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.

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