So far so good with my SolarCity install. Today is Jan 8th and my system has been turned on since Octover 20th,

The solar system has produced 632 KWH of electricity so far total. here’s the numbers by month.

  • Oct 20-31 – 125 kwh
  • Nov 1-30 – 249 kwh
  • Dec 1-31 – 201 kwh
  • Jan 1-7 – 57 kwh

My cost is 15 cents per kilowatt hour. (KWH) and my bill from SolarCity has been exactly 15 cents times the number of KWH. There were no additional charges, fees, or taxes. Their billing is 30 days behind and it’s charged against my checking account.

My PG&E bill was kind of screwy during the transition. But the December bill as under $5 for electricity. December was the only month where I didn’t generate as much as I used. I ran through the excess power from October and November. December was also rather cloudy.

I also found a design flaw in current inverter technology where the inverters are not as optimized for partial shade as they could be. I pointed this out to the SolarCity people and they seem to think I’m right. They are even going to have the manufacturer contact me about design changes. And I have some ideas about optimizing solar cells for better performance in partial shade that I have suggested and they might be interested in. So – if they make these changes I’ve paid my carbon footprint forward for the next few hundred thousand years.

I will have to use this a full year before I can really say what it’s like but I think I’m going to end up with a lot of excess electricity. Here in California PG&E pays me 4 cents a KWH for excess power I give them. Quite frankly – I think it’s a fair price considering that I’m using their grid as power storage credits which is far cheaper than what a battery system would cost me for an off grid system.

The experience has made me think about policy issues regarding solar. I have some ideas I think are worth considering.

Since carbon based fuels are finite and becoming more expensive and are a hazard to the environment switching to solar makes sense. So the idea of government subsidies for solar and taxes for carbon is something I favor. In the long run we need to switch to solar and the sooner we start the process the better. It’s going to take decades to make the switch so starting early is the smart thing to do.

I do think that PG&E is getting screwed in the short term in that their infrastructure costs are not being covered by what I’m paying them for electricity. At the moment I don’t see it as a problem but down the road I think this needs to be looked at. In my case my house has had power since electricity was invented so my power line and transformer is paid for. But if all new construction made its own power then PG&E would lose out on infrastructure costs.

One thing I think would be a win/win for both the solar industry and PG&E would be fore PG&E to pay solar installer an incentive to install excess solar capacity on houses. The excess capacity would help PG&E meet their peak demand requirements on those hot summer days when everyone is running air conditioning and the grid and generation is at maximum capacity.

The cost of adding excess panels is very small. A lot of the cost of an install is in sales, planning, engineering, permits, and other fixed costs. Adding 30% more panels doesn’t increase the cost by 30%. More like 10%. So this would be like PG&E buying a cheap generating facility that uses no fuel and is just free power. And solar makes its best power at the time of day that PG&E needs it.

PG&E has to give certain large customers discounts on power if they agree to be shut down on peak demand days. Or they charge some customers as much as 60 cents a KWH for electricity. PG&E also has to have peaker plants to handle the high demand, and they have to have excess capacity on their power lines to deliver the excess power. And power generated locally is power that doesn’t have to be moved from elsewhere reducing transmission line losses.

If solar cells are cranking out excess power then PG&E has more power to sell for 60 cents and they can tell the big customers to keep using electricity. So PG&E gets a lot of savings with almost no costs. That would help make up for the infrastructure issue.

Another idea is if SolarCity installed a small battery system, say 5KWH and had the ability to charge the batteries in the morning and deliver the power in the hottest times in the afternoon then they could really help PG&E – and maybe be able to keep the house running for a few hours in case of a power outage.

But – getting back on subject. So far so good. Solar City has don’t everything they said they would do and the system is working better than I expected.

  1. NewFormatSux says:

    So they are working to provide you electricity 50% more costly than people in many states. I wonder how low they can drive that price and still make money.

    • Marc Perkel says:

      It’s lower than the cost I would pay here in California. As the cost of solar comes down it becomes a better deal in more states. Carbon fuel is going up, Solar is coming down.

      • NewFormatSux says:

        Suppose California dropped their CARB policies that are increasing the cost of electricity in the state, and the price came down to 10c a kilowatt-hour in the state. Would SolarCity be able to compete with that right now? How much of this is ‘excess profit’.?

        • McCullough says:

          I lost a very lucrative contract with an Arizona power plant because of that policy. I think Cali is just buyng cheaper coal power from Mexico….har.

        • Marc Perkel says:

          In a few years when SCTY starts making their own panels – yes.

          • NewFormatSux says:

            So right now you don’t think they could compete? I’m wondering if their price is set based on their cost or based on the competitors high prices allowing them to price what the market will bear.

      • Mark M says:

        I have no idea why your costs are so high on PGE the last time I checked my with parents, they are in oakland, they were paying 12.5/kWh. Down here with SoCal Edison I’m paying 10.88/kWh and that includes taxes/fees/etc. When I first moved down here, 15yrs ago, Edison was charging ~9/kWh so prices have not gone up much.

        I like the idea of solar but I could never get the economics of a leased system to work.

        • NewFormatSux says:

          Perhaps you are not looking at the total bill? There is usually a delivery charge and generation charge.

        • Marc Perkel says:

          PG&E was charging 16 cents and I think they just raised it. If I lived in an area where power is cheaper then my usage wouldn’t be worth it.

  2. NewFormatSux says:

    >It’s going to take decades to make the switch so starting early is the smart thing to do.

    This does not follow. You wrote in the other thread that solar prices are going to drop. So it is better to switch when the prices are lower. Didn’t you just criticize the IWatch crowd, and now you are adopting their tactics?

  3. Jerald says:

    Fossil Fuels are not finite (read, there is no “peak oil”) or do you even listen to your boss’s podcast?

  4. McCullough says:

    I’m now 30 days off the grid using my own hybrid solar project……producing 5.8 Kwh for average 6-7 hours per day….cost to me is zero.

    Upfront costs after tax rebate 28K. 5 years to break even. It feels good to give the local utility the middle finger.

  5. NewFormatSux says:

    Peter Thiel is the other founder of PayPal. Much of what he says sounds like Elon Musk, but then he is not sold on global warming.

    In the Glenn Beck interview, Thiel effectively says that he is skeptical because he feels that the advocates have turned the climate debate into a taboo that can’t be debated – and such a situation is a sign of a problem.

  6. Marc Perkel says:

    I’m not that solid on global warming either. I think it’s real – but exaggerated. However if we keep adding more carbon we will get there and – it’s a finite resource. So even if there were no global warming it still makes sense.

    • NewFormatSux says:

      Sure, but then the calculation of what is ‘clean’ changes. Solar and wind use rare earth minerals and have other footprints beyond carbon that keeps them out of that category. Hydro is clean.

      • NewFormatSux says:

        Of course they are still one-time environmental costs of production. The ongoing one would be the amount of land used.

  7. LibertyLover says:

    Since carbon based fuels are finite and becoming more expensive….

    Sorry, Marc, that’s where I stopped reading.

    If you look at the cost of gasoline to 30 years ago, the price didn’t start adjusting for inflation until 2008. With the dollar losing value, the price of a gallon of gas is now worth 20 cents in 1985 money.

    Carbon fuels are getting cheaper to extract every day. Why do you think the U.S. started drilling here again — the technology to get it out of the ground is 1/5 what it was 30 years ago — and that’s adjusted for inflation.

    The only reason it would get more expensive is if the government start regulating it back underground.

    And I always love the “finite” argument. Every time that comes up, the O&G industry finds more reserves based on modern extraction technologies. The top 17 producing countries in the world have enough “proven” reserves to last the next 70 years at estimated world demand. 40 years ago, we only had 20 years left. And every year, we find more proven reserves.

    We’ll have oil until we no need it.

  8. Ah_Yea says:

    Thank you for this post, Mark.

    Whereas I believe electric cars are a niche market at best, this is where I plan to go:

    Rooftop solar panels to reduce peak demand.

    Electric car with swappable batteries. Use the car during the day while charging the second battery using the solar panels and getting paid for the excess back to the grid.

    And government subsidies to boot!

  9. McCullough says:

    Our local Power “Authority” set a limit to how many of it’s customers can sell back power to the grid. Right now they are accepting no more applications.

    Apparently the number of homes that have installed grid-tie system is beginning to exceed demand. Anyone thinking about installing a grid-tie system should do it soon.

    • Tim says:

      I know it has been pointed out again and again but one needs to be able to offer the power back when it is needed — That is, off one’s ‘storage’. It seems solar always wants to put it straight back in when peak demand is low and it is hard to ramp those plants’ output up and down (so they tell us).

      As it is, they’d rather lobby for restricting use of refrigerators/freezers or control your thermostat/hot water to reduce peak demand (the plant must be able to deliver peak) while still charging bukoos (semi-artificial scarcity).

      • NewFormatSux says:

        CO2 emissions increase under this system, because of the inefficiencies of powering up/down.

      • McCullough says:

        Unfortunately, I think that is where some of this is heading. Power generation is big business, and solar is somewhat threatening to them. Alternative energy and all….

        I expect nothing from the local utility, such as it is. I am not grid tied, but can be if I choose and that’s the the advantage of an hybrid system.

        But the local Caribbean authority is predictably corrupt, and I am happy to be shed of it.

        • Ah_Yea says:

          Now I’m VERY interested in you not being “grid tied”.

          I very much would like to go the same way.

          If it’s not too inconvenient, would you be able to post here how you did it?

          That would be excellent!

          • Ah_Yea says:

            On an additional note: I had at one time lived in St. Thomas and used a cistern in conjunction with a solar water heater. Worked surprisingly well.

            I was using power off the grid, when it was working. Although I now live in more northern climes (Sigh…), I still like the idea.

            What I mean by post here is, possibly to create a new topic where we can get more info and discourse. The best use of a blog.

          • McCullough says:

            Yes, we have (2) 10,000 gallon cisterns below the house, my hot water heater is on timer, and adjusted for my needs, all lights are LED. I think I might do a post on the process.

          • Ah_Yea says:

            Ahhh, so your not entirely “off the grid”? Still use public power?

            Nonetheless, a post on what you are doing and how you do it would be fin and informative!

          • NewFormatSux says:

            Put your water tank on the roof. You won’t even need a water heater.

          • McCullough says:

            My house is connected to the grid if I need it tobe, if the inverter fails I can go back to the grid with a hardwired transfer switch. Bypass the solar completely if I’m waiting for repairs etc.

            To be clear I am always running off the batteries, and will only draw from the grid if I need to supplement, so far I haven’t had to use it at all, in fact I have it disconnected as I stress the system to see how much I can get away with.

            Grid tied is still grid dependent, and if the power goes out, their inverters shut down for safety reasons, a hybrid system will sense a grid down and turn off the back feed. But I will still have power.

          • McCullough says:

            NFS – yes most people use a solar water heater on the roof, and I may go there at some point. But I have my timer set to heat water once in the morning and once in the afternoon while I’m still producing power. Its more than enough for 2 people.

          • Ah_Yea says:

            Outstanding information! I had not considered the water heater on a timer nor the way you feed electricity back to the system.

            This does deserve a good writeup!

          • NewFormatSux says:

            No need for a water heater. If your place is very warm, just put a water tank and take a cold shower.

      • Tim says:

        I don’t want a “chicken in every pot”. I want an inverter and a big-ass battery (vanadium flow?) in every home. Make the progressives take the chickens back.

        It would seem to me that a pretty good workaround is to have all (or a good portion) households equipped with energy storage, whether using ‘green’ or not. That way, the plants could still be built smaller and peak demand still met at the same time.

        Of course, this may lead to a daily ‘power ration’ but they’re gonna force that anyways… may as well not let them get away with being able to justify the artificial scarcity (do they turn off the damn streetlights?? No. Because they are a tool of oppression.).

  10. NikElectric says:

    Batteries for storage seem like a good idea until you consider all the downsides. I’m not sure about codes in California, but here in Canada, a drainage system is required, as well as ventilation. There is also the continual cost of changing the batteries every few years, and all the hazardous waste that this process creates.

    • NewFormatSux says:

      Create a superinsulated storage system that takes in cold air in winter and lets it out in summer.

      • ± says:

        I believe this could be viable in northern climes.

        Build an underground reservoir. With appropriate plumbing, over the course of a winter, use the ambient temperature to create a 3x3x3 meter ice cube. Design the chamber to deal with the expansion of freezing water. Insulate it. The least this would be good for is cooling your house for the rest of the year. But it is simple math to figure out how much energy is available thru the heat of fusion as the ice changes to liquid. Generate electricity thru a Rankin cycle engine etc.

        • Tim says:

          ^^ This works — Phase change and it doesn’t always have to be just water (think handwarmers or the ammonium nitrate coolers).

          Rankin/Sterling is a beautiful thing, I think.

          • ± says:

            There is a difference between the handwarmer stuff and the heat released/absorbed occurring in a phase change (e.g. solid to liquid, liquid to gas and vice versa). The chemicals that melt ice and warm hands are absorbing moisture which for that particular chemical creates an exothermic (giving off heat) reaction. The opposite can occur. Absorbing heat (getting cold) is an endothermic reaction.

            The link below shows a chart which indicates that no common practical-to-get-and-handle substance comes even close to water in the amount of energy it takes to change from liquid to solid (and therefore vice versa). This is called the specific latent heat of fusion.


            Another physical characteristic of substances as regards this topic is “specific heat”. I believe water also has the highest specific heat of common substances.

        • LibertyLover says:

          There are companies here in DFW that freeze large reservoirs of water at night during off-peak times and use it for AC during peak-times.

    • Tim says:

      Yea, about those lead-acid batteries: There seems to be a good deal of built-in obsolescence to them, these days. I don’t recall exactly when it happened (around 1980??) but batteries were mandated to not offgas on discharge** — At least, that’s what I think it was; Something to do with added calcium.

      I *think* I remember when batteries used to last forever — I’d been bitching about them back in highschool as they’d always be irreparably ruined if left discharged for even a little while*** One day, my friends’ older sister was having trouble with hers in an old Datsun (early ’70s, I think)…. Popped the hood and there inside was this little battery with the Japanese writing still on it.

      “How old is this battery?”
      “Ohh, idk; It came with the car.”
      “Ever had trouble with it before?”
      “Naa. It has always cranked right up.”

      **This is silly to me. They don’t explode upon heavy discharge as much but the batteries still give off hydrogen upon charging when one is commonly under the hood dicking with one.

      ***No, people; Sitting a battery on concrete does not “drain the power” to ground. If you sat it on concrete then you probably came back to it a year or two later to find it calcated/sulfated because a charge was not maintained to start with.

      • McCullough says:

        It’s important to not discharge the batteries below a certain point, and that will extend their life.

        Hybrid inverters will accept alternate sources, wind, generators, and of course the grid if needed, then top off the batteries as necessary. An added bonus is I can, if I choose, sell power back as well.

        I have not had to supplement this way since I went a little overkill on the panels and the batteries for future growth.

  11. bobbo, are we Men of Science, or Devo says:

    PG&E as a utility will never go broke. They will raise rates to all users when required.

    There are more ways than conventional batteries to store electricity. I like compressed air for several reasons. But turning it into hydrogen has its pros and cons too. for some reason, I don’t connect with flywheel storage…seems too mechanical to me.

    Only science tells us how climate change happens. NONE of us understand it and can only take some authorities word for things. Emotions at play not to accept what the majority of qualified experts do agree on.

    Whether carbon sources are thought of as finite or not, SCIENCE tells us 75% of known reserves need to say in the ground or AGW will kill us all in 200 years. You know what that means?===

    yes, our grandkiddies are doomed.

    Silly Hoomans.

    • NewFormatSux says:

      Lots of people understand it. YOU don’t.

      And far more people understand that the science is built on using upside-down graphs and other tricks.

      • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist says:

        Those damn scientists with their status quo corrupt research funding bias!

        “Lots of people understand it. YOU don’t.” /// You know what the first step in becoming wise is don’t you?

        What do any of us know, and how do we know it?

        How do we change our minds?

        When did you last change your mind/have a new idea?

        My last time was about 4 hours ago listening to a middle east muslim apologist argue that it wasn’t Islam that was the source of terrorism but……darn!==I can only remember new ideas for 3 hours. I hope that dude is on again. I disagreed with him, but he made a unique argument that I thought could be rephrased with some profit.

        To each his own.

  12. prusso says:

    It is not PGE that gets screwed in the short term, it is all the PGE customers who shoulder the cost of the infrastructure. But it is no different than me using my Amex card everywhere to get points. Everyone else covers the fee charged to retailers through higher prices. No difference, except one results in clean energy.

    The point is don’t feet sorry for PGE.

    • Tim says:

      “”The point is don’t feet foots sorry for PGE.

      There. Fixed it for you.

  13. Rob says:

    I own Solar City stock (unfortumately bought before it dropped so much recently) so this article was of interest. What i’d like to know though is if the Solar power shingles that Dow Chemical is trying to sell (just saw an ad that installers had just opened for business in my city) are practical yet (or will be ever.)

    Even if relatively inefficient, if the additional cost in new home construction was low enough, whether adding even such partial, (relatively inefficient to conventional panels) power generation as a standard feature in a new subdivision is actually practical ? i.e., from a cost benefit stand point, even if the cost benefit is mostly on the side of the utility itself by reducing net power generation requirements for a locale, which in turn would allow rebates by the utility so that the buyer has an incentive. I realize this is already done with coinventional solar installs, just woindering about whether these shingles have matured to that point as well.

  14. What is with that guy?


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