1st week with solar = smiles and Sun Miles™

1st-week-solar-house1editors-blog-entry3We’ve been online with our 5.59 kW solar system (which cost us about $8,500 out of pocket, or about $1.50 per watt) for a full week now. Since I know many of you either already have a solar system on your home or are thinking at least semi-seriously about adding one, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on some of the feelings and experiences we’ve had during our first full seven “solar” days here in solar-friendly Aurora, Colo.

First, though, the numbers:

  • Total weekly production = 226 kWh ( = 384 lbs. of CO2 saved)
  • Total weekly home electric usage = 62 kWh
  • Total banked/excess power = 164 kWh

Ideally, we want to power 100 percent of our annual home electric use and 100 percent of approximately 10,000 miles (16,000 km) in an electric car. In fact, we’ve had to maneuver quite a bit to get a solar system onto our home’s roof big enough to do this – our 5.59 kW solar system is projected to produce about 8,000 kWh per year here in Colorado — thanks to something called the 120 percent rule here in Colorado. This rule basically prevents homeowners who put up a solar system that produces more than 120 percent of their yearly home electric use onto their roof from receiving a utility rebate.

Many states, perhaps most, in the U.S. have similar caps. However, thankfully, not all do. However, here is not the place to reflect on the complexities of solar system size caps and utility solar rebates. You can read more about it here.

In terms of our very first solar week, we’re definitely off to a good start in terms of our goals. We’re more than powering our home electric use — which we work very hard to keep low – and we’ve banked 164 kWh, enough to power an electric car for 656 fossil fuel free, Big Oil free, air pollution free miles, or what we call 656 Sun Miles™. (The conversion factor is 4 miles per 1 kWh)

Having already banked 656 Sun Miles™ is one of the greatest excitements of our first “solar” week here in the wonderful-for-solar climate and weather of central Colorado. But there are many others. Here are some of them–>

The newness of it all. Doing something new and different – especially when you believe in it – is always a thrill. That’s been the case with us going solar, especially for me, although I think that my wife has also caught the solar bug more now that we’re sending lots of excess electricity back into the grid. The REC panels are still new, clean and sleek, as is the SMA 6000 inverter which forms the core of our system. BTW, we’re the only ones in our neighborhood, and the only ones for two miles in either direction that I know of who have a solar PV system on our home. Hopefully, this changes soon…

1st-week-solar-inverterWatching the utility meter spin backward. In just seven days, we’ve produced 164 kWh more of electricity than we’ve used – and we’ve spun our utility meter backward in the process! That’s just plain cool. It’s also fun to watch as it happens – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stepped outside to sneak a peek at how much excess electricity we’ve produced. Of course, we don’t really see anything spin backward, because we now have a meter with a digital readout, rather than the old, steel dial meter with the tiny assortment of clock-like dials at the top. In fact, the digital meter is better because it makes it much easier to figure out how much excess electricity we’ve sent back into the grid. But I still miss being able to see the meter spin backward.

The surreal feeling of having our home run on sun. On sunny days in the middle of the day, I know that when I walk by our refrigerator, when I turn on the oven, when I switch on the microwave, flip on lights, or work on our home computer – all of them are being powered exclusively by electricity generated by solar panels on our home. That’s a super – and somehow also surreal – feeling. Surreal in the sense that it’s hard to believe something as clean and simple as the sun’s rays could be lighting up my computer screen. But they are!

Knowing we’re running our neighbors’ air conditioners! We are very frugal with our energy use –even a bit more frugal now that we have solar. In fact, a recent energy audit of our home couldn’t find much for us to change/improve in our home. Unfortunately, many of our neighbors aren’t quite as energy conscious. On average this past week, we’ve sent 23 kWh extra per day into the grid. Some of that is helping to run our neighbors’ air conditioners. Of course, it would be better if they, too, would be a little less generous with their home AC use. In any case, every time I take a peak at our excess use displaying on our utility meter and hear our neighbors’ AC units humming, I can’t help but break out into a smile.

Home solar makes a sunny day even sunnier. Sunny days help my mood. Now, it gets an extra boost on sunny days because we have solar. That’s because I know our system is over-producing electricity and that our garage roof — once a totally unproductive space — has been transformed into a mini-power plant for our house, for our future car, and for our neighbors’ houses.

Our welcome-to-our-roof house is now an asset. Our house is no architectural wonder. It’s pretty much a box with a giant, welcome-to-our-roof, south-facing garage. That roof was doing nothing especially productive – until this week (OK, it was, and still is, keeping the elements out). Now, with a solar system, it’s producing enough electricity to run our home and a future electric car. As I’ve noted elsewhere, tens of millions of Americans have perfect-for-solar rooftop space like ours. Their solar-less rooftops are wasted space right now. But it doesn’t have to – and hopefully will not – stay that way. In fact, one study estimates the U.S. could cover 75 percent of its total national electric use if solar was placed on all viable rooftops (commercial and residential) in the U.S.!

1st-week-solar-meter-000Overproducing. America is the land of overconsumption. Our whole economic (house of cards?) is based on people consuming more and more of everything, including, of course, electricity. With our 5.59 kW solar system, we’re producing more electricity than we’re using – far more. That cuts against the grain of American consumption and makes me — being the against the grain kind of guy I am – positively giddy!

Increased awareness of the power of the sun. The sun consistently reminds us – via personal “lobster” sunburns, steering wheels we can’t touch, pavement and sand that’s way too hot to walk on, etc. – how much power it harbors. Having a home solar system accentuates this awareness. This is especially true when you’re a geek like me and you’re drawn to things like watching minute-by-minute updates a solar inverter gives of how much wattage your system is putting out. It’s an incredible feeling to see a reading of 4,500 watts, or even higher, and to watch as our system taps the power of the sun. Sometimes, I just break out into spontaneous, happy laughter when I read our system’s current watt output!

Increased awareness of the inconsistency of the sun. As giddy as a home solar system has made me – and believe me, it has made me giddy! – the sun doesn’t shine all of the time, even in great solar power territory like Colorado. While we’ve banked well over 150 kWh in just one week, at night, we need to pull from the grid to turn our lights on. At that time, our grid is being powered 70 percent by coal and 30 percent by natural gas here in Colorado. That said, pathetically little of the daily daytime sun power which hits Colorado, its millions of rooftops, and the world and its millions of rooftops is being harnessed – one source claims just .02 of America’s energy is currently being generated by solar energy (and now we’re a part of that!). In other words, the U.S., and the world could do far better with solar (and other renewables) during the day than we are right now. In doing so, we can reduce coal and natural gas to night-time and cloudy-day fuels, and perhaps eventually eliminate them altogether, at least as a source of fuel to generate electricity for our homes. For example, new technologies are emerging that will allow us to store energy generated by solar!

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A new perspective on clouds – including ‘puff’ clouds. Yes, a home solar system produces electricity even when it’s cloudy. But, as I’ve discovered in our first week with a home solar system, clouds can dramatically reduce the output of your system. For example, I’ve watched our system’s production drop by 70 percent in a matter of seconds as thick thunder-clouds obscure the sun. Our cloudiest day in our first week – July 4th – was also our lowest production day, with a 23.6 kWh total. Compare that to the 39.1 kWh we got on a completely cloudless day and you can see just how much clouds affect sun power. Of course, I know we need clouds and precipitation – but it’s hard not to get caught up in hoping for a cloudless day, especially on those long, summer days when your system could set its “personal” record for production!

Banking miles — Sun Miles™ — for our future electric car. Yes, you can power a car – an electric one – with solar power! Fill its batteries with solar-generated electricity, either directly, or in this particular case, with solar-generated electricity you’ve banked with your utility by sending excess electricity back into the grid, and you’re running your car on sun, air pollution free! So far, we’ve generated 164 kWh more than we’ve used, or enough to power an electric car for 656 oil free, pollution free miles. And we’ve only just gotten started on banking these air pollution, oil free miles. That’s an incredible feeling. And, contrary to what the naysayers claim, it’s not a feeling just a few of us could be experiencing, but one millions could be experiencing for themselves, right now! I hope at least a few of you catch the solar-charged bug – if you’ve haven’t already — and come along for the solar ride!

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prius-resources-page-image Like this story? Interested in the solar EV/PHEV synergy? Join our Sun Miles™ Club and start meeting & interacting with other people around the world who want to drive, or already are driving, their cars on sun! Register to join us today!