Solar Electricity Questions and Answers (Q&A)
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New SunCal Solar BLOG Location

Hello,
SunCal Solar has just launched a new website.  It's primarily an update to make the website easier to read and use. 

Now the SunCal Solar Electricity BLOG will be migrated over to this new website also.  The main website is at www.SunCalSolar.com and the BLOG can be accessed from that site or by going to www.SunCalSolar.com/blog

If you've liked our BLOG in the past please subscribe to the new one by going to the new website and clicking on the "subscribe" button in the upper right corner of the page.  You can subscribe by email through FeedBlitz or through an RSS feed. 


We look forward to hearing from you. 

Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
NABCEP Certified PV Solar Installer
CA State Licensed Electrical Contractor (C10) & Solar Contractor (C46)
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

Top 3 Considerations Every Homeowner Should Understand Before Buying a Solar Electric System

There are three important considerations for anyone thinking about solar electricity.  Many people focus on only one or two of these crucial considerations for a solar electricity system, but all three are very important.  If any one of these three is missing you could be heading for decreased energy savings, increased maintenance costs, and safety issues.  Be wary of any installer who wants to focus on only one or two of these. 

1)       Quality of Panels, Inverters, and Mounting Equipment:  Your installer should use only high quality solar electric panels.  There are many “less than reputable” companies selling panels.  Stick with established manufacturers that have a history of making quality solar panels.  The same goes for the inverters (inverters convert the electricity that the solar panels produce to the type of electricity used in your home). 

Use only established manufacturers with a solid history.  The mounting equipment should be strong enough to stand up to wind and be long lasting enough to last at least 25 years.  The mounting parts should all be aluminum or stainless steel.  Wood does not last long enough for use with solar. 

2)       Quality of System Design:  Solar electricity systems must be designed carefully by an expert. An improperly designed and installed system can cost you many thousands of dollars, could have safety issues, and may never work properly. I have seen this happen too often. Protect yourself and find someone who specializes specifically in solar power. Avoid contractors who “also do solar” as an add-on to their business; like home improvement companies and heating and air conditioning companies. Would you go to an "eye, nose, and throat" doctor who does heart surgery “also”?  I bet not.  Find a specialist!  

Experience, electrical engineering degrees, and NABCEP (www.nabcep.org) certification are excellent indicators of an expert.  NABCEP is an independent certification organization that requires extensive knowledge and experience to qualify for their certification.  This is a minimal qualification that every solar installer should have. 

3)       Quality of Installation:  This is probably the most important and most overlooked consideration.  Find a contractor who does their own installations.  They will have control over the quality of work and time schedule of the job.  Avoid sales organizations that just outsource their work, because they lose control of the quality and timeliness of the installation. 

Would you rather know your installer?  Or how would you feel to have someone you’ve never met do your installation? 





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Robert Morse
BSEE,MSEE
NABCEP Certified PV Solar Installer
CA State Licensed Electrical Contractor (C10) & Solar Contractor (C46)
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

How to Read Your SDG&E Smart Electric Meter

Reading your new smart electric meter is easy. Your smart electric meter automatically scrolls through several different displays. Each display remains on screen for three to five seconds.  

These displays will show your kilowatt-hour usage, date and time and other network and diagnostic information that is useful to SDG&E and does not relate to your bill or energy usage.

Understanding the various Scrolling Display Codes

Most of the scrolling digital displays are identified by a number in the top left-hand corner, that represents what type of data is being shown.

Shown as “01” indicates the date

The date is shown as month then day then year.

For example, June 17, 2008 would display as 061708.

Shown as “02” indicates time of day

The time is shown in “military” or 24 hour time and includes seconds.

For example, if it’s 7:17 pm and 17 seconds, the display will be 191717.

Shown as “PG” is displayed

This indicates the meter's configuration program and version number.

Shown as "10" indicates 'kWh'

The display is now showing your current meter reading.

Other Display Numbers

There are also other displays that are contained in the display sequence such as a segment check display, and communication level on the radio network.

The smart meters are read through a wireless network and these displays provide valuable system information to SDG&E.

Sample Diagram of how kWh is Displayed on your Smart meter


A kilowatt-hour is a measure of energy equal to the use of one kilowatt for one hour.

For Example

When you use a one-kilowatt appliance for one hour, that's a kilowatt-hour, and would be added to your previous consumption read.

If you used the same one-kilowatt appliance for two hours the display above would become incremented by two.

Calculation

001563 + 000002 = 1565

Determining Your Energy Usage for any Time Period


The new SDG&E smart meter

Using our previous example, the initial meter read is 001563.

To find out how much energy you use in a given time, subtract this first reading from a second reading taken at a later date or time.

For Example

If you go back to your meter later and it reads 001940, then you have used 377 kWh for the time period between your current read, and the previous meter read.

Calculation

001940 - 001563 = 377 kWh

For Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Customers

Energy consumption is shown on your meter by bars or a 'pulse' running along the bottom of the display, right below the digital readout.

When You Are Getting Power From Us

When the meter is running forward and you’re using energy from the grid, the bars will go from left to right.

This is also known as 'delivered power' coming from the utility. The delivered power is represented with a display identifier of "DEL". 

Putting Power Back on the Grid

The bars go from right to left when the meter is running backwards and your system is putting energy back onto the utility grid.

This is known as 'received power' by the utility. The received power is represented by a display identifier of "REC."  

Will you See The Total Amount of Energy Being Produced by Your PV System?

Your meter will not show the total amount of energy being produced by your PV system, but will show how much electricity has flowed back onto the grid.

You can determine this by reading the differential received power values at two different times as in our previously discussed example.





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Robert Morse
BSEE,MSEE
NABCEP Certified PV Solar Installer
CA State Licensed Electrical Contractor (C10) & Solar Contractor (C46)
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

Electric Bill Increased with New Smart Meter?

I recently received a question from someone who said their electric bill increased when they were switched over to a new Smartmeter.


Smartmeter

There have been some cases where the old "mechanical" meters were underbilling so when a new smartmeter was installed the bill goes up because of a more accurate measurement of usage. This is the most common cause for a bill increase (unless something else in the house was also changed).

 
Mechanical Meter

SDG&E smartmeters show when they are running backwards like the old mechanical meters;  on the meter there are a couple of bars and an arrowhead on each end of the bars.  This shows if your meter is running forwards or backwards.

You should also verify that you are not on a "Time of Use" or TOU rate plan.  You can verify this by calling the customer service number on your electric bill or it should be shown on your monthly bill.  In SDG&E territory your rate plan should be a "DR" rate for most residential customers.  Many people would end up paying more on residential TOU plans.  It depends on the time of day you use electricity.  Typically, if you are home during the day to early evening then TOU is probably not a good rate for you. 

However, I also know of one individual who complained of problems with their metering with solar.  They had a meter that could not run backwards.  This was a couple of years ago and seems much less likely nowadays.  If you suspect this then I would recommend calling the customer  service number shown on your electric bill and make verify that you are on a solar electric "net metering" program.  Also, ask them to verify that you have the correct meter.





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Robert Morse
BSEE,MSEE
NABCEP Certified PV Solar Installer
CA State Licensed Electrical Contractor (C10) & Solar Contractor (C46)
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

What to look for in a Solar Electricity Installer or Contactor


  • Find a Contractor Who Does Their Own Installations:  They will have control over the quality of work and time schedule of the job.  Avoid sales organizations that just outsource their work, because they can easily lose control of the quality and timeliness of the installation.  Would you rather know your installer?  Or how would you feel to have someone you’ve never met do your installation? 
SunCal Solar, does all of their own installations and stands behind all their work!  And you always know your lead installer because you meet him before you buy the solar system. 
  • Find a Solar Electricity Specialist:  Avoid contractors who “also do solar” as an add-on to their business; like home improvement companies and heating and air conditioning companies. Would you go to an "eye, nose, and throat" doctor who does heart surgery “also”?  I bet not.  Find a specialist!
Solar electricity systems have to be designed carefully by an expert. An improperly designed and installed system can cost you many thousands of dollars, could have safety issues, and may never work properly. I have seen this happen too often. Protect yourself and find someone who specializes specifically in solar power.
  • Find a NABCEP Certified PV Installer:  NABCEP is an independent certification organization that requires extensive knowledge and experience to qualify for their certification.  This is a minimal qualification that every solar installer should have.  
  • Use a Local Contractor:  Local contractors know the “ins and outs” of the local city requirements.  They also already work in your area and can just “stop by” if you ever have any need for help.  What do you think will happen if you purchase your system from a large, out of the area company?  


Contact Us with Your Questions at:  blog@ElectricalRevolution.com

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Robert Morse
BSEE,MSEE
NABCEP Certified PV Solar Installer
CA State Licensed Electrical Contractor (C10) & Solar Contractor (C46)
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

Be Careful of Solar Power Output Guarantees

I have been seeing some companies offer power output guarantees in order to "try" to cover for a poor design and installation.  These companies are less than reputable.  In one recent case this company offered a power output guarantee to compensate for severe rooftop shading.  This system will never work right unless the shading obstacles (in this case large pine trees) are removed.  If you are ever offered a Power Output Guarantee be CAREFUL!  Be sure you understand the details.  And understand why they are offering this. 

Here are a few things to ask: 
  • What does guarantee cover?  Ask for the details?  Ask to see the actual guarantee in writing. If they can't provide that then find someone else to work with!  
  • Is the guarantee just a peak production power amount (measured in kilowatts or kW)?  This is meaningless because you don't pay for peak usage (for residential rates).  So what if you get peak production at noon, but lose energy (kWh) in much of the rest of the day; that does not do you any good and it costs you.
  • What you want guaranteed is total energy produced over the entire year (measured in kWh or kilowatt-hours).  This is what homeowners pay for.  And this is what will be subtracted off of your billed usage (grid tied).  You pay the same amount for the panels no matter how much they produce.  So always install with good sun access and minimal shading. 
  • How will they compensate in the case that amount of energy guaranteed was not reached.  Will they pay you for your actual losses and the actual extra you have to pay the utility company.  Or do they pay some other lower rate.  This can be tricky.  Be careful. 
  • Is the guarantee good for the life of the system (25 years or more)? 
  • Watch out for exclusions. 
  • Who will pay?  Is there an insurance policy or bond set up to pay in case the company is not available in the future. 
  • Read the fine print.  Make sure you understand it all and are not being taken advantage of. 
A energy guarantee can be a great benefit, but unfortunately it can also be a tool for unscrupulous installers to try to hide a bad design and installation. 

As always find a reputable company that you trust for your solar design, installation, and maintenance. 




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Robert Morse
BSEE,MSEE
NABCEP Certified PV Solar Installer
CA State Licensed Electrical Contractor (C10) & Solar Contractor (C46)
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

Latest Problems with PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy)


New York Times (Link to Original Article)
August 31, 2010, 5:30 pm

Homeowners Must Pay Off Energy Improvement Loans

Green: Politics

Many homeowners who participated in a program that let them repay the cost of solar panels and other energy improvements through an annual surcharge on their property taxes must pay off the loans before they can refinance their mortgages, two government-chartered mortgage companies said on Tuesday.

The guidance came from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as efforts to resolve a dispute over the program — called Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE — have failed.

Approved by 22 states, the programs let municipalities sell bonds to finance improvements in energy efficiency. Homeowners typically pay back the loans over 20 years through an annual property tax assessment. As is the case with other property tax assessments, a lien is placed on the home that has priority over the mortgage if the homeowner defaults.

In July, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, effectively derailed the program when it issued guidance to lenders stating that the liens violated the agency’s underwriting standards. Fannie and Freddie buy and sell most of the nation’s home mortgages.

That guidance led to the halt of most PACE programs and left in limbo those homeowners who had already taken out energy improvement loans.

On Tuesday, Fannie and Freddie issued guidance to lenders stating that borrowers with sufficient equity in their homes must pay off the loans before refinancing. Those homeowners without enough equity to take cash out of their home to pay off the lien can refinance with the loan in place.

“Fannie Mae will not purchase mortgage loans secured by properties with an outstanding PACE obligation unless the terms of the PACE program do not permit priority over first mortgage liens,” according to the guidance.

The program’s proponents have argued that it overcomes obstacles to installing expensive solar panels and making other energy efficiency improvements that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while creating jobs.

In response to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s actions, the California attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit in July against Fannie and Freddie, as did the Sierra Club. Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in Congress to allow the program to go forward.

“It’s absolutely clear now that the F.H.F.A. is not at all interested in working out a solution that would allow PACE to proceed — the agency appears intent only on obstructing the program,” Janill L. Richards, a California supervising deputy attorney general, wrote in an e-mail.

“Also, this is another example of the agency treating PACE financing as loans, where, under state law, they’re assessments, and under law, the obligation to pay runs with property and passes on sale,” she added.

A spokeswoman for the housing agency, Stefanie Mullin, said she had no comment.

Legislators and Obama administration officials have been negotiating with the housing agency in an effort to address its concerns while letting the program continue.

But on Thursday, the housing agency’s acting director, Edward J. DeMarco, sent a letter to Representative Ed Perlmutter, Democrat of Colorado, stating that those discussions had failed and reiterating the agency’s opposition to the program.

“PACE programs are implemented state by state and locality by locality without uniform standards for consumer protections and appropriate underwriting,” Mr. DeMarco wrote. “F.H.F.A. found this particular initiative threatening to the safe and sound operations of its regulated entities and directed that appropriate steps be taken to address such risks.”

Financing Solar with PACE or "Tax Bill" Programs

Recently, I seem to be getting a lot of questions about PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) Programs that would allow you to finance a new solar electric system in your property tax bill (see earlier entry:  Pay for Your Solar Electricity System with Your Tax Bill).  This is a great program, BUT . . .  It is not a "magic bean" to solve all your problems.  When finally implemented It will still probably have home equity requirements (probably at least 20-25%), so if you're upside down on your home this probably is not the solution. 

Remember PACE is NOT necessarily the best and only solution in every case.  It depends.  Just like most jobs, you should choose the right tool for the job.  Sometimes a HELOC (or home equity line of credit), refinancing your first trust deed, adding a 2nd trust deed, or other credit may fit better for your specific situation (see earlier entry:  What You Need to Know About Financing Options for Solar Power ).  They should all be considered, including PACE, what's best for you before making your decision. 

Now more specifically onto PACE programs.  PACE has some great benefits, but it has some major problems right now.  PACE has been "a few months away" for a couple of years now.  And now it's been put on hold indefinitely by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and is in the middle of lawsuits. 

I received the following from the California Center for Sustainable Energy, "On May 5th, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issued lender letters stating that the placement of a PACE-lien senior to the existing first mortgage is prohibited, and that additional guidance to sellers/ servicers will be provided once these programs mature beyond the pilot phase.  As a result, many active and developing PACE programs –including San Diego’s-  have been put on hold until the issue is sorted out at the national level.   At the present time, policymakers, municipalities, and program administrators are awaiting a statement from the lending industry that will guide PACE program development and eventual implementation in the short-term."  This could take a while. 

And for more information see:  

     - http://energycenter.org/index.php/incentive-programs/pace-property-assesed-clean-energy/pace-news/2220-pace-financing-programs-on-hold-nation

     - http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052748704534904575132123115802584-lMyQjAxMTAwMDIwNTEyNDUyWj.html

     - http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/will-fanny-and-freddy-stop-pace/

     - http://theenergycollective.com/toddwoody/39411/treasury-department-piles-pace-solar-loan-restrictions

Also, the PACE program if it is ever implemented is likely to have some significant conditions attached; like paying for a HERS rating before and after you make required efficiency improvements to your home (see also http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/two-new-enemies-solar-and-pace/).  You have to pay for both HERS ratings and the efficiency improvements in addition to the solar.  This increases your total cost.  However, you will get the benefits of these improvements. 

If instead of PACE you can qualify for regular re-financing with 75% to 80% or more equity in your home you can usually get a better interest rate.  PACE interest rates are expected to be higher than current refi rates.  Of course this could change at any time.  And if you can't qualify for one of these loans then PACE could become a great option when it it finally implemented.  But remember there are many options to consider. 


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Robert Morse
BSEE,MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


(this is not an offer to loan money, always consult your tax, accounting, legal, and lending advisers prior to making any commitments)

Optimizing Your Energy from Solar Panels from Scientific American

Optimizing Your Energy Harvest for Each and Every Solar Panel


A friend recently sent me this Scientific American article that I hope you will find interesting.  There a big technology they don't mention:  Microinverters.  Microinverters optimize energy output panel by panel, allow you to have any number of panels, remove a single point of failure, and don't need hundreds of volts DC to operate.  They have lots of advantages to consider (See other articles on microinverters:  A Simple Way to Get More Electricity from Your Solar Panels - Microinverters and Another Major Advantage for Microinverters ).  They are not for every installation, but your installer should choose the right tool for the job and often for homes this is microinverters. 


Link to full Scientific American article in new window




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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

Should I Oversize My Solar Electric System?

New California Law AB920
Recently I've been asked by a couple of people if they should oversize their solar electric system because of California state law AB920.  This law says that by Jan 1, 2011 SDG&E will have to implement a plan that pays you for any extra electricity you produce (above what you use) .  HOWEVER, the details have not been finalized and the rate that they will pay has not been determined yet.  (also see article Electric Utilities Will be Forced to Buy Your Extra Solar Electricity). 

Oversizing A Solar Electric System?
In most cases, I would NOT recommend oversizing your solar electric system here in California.  Currently, any extra electricity you produce over the course of a year (above what you use or in other words annual production minus annual consumption) SDG&E does not pay for at all.  However, by January 1, 2011 they will have to pay for any excess electricity you generate. 

What Rate Will SDG&E Pay?
I would guess that the rate they will pay will be a wholesale rate which will probably be low.  In this case it would not make sense to oversize your system.  The rate they have been talking about is the “12-month rolling average of the short-run avoided cost (“SRAC”) energy rate”.  This sounds like a wholesale rate and will probably be much lower than the rates you pay for even your inexpensive Tier 1 and 2 electricity.  When you go through the financial analysis, it doesn’t makes financial sense to oversize a system. 


When Could Oversizing Make Sense?
However oversizing a solar electric system could make sense for "green" or environmental reasons or if you get a thrill out of getting paid by SDG&E.  Also, if you expect your electricity usage to go up in the foreseeable future then oversizing could make up for that increased usage.  Some common reasons your electrical usage would go up are buying a plug-in electric vehicle, adding a pool, adding air conditioning, or adding people to your household. 






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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Solar Energy BLOG from SunCal Solar - New Easier to Read Format


Check out our new easier to read format for the Solar Energy BLOG from SunCal Solar.
  Same BLOG, Same Entries, New Look and Feel. 



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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

California Solar Electricity Rebates Expected to Decrease

California State Rebates Are Expected to Drop to $0.65 per Watt Installed


Decrease in California Solar Rebates
The California State Rebate for residential solar electric systems in the SDG&E territory is expected to decrease from $1.10/watt to $0.65/watt soon.  This is about a 40% drop in residential cash rebates. 

These rebates will continue to drop over time until they go away completely.  Nobody has been very good as predicting when these drops will occur because it is based on the amount of solar electric being installed in a region.  However, it is likely that it will be very soon. 

What Does this Mean?
If you were to install a 5kW solar system then the cash rebate you would receive has dropped from $5,500 to $3,250.  A decrease of $2,250.  For a larger 10kW system the rebate decrease would be $4,500.

Planned Rebates Decreases
This is exactly as planned.  It is NOT because of state financial problems.  It is simply the natural progression of the state rebate program.  As the amount of installed megawatts (MW or millions of watts) of solar electric power increases, the state rebate is set to decrease in predetermined steps.  This will continue until the rebates go to $0. 

This current decrease is simply the planned decrease going from "Step 6" to "Step 7" (as defined by the state).  These steps were defined years ago when the rebates were set up.  You can find more information on these steps at the state's "Trigger Tracker" website.

The Good News
The good news is that prices on many solar panels have dropped and there are more options than in the past; Making solar more affordable than ever.




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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

California Net Metering Cap Doubled

California Assembly Bill 510

California Assembly Bill 510 was passed on February 18th.  This bill doubles the cap on net metering in the state (see previous articles What Does Net Metering Mean and What is Net Metering). 


This new law changes the maximum cap from 2.5% to 5% of the utilities' peak demand.  This could be a very big deal in the future.  What it means is that before this change the utilities only needed to agree to "net meter" up to 2.5% of their peak demand.  So once this was reached homeowners would no longer have the availability of net metering for their solar electric system.  However, this maximum has been doubled which means many more homeowners for a longer period of time will be able to setup net metering with the utilities to take advantage of Solar Electricity.  





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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Smart Metering Update - Smart Meters

SDG&E Smart Meter Program Information from SDG&E Email


SDG&ESmart Meter

How a smart meter installation works

SDG&E notifies customers by mail a few weeks before the smart meter installation takes place. Read more »

Save Energy and Save Money

The energy use collected by smart meters will help customers understand energy use habits and the best ways to save. Read more »

What happens to SDG&E’s meter readers?

For quality assurance purposes, after initial installation, meter readers will continue to read meters for the next few months. Eventually, meters will be read remotely. Training and workshops will be offered to SDG&E’s meter readers to help them transfer to other jobs within the company.

For more information about the Smart Meter Program, visit sdge.com/smartmeter or call 1-800-411-7343.

Thank you for your interest in SDG&E’s Smart Meter Program.

SDG&E’s smart meter initiative is part of California’s Energy Action Plan, a statewide roadmap for achieving a reliable, affordable and sustainable energy future.

Smart meter installations are well underway
SDG&E® officially began the areawide roll-out of its new smart meters in March 2009. We’re currently replacing 1.4 million electric meters and upgrading 900,000 natural gas meters. Through Feb. 2010, we’ve installed about 500,000 meters in San Diego County and will be finished replacing or upgrading the meters by year end. We’ll wrap up the smart meter installations in south Orange County in 2011. By that time, all SDG&E meters will have the new smart technology.

In order to accomplish this monumental installation task, SDG&E’s technology provider has engaged the services of VSI Meter Services. VSI is an experienced meter service contractor whose expertise is meter installations.
Learn more about VSI.

Smart meter capabilities
A smart meter system allows for two-way communication between a customer and SDG&E. The smart meters record energy use information daily. The technology allows for the meters to be read automatically without the need for a physical visit from one of SDG&E’s meter readers. However for quality assurance purposes, after meters are installed, meter readers will continue to read meters for the next few months. In addition, customers will still need to allow SDG&E access to the meters for maintenance and safety checks.

The two-way communication capability means SDG&E will be able to better manage overall energy needs, implement “green” demand-response programs, quickly detect power outages as they happen, and offer enhanced customer services.

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Robert Morse
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SunCal Solar, Incorporated
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Electric Utilities Will be Forced to Buy Your Extra Solar Electricity

Utility Company Pays You for Solar Electricity
In California a new law called AB920 was passed not long ago that will force your electric company to buy any solar electricity that you don't use (BLOG about AB920).  This law has to go into effect sometime before Jan 1, 2011 which means it will go into effect sometime in 2010. 

Remember, this does not change net metering (see also BLOG on net metering).  In the past if your solar electric system generated more electricity than you used, then the utility company got that electricity for free.  In other words you paid for the solar electric system and the extra was free to the utility company.  Of course that should never happen on a properly sized system (for more information see also Sizing a Solar Electric System).  But with this new law the utility will have to pay you for any excess electricity you don't use. 


But Wait
Now, before you go out an install that enormous, gigantic, humongous solar photovoltaic system there are many unknowns.  But the BIG unknown in my mind is what price will they pay?  Nobody knows.  That is all being worked out.  


What Will They Pay for Your Solar Electricity?
However, it seems very unlikely that they will pay the higher rates in Tier 3 or 4 rates (see also Tiered Electric Rates).  In fact it's not even clear that they will pay the Tier 1 or 2 rates.  These tiered rates are all full retail rates.  They may only pay a wholesale price or utility cost price.  Nobody knows!  So in the end this may not be that big of a deal. 

Plan Carefully and Make Informed Choices
As always it seems best to plan carefully and size your solar system properly for your needs. 




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Solar Energy and Your Electric Bill

Electricity Consumption
All the electric appliances in your home use power.  Your lights, refrigerator, microwave, television, stereos, air conditioner, heater (even if it's gas heating because the blower fan uses electricity), electric stove/range, jacuzzi, pool pump, and electric pool heaters all consume electricity.  You are then billed by the electric company for the amount of electric energy that you use.  This energy is measured in kWh (which stands for kilowatt-hours). 

What does a "kWh" mean?  1 kWh is 1,000 watts used for 1 hour.  Or you could think of it as the same as turning on twenty, 50 Watt light bulbs for one hour (20 bulbs x 50 Watts x 1 hour  = 1,000 W = 1 kWh). 

You can also see the kWh's that you are being billed for on your electric bill (see also Deciphering Your Electric Bill and Tiered Electric Rates).  

Solar Power Production
Any power you produce from solar electricity is simply subtracted off your bill.  For more details, see articles on Solar Power 101 and  System Sizing.  The energy your solar electric system produces is also typically measured in kWh's. 

Solar Energy Production and Electricity Consumption
Solar electric systems produce energy while your home's appliances and lights consume it. 

You can think of power used/consumed as adding on to your electric bill while power produced by solar is subtracted from your electric bill.  In other words, energy that you are billed for by your electric company in kWh = Total Energy Used minus Total Solar Energy made by system. 



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What are kWh or Kilowatt-Hours?

kWh or KiloWatt-Hours

If you leave a 60 Watt light bulb on for one hour then this uses 60 Wh (or Watt-Hours) of energy.  Most solar electric systems are considerably larger and so are measured in Kilowatts (1,000 Watts) and Kilowatt-Hours (1,000 Watt-Hours or kWh). 




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What is the Difference Between Kilowatts DC (kWDC) and Kilowatts AC (kWAC) for Solar Electricity?

Solar Electricity:  Kilowatts DC (kWDC) and Kilowatts AC (kWAC)
If you have been investigating solar you have probably already heard the terms kWDC and kWAC.  But the differences between these two are often explained very poorly or not at all.  

kWDC or Kilowatts DC are the direct current (DC) power produced by the solar electric panels prior to any conversion to household electricity (see also inverters). 

KWAC or Kilowatts AC is the alternating current (AC) power that is used by your home.  This is electricity that has been converted ("inverted) from the DC produced by the panels to the AC used by your home and provided by the electric company (see also Solar Electricity Basics). 


What are Watts and Kilowatts? 
Watts and Kilowatts are a measurement of instantaneous power (1 kilowatt = 1,000 Watts). To help put this in perspective:  You are probably familiar with a 60Watt light bulb.  A 60 Watt light bulb consumes 60 Watts of power when it is on.  Also "kilowatt" or 1,000 Watts is often abbreviated as"kW". 

Electrical Energy Losses
Between the DC from the panels and the AC used in the home there are losses caused by multiple factors.  These losses come from things like the conversion to AC (inverter), wire losses, dirty panels, shading, and other imperfections in the system.  It is not possible to get this to 0% loss.  There will always be some loss going from DC Solar Panels to AC Electricity Used.  So there is a conversion factor that says some percentage of the power from the panels will be available to your home (or electrical grid - see also Solar Electricity Basics).  Often this conversion factor comes out to be between 70% to 85%. 

How Losses Affect Your Electrical Generation
What this means to you is that if your solar panels produce 1kW of power then you will likely get 0.70 to 0.85kW of power to use in your home.  If someone says they can get you a 95% conversion rate, then they are not including everything, lying, or just don't understand how to properly calculate the conversion losses.  I would avoid doing business with this person.  Anything over an 85% conversion is pretty unlikely. 

kWDC vs kWAC Explained
Now kWDC is the power produced by the solar electric panels; and kWAC is the usable power to your home after the losses described above.  

Using the same example as above:  What this means is if your solar panels produce 1kW of power this is 1 "kWDC".  And since your conversion factor for losses are likely to be in the range of 70% to 85% then you will get 0.70 to 0.85 "kWAC" of power to use in your home. 

The actual conversion factor will be determined by many design details like the specifications of the inverter, wire diameter and length, operating temperatures, and many other details.  This is where choosing a good design and installer is crucial. 



Comparing Competing Bids for Solar Electric Systems - kWDC vs kWAC
You should be careful when comparing kW numbers.  First be sure to compare kWDC to kWDC.  And kWAC to kWAC.  Never compare kWDC to kWAC numbers because that's like comparing "apples to oranges".  Also, it's probably best to look at both the DC and AC numbers when making comparisons between competing systems or bids. 

kWDC Comparisons
The kWDC is a rating on the solar panels based on standardized test conditions.  This is a pretty good comparison to make between different systems.  Especially, when comparing prices on competing bids.  And when you consider that the solar panels are typically the most expensive part of the entire system. 

kWAC Comparisons
The kWAC is what you will be actually using or deducting off your electric bill (see Solar Electricity Basics) so this is what you are probably most interested in. 

HOWEVER, remember that the conversion factor for losses is an ESTIMATE only.  The only way to know what this will actually be is to install a system and take measurements over time. 

Conclusions
I would recommend looking at both the kWDC and kWAC when comparing competing systems.  Make sure the conversion factor looks reasonable (probably in the 70% to 85% range).  There are some unscrupulous individuals that will try to mislead you on comparing kWDC and kWAC or unreasonably inflate the conversion factor.  Be informed, keep reading, and compare both the kWDC and kWAC numbers. 




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NC Times - Region: County Explores Solar Loan Program

Article from North County Times about "micro-bond" (AB811) financing for solar systems takes one more step to allow homeowners to pay for solar systems in their tax bill in Riverside County.  San Diego County has been pursuing a similar plan for some time now.  However, the biggest obstacle seems to be getting the money for the loans for the microbonds. 

——————————————————————————————————————————————-

REGION: County explores solar loan program.

Initiative could remove cost obstacle to rooftop panels

Many people would love to put solar panels on the roofs of their homes and take the edge off those crazy summer air conditioning bills, if only they could afford the up-front installation cost often of thousands of dollars.

Soon, however, Riverside County residents may not have to foot that expense.

In late September, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to study creating a program by which the county would provide loans to homeowners to install panels that generate electricity from the sun for use in their homes.

The county also may issue loans for home improvements that save energy and water.

At the suggestion of Supervisor John Tavaglione, the board asked its staff to explore the idea of setting up a solar loan program for the entire county, including its 26 cities.

Palm Desert already has a loan program, and Murrieta planners are looking into the idea.

Tavaglione, in a telephone interview recently, stressed that a county wide program wouldn't pre-empt any individual community from going it alone, as a recent state law authorizes both counties and cities to issue such loans. He said he just thought it would make sense for the county to administer a regional program on cities' behalf because loans are repaid over 20 years through assessments on twice-a-year property tax payments. And the county's treasurer-tax collector sends out those bills.

County spokesman Ray Smith said officials will be surveying cities to gauge their interest in a regional program.

Regardless of the scope of the county's initiative, Tavaglione said it could put a lot of people into position to install solar panels who couldn't otherwise afford them and help them save hundreds of dollars on electric bills.

"Everybody today is looking at saving their hard-earned cash,"Tavaglione said. "And this is just another way to become moreefficient."

Tavaglione said the county will check to see whether it can obtain funding for loans through the federal stimulus program, a finance corporation set up by California State Association of Counties or the private sector.

"We need to look at all options," he said.

The concept of a public loan to finance rooftop solar projects and energy- and water-efficiency upgrades is something that grew out of Assembly Bill 811 by former Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Los Angeles, which was signed into law in 2008. The legislation authorized city and county loans for renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects.

Assembly Bill 474, by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley, was signed into law last month by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and extends such loans to water efficiency upgrades.

The bills are a product of the state's move to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases linked to climate change.State officials have said that almost every home in the state will have to become more efficient, or obtain its electricity from green sources such as sun and wind, for California to make a serious attempt to slash emissions by a mandated 30 percent by 2020.

Many people would love to contribute to that effort and cut their utility bills in the process. But most cannot afford the expense, said Cisco DeVries, president for the Oakland firm Renewable Funding, which financed Berkeley's pioneer loan program.

"The piece that has been missing all this time is how to pay for it," DeVries said.

And he suggests the loan program is that missing piece.

Even with federal tax credits and state rebates, solar panels can cost homeowners anywhere from $25,000 to $60,000.

Wildomar retirees Richard and Sylvia Stephens, for instance,said they spent $60,000 on a ground-mounted network of solar panels they installed a year ago this month.

Sylvia Stephens said that, while the couple were able to come up with the money, they know others who simply can't.

"This would help people because of the high expense of putting it in," she said.

However, cities and counties can't help homeowners foot the expense unless they can come up with financing for making loans.

"Good luck. It's going to be tough," said John Weil, chief of staff for San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, when told of Riverside County's initiative.

At Slater-Price's urging, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors explored a similar countywide program at the beginning of this year. The county recently had to abandon in its initial plan to obtain financing through banks.

"What we found was, banks were willing to finance, but only at their usual rates," Weil said. "And we didn't think that would be a bargain for homeowners."

Last month, the board changed direction and sought funding instead from the San Diego-based California Center for Sustainable Energy.

"Under this route, only unincorporated area residents may apply or financing," Weil said. "The cities would need to take their own action to join with CCSE. However, it could be that, if that happens, we could create one large umbrella program."

Fifteen states have passed laws authorizing renewable-energy loan programs, but there are only two umbrella programs like the one Riverside County would like to create, DeVries said.

DeVries, who is tracking the green loan trend, said both are working well. He said California's Sonoma County has issued $22million in loans to date, and Boulder County, Colo., has loaned $10million.

Just two other California counties —— Orange and San Francisco—— are close to launching programs, he said.

Still, DeVries said enthusiasm is building despite the financial obstacles. One day, he figures, such programs will be widespread and houses with solar panels will fill every block.

"Thirty years ago, nobody had curbside recycling and only 1 or 2percent of people did it," he said. "And now in this state it's law. Every city must provide curbside recycling and we're diverting half of our waste stream. Ten years from now, we may divert half o four energy use."

——————————————————————————————————————————————-

Article Source:  http://www.nctimes.com//news/local/swcounty/article_1b2a1e06-ba64-56ee-b1f1-4afdaba1aa6e.html




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Installing Both Solar Electric & Solar Hot Water?

Installing Solar Electric & Solar Hot Water at Same Location

So you want to get as much benefit from the sun as possible and you would like to install both solar electric and solar water heating.  There are some things to consider when you do this.  (see article on Solar Electric vs. Solar Water Heating?)


Solar electricity is more sensitive to shade than solar hot water so put the solar electric panels where there is the least shade.  And put the solar hot water in the next best location.  

Plan for both Solar Electric and Solar Hot Water at the same time so you avoid: 
         (1) creating extra work and costs by needing to relocate solar water panels or
         (2) significantly reducing your solar electric energy harvest by putting the panels in a place that gets shaded at part of the day or year.  (see article The Location of the Sun is Crucial for Every Solar Electric System)

You don't have to install them both at the same time, just plan for them at the same time.  If money is a concern then install the one that will benefit you the most (Solar Electric vs. Solar Water Heating?)

I have seen systems that integrate solar electric and solar hot water into one panel, but these concern me.  It's like if you own an-all-in-one stereo that has a CD player, DVD player, turntable, etc all built into one unit.  When one part breaks you often have to replace the whole thing not just the broken part.  Additionally, combining electricity and water into the same panel seems to be asking for problems.  Solar hot water has its own set of constraints and concerns and solar electric has its own different set. 

When you want to install both solar electric and solar hot water, careful planning is the key to success. 




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SunCal Solar, Incorporated
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SD Union Tribune: County wins big share of solar funds - Projects could up regional capacity by 40 percent

From San Diego Union Tribune on October 30, 2009


Full Story:  County wins big share of solar funds - Projects could up regional capacity by 40 percent




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PV Tech: PV cost study shows no better time than now to go solar in the US

Source:  PV Tech - October 22, 2009 - PV cost study shows no better time than now to go solar in the US



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How Do You Know Your Solar Electric System Working?

A well designed and properly installed solar electric system requires very little maintenance.  But it's still a good idea to watch your system for problems if they should ever occur. 

System Monitoring:  Is your solar electric system working properly? 
Solar electric system monitoring is an often overlooked part of a well designed system.  You probably would like to know if a solar panel or inverter ever fails.  And I bet you would prefer to know this before your electric bill goes up at the end of the month.  If something ever fails, you might just think your usage is higher for the month and not consider that your system may not be working properly.  And so you could wait another month "just to see".  This costs you money in your electric bill. 

If instead you have a monitoring system installed then you can check anytime you want to see if everything in your solar system is working properly.  Monitoring with string inverters can do a good job of monitoring each string of solar panels;  However, microinverters go one step better and offer great per module and per inverter monitoring, so it's easy to pinpoint any problems right away (be sure to see the earlier entries on Microinverters and Monitoring and More Power from Microinverters). 

If your system is older and you have not been paying much attention to it, then it may be worth having a solar electricity professional take a look at it to make sure everything is in order. 



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CSI Solar Electric Rebates Drop Again in SDG&E Territory - 29% Decrease

Decrease in California Solar Rebates

The California State Rebate for residential solar electric systems in the SDG&E territory dropped from $1.55/watt to $1.10/ watt.  Or about a 29% drop in residential cash rebates.  These rebates will continue to drop over time until they go away completely.

What Does this Mean?
If you were to install a mid-sized 5kW solar system then the cash rebate you would receive has dropped from $7,750 to $5,500.  A decrease of $2,000.  For a larger 10kW system the rebate decrease would be $4,000.

Planned Rebates Decreases
This is exactly as planned.  It is NOT because of state financial problems.  It is simply the natural progression of the state rebate program.  As the amount of installed megawatts (MW or millions of watts) of solar electric power increases, the state rebate is set to decrease in predetermined steps.  This will continue until the rebates go to $0. 

This current decrease is the planned decrease going from the state defined "Step 5" to "Step 6".  These steps were defined years ago when the rebates were set up.  You can find more information on these steps at the state's "Trigger Tracker" website.

The Good News
The good news is that prices on many solar panels have dropped; Making solar more affordable than ever. 




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New Laws will Force California Utilities to Buy Excess Electricity - Will It Matter?

New laws will force California electric utilities to purchase excess power produced by homes and businesses with solar electric systems with net metering. 

But will it really make any difference?  Pricing and details of how program will be implemented have not been set yet.  Pricing and implementation details can make this a great program or make it completely useless. 

Only time will tell . . .


From Renewable Energy World

Source Article:  http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2009/10/feed-in-tariff-and-met-metering-bills-signed-in-california




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Why Does Solar Electricity Have Such Low Maintenance?

Solar electric systems are expected to last 20 to 40 years depending on who you ask.  Even at the low end of that range that's a long time.  Think of all the changes in your life from where you were 20 years ago.  

No Moving Parts
Almost all modern solar electric installations have no moving parts (except for shutoff switches and circuit breakers).  So there are no mechanical parts to wear out or to be lubricated.  A few inverters have fans but these are quickly disappearing. 

No Fluids to "Top Off" or Replace
There are no oils or coolants to fill up or replace.  There are no pumps and no pipes to corrode. 

What Maintenance is Required for Solar?
A properly installed system should require very little maintenance.  The primary maintenance that solar electric systems need is to keep the panels free of dust, leaves, bird droppings, etc.  Also, inverters could fail and need to be replaced in the future.  However, most inverters have 10 or 15 year warranties.  I take that as a good indicator that the manufacturer expects them to last at least that long. 

Silent Operation of Solar Electric System
Your solar electricity generating system will operate almost silently, except for the low hum of your inverter(s).  You can hear them if you listen closely. 

To know more about how your system is running, you will need to use a meter of some sort.  Your utility meter is a good indicator of whether your system is working or not.  Midday during a bright sunny day your utility meter should run backwards when not much electricity is being used in the house (see also Make Your Electric Meter Run Backwards, Legally).  To get more detailed system information you will need a monitoring system (see also Another Major Advantage for Microinverters). 


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Solar Electric vs. Solar Water Heating?

What's the Difference?
Solar electric systems are completely different from solar water heating systems in almost every way.  The only thing they have in common is that they both collect energy from the sun.  


Solar Electricity Systems
Solar electricity starts at the Solar Panels (see also Solar Panels).  These panels are often located on the roof and are full of solar cells that convert the Sun's energy directly to electricity (see also How Solar Works).  They use "semiconductors" and "quantum physics" to absorb light and release electrons that become an electric current. 

But you don't need to know all the details of that.  Just like you don't need to know how your engine runs to be able to drive a car.  You just need to know how to use it.  And you already know how to use your electrical appliances and lights in your home. 



What is important is that the electric current created by a solar electric system can be used to power your home.  Fortunately, the solar electric system is automated.  It turns itself on when the sun comes up and turns itself off when the sun goes down.  It converts the electricity to the same type that your home uses (see also Type of Electricity).  It knows to automatically use the power made from your solar panels when the sun is up and to use the utility company's electricity when the sun is down (see also article on Net Metering).  There is not much for the owner to do.  It would be difficult to make it much easier to run a solar electricity system. 

Solar Water Heating Systems
Solar water heating is a even simpler.  At least, no quantum physics are needed.  A liquid fills a collector that sits on the roof or some other exposed area.  This liquid then is circulated to heat your water (in some cases the water to be heated is itself circulated, like is often done for pool heating). 

This solar heated water can be used to heat your pool or your home's hot water.  For home hot water heating (for showers, dish washing, etc.) water can be used to "preheat" water before it goes into your regular water heater.  This is to reduce your water heating bill.  Also, home solar water heaters usually require an extra tank to store the heated water in addition to your regular water heater.  So you need the space for this tank. 

With solar water heating you have to be very careful that there are relief valves, drainage valves, and antifreeze protection to protect the system from freezing and overheating which can destroy the collectors. 

How to Choose:  Solar Electric or Solar Water Heating
Look at your gas and electric bill.  How much of it is for electricity and how much of it is for gas?  If you are like most people your gas bill is a small part of the total bill and your electric bill is much larger.  So where would you prefer to save money?  On the relatively small gas bill or the more substantial electric bill?  I'll bet the electric bill gets your attention.  If this is the case then solar electricity could be the right choice. 

Solar electric systems typically cost quite a bit more than solar water heating systems, but they also typically save a lot more money on your bills and pay for themselves very quickly (see also Solar Electricity as an Investment and System Sizing). 

Imagine getting rid of 50%, 80%, 90% of your electric bill with solar electricity.  Would that be valuable to you? 



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Another Major Advantage for Microinverters

Solar electric systems have no (or few) moving parts and operate almost silently (slight hum from inverters) so it's not that easy to see if your system is workingproperly. 

Microinverters Give You More Information
Microinverters have a great advantage when it comes to monitoring.  With microinverters, a system can easily be setup that allows you to see power production over time (today, last week, or since the system was first installed).  It can show you things like voltage, current, power, temperature and how it changes through the hours of the day or the months of the year.  All of this can be shown in an easy to read graphical interface so you can quickly scan it to see your system working properly.  This is valuable information to let you know your system is working properly.  


Instant Notification
Additionally, the system can be setup to send an email to you and your installer if a module or inverter fails.  This means you can have the problem fixed right away and not wait until you notice  your utility bill has increased. 

This should increase your system "up time" and produce more electricity, which is the main goal of a solar electric system. 


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A Simple Way to Get More Electricity from Your Solar Panels - Microinverters

More Electricity from the Same Solar Panels?
Micro inverters are small boxes that go underneath each solar panel.  They optimize the energy production and convert the electricity to what your home uses right at the panel.  They have some significant advantages!  They can often produce more electricity from the same panels. 

Two Main Types of Solar Inverters - String and Micro
As I've discussed in previous postings the inverter (see also Key Components of A Solar Photovoltaic (PV) System: The Inverter) is what converts the electricity into power that your home uses and is compatible with the utility company's "grid power" (for more info click here:  grid power or electricity AC and DC.  

There are two main types of inverters:  large string inverters and microinverters.  This may be a bit of an oversimplification but it's sufficient for this discussion.  String inverters for the home are typically a large metal box that hangs on a wall in the garage or on an outside wall.  They are fairly heavy at about 50 to 100 lbs.  Typically they are are a couple of feet wide by a few feet tall and less than a foot deep.  They take up space. 

Microinverters are small boxes that are installed under each solar panel.  They are measured in inches and don't take up any garage or wall space. 


Microinverter - Optimize Power at Each Solar Panel
With microinverters, the output of each solar panel is optimized at each panel so if there are any less than perfect conditions on any one panel it simply lowers the output on that panel instead of the entire string like a string inverter.  String inverters optimize for an entire string of panels so a problem with one panel can pull down all the other panels in the string.  While using microinverters typically results in more energy being delivered from your panels. 

You might ask what are "less than optimal conditions".  Dust and bird droppings on panels can ask just like the shade from a tree or chimney and significantly reduce electricity production.  With microinverters problems like these effect only one panel, but with string inverters this affects an entire string of panels. 

Microinverter - No Single Point of Failure
In the unlikely event that one microinverter fails you simply lose power from one panel.  However, if a large string inverter fails then EVERY panel connected to that inverter stops producing power for you.  If you have one inverter this means your entire system is down.  This is not true with microinverters.  If a micro inverter fails, all the other panels should continue to produce electricity for your home.  All of this means higher reliability and more "up time" that your system is producing power for you. 

Microinverter - More Electricity - Lower Electric Bills
Using microinverters should better optimize the amount of electricity generated and they should have more "system up time".  Both of these mean they should produce more electricity for your home than a string inverter.  This results in lower electric bills! 
There are other "techie" reasons to use microinverters to get the most out of your electrical system, but they are beyond the scope of this article and most of the major points are already covered here. 
The only drawback I can think of with microinverters is they are not as easily accessible as a string inverter so if maintenance is needed it is a little more complicated because they are under a solar panel.  However, this should not be a big issue with a properly designed and installed system. 

Otherwise, it seems that microinverters are the way of the future because of their many advantages. 


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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Questions on Solar Electricity?

Do you have any unanswered questions about Solar Electricity?  What would you like to see answered in this BLOG? 

Is there anything about solar electricity that just doesn't make sense to you?  Or concerns you?  Tell us what you like, don't like, or just don't understand. 

There is a great deal of misinformation and myths about solar power.  This BLOG intends to replace those with accurate information for you. 

Contact Us with Your Questions at:  blog@SunCalSolar.com

Or Ask a Question by Clicking Here:  Submit Question for Blog


Do You Like This Blog? Tell Your Friends About It: www.SunCalSolar.org

It's free for anyone to subscribe by
going to www.SunCalSolar.org and entering your email address on the left side of the screen (or subscribe by RSS feed). 


Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

If I Install Solar Power Today on My Home, Won't It Be Obsolete Next Month, Next Year, Next Decade, ... ?

Waiting to Install Solar Electricity (Power)
I hear this question from time to time and I have a standard answer.  Yes, it will become obsolete.  HOWEVER, you could say the same thing about buying a personal computer (PC);  If I buy a computer today, there will be a newer, better, faster, cheaper version out in weeks or months from now.  Right?  Yes, that's all true.  But if you waited to buy a computer until the final, "ultimate" PC arrived you still would not own a computer.  And worse than that you would have lost all the benefits of using a computer in the time you were waiting.  Imagine not having a PC.  

Waiting Just Doesn't Make Sense
How long would you wait for the "ultimate" in solar technology to arrive?  5 years, 10 years, 20 years.  I think you'll be waiting a long time.  Solar power technology is continuously getting better just like your personal computer. 

Now think about how much you will pay for electricity in that time you are waiting.  And remember, almost everyone believes your electric rates will increase in that timeframe.  Waiting will cost you in the electricity you are paying for.  (see other articles:  Take Control of Your Electric Bill, Protect Yourself from Future Rate Increases, and Make Your Electric Meter Run Backwards - Legally)


Rapid Changes in Technology
PC technology is rapidly evolving and so are solar electricity solutions.  So it seems very likely that there will be a better solution in the future, but this is part of continuous change that will likely last for many years.  Many of today's solar power solutions are excellent and will be even better in the future.  To help make a decision just look at the costs of the system and the savings and think of it as an investment (see Solar Electricity as an Investment blog entry).  
Note:  However, PC's seems to be changing much more rapidly than solar electric systems.  Maybe this is because the certification process for solar products involves many more bureaucracies like utility companies, their powerful lobbyists, local building permitting authorities, the CEC, and many others.  However, this does have an upside;  It makes solar electric systems very stable and safe. 
The Benefits of Going Solar
So what if your solar electric system is not the latest and greatest in 5 years or 10 years from now.  Your system should still be providing free electricity for many years after it is paid off.  Remember these systems are expected to last 25 years or more.  Most solar panels have a 25 year power guarantee warranty. 

Of course you can always make the decision to upgrade to the latest and greatest solar tech at any time.  But you will have benefited from all the free, clean electricity from the sun until that time. 

To continue the analogy with computers:  When your computer is a few months old or even a year old and a better models comes out.  What do you do?  Do you throw out the "old" one and rush out and buy a new one or do you continue to use that computer for a few years and enjoy all the benefits.  Why would a solar electric system that is expected to last 25+ years be any different. 

Free, Clean, Green Electricity
You have free sunlight falling on your house everyday.  Maybe it's time to start collecting some of it to use for your own free, clean, green energy? 




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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Going Solar - Environmental Whacko or Responsible Homeowner???

Things Have Changed!
It was not that long ago that the stereotyped image of anyone installing solar systems was a long-haired, patchouli smelling, granola eating hippie type.  But times have changed.  Installing solar systems is becoming a mainstream part of our society.  This is not just my opinion alone, but is shared with many others.  CNN's Money magazine has a recent article about this subject (Press or Money).  And there are many other  articles and news about solar power these days.  Just look at the paper or scan the Internet.  Solar power even seems to be on our local, state, and federal governments' agendas. 

What's Different for Solar Power Now?
Skyrocketing electricity rates coupled with tough economic times areforcing people to look at how to save money on their bills including their electric bill.  Electric rates seem to keep going up and up with no end in sight.  Do you know anyone that is predicting electric costs to drop?  I don't. 

Wouldn't it be nice if you could have the electric bill you used to have in 1990?  How much has it gone up since then?  How much do you think it will go up over the next 20 years?  Double, Triple, Quadruple, or more?  Solar power can be used as a hedge against rising electric prices.  

Lower Prices for Solar Power
Also, solar power equipment is better than ever and at a lower cost than ever.  The technology has become mainstream and mass produced.  So the quality is great and the supply is there.  Additionally, demand from other countries in the world has dropped off in the last year or so.  This is primarily because of decreases in their rebates and incentives. 

Remember the "supply and demand curve" from basic economics.  This high supply in combination with lower worldwide demand has lowered prices and is driving a lot of installations here in the US.  Prices are great and lots of people are taking advantage by adding solar power to their homes.  


Rebates and Incentives
To make it even better, here in California we have cash rebates for installing solar.  They commonly pay for about 20% of your total system cost.  And the federal tax credit is 30% of the system cost.  The government pays for almost half of the cost for a new solar electric system! 

Solar Power:  Lower Costs, Higher Quality, Government Pays Large Part
So installing solar can make a lot of financial sense.  Especially when you consider how low your costs are right now and how high your electric bill savings can be. 



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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Electric Cars and Solar Electricity

Many Electric Cars Planned
There is a lot of talk about electric cars right now.  Currently, we have only hybrid vehicles (i.e. gas with auxiliary electric power) readily available, but it looks like we will soon have plug in electric cars. 

There are many new models planned to be sold over the next couple of years.  Almost all the mainstream manufacturers are developing plug-in electric cars.  In fact, it's amazing how much development work is being done right now.  I'm convinced there will be some incredible cars available in the next few years. 

Electric Motors
Electric motors have a wide power band (have power available from almost 0 RPM up to their maximum speed) and so don't need a heavy, complicated transmission that gasoline powered cars require.  Electric motors are efficient and powerful.  Some of the planned electric car models are very sporty.  So don't think electric cars will be limited to the acceleration of a 1962 VW.  Some models will be all out performance cars.  You may not get the roar of a gas engine, but you can get loads of silent acceleration. 

Batteries
Batteries are probably the in need of the most development work for electric cars to succeed.  The good news is that many companies are pouring research and development on battery technology.  So batteries will be rapidly improving over the next few years.  They should be getting smaller, hold more energy, charge faster, and be more recyclable.  It's all racing forward. 

It's an exciting time! 

Increasing Value of a Solar Electric System
When electric cars start to be sold a solar electric system becomes even more valuable.  That electricity you capture from the sun can be used to charge your new car and keep your electric bills and gasoline bills low. 



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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Make Your Electric Meter Run Backwards, Legally

Did you know you can get your electric meter to run backwards?  And it's completely legal.  If you invest in a solar electric system (see also article Solar Electricity as an Investment?) you can start generating your own electricity.  Anytime your "solar electric plant" is generating more electricity than you are using then your meter will run backwards, LEGALLY (see also article Solar Electricity Explained). 

www.SunCalSolar.comElectricity Metering Forwards and Backwards?
In the middle of the day when the sun is out and bright you should be producing your maximum electricity.  Since many people are gone to work during the day not much electricity is being used.  The amount of electricity you are making is likely to be more than you are using so the meter runs backwards.  What happens to your bill in this case is that the larger amount that you are making is subtracted off of the smaller amount you are using.  So when you take a larger value and subtract it from a smaller value you get a negative amount.  This means you get a negative usage or a credit to your bill

At night the sun is not out so your solar electric system is producing nothing and it is likely you and others are at home using electricity.  Even though you are not producing any electricity you have the convenience of using the utility company's power.  The amount you are making is 0 and so 0 is subtracted off your actual electric usage / consumption. 

The credits generated in the daytime are effectively used up at nighttime (see also What is Net Metering with Respect to Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Power?).  The utility company calls this Net Metering because the total amount of electricity you make in a year is subtracted off the total amount you use in a year.  In other words the production and consumption of electricity is "Netted Out". 


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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

The Location of the Sun is Crucial for Every Solar Electric System

How the sun hits your solar electric panels and any shadows created by the sun is arguably the most important design consideration for your solar electric system.  This should always be carefully thought out during any design and before starting any installation. 

Daily Sun Motion
The location of the sun is as it moves across the sky every day is crucial.  You might be saying "of course" by now, but please read on.  There's more. 

Your solar electric system only produces significant power when it has direct sunlight is hitting it.  As the sun comes up and runs its course across the sky, shadows form and move as the sun moves.  If these shadows move across your solar panels they will significantly reduce the power output. 

Seasonal Sun Motion
Equally important is how the Sun's location changes throughout the year.  It changes quite a bit throughout the four seasons.  Because of this, shadows can be very different in Summer as compared to Winter. 

Shadows are typically longer in the winter and shorter in the summer.  They may also shade different locations because their orientation can change.  A shadow that does not shade your solar panels in the Summer could cause problems in the Winter.  Again, if these shadows encroach on you solar system they can significantly reduce your energy production. 

Seasonal Changes in Number of Sunny Hours Each Day
Summer days are longer (unless you're on the Equator) and so there are more hours of sunlight.  In the winter,the days will be shorter and have fewer hours of usable sunlight.  So noticeably more electricity is normally produced  in the summer months. 

How to Know If a Shading Problem Exists
If you have good trigonometry skills, you can use some math and charts that provide the Sun's path throughout the year for your approximate location.  That's beyond the scope of this article. 

A much easier way is to ask your solar design professional to provide a detailed shading analysis and determine if you have any shading problems.  Sometimes it's very obvious and sometimes it will take detailed measurements to figure out the severity of problems. 

Catch Shading Problems in the Design Phase
Every solar electric system design should include a thorough attempt to minimize any shading on your solar panels.  And always remember how much shadows can change throughout the day and throughout the year. 


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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Sunlight is the Key to Solar Power - The Obvious ... and Maybe The Less Obvious - 5 Points to Ponder

Sunlight, of course, is the key to solar power;  but what does that mean to you.  For any solar electric system you want direct sunlight hitting your solar panels as much of the time as possible.  The goal is to maximize the power that the system produces by maximizing direct sunlight.  You want to avoid shading solar panels as the sun moves through the sky every day and throughout the year.  


The Five Main Things to Keep in Mind to Get the Most Out of Your Solar Electric System Are


  1. Sunny Area Available to Install Solar Panels - First you must have a relatively large area to install solar panels. Typically, this is a large rectangular roof area that is free of  shade throughout the year.  This area could also be triangular ( /\ ) or other shapes with angles (like trapezoids).  

    If you have space on the ground you could also install a ground mounted system (see Installation Location Blog Entry). 
  2. Panels Southerly Facing - The solar panels should be facing generally South (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere) to improve power production of the panels.  Southeast and Southwest are also usually good choices.  East and West facing are ok.  But avoid northerly directions, because you will get a poor energy harvest because northerly directions get less direct sunlight. 
  3. Daily Sun Path - Everyday the sun rises in the East, passes overhead, and sets in the West.  Anything that will block sunlight as the sun crosses the sky can cause shading problems.  Shading can be caused by trees, shrubbery, hills, nearby homes, chimneys, vents, etc.  Shading will reduce the amount of power that is produced by the solar electric system.  Avoid shading.  
  4. Annual Sun Path - The sun's daily path changes throughout the year.  In the winter time it is generally more southerly and in the summer it rises more directly overhead.  Also, the days are shorter in the winter and so produce less power.  Remember, that the location of the sun at 10am in July will not be the same location of the sun at 10am in January.  The sun is typically lower in the sky in the winter.  This will change shading effects and can change the power produced.  Avoid shading. 


  5. Angle That Sunlight Hits Solar PanelsThe closer to perpendicular that sunlight hits the solar panel the better because it improves panel performance increases power output.  Since the sun is moving from moment to moment and throughout the year this is not possible with a fixed mounting system. If you go though a lot of calculations you can find out that an angle of about 33 degrees from horizontal is best (and facing south).   Tracking systems can be used to keep sunlight perpendicular to the panel, but these add considerable cost, weight, complexity, and maintenance.  They also take up more space because they need space to move.  Most roof mounted systems are not a good fit for a tracking system. 


The Bottom Line is Simple in Theory, but a Bit More Complicated in Practice

Get the most direct sunlight on your solar panels that you can by locating them in a good location that maximizes direct sunlight and minimizes shading throughout the year.  You probably have a good idea of areas like this from living in your home.  When installing a solar electric system you should complete a thorough and detailed shading analysis that considers the location of the sun throughout the year and through everyday. 


Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Why You May Not Want to "Zero Out" Your Electric Bill With Solar Electricity

Getting Rid of Your Electric Bill Completely May Not Make Financial Sense
Many people dream of getting rid of their electric bill completely.  However, this may not be the best financial decision.  The reason is simple, but not that obvious.

It all has to do with the tiered electric rate structure.  (see also "System Sizing" BLOG entry).  If you produce all of the power you need then you are producing power that you could purchase relatively cheaply in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 electric rates.  It makes more financial sense to purchase the inexpensive Tier 1 & 2 electricity from the utility company and produce your own electricity for the relatively expensive Tier 3 and Tier 4 electric rates.  This improves your payback period and rate of return.  Use the electric company for their inexpensive electricity.  


Having said this, it is possible that the Tier 1 & 2 rates could go up in the future.  Or the cost of solar systems could drop so much that producing all of your electricity could make financial sense, but for now it does not. 

There may be a good reason to produce all of your electricity that I have not mentioned, but it is not financial.  It is to reduce carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. 

And just FYI, here in San Diego Gas & Electric Territory your minimum bill even if you produce more electricity than you use (or the same) is $5.17/month. 



Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


How Much Solar Power Do I Need?

Install the Right Amount of Solar Electricity for YOU

Everyone's electricity usage is different.  And so is everyone's goal for the size of their electric bill.  In other entries I have mentioned there are reasons you may not want your electric bill to be "zeroed out".  The main reason is that it may not be your most cost effective approach (see also Tiered Electric Rate structure and System Sizing).  Also, if you oversize your system you will pay for a larger system, but will not get any benefit for producing more than you use (I'll address this in a future entry). 

In the simplest terms, the amount of electricity that your Solar Electric system generates is subtracted off your electric bill.  For example, if you use 700kWh's per month on average and your system generates 600kWh's per month on average then you will pay the utility company for the difference of 700kWh - 600kWh = 100kWh.  This will put you into the lower priced tiers for electricity (Tiered Electric Rate structure) and significantly lower your electric bill. 


Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Can I Get Rid of My Utility Connection by Using Solar Power?

Why Not Just Go Off-Grid with a Solar Electric System?
The simple answer is yes;  you can get rid of your utility connection with solar electricity. 

BUT ...   There are some trade-offs.  This independence comes at a price.  I don't recommend an "off-grid" (no utility connection) unless a grid connection is not possible because of a remote location or if your utility power is unreliable.  In most cases, it's best to stay "on-grid" connected to the utilities power system. 

Electricity Made only During Sunny Times
Remember that solar panels produce power only when the sun is shining brightly on them.  So they produce no electricity at night.  So if you want power at any time of day or night then you will need a way to store power from the daytime.  This is usually done with a bank of batteries.   This sounds great at first.  However, batteries are expensive and require maintenance (or you could use a generator that uses fossil fuels, is loud, and requires maintenance). 

Battery Backup Comes at a Cost
You can usually expect to add at least $10,000 to your system if you want a battery backup.  Also, the batteries need to be replaced periodically; typically every 3 to 10 years depending on the batteries.  They also need to be topped off with distilled water regularly and need to be vented to release flammable hydrogen gas that they produce.  Additionally, they need a safe cool (not hot, not cold) dry location to be stored.  

Remember, the common "flooded lead acid battery" is basically a plastic box filled with lead and sulfuric acid.  These banks need to be protected from short circuits which can quickly overheat the batteries and wiring enough to cause a fire and/or explosion.  They need to be stored safely!  I'm not trying to scare you;  You can safely install and use a battery backup as long as it is installed properly and maintained properly.  But you need to know this comes at a price in dollars and time.  

Oversize the Solar Array

Additionally, your solar array will have to produce 100% of your power and will have to be oversized to compensate for battery losses and cloudy days.  What happens if you have 3 days of rain?  You will need to have enough energy stored in your batteries to carry you through that time.  This adds costs to your system because you will need to buy more solar panels to compensate. 

Advantages of Keeping Your Grid Connection - Let the Electric Company Work for You !
If you keep your grid connection, you produce electricity during the day.  When you produce more than you use the utility company buys it back from you (via net metering).  Then at night when your solar electric system is not producing electricity, it is easy to buy power from the utility company as you need it.  This gets rid of all the extra costs and maintenance related to batteries.  It's just much simpler and less expensive.  Let the utility company work for you for a change! 



Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Take Control of Your Electric Bill

Are You Sick and Tired of Your High Electric Bills?
Maybe it's time to take control of what you pay for electricity?  Maybe it's time to save hundreds or thousands of dollars on electricity?  Do you think electric rates will go up in the future?  If so then you're not alone.  

It's no secret;  You can save money by making your own electricity from the sun.  All you have to do is install a solar electric system and sit back and enjoy the savings.  A solar electricity pretty much system runs itself and has very low maintenance.  If you want, you can track your savings from day-to-day, month-to-month, or year-to-year. 

A solar electric system simply captures energy from the sun and converts it to electricity.  This amount of electricity is subtracted off your electric bill.  It's a very clear savings. 




Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Hidden Solar Panels?

Integrating Solar Panels into Your Home
Did you know you can hide your solar panels by integrating them into your home?  Three common ways to do this are:   

Skylights or Patio Covers as Solar Panels
There are solar panels that let about 15% of the light through.  These make excellent skylights and patio covers because they stop a lot of heat and light from getting through which can often make the area underneath much cooler and more pleasant to sit. 





Solar Roof Tiles
Solar Roof Tiles tiles can be integrated with many types of roofing and are very unobtrusive once installed.  Typically, these are used with flat concrete roofing tiles, but there are options for rounded (or Spanish style tiles) as well as composite shingles.  Some of these options blend in very well. 






Thin Film on Standing Seam Metal Roofs
You can also install thin film solar cells directly onto standing seam metal roofs or any other flat or gently curved surface you have in direct sunlight. 


Of course you can use your imagination to discover many other ways to install solar panels. 



Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com



3 Things to Think About When Installing Solar Electricity

Three Main Considerations When Installing a Solar Electricity System

  1. The people that benefit the most and get the best return on their investment are the ones who have large electric bills.  The larger the bill the more the savings will be.  High electric bills are typically driven by at least some of the following:
  • Air Conditioning in a hot climate
  • Pools
  • Refrigerators (old inefficient ones and multiple small ones throughout the home)
  • Spas / Jacuzzis
  • Children
  • Computers
  • Video Games
  1. To successfully lower your electric bill with Solar Power you need a good sunny area to install the panels.  You can find more information about locating your solar panels in last week's and other entries in this BLOG. 
  2. You will also need a way to finance the project.  This can be cash, a home equity loan, or a HELOC (home equity line of credit).  You can find more information on financing options in an entry in this BLOG a few weeks back. 

Contact us if there is a topic you would like discussed or if you have a question about solar power. 



Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Where is the Best Place to Install Solar Power Panels?

Locating Solar Panels?
Most solar panels are installed on roofs.  However, this is not required.  Solar panels could be installed on ground mounted racks, on outside walls, on fences, on carports, or built into a building.  They can be installed anywhere that there is a secure and strong structure to mount them on or in.  After all, you want them to stand up to the elements over time and to produce electricity for many years. 

The One Main Requirement in Choosing a Locating for Your Solar Panels - SUNLIGHT!
There is only one overriding requirement for all solar panels:  Your panels must have strong sunlight for most of the day throughout the year.  The more sunlight the panel receives the more power it will generate and the better your return on investment for solar power will be. 


Roof Mounts

Most solar power systems are mounted on roofs.  This is usually a safe and out-of-the-way location for solar panels.  The main disadvantage is they are a little harder to access, but fortunately solar panels require very little maintenance. 

Ground Mounts
If you have extra land then a ground mounted system can be a great solution.  These are often protected by a simple chain link fence to keep kids, animals, and untrained hands off the system.  But many people don't have the extra land to take advantage of this option and this is why roof mounts are so popular. 

Additionally, sun tracking system are usually best with ground mounts.  A sun tracking system captures more power from the sun by keeping panels facing the sun.  But a tracking system adds cost, complexity, and maintenance.  Using tracking or not is a trade off between performance and costs. 

Building Integrated PhotoVoltaics (BIPV)
Solar panels can also be integrated into roofs, patio covers, and carports just to name a few common ones. 



And remember, you could install solar panels anywhere there is a safe & secure structure and access to the sun!  Use your imagination. 


Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


California Solar Power Rebate Drops 18%

Decrease in California Solar Rebates
As of June 17, 2009 the California State Rebate for residential solar electric systems in the SDG&E territory dropped from $1.90/watt to $1.55/ watt.  Or about an 18% drop in residential cash rebates.  These rebates will continue to drop over time until they go away completely. 

Planned Rebates Decreases
This is exactly as planned.  It is NOT because of state financial problems.  It is simply the natural progression of the state rebate program.  As the amount of installed megawatts (MW or millions of watts) of solar electric power increases, the state rebate is set to decrease in predetermined steps. 

This current decrease is the planned decrease going from the state defined "Step 4" to "Step 5".  These steps were defined years ago when the rebates were set up.  You can find more information on these steps at the state's "Trigger Tracker" website. 

What Does this Mean?
If you were to install a mid-sized 5kW solar system the cash rebate you would receive has dropped from $9,500 to $7,750.  A decrease of $1,750.  For a larger 10kW system the rebate decrease would be $3500. 

The Good News
The good news is that prices on many solar panels have dropped which should more than offset this decrease in rebate; Making solar more affordable than ever. 


Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Why Solar? Why Now? - 5 Reasons to Install A Solar Electric System

5 Reasons to Install a Solar Electric System - Is This "The Perfect Storm"?

  1. Electric rates seem to keep going up.  I have not found anybody who is predicting that electricity rates will drop.  The price of solar electricity does not go up because you pay a fixed price on the system and you know what that exact amount is ahead of time.  Solar electricity is free after you pay for the system.  So it protects you against future rate hikes.  You can actually reduce your bill down to $5.17/month if you have the space for the solar panels.  You start saving money as soon as your panels are connected. 
  2. Prices have dropped on solar panels.  This due to several reasons, but is primarily based on "supply and demand".  The demand has dropped overseas and a lot of new suppliers are starting to manufacture the expensive solar cells. 
  3. The Federal tax credit pays for 30% of total price of your system.  This significantly drops the cost of buying a solar electric system
  4. California State Rebates will continue to decrease down to zero, so in the future you will get a smaller rebate. 
  5. It's the right thing to do.  It lowers carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning plants.  It reduces the need for nuclear energy.  It reduces our dependence on foreign sources of energy. 

These are 5 great reasons to install a solar electric system.  You can find a lot more information about generating electricity from the sun at www.SunCalSolar.com. 


Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Protect Yourself from Future Electric Rate Increases

Take Control with Your Own Solar Power System. 

Did you know that you could use a solar electric system to protect yourself from future electricity rate hikes?  Everyone I know believes rates are increasing, especially when you consider the past rate increases.

    • What were your electric rates 5 years ago?  10 years ago?  20 years ago?
    • What do you think electric rates will be in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?

Save Money - Even if you have a $200, $300, $400, $500, $600 or higher, per month electric bill you could bring that down to only $5.17 per month!

With Net Metering, the utility company buys back unused electricity at Full Retail Price to reduce your electric bill.

And since the utility company bills you on a Tiered Electric Rate structure,  this means that the most expensive electricity is the first electricity the utility buys back at Full Retail Price when you have a Solar Electricity System

Solar Panels on Cement Roof Tiles

Pay for only for the amount of electricity that you actually use minus the amount your new solar electricity system generates. 

Your Electric Meter May Actually Run Backwards During the Day!



Solar SavingsProtection from Rising Electric Rates

Protect yourself from inflation and rising electricity prices - It's like locking in your electricity rate at today's prices!  Because the price you pay today for your solar electric system can never change.  However, it's almost guaranteed that electricity rates will continue to increase. 





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Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

What is an Ideal Climate for Solar Power? What about where I live?

More Sunlight, More Sunlight, More Sunlight!
The best climate for solar power is where there is a lot of direct overhead sunlight.  These are places that have very few cloudy or rainy days.  It would also be a place where the sun is high in the sky everyday of the year - like in the more southern latitudes here in North America.  The closer to the equator the better because then you have more sun that is high in the sky throughout the year.  When the sun is high solar electric panels produce more electricity than when it is low in the sky. 

Heat is Not Good for Solar Electric Systems
There is a common misconception that hot sunny days are great for Solar Electricity Systems (photovoltaics), however this is not really true.  What would be better are cool or cold sunny days.  Solar cells work by converting light from the sun to electricity, so sunny days make the solar electric panels work best.  However, solar cells produce less power when they are hot than when they are cool or cold.  Cool sunny days produce more power over time which means more energy produced and more savings to you. 

Additionally, excessive heat also will slightly accelerate the degradation of the solar panels over time.  Heat is not great for the inverters either.  Inverters are the devices that convert the electricity from the DC (direct current) electricity produced by the solar panels to the AC (alternating current) used by your home lighting and appliances.  Heat can lower the efficiency of the inverter and shorten it's lifetime.  Heat is usually bad for reliability for anything electrical. 

A properly designed and installed solar electric system can help reduce the temperature that solar panels operate at.  As always the design and installation are critical to a properly operating system. 

Not Black and White:  But San Diego County is Fantastic Climate for Solar Electric Power
By now you may be asking, "What if I live in a part of the county near the coast where there are lots of cloudy mornings" or "What if I live inland where there are lots of hot sunny days". 

This just means you don't have ideal conditions for solar, but how many things in life are "ideal".  However, just the fact that you live in San Diego County means that you have fantastic conditions for solar electric power.  We generally have lots of sunny days, few rainy days, very little snow, and not much sleet.  We are pretty far south and so get lots of overhead sun that solar panels work well in. 

The bottom line is that only a complete financial analysis by your solar installer will give you the details on how much you can save on your electric bill by adding a solar electric system.  But here in San Diego County we have a great climate for solar electricity. 


Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com

How Big Should Your Solar Power System Be? - Sizing a Solar Electric System

Solar System Sizing, Payback, and Rate of Return
Tiered electric rates should effect your decision to install a solar electric system and the size of the installed system.  I discussed the tiered electric rates in last week's entry if you want an overview / review of Tiered Electric Rates

System Sizing, Payback Period, and Rate of Return are all drastically influenced by the tiered rate structure. 

Drastically Different Electric Rates Charged
The main reason for this impact is that the Tier 1 (up to 100% of baseline) electric rate and Tier 2 (100% to 130% of baseline) electric rate are considerably less expensive than the the Tier 3 and Tier 4 electric rates (above 130% of baseline).  The key to remember here is that Tier 1 and Tier 2 electricity usage is relatively inexpensive, but electricity used over that amount is expensive (as shown in this diagram).

Baseline Electricity - In case you were wondering:  Baseline electricity is a amount of electricity (in kilowatt-hours) that the utility company has calculated to be about 75% of the amount of electricity that the "average" household in the region uses.  Baseline changes between summer and winter as well as by the area of the county you live in.  Remember, the baseline amount is a measure of a quantity of electricity, not a price.  However, the price is set by the amount used relative to the "baseline" amount. 
Understanding Tiered Electricity Rates - An Example
To help understand the tiered electric rates here is an example to illustrate it.  It would be similar to the situation of: 
  1. the first 10 gallons of gasoline you purchase cost $3 /gallon
  2. then the next 3 gallons cost $3.50 /gallon
  3. then the next 7 gallons cost $8 /gallon
  4. and anything over 7 gallons cost $9 /gallon. 
Wouldn't you rather try to not use the $9 /gallon and $8 / gallon gasoline first or get it another way?  That's exactly what solar electricity does with your tiered electric rates.  It removes the most expensive electricity first.  So if you are trying to maximize your savings then you want to size your solar system so that it gets rid of (or "shaves off") the electricity that would be charged in the Tier 3 and Tier 4 rates.  This will improve your payback period and rate of return. 

Substantially Different Savings for Solar Electricity
The difference in the rates you pay is crucial to calculating Savings, Payback, and Rate of Return because when you generate solar electricity your savings or payback is based on what you avoided paying for that electricity.  For example, if you are currently in the Tier 4 electricity rate and your solar system "shaves off" electricity billed in Tier 4 then you will be saving about $0.32 to $0.34 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).  However if you are in the Tier 1 (baseline) electricity rate then you will only be saving about $0.13 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). 

This is a big difference because if your solar system is generating even a small amount of electricity like 300kWh per month then this means it is saving you about $39 ( = 300kWh x $0.13/kWh) if you are in Tier 1.  However, if you are in Tier 4 then your are saving about $100 / month ( = 300kWh x $0.33/kWh) .  This is substantial when you consider this happens month after month and year after year.  And these dollar savings are typically even higher for most properly sized solar electric systems that produce much more electricity than this. 

So be sure your solar electric system is sized properly for your specific situation.  This will help improve the savings, payback period, and rate of return.  Then sit back and enjoy the money you're saving while helping the environment. 


Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


"Deciphering" Your Electric Bill - Utility Rates Explained

Utility Rates and Your Bill
If you have ever tried to "decipher" your electric bill you know it is not easy.  The tiered rate structure is a little complicated, but the way they put it on you electric bill makes it downright confusing.  Today, I will be discussing the "DR" rate or tariff, because this is the rate most homeowners use.  DR means "Domestic Rate". 

There are also the "DRTOU" rate which is "Domestic Rate Time-of-Use" rate and "DRSES" rate which is "Domestic Rate Solar Electric System" rate.  Usually, the regular DR rate works best for most homeowners, even people who own solar electric systems.  I will save discussing these other rates and commercial rate structures to a later date.  Commercial rates have additional complications like "demand charges".

Basic Idea of Tiered Electric Rates
The basic idea is this:  the more electricity you use the more you are charged per unit of electricity.  The basic unit of electricity you are charged for is the Kilowatt-Hour or kWh.  The utility company is trying to get you to conserve by charging a lot more if you use a lot or waste a lot of electricity.  Low energy users pay less per kWh than high energy users.  The idea is:  if you use a lot of electricity then you pay more for your share than if you were a lower consumption user

Here in San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) territory there are 4 tiers for the rates you are charged for electricity. 

Tier 1 - The first tier is called "baseline". 
Tier 2 - The next tier is 100% to 130% of the baseline amount. 
Tier 3 - The next tier is 130% to 200% of the baseline amount. 
Tier 4 - The next tier is 200% and up of the baseline amount. 
The baseline is an amount of electricity measured in kilowatt-hours and you are charged one rate for this electricity.  Then when your usage goes over this "baseline" amount and up to 130% of it (Tier 2) you are charged a slightly higher rate.  Then when your usage goes over 130% of this "baseline" amount (Tier 3) you are charged a significantly higher rate.  And similarly for when you go over 200% of the "baseline" amount (Tier 4).  

Large Difference in Electric Rates Between Lower and Upper Tiers
The Tier 1 and Tier 2 are supposed to be the average electrical usage for the entire territory.  These rates are held artificially low.  The bottom line is that the prices/rates for these two tiers are fairly low.  And when a rate hike is announced it is loaded more onto the Tier 3 & Tier 4 rates.  What this means is a 6% rate hike will typically be substantially more than a 6% increase in the Tier 3 & Tier 4 rates.

The other very noticeable part of this rate structure is that the first two tiers are substantially less expensive than the upper two tiers.  Roughly, the price is more than double for the upper two tiers.  This is a strong reason to conserve power and generate solar electricity.  Conservation and solar electricity generation "shave off" the electricity you pay for in the upper two tiers FIRST!  Let me repeat that, the part of your electric bill that is removed first is from the top tiers so your savings is more substantial. 

Baseline Electric Rate
The baseline amount of electricity varies by several factors.  These factors are: 
  • Summer vs. Winter (rates can also change by Summer vs. Winter)
  • The region you live in (coastal, inland, mountain, or desert as defined by SDG&E)
  • If you are an all electric household 
And to make it more complex; usually twice a year you get a bill that straddles between summer and winter so your baseline and tiers change in the middle of the billing cycle.  Yes, it's complicated.  Fortunately, you don't have to do the calculations.  Your utility company does that for you. 

Electricity Charge vs Distribution Charge
Now, as if this were not confusing enough.  They also break the charges down into: 
  • Utility Distribution Company (UDC) Charges  or  Distribution Charges
  • Electric Energy Charge / Commodity / Electricity Generation / Consumption / Usage Charges
The "distribution charges" are for the infrastructure that gets the electricity to your home.  This includes things like the power lines and transformers.  These are the rates that vary quite a bit by usage tiers discussed above.  The "electric energy charges" are for the actual electricity itself.  This rate does not vary by tiers, but they still break it out by tiers.  There is also a DWR bond charge added in there.  

Then at the end of your bill there are an assortment of charges that are explained on the back of your bill. 

Total Electric Rate for Each Tier
To get your total electric rate in each tier you have to add up all these charges to figure out what you are paying.  Confused yet?  It's not easy.  Just remember, what is important is:  The more electricity you use the higher your rate goes.  Conserving electricity and making your own from a solar power system can significantly reduce this impact. 


Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com


Pay for Your Solar Electricity System with Your Tax Bill (Microbonds)

Microbonds or Tax Bill Financing for Solar Electricity in California

You may or may not have heard about California Assembly Bill 811 or "AB 811" that passed last year.  If you haven't, then you should make sure you read more about it.  AB 811 allows local government entities like cities and counties the option to offer loans to property owners for sustainable energy projects (like solar electricity). 

At first this may not sound like a big deal, but it is!  The idea is that local governments can setup small loans for solar power projects (actually more like very small bonds or"micro-bonds").  It is a powerful solar financing option because it could make financing much easier. 

What is AB 811?
AB811 paves the way for homeowners to finance their solar electric system through a loan that is paid off with their regular semi-annual property tax bill.  It would look like the other bond charges like sewer, water,and trash assessment districts that you may already have on your property tax bill.  AB 811 allows local government entities, such as cities and counties to finance renewable energy projects (like solar electricity) for homeowners.  And give homeowners the choice to finance renewable projects, like solar electricity, and pay through their tax bill. 

What AB 811 is NOT
Property tax bill loans for solar projects are not in place yet (with a few small exceptions).  AB 811 "allows" local governments to provide financing for solar projects, but it is not required. 

Many local governments, like here in San Diego city and county, are working hard to put this solar financing in place. However, it's not done yet.  The key to implementing these loans seems to be finding a way to get the cash for the loans and figuring out how to manage the lending and payments.  A contact of mine in the county Board of Supervisors office tells me they are working hard to get this financing in place (and have been for some time), but it is far from complete.  There are still a lot of details to work out.  There is no date set for when these solar project loans will be available.  

Also, these loans are not expected to be low-interest or interest-free solar loans, but will be a market rate loan. 

Remember, there are other financing options currently available, as I discussed in my previous entry. 

Robert Morse
BSEE, MSEE
SunCal Solar, Incorporated
www.SunCalSolar.com