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jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: Goin’ Solar

Recently, i had solar installed on my roof. It’s not a huge system, but it covers my average daily need of about 4KWh. It cost me about what a brand new economy car would have, and i understand that i’m in a fairly privileged position, both in the ability to have solar panels installed, and the ability to afford them.

The reason was pretty simple: my electric power rates had hiked up in the past few years and i expected to be at home a bit more. If i could reduce that cost down, there’s no reason i shouldn’t. There are other reasons i considered them, like the fact that i live in earthquake country and having panels means that i’d have some power available 1, and the panels would provide some shade to keep my metal roof from overheating2, but honestly, not forking over $100+ a month was really the major draw.

And, yeah, i get that i’m late to the game on this. i’m ok with that. Cutting edge tech on these sorts of things is foolish. You want something that’s had the kinks worked out and is reliable as hell for the 30+ years they’ll be running.

So, i find it kinda hilarious that there’s a growing backlash about roof top solar.

Part of the problem is that power companies built way the heck too much generation capacity. i can’t really fault them, Natural Gas is cheap thanks to the current glut, and not a lot of folks saw the residential solar panel growth happening the 10 or so years ago that these plants were authorized. Still, residential solar is a fraction of the power generated daily. It does, however, mean that the return on all those bright, shiny, and new power plants won’t be quite as great and it’ll take a few more years before they become profitable. Hooray! Power is a commodity and subject to supply and demand.

Which kinda leads to the next point. Residential power generation is kind of a fluke. Let’s ignore solar, and say that i’ve somehow created a tiny universe filled with residents who step on pedals in order to provide me Watts to spare. In the era before smart meters, i’d plug that in and the analog meter would literally run backwards. The power company would come by every month, read the meter, and wonder how to deal with consuming negative KWh. The simple solution, because not a lot of folks were creating tiny power-plant universes, was to just credit at the same rate they charged and move on. Some months i’d owe, others i’d collect as i fed the excess power back into the grid for my neighbors to use.

This is because the grid doesn’t really care where the power comes from, just that it’s there. It could come from coal plants, gas, wind-turbines, really anything that can send electrons along a path at the proper AC frequency.

So, i’m a little confused by articles like this which state:

Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.

Uhm, what? They’re using power, from the grid. The same grid i’m feeding. They’re writing the same check, just that the power company is acting as a broker rather than the generator.

What’s more, i was required by the power company to install a “smart meter”. Meaning that unlike the analog predecessor, this sucker knows exactly when and how much i am either using or contributing. This means that i could be charged/credited fairly accurately, based off 15 minute increments over the course of the day. Since folks in my neighborhood have been told they’ll be hit with a $120 annual fine if they refuse getting smart meters, i’m guessing that it’s just a matter of time before even the most ardent folks concede and get one. So, yeah, the power company has/will have a stunningly accurate accounting of power patterns for this locale, minus some of the fun of long lines and massive substations.

So, you know what? i’m also 100% ok with not getting residential power prices for the power i’m generating. Yeah, it means that it’ll take longer before my system “pays for itself”, but as stated above, not really the goal. Plus, i know some folks with hilariously huge arrays on their roofs will be pissed, but just like the power company and their now less useful LP plants, Welcome to commodity based markets, bitches!


1So, yeah, fun fact. Solar needs to be able to sense the grid to operate. Otherwise they shut off because they don’t want to barbecue linesmen that might be working on the outage. You can solve that with a battery, but most of those are crap right now so not happening for a few years.

2It’s not a lot, but i’ll take what i can.

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