A couple of News Articles...

BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,741 admin
I wanted to post links to a pair of recent news articles as cautionary tales...

The first, from the NYT fluff piece about wind power:
Technology Smooths the Way for Home Wind-Power Turbines

Wind turbines, once used primarily for farms and rural houses far from electrical service, are becoming more common in heavily populated residential areas as homeowners are attracted to ease of use, financial incentives and low environmental effects.
...
Even if the wind is strong, zoning and aesthetics can pose problems. “Turbines work in rural areas with strong wind,” Mr. Schwartz said. “But in urban and suburban areas, neighbors are never happy to see a 60- to 120-foot tower going up across the street.”
Very content free in terms of issues of costs vs wind power collected, experiences, etc... Article talks about use in "heavily populated residential areas" vs “ut in urban and suburban areas, neighbors are never happy to see a 60- to 120-foot tower going up across the street.”

What--perhaps 120' tall wind turbines are not for suburban areas with 50'x100' and smaller lots?

And another article, spend millions of dollars on solar (with 50% subsidies from State Government to Local School District)--and they find out their power costs soared:

Schools hope rate will solve solar snag
black.gifBills rose after panels installed

The San Diego Unified School District had its electricity bills go up about $20,000 a year after it installed solar-energy systems at 28 schools, said J. William Naish, the district's energy management coordinator. The Lemon Grove School District also is paying more in energy costs – when its $2 million portion of the cost for solar panels is included – than it did before it added solar equipment.
...
San Diego schools had planned to put in solar-power systems at 50 schools, but stopped because planners couldn't figure out why bills went up.
...
State subsidies paid half of the $4 million cost of installing banks of solar panels longer than football fields at three Lemon Grove schools. The district figured its bills would be higher for a few years because of the cost of paying off the panels. But when Potter had her team crunch the numbers, they discovered the annual bills exceeded projections by more than $100,000 a year.
...
As it stands, large users such as schools pay not only for the energy they use but for the fixed costs of transmission lines, towers and other equipment necessary to make sure power flows when the lights are turned on. They're called demand charges, and they're paid only by big users, not homeowners.

That explains why Lemon Grove's three solar campuses ended up getting a bill for $3,630 in July – when they were closed and giving solar-generated electricity back to the utility.
The school district did not account for "demand charges":
Background: Except for homes, electric bills for large power users have three components: a demand charge based on the highest 15 minutes of use in the past year; a peak-demand charge based on the highest 15 minutes of use during high-demand hours, which are between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the summer; and an energy charge based on how much is used.

What's changing: Beginning May 1, users can stay with the old structure or use a different calculation, which could mean lower costs for those who use solar power.

The optional rate: The demand charge would be reduced by 50 percent, and the peak-demand charge would be eliminated. But energy charges would go up substantially. However, those costs are potentially offset for those with solar because they wouldn't have to buy as much power from SDG&E.
Solar has its place and can be a useful part of long term control of your energy costs. But, whether this if for your home, or you are trying to make a business out of it (installation, or solar power station), make sure you understand the billing/laws/economics around your installations.

Or you may get an unexpected "shock"...

-Bill
Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset

Comments

  • MangasMangas Solar Expert Posts: 547 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: A couple of News Articles...

    Bill, interesting reading.

    Notwithstanding the schools were somehow unaware of stealth infrastructure costs associated with a move to solar, you have to wonder if any agency was advising ("helping") them? Surely, it wasn't the taxpayers.

    Until the federal government and states really get serious about extending meaningful and centrally planned economic incentives for alternative energy including coordinated public policy standards among their agencies and commercial grid participants; getting serious energy conservation results will be unacceptably slow and inefficient. The patchwork approach certainly isn't good policy.

    No matter how large your business there's only so much private industry is willing to do (invest) without clear and coordinated public policy. Likewise, as a cost conscious homeowner "sitting on the fence", I would be reluctant to make an investment without fully understanding and being able to depend upon measurable alternative energy investment tax policy and the regulatory rules going forward.

    Do they really want to encourage proactive and serious alternative energy use or, just pay "lip service" for the cameras?
    Ranch Off Grid System & Custom Home: 2 x pair stacked Schneider XW 5548+ Plus inverters (4), 2 x Schneider MPPT 80-600 Charge Controllers, 2 Xanbus AGS Generator Start and Air Extraction System Controllers, 64 Trojan L16 REB 6v 375 AH Flooded Cel Batteries w/Water Miser Caps, 44 x 185 Sharp Solar Panels, Cummins Onan RS20 KW Propane Water Cooled Genset, ICF Custom House Construction, all appliances, Central A/C, 2 x High Efficiency Variable Speed three ton Central A/C 220v compressors, 2 x Propane furnaces, 2 x Variable Speed Air Handlers, 2 x HD WiFi HVAC Zoned System Controllers
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,741 admin
    Re: A couple of News Articles...
    Mangas wrote: »
    Notwithstanding the schools were somehow unaware of stealth infrastructure costs associated with a move to solar, you have to wonder if any agency was advising ("helping") them? Surely, it wasn't the taxpayers.
    I would hope that any accountant can read their power bills and rate structure to see that the cost of distribution and transmission lines is 50%+ of their bill. The actual cost of the "power" (electricity) is less than 1/2 of the total bill (this is even true for home electric bills--the only difference is that for the residential bill--all of the costs are rolled up into the kWhr price).
    Until the federal government and states really get serious about extending meaningful and centrally planned economic incentives for alternative energy including coordinated public policy standards among their agencies and commercial grid participants; getting serious energy conservation results will be unacceptably slow and inefficient. The patchwork approach certainly isn't good policy.
    At least in California, electric rates are heavily regulated by the government (Public Utility Commission). And there are a whole bunch of "incentives" in them (some even going back as far as the Presidency of Jimmy Carter--late 1970's).

    One of the most fundamental changes to our rate structure came from Pres. Carter... That was the concept the more power you use, the rate you pay goes up too... That was to force conservation. But that also provides a powerful disincentive for small users (in the lower rate tiers) to go with alternative energy--because it makes utility power so cheap (at the expense of larger customers that end up paying a subsidy to those smaller consumers).

    But, since large users also pay directly for infrastructure through peak demand charges (which is 50%+ of the bill)... Pure solar changes alone cannot affect this charge... Because solar probably does not reduce the peak demand by much (assume hot summer day, heavy A/C use and such--cloud goes by for 15 minutes while the A/C is still running--plus folks turn on extra lights).

    Regarding "centrally planned economic incentives"--government regulatory polices, government schools, using government incentives (~$5.00 watt--funded by the public based on government regulations--which is not available to us mere government "subjects"), using government low interest loans (because they have exempted anyone that loans the state money from paying income taxes on the proceeds of the loans).

    I don't see how this could get any more "centrally planned" unless we follow some other socio-economic model...
    No matter how large your business there's only so much private industry is willing to do (invest) without clear and coordinated public policy. Likewise, as a cost conscious homeowner "sitting on the fence", I would be reluctant to make an investment without fully understanding and being able to depend upon measurable alternative energy investment tax policy and the regulatory rules going forward.
    Everything was out in the open here--"Somebody" though that getting 50%+ free government money and going "green" would solve all of their problems.
    Do they really want to encourage proactive and serious alternative energy use or, just pay "lip service" for the cameras?
    Well, this school district did more than pay lip service--they put their (really our) money where their mouth was...

    If somebody at the school district really took an hour to understand their power bills, they would have quickly seen that they would have been much better off (at least for the first dollars spent) with conservation (and an energy management system) which would have probably saved them a whole bunch more money than solar pv--Because it would have addressed both parts of their power bill--the Peak Demand (utility infrastructure part) and the actual usage (kWhr charges).

    Basically boils down to... If I use 10MegaWatts for 15 minutes once every year, and zero power for the other 99% of the time--I would still have to pay the utility for the infrastructure to generate, transmit, and distribute the power to my front door... That is what the school district did not understand.

    Also, if you read the rate plans, there is a bunch of "central planning" in there too that talks about charges if you take your one company/home/etc. off of the power grid. Basically, the central planners have assumed that you will be on the grid for "life" and have planned their infrastructure and rate plans accordingly. So--at least in California, a large user going "off grid" or installing some sort of large (>10,000 kW to 1,000,000 MW) generating plant (currently residential users are currently exempted from this charge--but it is still in the law/rate plans--but as we know, government can change its collective mind at anytime), has to pay for the "stranding" of government (and private) resources that were planned to be used to supply "this" large customer.

    What may be another problem is they went to school in California where learning how to balance a check book, read a bill, or understand rate plans and contracts is not taught (I know, I have lived in California my whole life).

    For the life of me, I never understand how one can go through 13 years of public grade school and 4 years of college and not once learn how to write a check or balance a check book. Or how to do any basic household budgeting and planning.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • MangasMangas Solar Expert Posts: 547 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: A couple of News Articles...

    My point was simply without better public policy (and coordinated incentives) for alternative energies, particulalry solar, I won't be making further solar investments beyond what I've done which is pretty significant.

    That will include businesswise which I've considered.
    Ranch Off Grid System & Custom Home: 2 x pair stacked Schneider XW 5548+ Plus inverters (4), 2 x Schneider MPPT 80-600 Charge Controllers, 2 Xanbus AGS Generator Start and Air Extraction System Controllers, 64 Trojan L16 REB 6v 375 AH Flooded Cel Batteries w/Water Miser Caps, 44 x 185 Sharp Solar Panels, Cummins Onan RS20 KW Propane Water Cooled Genset, ICF Custom House Construction, all appliances, Central A/C, 2 x High Efficiency Variable Speed three ton Central A/C 220v compressors, 2 x Propane furnaces, 2 x Variable Speed Air Handlers, 2 x HD WiFi HVAC Zoned System Controllers
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,741 admin
    Re: A couple of News Articles...

    I too looked at Solar pretty carefully before I put in my 3kW grid tied system... I had looked at the rate plans, tried to figure out why a bunch of wind turbines were being installed on the Bay Area hills (reason; tax breaks and extraordinarily high $/kWhr payments vs other forms of generated power) vs other, more useful, useful solar power plants (like those in desert desert/sunny locations, that with thermal storage, can output power when needed--not just when the sun is out).

    In the end, I chose to install mine when it looked like the incentives (~$2.50 per watt) and the rate plans where changing (again)... Even then, I am still "paying" a 40% privilege (call it $0.14 to $0.17 per kWhr--ignoring cost of money) for installing my system. I did this against the idea that a practical electric city vehicle will be out there in the next few years. My system, will keep my bill in the "lower" tier rate panels (~$0.11 per kWhr vs $0.20-$0.35 per kWhr without solar).

    Well, here it is 2.5 years later, the electric car (or plug-in hybrid) is still just around the corner. And last year the California state government changed the whole rebate plan (larger home systems would require phone line/Internet access and a third party monitor power generation), plus required solar GT systems to use yet a new rate plan (new, complex Time Of Use with Tiered rates) that would actually increase electric bills (even ignoring the cost of the solar PV grid tie system) for people installing a small home system that did not cover their entire electric usage (plus the new rate plan is so complex (PDF) there is no way that anyone could predict their bill without actually switching to the rate plan--3 TOU periods weekdays, 2 different TOU periods weekends and holidays, high price periods well into darkness; 9pm--kills solar panel advantages, 5 different price tiers for each TOU period, two different rate plans by season, and ten different baseline territories--all stuffed into a six page rate plan document).

    The State's "new and improved" plan just about killed new installs of solar grid tie for the home market. Took them about 6 months to remove some of the worst requirements (temporarily change the TOU requirements and allow other TOU or flat rate billing--IIRC).

    Mangas, I agree with you that business (and the average "residential" potential solar customer) needs long term stability in the regulatory arena so they can make sane economic decisions. And having laws (like in California) that say local planning/building codes and homeowner restrictions cannot block an otherwise well designed and installed to code solar power system.

    My fear is that government behavior have, multiple times, nurtured then decimated entire industries (not just solar) through their actions (and sometimes, inactions).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • Lefty WrightLefty Wright Solar Expert Posts: 111 ✭✭
    Re: A couple of News Articles...

    I also live in California. I own property in a city that charges $1800 for a building permit to install a solar panel.

    You can see how serious government is about renewable energy.

    It will probably not change until the "right people" figure out how to meter the sun.
  • adasadas Solar Expert Posts: 136 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: A couple of News Articles...

    Aloha, all this really makes me want to live "off the grid and under the radar".

    But then again, I think we should have a flat 10% federal income tax across the board and should pay $.50 or so more at the pump instead of getting vehicle insurance. But that would put a lot of bean counters out of work.:D
    frank
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: A couple of News Articles...
    I also live in California. I own property in a city that charges $1800 for a building permit to install a solar panel.

    You can see how serious government is about renewable energy.

    It will probably not change until the "right people" figure out how to meter the sun.

    even then there will always be those in government wanting to gouge people of their money as i see they are quite seriously doing just exactly that where your property is. some things never change.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,741 admin
    Re: A couple of News Articles...

    Since this thread by me is already a knock against poor reporting--thought you folks would enjoy this New York Times Correction from an article on huge planned solar PV systems for California published last Friday:
    Correction: August 16, 2008
    An article on Friday about the planned construction of two large solar power installations in California described incorrectly the operation of the solar panels in one, to be built by SunPower. Its panels pivot from east to west to follow the sun over the course of a day — not west to east.

    It is easy to make mistakes--but it does sort of make you wonder what else is wrong in day to day reporting...


    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
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