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going solar
Old 03-17-2016, 01:44 PM   #1
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As it happens my place is one of the optimal in the area for solar panel exposure and ease of installation. This fact has not gone unnoticed by the likes of SolarCity, and the parade of salespeople has begun. Their general pitch is, "We'll take care of everything for FREE, and your utility bill will be less. Plus you'll get the tax credit that's expiring Real Soon Now. So, can we start tomorrow?"

It's obvious their high-pressure "FREE" has a cost. I would think if I don't mind the up front investment, I can buy a solar system myself and not only get the same reduced utility bill, but also capture the portion Big Solar Company would pocket. Plus, future house sale looks easier since a new owner would not be pre-committed to the solar vendor. Am I missing something? Except to avoid the up front cost, why might it make sense to instead sign a contract with a Big Solar Company?
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Old 03-17-2016, 02:53 PM   #2
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Where I live, I guess too many people converted to roof-top solar. That really pissed off the electric company. So they changed so that they only pay "commercial rate" for power excess going onto the grid. The "commercial rates" they buy power from you is only 15% of what they charge for retail rates. They also started with stiff minimum charges and fixed base fees. So even if you use no power and feed lots of power to the grid, you'll still have a decent monthly charge just to be connected. These changes really screw-up the economic case for roof-top solar. In short, because of the changes, Unless you use gobs of electricity it probably is no longer viable to add rooftop solar.

I don't have any solar cells, but for low electric users like myself, I find that I now pay nearly double compared to what I used to with the base fees and higher low-use rates.
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Old 03-17-2016, 04:33 PM   #3
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Masterblaster doesn't live in CA. We continue to get good return on our solar cells. We miscalculated and overbuilt (we were thinking electric car, but decided to put that off), so we got paid for the excess power at wholesale rather than retail rate. We added air conditioning last year and that mops up most of the excess now. We still have some south facing roof area, if we want to add an electric car.

The state is still encouraging individuals to install solar.
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Old 03-17-2016, 07:06 PM   #4
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Went through this with Vivint. I would more likely go with them or SC but I think they keep all the incentives. They wanted us to sign a contract before they provided a proposal. You can cancel anytime before installation starts. I thought it was great since they do a roof inspection but DW got cold feet. We don't want panels on the front of the house so that's a problem for us. Some of the systems around here have poor workmanship. A lot of the savings comes from elimination of taxes and fees (something that could change in the future).


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Old 03-17-2016, 08:37 PM   #5
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Be very careful with a monthly lease because they almost always include escalator clauses where your payment increases every year. Utilities everywhere are waging war on rooftop solar and while you make a lease commitment for 20 years or so, the utility can drastically change the rate structure to your detriment much more frequently. This just happened in Nevada. While you might be "grandfathered", you might not.

The best way these days to go solar is to buy it outright or look into loans that are available. Get several quotes minimum and get educated before you start talking to salesmen. IMHO, SolarCity will almost never be the best price for purchase - their business model is leasing.
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Old 03-18-2016, 07:11 AM   #6
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Utilities everywhere are waging war on rooftop solar and while you make a lease commitment for 20 years or so, the utility can drastically change the rate structure to your detriment much more frequently. This just happened in Nevada. While you might be "grandfathered", you might not.
That's exactly what is happening in Arizona now and will likely have a serious impact on future solar purchases/installs if the State allows the utilities to get away with it. My local utility reluctantly agreed to grandfather in existing solar users for the next 20 years under their current billing structure but any new installs will get stuck with a hefty monthly fee and reduced payments that will make the payback time so long it would be hard to justify the expense.
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Old 03-18-2016, 08:30 AM   #7
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This brings up the concept of the utility 'death spiral' - as more people go solar, their revenue dips. How they make up the shortfall is key. If they stop paying solar customers for their excess electricity those customers feel pushed toward going 100% off-grid. Then the utility revenue is ZERO.

It's all about their business model. Up until now it is revenue for generation and distribution. Rooftop solar allows people to localize generation and skip the need for distribution. Future electric may need to be a backup system for rainy season and peak hours only.

For rooftop solar in California, one CPUC decision could change everything
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Old 03-18-2016, 12:27 PM   #8
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That's exactly what is happening in Arizona now and will likely have a serious impact on future solar purchases/installs if the State allows the utilities to get away with it. My local utility reluctantly agreed to grandfather in existing solar users for the next 20 years under their current billing structure but any new installs will get stuck with a hefty monthly fee and reduced payments that will make the payback time so long it would be hard to justify the expense.
I'm in Arizona too with APS. My installation (via a prepaid lease) is nearly four years old and I've been grandfathered so far. However, there is a full rate case coming before the Corporation Commission within the next couple of years and I assume my rates may change. Luckily, my system will have already paid for itself by then. Not sure I'd want to be gambling on solar today. Certainly not a monthly lease through SolarCity.
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Old 03-18-2016, 03:36 PM   #9
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Be very careful with a monthly lease because they almost always include escalator clauses where your payment increases every year. Utilities everywhere are waging war on rooftop solar and while you make a lease commitment for 20 years or so, the utility can drastically change the rate structure to your detriment much more frequently. This just happened in Nevada. While you might be "grandfathered", you might not.

The best way these days to go solar is to buy it outright or look into loans that are available. Get several quotes minimum and get educated before you start talking to salesmen. IMHO, SolarCity will almost never be the best price for purchase - their business model is leasing.
I don't have solar by DD does in the Silicon Valley. She purchased, but then she has a Tesla.

There are significant issues when selling a house with leased solar, don't do it.
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Old 03-18-2016, 04:18 PM   #10
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I don't have solar by DD does in the Silicon Valley. She purchased, but then she has a Tesla.



There are significant issues when selling a house with leased solar, don't do it.

I'd be curious to know what these issues are. The contract I reviewed lets the buyer and seller opt out of the contract ($250 fee to seller) but homes in this area with solar sell for a premium. I think the details vary by location.


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Old 03-18-2016, 04:42 PM   #11
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Leasing scares me, for all the reasons covered.

Also agree the the rules may change going forward, so for a purchase with a 10-20 year payback (maybe), that's a high risk. And I don't see how utilities (well, their customers actually - since the customers pay to support these monopoly utilities) can afford to pay retail rates for solar compared to wholesale rates for other sources. So something may give.

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This brings up the concept of the utility 'death spiral' - as more people go solar, their revenue dips. How they make up the shortfall is key. If they stop paying solar customers for their excess electricity those customers feel pushed toward going 100% off-grid. Then the utility revenue is ZERO. ...
Going 100% off-grid just isn't feasible for most people. Price out batteries, maintenance, and a system large enough to provide a few days worth of power, sized to handle your peaks. Big, big $$$$$$$$.

For grid tie, the inverters only need to be big enough to handle the peak of your solar panels. For off-grid, they need to be big enough for your peak usage. 100 Amps or 200 Amps coming into your home at 220V. That's a lot of inverter.

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Old 03-18-2016, 06:30 PM   #12
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...Going 100% off-grid just isn't feasible for most people. Price out batteries, maintenance, and a system large enough to provide a few days worth of power, sized to handle your peaks. Big, big $$$$$$$$.

For grid tie, the inverters only need to be big enough to handle the peak of your solar panels. For off-grid, they need to be big enough for your peak usage. 100 Amps or 200 Amps coming into your home at 220V. That's a lot of inverter.
It's tough to be off-grid unless one changes his lifestyle. Most people cannot afford, nor have the room for enough panels and storage to be independent.

A typical 250W solar panel has a surface area of 18 sq.ft. And the 250W is under ideal conditions i.e. max solar radiation, panel facing the sun squarely, and temperature of 25C or 77F. Yes, panel efficiency drops with higher panel temperatures. In the SW where the air temperature may hit 120F, the panel temperature may get up to 140F or 60C. It causes the efficiency to be only 87% of the max number. But the largest loss is due to the panel not tracking the sun. Add to that possible high cloudiness in some locales, and we lose some more.

My highest monthly usage is in August at 2,700 kWh due to the AC. That's 90 kWh/day. In order to be self-sufficient, besides having enough battery storage to last through the night, I would need 15 kW of production (90kWh divided by 6 hours of equivalent max sunlight). That's 60 panels taking up 1,080 sq.ft., figured at the max 250W rating. To allow for losses may require an extra 50% so that's 90 panels taking up 1,500 sq.ft.

The battery storage to run the AC through the night is horrendous, let alone having enough to last through the next day or two.
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Old 03-18-2016, 07:42 PM   #13
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In Tx where their is only wholesale rate netmetering i.e. you get reimbursed for excess power at the utilities cost for power at the substation, and with current low rates it is about a 20-30 year payout. Further we have hail storms so its not clear what the real life of panels are, or what their effect on homeowners insurance would be. I say better to build the utility scale plants which are not to far from parity with wind and natural gas and let the utility companies worry about the backup. The best price I have seen for utility scale solar is about .05/kwh Cheapest Solar Ever? Austin Energy Buys PV From SunEdison at 5 Cents per Kilowatt-Hour | Greentech Media.
Further as was noted elsewhere imagine you need a new roof in the interim you need to remove the panels replace the roof and put the panels back up, suggesting that replacing the roof at the same time makes sense.
Note that in Europe the early highly favorable solar rates are also being phased out to allow the utilities to stay in business as well.
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Old 03-18-2016, 07:53 PM   #14
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This brings up the concept of the utility 'death spiral' - as more people go solar, their revenue dips. How they make up the shortfall is key. If they stop paying solar customers for their excess electricity those customers feel pushed toward going 100% off-grid. Then the utility revenue is ZERO.

It's all about their business model. Up until now it is revenue for generation and distribution. Rooftop solar allows people to localize generation and skip the need for distribution. Future electric may need to be a backup system for rainy season and peak hours only.

For rooftop solar in California, one CPUC decision could change everything
Rooftop solar provides limited generation and the distribution infrastructure is still required to carry the power to/from the home. People still want to be able to flip the switch and have the lights come on when the solar isn't supplying anything.

Solar may "save" the homeowner money on their bill because the amount of power you have to purchase is reduced. However those savings are illusory since the costs are simply shifted to other places such as ratepayers and taxes. The utility company is still stuck having to maintain the generation and distribution to supply the load when the sun isn't shining.

Solar City is getting killed right now because many states are starting to look at the costs of supporting these solar incentives and determining that they are not worth it. They recently pulled out of Nevada due to changes in the rate structure there. If they can't make solar work in Nevada how can it be feasible anywhere?

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Old 03-18-2016, 08:58 PM   #15
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Leasing scares me, for all the reasons covered.



Also agree the the rules may change going forward, so for a purchase with a 10-20 year payback (maybe), that's a high risk. And I don't see how utilities (well, their customers actually - since the customers pay to support these monopoly utilities) can afford to pay retail rates for solar compared to wholesale rates for other sources. So something may give.







Going 100% off-grid just isn't feasible for most people. Price out batteries, maintenance, and a system large enough to provide a few days worth of power, sized to handle your peaks. Big, big $$$$$$$$.



For grid tie, the inverters only need to be big enough to handle the peak of your solar panels. For off-grid, they need to be big enough for your peak usage. 100 Amps or 200 Amps coming into your home at 220V. That's a lot of inverter.



-ERD50

I dont know about payback feasibility owning solar, but I will bet money on the following.... Dont worry about the local transmission and distribution utility. As mentioned before, they are shifting costs from use to "monthly fee". And rightfully so....many solar owners are wanting to receive all the benefits of producing their power but receive all the backup grid connection and all the maintenance and up keep of that for essentially free. Under the old model this would lead to massive cost shifting to the traditional users.
And this is how the Utes present it. The fact it could destroy or "death spiral" the system is inconsequential to them of course. And as one who is significantly invested in their business I fully support their proactive moves to prevent this.
Like you said, unless all are willing to produce their own power and go completely off grid, this is the new way the grid needs to be paid for and protected.


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Old 03-19-2016, 08:41 AM   #16
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And as one who is significantly invested in their business I fully support their proactive moves to prevent this.
Like you said, unless all are willing to produce their own power and go completely off grid, this is the new way the grid needs to be paid for and protected.
As a non-solar user I certainly agree solar users should have to pay their share of the infrastructure costs but have to question the numbers the utilities are using to justify the increases they are asking for. Below is the justification from my local utility. My average electric bill is right around $50/month so even non-solar users like myself are being subsidized according to their numbers.

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Our study shows it costs $23.02 per month for the facilities to connect your home to the nearest transformer. It costs another $21.35 to connect that transformer to the nearest substation, and it costs $27.52 to connect that substation to the power plants. Added up, it costs $71.89 per month to build and operate the physical system that brings power to your house –no matter how much power you use!
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Old 03-19-2016, 10:06 AM   #17
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Some amount of subsidy is always there for the low-usage homeowners. That's why many utilities have multi-tiered rates, where the per-kWh cost goes up with usage.
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Old 03-19-2016, 10:20 AM   #18
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Some amount of subsidy is always there for the low-usage homeowners. That's why many utilities have multi-tiered rates, where the per-kWh cost goes up with usage.

Our regions billing works differently.... $8 flat user fee... 4 months of summer is flat 12.08 cents per KWH no matter how much or little you use. The other 8 months they promote use... 8.58 cents for first 750 KWH and 5.73 cents for everything above that... Crank up the heat and enjoy the savings...and blast the AC in April and May every warm day opportunity you can.


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Old 03-19-2016, 10:44 AM   #19
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As a non-solar user I certainly agree solar users should have to pay their share of the infrastructure costs but have to question the numbers the utilities are using to justify the increases they are asking for. Below is the justification from my local utility. My average electric bill is right around $50/month so even non-solar users like myself are being subsidized according to their numbers.
Our bill (and many others) is broken out between 'delivery' and 'supply' charges. The supply can be (and often is) a separate company, so there is no supply side subsidizing the delivery (infrastructure side) in our area.

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Some amount of subsidy is always there for the low-usage homeowners. That's why many utilities have multi-tiered rates, where the per-kWh cost goes up with usage.
But the utility cost goes up with usage as well. Marginal production is often more $ than average production, so it makes sense from that level.

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Old 03-19-2016, 01:36 PM   #20
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New proposed charge for homeowners with solar that recently came before the PUC: a monthly fee to compensate the utility for the power that they would have sold you, except for your use of solar power.

Really.

The effect is to make solar power the most expensive in monthly costs after paying the utility a bill for the power you would have used but didn't, plus the maintenance and amortized expense for the solar setup.

This is what happens when enough utility lobby folks get appointed to the public utilities commission.

It may run into a tiny bit of negative feedback during the public comment period...


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