone will explain to me the shade measurement issue. I hate last minute issues, most of them can be avoided with planning. While I am not sure if that is the case here, from where I sit it sure looks like it. If I hadn't gone on vacation, the install would have been scheduled a week earlier, so shouldn't they have had the panels ready for then?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Next steps

Well, the salesman who signed me up for the solar program indicated that it should be installed by the end of the year. I am not sure if this is realistic, and it appears that I shouldn't get my hopes up. After signing the paperwork with Real Goods Solar on October 31, I received an e-mail this week with the next steps. This document shows 3 phases that should last 16 weeks, which would put completion sometime in February.

Phase 1 (Pre Construction Phase) is shown as lasting 8 weeks. This includes processing the paperwork and introducing the operations team to me. I assume this part is now done, as I have had calls from 3 different members of the operations team. Next is the submitting of rebate forms to the state (approval takes 3-6 weeks). The site tech visit to the house to verify measurements is scheduled for next Tuesday. Following that is finishing the drawings and obtaining the building permits. Only then is installation date determined.

Phase 2 is the construction phase. It is shown as being week 9. Installation takes 1-5 days.

Phase 3 is post construction phase. Weeks 10-16. This includes the inspections by the local building department (can take up to 2 weeks) followed by system interconnection with PG&E which can take up to 6 weeks! I assume I don't get any benefits from the system until this is done. During this phase they also send me the owners manual and final packet (why don't they just leave them with me after the construction?) and then Real Goods gets the state rebate. Why do I care when they get the rebate? It doesn't seem to impact me at all. I guess they didn't want me to think they forgot?

Anyway, we will see how the site visit by the tech goes next week.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Made the decision

I live in a house that is 100% electric powered. For the last 7 years, $600+ electric bills have become the norm, especially during the months at the extreme ens of the weather spectrum. In the summer, the air conditioner runs continuously, and in the winter it is the heat pump. I thought it was due to the fact that we had an old HVAC unit that was undersized for the house (the previous owner had not upgraded it after adding a 1000ft+ addition). We replaced that two years ago, and while it cut our power consumption about 10%, it was far short of the 20% that the company promised us (luckily, they guaranteed that, so they did pay the difference for the first 2 years).
So, this summer I started researching solar. I looked into several options, from multiple companies. Apparently, my house is a good candidate for solar. Two different companies gave me quotes for systems, but purchasing them outright would require a significant cash outlay, and I am not in a position to do that at this point.
Fortunately, both companies also had $0 down lease/PPA options. The initial offers were similar, in that both had 5.64 KW systems, and both were for around $0.23 a KWh. The main difference was in the yearly escalator clause. One had a 3.5% escalator, the other a 3.9% escalator. Both companies projected I would save between $1500 and $2000 a year by going solar.
Since I don't trust salesmen, I did the math myself. PG&E has a tiered rate system. Tier 1 is around $0.12 a KWh for up to 100% of baseline, tier 2 goes up to $0.14, but only for between 100 and 130% of baseline. Then, the ripoff rates kick in. Tier 3 is $0.30 a KWh for up to 200% of baseline, and then it maxes out at tier 4 at $0.34 a KWh. Since the baseline is 18 KWh a day in summer and 28 KWh winter, and according to my PG&E smart meter, I use between 40 and 85 KWh a day, I am continually paying the highest rate possible for the power.
The system should generate roughly 8000 KWh a year, if they all save me $0.11, that is roughly $900 a year. Not bad for paying nothing, but then it got better. One of the companies offered to give me the first year free. So, that is 8000 KWh I am getting at a savings of $0.34 each, a first years savings of $2700. Of course, in year 2 I go back to paying for it, but that extra $1800 in savings the first year is what is motivating me to get the system installed. Without that, I was on the fence.
There is still some risk, since the solar rates go up 3.5% a year. If PG&E rates stay flat, in year 13 solar will be more expensive for me then PG&E. If baselines increase dramatically, then the savings can disappear. Neither scenario seems likely, but who knows?
I just received the paperwork from the salesman, and I plan to sign it on Monday. By the end of the year, the system should be installed. I will track the progress and savings here. Hopefully, it all goes according to plan.