Friday, February 26, 2016


Yesterday was the first day that we generated more power that we used.  Well, it is not technically the first time.  On some days when we were on vacation and not actively using power, we did out generate our use, but that doesn't really count.

This was the first day of the new billing cycle.  Last month's bill ended  up being $27.76.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Cross Country - North South Style

One of the things that has floated around on my mental bucket list for a while is to drive across the country.  Originally my plan was to do a solo photographic adventure across the US.  As I thought about it more, I thought that this might be something that I could share with Jacob. I asked him if he was interested, and he immediately said yes.  Later still, I thought it would be great if my dad could join us.  For some reason I thought that he would hesitate to come, but I was definitely wrong as he enthusiastically expressed interest in the adventure.

Just who would come on the trip changed, so did the direction of our journey.  I had planned on flying to the east coast, rent a car and drive west.  After giving it a lot of thought and planning out routes, I decided that we should make the drive along the Pacific coast.  The new plan has several advantages,;  the trip a lot shorter,  the scenery is supposed to be gorgeous (no offense to the cornfields of the midwest), and I can take my own car.  

So far the plan looks something like this:
  • Drive from Irvine to Portland via I5.  We'll stop overnight somewhere (probably Medford, OR).  I know that I5 isn't the scenic route, but I just want to get north faster and we'll take in the sights on the way back.
  • Spend 4 days in Portland and the surrounding area, then drive to Seattle.
  • We'll spend 4 days in Seattle then head down the coast.
  • Take about 4 days driving along the Pacific Coast from Seattle (may be inland for the beginning of it) to San Francisco.
  • Spend 4 days in San Francisco.
  • Drive down the coast from San Francisco to Irvine in 4 or 5 days. 
If anyone has any recommendations or wants to try to get together when we are in town, let me know.
I plan on updating the blog with our plans as they develop.  


So, I had to go to the Apple store a couple of times of the last few weeks, and as always, it seems like a mixed bag.  I guess that overall the good outweighed the bad, so I shouldn't complain too much.

A few weeks ago I tried to hook an external monitor up to my iMac without success.  After going through a lot of trial and error with different fixes and using different cords, I managed to figure out that the system did not even see the thunderbolt ports (where I connect the external monitor).  It is a bit frustrating because while I am outside the warranty period, I don't know if these ports ever worked because I hadn't tried them before.

So I made my appointment to see the people at the genius bar.  The technician starts to run a diagnostic program and before he even gets to the thunderbolt ports tells me that my hard drive is starting to fail and that it will cost me about $250 to repair it.  I then learn that indeed the thunderbolt ports don't work, and that the fix requires the replacement of the logic board at over $750.  I told the guy that I would probably throw it in the garbage before I spent $1,000 on it.  After he went into the back to check something, I realized that continuing to use the iMac without the thunderbolt ports was a vastly superior option to spending the $750+ or chucking the thing in the trash.  When the tech returned, he informed me that Apple was repairing the hard drives for free even outside of the warranty.  

I thought that I had everything backed up (I run Time Machine), but apparently missed about 6 months of photos.  I have copies of most of them, but lost the originals.  Frustrating, but completely my fault.

This past week I visited my friends at the genius bar regarding my Macbook Pro.  The coating on the screen was worn out in places.  It wasn't terribly noticeable when the screen was on, particularly with a bright background.  When the screen was off, however, it was very obvious and made the screen look dirty.  I had talked to them about it before, but was told that it would cost over $200 to fix it, so I declined.  I did a bit of research on it, and found that Apple began repairing them for free starting in October, 2015, even for those out of warranty.   

When I arrived at the Apple store,  the tech didn't seem aware of the free replacement program, and asked me if I had read it on Apple's site.  Fortunately, when he entered the information into their system, it showed that my laptop was covered and they would replace the display for free.  They turned it around in two days which was better than the 3 to 5 day estimate, so well done Apple.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Seeing Green

Yesterday we generated 93% of our home's electric use from solar energy, the highest ever (except perhaps on days we were on vacation).  This is causing me to see green, not the environmental kind, but the sweet money kind.

All of the houses in our neighborhood were built with solar panels.  Six were included in the construction price and we paid extra to bring our total to 14.  These were supposed to provide up to 80% of the electric used, and with one of the nation's highest electric rates this was very attractive.

The way it works here is that any power generated by the solar panel is fed back into the grid and offsets our usage.  For example, if we use 20 kWh in a day and generate 16 kWh, we bring down 20, send up 16 for a net usage of 4. There is a website where we can monitor our usage.

For the first year, it was clear that we were getting less than 50% of our electricity from our solar panels. I really didn't think a whole lot about it, assuming that this was just another overhyped marketing promise and that we were probably using a little more than average.  At one point I even unplugged the ethernet monitor that allows me to monitor how much electricity we sell back the ride.  

What I didn't realize is that we actually used a lot of electricity.  In our first year we used about 12,000 kWh, nearly twice the California average of 6,700 kWh.  I realized that we weren't as energy efficient as we could be, but our home is larger than average and Tim and I are here a lot during the day.  

A little more than a week ago, I was changing a lightbulb and realized that we were still using the old incandescent bulbs.  I knew they were energy inefficient but didn't realize how much much energy they used compared to the LEDs.  Once I realized how much more energy these bulbs used, how the tier structure in California made electricity progressively more expensive, and the fact that at least two of my children seem incapable of turning off lights, I knew that it was time to do something.  I changed nearly every incandescent light bulb in the house with the exception of a handful.  At the same time, we bought a new washer and dryer, replacing the old (~1996) electric dryer with a gas replacement.

The change in power consumption because obvious very quickly.  Our energy consumption is about half of what it was.  On sunny days (which is very typical) we generated 70-90% of the power we use.  Since power at the highest tier (which we routinely hit) is twice as much as the lowest, this decrease could decrease our bill by much more than 50%.

Even with more solar power collected during summer months, it will probably be harder to maintain the 80% range in the summer on days that we run the AC.  Still, 93%!  Love the savings.