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The Almighty Buck Government Politics Science

CA Solar Use Falling Because of Economics 362

mdsolar writes "The LA Time reports that California is seeing a big drop off in rebate applications for solar power systems. It seems that to get a rebate you have to also switch to a time of use rate with your utility. The math is not working out, especially for smaller systems that don't fully cover use during peak hours. The result: homeowners are reluctant to go with solar energy. 'The difference between peak and off-peak rates is particularly large in the 11 counties of Central, coastal and Southern California, where Edison provides electricity service to 13 million customers. Edison charges summer time-of-use rates that range from 29.7 to 35.9 cents per kilowatt-hour between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. It drops to a range of 16.3 to 18.6 cents per kilowatt-hour from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. weekdays and all weekend days and holidays, according to documents filed with the PUC.' There is likely an optimal system size that reduces consumer costs, but with things in flux you'd want some flexibility in your system."
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CA Solar Use Falling Because of Economics

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  • So where's the cheap per-watt solar panels we've long been promised?
    • I don't know.

      What the newspaper article fails to report is what the "flat rate" charge is for electricity. It says customers going for the solar rebate have to have the time-based charges for electricity: 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt hour 10 am to ? pm, and 18 to 20 cents at night. But what is the charge that they were paying? Doesn't say.

      Why isn't the electric utility installing large solar panels to generate electricity during peak hours? Because that takes more money than burning fossil fuels in power
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Moofie ( 22272 )
        "Why isn't the electric utility installing large solar panels to generate electricity during peak hours?"

        Because the electric companies know that PV cells don't give a good ROI, except if and when you can game the electric companies into subsidizing them for you.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Firethorn ( 177587 )
        Why isn't the electric utility installing large solar panels to generate electricity during peak hours? Because that takes more money than burning fossil fuels in power plants?

        Exactly. Burning fossil fuels in power plants is an extremely cheap method of power. It can generate power at a cost of ~4cents/kwh. Nuclear is something like 3.9 average. This includes production and capital costs, from the chart on this page [](scroll down), actual production costs are only ~2 cents, with nuclear edging below coal
        • by pla ( 258480 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @11:03AM (#19051887) Journal
          Burning fossil fuels in power plants is an extremely cheap method of power. It can generate power at a cost of ~4cents/kwh.

          Only if you completely ignore the environmental impact. Aside from the power plants themselves making most superfund sites look like nice places to take a picnic, what comes out of the smokestacks eventually lands somewhere.

          Currently in Northern New England we have a huge mercury problem - Not because we put it there, nor even because our power plants made it (we have one of the highest percentages of hydro and nuclear in the country); Rather, because midwest power plants, with their nice big smoke stacks, end up dumping most of the acids and metals in the smoke on us as rain.

          So if you want to include the cost of cleaning up each and every lake in ME/NH, I suspect it would come out a hell of a lot higher than $0.04/KWh.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Firethorn ( 177587 )
            Ughhh... I knew I should of put a qualifier in there.

            Regardless, until the feds hold the power plants to those standards(IE clean up your stacks or pay for the pollution), in raw economic terms they're cheaper.

            Still, I've stated it before, but I'd shut down every coal power plant and replace it with nuclear if I could.

            Much of the baseload demand could be taken care of with nuclear power, with solar/wind supplimenting, and hydro/geothermal being used for peak demands. I'd use the excess baseload power crea
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The governor also asked the PUC to work with the state's three investor-owned utilities to come up with "a properly designed rate structure" that doesn't penalize solar owners, Maile said.

    The utility guys are the ones who lobbied for the unfair law in the first place! Do the folks of CA actually think the utilities are going to fix it?

    "The fact that some customers may find themselves paying higher electricity bills if they decide to install solar ... is unfortunate and indeed perverse," California PUC Pre

  • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:04AM (#19051121) Homepage
    The math with current photovoltaics will not come out in favour until the fossil fuel rises by a factor of at least 10 times. Does not matter what, how, who, where. They are simply too expensive to provide a reasonable ROI. They also have a very high environmental cost to produce so people who buy them are not doing a lot of good to the environment. Photovoltaics are a gimmick, similar to the hybrid cars which allow metrosexuals and hollywood stars to show off some fake green credentials.

    The only working nowdays solar tech for electricity is this: []. The tech is originally french (they have been running a pilot plant like this near Marseiles since the mid-70es). For the numbers quoted in the article the performance is quite impressive. 22MW is a small plant, most of them have per-KW cost higher than the normal electricity cost anyway. It is also first of a kind, so cost is inevitably higher like for any new tech. If this is industrialised it should be able to produce electricity at nearly normal costs in any place where you have sun and water to use as a coolant. Plenty of empty land near the coasts around the world to use for this.
    • solar is also good for non electrical use.

      Pasive Solar energy tends provides much better ROI then active solar.
    • If you are a moron and buy all your Solar panels new? yes you are 100% correct.

      If you are wise and buy used solar panels for $0.05 on the dollar, clean them up yourself and fix the ones that havwe broken connections. You get power at less than current rates. At least that is what I got for 5 years before I moved.

      new stuff is insane priced, and problem is these "green feeling" rich people want the shiny blue looking panels instead of the yellow and faded brown ones I use. and honestly having solar at your
      • by Monoman ( 8745 )
        So if everyone is smart enough to buy used then what happens? Will it drive down the price of new products?

        For now the used market relies on these "morons".
    • Why are hybrids a gimmick? With the tax credit most hybrids pay for themselves within a year, although some people who drive less it takes up to one and a half years. Only new, not used. And fossil fuel infrastructure has a huge enviromental cost to produce and solar panels are easily winning that war. Nothings perfect, and as we go forward you won't be energy neutral because energy is what we need, but setting in stone the things now is good.

      And not 10 times, fossil fuels only need to increase to twice the
      • With the tax credit -Key words here. In other words you're receiving a subsidy because you're not economic.

        Back of hand calcs-
        15k miles a year.
        30mpg 'standard': 500 gallons fuel
        50mpg 'hybrid': 300 gallons fuel.

        Difference: 200 gallons. $600-800 in fuel.

        Cost of a hybrid over standard: $7k (Honda Civic Sedan vs Civic Sedan Hybrid, base MSRP)

        Break even point, assuming 0% interest? ~10 years. I usually assume a car's lifespan at 10 years. Many last longer, but many die earlier. Then there's the question o
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MrSteve007 ( 1000823 )
          You're comparing the price of a base civic (manual trans, windows, etc) with a decked out hybrid version, with navigation, sunroof, power everything. Compare apples to apples, a Civic EX and the hybrid version, and you'll come out with a price difference closer to $2k. Using the above math, it'll pay off a little over 2 years. Sounds like good sense to me.
          • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
            Wait until you see the smile on the mechanics' face when he sees YOU pull in.
          • Yeah, but I don't need all the power stuff. Besides, the basic honda civic is rated closer to 34mpg than 30mpg, and I happen to like manual transmissions. Oddly enough, the current automatic transmission is rated for better milage than the manual, by 1mpg, but costs a little more. The models I compared do NOT have satellite navigation, and investigation shows that even the basic civic has power windows and such today. Whatever... ($800@$3/gallon=266 gallons, or around 9k miles)

            Still, more detailed comp
    • Everything you talk about depends on scale.

      The cost of solar panels includes amortizing the fixed costs of production over a small number of units.

      The environmental impact per unit of photovoltaics is a function of low adoption rates. Imagine the environmental cost of the first petroleum refinery if it was built with subsidies to serve a very small petroleum market. Imagine we live in a world without any photovolatics. Would you expect the first plant to yield net environmental benefits? The first ten?

    • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:34AM (#19051501)

      The math with current photovoltaics will not come out in favour until the fossil fuel rises by a factor of at least 10 times. Does not matter what, how, who, where. They are simply too expensive to provide a reasonable ROI. They also have a very high environmental cost to produce so people who buy them are not doing a lot of good to the environment.

      This is a myth often repeated. I'm going to simply point to a google search that will net many informative results []. You'll find numerous calculations which all come to similar conclusions: solar panels have an "energy payback" of a few months to a few years, and their warranties extend well beyond the point where they become a source of income for the owner. This does NOT apply if you cannot place the panels where they will collect sunlight, or a geographic region which does not get enough solar power; there are plenty of online and physical tools to help with the evaluation of both. Solar power is not for everyone, just like hybrids are not for everyone.

      There's one big caveat: wattage ratings for most panels are slightly inflated, because they're based off standardized tests using light sources which generate more light energy than you can find here on planet earth. Some manufacturers and retailers are upfront about this; others are not. Size the system off calculations based on your location, not spec sheets.

      Photovoltaics are a gimmick, similar to the hybrid cars which allow metrosexuals and hollywood stars to show off some fake green credentials.

      As a horsepower lovin' pistonhead, I eye hybrid owners' "my car runs on lolipops and giggles" attitude with some amusement (buying a car that burns gas does not "help reduce our foreign dependency on oil", if you understand that we have to buy oil from many sources for the nation's economic stability, no matter how much of it we use...and that consumer gasoline usage pales in comparison to commercial sector use, namely, petrochemical and truck/train/plane fuel), but hybrids DO most certainly make sense for heavy urban driving, which is exactly what they were designed for in the countries where they hit the public retail market big time: Japan. When Toyota came out with a full-size hybrid (Camry), they've been popping up all over Boston as taxicabs. The two keys are a)heavy usage and b)urban or other stop-and-go driving. Without the heavy usage, the gas savings don't compensate for the additional energy+materials (and hence additional price), and without the stop-and-go driving, hybrids are no more efficient than cars with similar drag-reducing design but regular powertrains.

      Hybrids do not make sense for highway cruising commutes, which many people bought them for in the initial craze, mostly because they didn't do their homework. If your drive does not involve a fair amount of speed changes (ie, heavy stop and go traffic), a hybrid car is not for you. Buy a CDI/TDI diesel, or one of the lighter-weight Honda or Toyota econoboxes from 5-10 years ago. Just be aware, Hondas prior to 2000 or so have abysmal crash ratings (I don't know about Toyotas.) Use the money saved to switch over to energy efficient bulbs, install hot water solar collectors on your house, blow in insulation, buy new windows, etc.

    • FYI -- The US had a similar solar boiler -- 10MW -- at Yermo, CA just East of Barstow in the 1980s and 1990s. I doubt the economics are that great. (plant only works when the sun is well up, there aren't too many clouds, and the wind isn't blowing too much dust around). Otherwise, there would have been follow-ons and commercial projects. Maybe with today's higher electric rates ... But probably not.

      I'm sure that there is an in depth analysis of Solar 1, and Solar 2 -- the Yermo facility -- around some

    • Solar Thermal (Score:5, Informative)

      by rohar ( 253766 ) * <> on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:43AM (#19051623) Homepage Journal
      Concentrated Solar Thermal [] plants are an established technology. The heliostat central tower design [] is very interesting, the video from BBC is worth watching. Vinod Khosla [] is investing in a flat mirror idea, there is video of the system [] and an interview with Khosla.

      The SEGS [] plants at Kramer Junction [] in the Mojave Desert [] have been operating since the 1980's and are the largest solar plants in the world producing 354 MW.

      Nevada Solar One [] is 64MW of solar thermal (3rd largest solar plant) and set to come online this year.

      Stirling Energy Systems [] has a CPUC approved [] contract with SCE for a 500MW parabolic stirling [] solar thermal plant.

      This document details a lot of the 100 year history [] of solar thermal attempts.

      SHPEGS [] is our not-for-profit design project to adapt solar thermal to moderate climates by combining it with geothermal and heat pump technology. There is more information and links here [].

      • by arivanov ( 12034 )
        Thanks, lots of really good links. The Kramer Junction has miles and miles of pipework with associated heat losses to transport across it. It is impressive, but IMO it is a detour into a dead end as far as reducing costs of solar energy is concerned.
        What sets the Spanish project apart is as you pointed out the heliostat design. Cheap, cheerfull and very simple to build with modern technology. Compared to Kramer junction these can be built by the dozen in nearly no time at all. In fact it can be done with s
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by rohar ( 253766 ) *
          Solar Two [] (not the same as Nevada Solar Two) was a heliostat [] central tower design. The flat mirror fresnel idea that Khosla is investing in is between the two ideas. Rather than a solar trough, flat strip mirror heliostats are at ground level with the receiver pipes above.

    • Actually, the tech is originally American [] and has been in operation since 1981.

    • 3-5 on average.

      Don't bother with the electrical side, look at what you use the energy for. In general, it's

      1: Air Conditioning in hot countries.
      2: Space heating.
      3: Water heating.

      So instead, use the heat directly. Solar thermal panels are about 80% efficient, which is many times better than photovoltaic. You use a heat pump rather than conventional AC to provide space cooling. Move the heat around instead of generating it.

      BTW, instead of pumping the heat used for generation out into the sea, they could suppl
  • I Am Not A Powerplant Engineer, so...

    Does it really cost more to provide energy at certain hours than others? Or is this just a case of the utility company fiddling with the rates in the only way they can to bilk more money out of everyone?
    • by faloi ( 738831 )
      I'm not one either... But it seems sort of logical. There's more power being used, more stress on their systems, likely a need for better monitoring which requires more people. Or at least that's how I see it, someone that really knows what's happening might be able to make it make more sense. It's probably a good idea for people who see most of their big usage in non-peak hours (nightclubs, maybe), but pretty much a raw deal for everybody else.
      • likely a need for better monitoring which requires more people

        An even bigger reason for high-costs during peak usage is that your utility has to buy power from the interstate grid and/or third-party 'merchant plants' when their own generating capacity is insufficient. That can be very expensive.

    • by Flying pig ( 925874 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:10AM (#19051171)
      Operating costs of power plants vary, with large coal fuelled plants usually the cheapest and small gas powered plants the most expensive. So you run the baseload on coal and nuclear and switch in the more expensive plants as you need them. In the US in summer highest demand is during the day,so everything gets switched in and the rate is higher. At night you can run on baseload and the cost is lower. There is a lot more to it than that including the effects of energy dealing, but basically that's why solar power makes sense in Ca and Az - you need your power when the sun is shining. In N Europe where our demand is more balanced and the sun is at a lower angle, wind and wave make more sense because they run 24 hours per day (somewhere)
    • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )
      Summertime demand is higher as more AC units run. At night time, AC doesn't have to work as hard.

      Had rolling blackouts at the college I worked at in summer of 99. Servers up! Servers down! Found out how well our data center UPS worked. Tits up on the first day.
    • During the day, especially during the summer months, demand goes way, way up. Supply is (for the most part) constant. Therefore, the market will bear higher costs during the day. It has nothing to do with the cost of producing the power.

      Keep in mind, though, that most residential customers don't currently see this change--their rates are held constant, and they're billed based solely on their total monthly KWh usage. Only TOU customers (mostly C & I, or big users) fall into the changing rate categor
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        It has nothing to do with the cost of producing the power.

        Not quite true. The costs of producing any good factors into the supply curve. To say that the production costs don't enter into it, would be the law of "demand and demand", I guess. Electricity is highly perishable, so the supply and demand equilibrium is different at different times of day.

        I'm an EE, but not a power engineer. My Dad was, and we talked about his work a lot.

        The capital costs of generating power vary with peak demand. The hig

    • by MBCook ( 132727 )

      A power plant costs roughly the same amount whether it's 9:00 AM or 9:00 PM. You probably have to pay people on night shift more, but that's negligible in the end.

      This is just supply and demand. They can get more more, and encourage less demand by doing this. Because the difference between peak and lows is so large, they may have to bring an additional power plant online (running 3 plants is more expensive than 2) or buy the electricity from another provider (more expensive than making it yourself). Plus i

      • by SQLGuru ( 980662 )
        Actually, you are forgetting the fuel to run that plant. If there is higher need, you have higher fuel costs. Also, the amount of staff you need to run 3 of 5 boilers is different from having to run 5 of 5 boilers or 1 of 5 boilers. Demand shapes the cost.

        A lot of power companies still have some sort of regulated component to their profit. If it was solely supply and demand, you would find that it wouldn't make much sense to do it because their profit would be capped matter when you used t
    • Re:Power Productions (Score:4, Informative)

      by IvyKing ( 732111 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:19AM (#19051301)

      Does it really cost more to provide energy at certain hours than others? Or is this just a case of the utility company fiddling with the rates in the only way they can to bilk more money out of everyone?

      It isn't so much that the incremental cost of producing the power is higher at peak times as it is the cost of capital for an asset that's used less than 10% of the time. What makes life a bit worse is Calif's big FU attempt at deregulation where the utilities were forced to sell off their generation to companies that charge even higher rates during peak times than what the utilities would have done otherwise.

      The first step that Calif should have taken in deregulation was to phase in time of day power for everyone over a ten year period. This would also make the economics of solar a lot better as the peak output of solar panels occurs during peak load times.

    • Does it really cost more to provide energy at certain hours than others?
      sort of

      the big coal and nuke plants plants have a low running cost per unit but have high upfront costs and/or aren't good at ramping up and down (this is particularlly true of nuclear) so they get run at full or nearly full power 24/7.

      most renewables generate when nature lets them. If your lucky thats at the same time the demand peaks and thats great. If not then the renewables become even worse than the coal and nuke plants above.

    • The others explained the reasons for the *change* in rates based on time of use, but I've really got to comment on the absolute level of the price. 29-35 cents per kwh? For reference, does anyone remember in the Enron/California Energy scandal about how some guy was caught on tape bragging about how he was gonna (paraphrasing) shove overpriced electricity down grandma's throat at $250 per MWh? That's 25 cents per kwh. And the dude obviously considered that an extremely high price.

      Incidentally, I checked
  • The article doesn't mention it, so why was this time of use rate requirement added to the law? Was it a result of energy industry lobbying? Did the state legislature just not do the math?
  • you'd want some flexibility in your system
    wisdom for the ages.
  • by simm1701 ( 835424 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:09AM (#19051157)
    You can save more money if you store energy during the cheap period of the night.

    There is a rather interesting alternative to batteries as power storage - unfortunately its a little expensive on setup costs.

    Compressed air storage. The same thing you hear is powering those new cars, its also used in a couple of large sclae power stations world wide (one in the US and one in Germany iirc)

    The idea is you store air in high presure cylynders, 6000psi 540 cubic feet of air ones are quite good - these are standard and used for filling smaller cylynders (eg for diving) normally. The advantage is as these type of things go they are relatively commodity while being very high pressure. One of these will store about 1Kwh and is about 3' tall and 1' diameter. Lets say you are going to need about 16kWh during the day for lighting and electricy (you won't need any for air con, we'll get to that)

    During the night you compress air into these empty tanks (you calibrate the day use to make sure they are empty by the end of the day) Compressing the air generates heat, so you use water to cool this, you should be able to extract enough heat in the water to fill your average hot water tank 4 or 5 times. This can be used for normal hot water, heating a swimming pool or in colder places/times of year for heating (under floor ideally). Compression is about 80% efficient in terms of energy in to potential electricy generating cpacity of the stored air. However factor in the heat you have stored for hot water and you are doing better than 100% - assuming you do use that hot water.

    During the day the compressed air is used to run a gas turbine, you should be able to get about 80% efficency again and be able to run a 2-3 kW generator, however the "waste product" is nice cold air - hence no need for an airconditioning system, you just pump this air around your house.

    So overall:

    During the night you use 24kWh of electricy at cheap rates to store air into 20 of these tanks.
    You also end up with about 24kWh of waste heat used to heat your hot water for free - thats definitely your normal hot water use covered, under floor central heating and probably atleast part of your swimming pool if you have one.
    During the day you get about 16kWh of useful electricy, plus you get all that nice cold air to cool your house down (about 10,000 cubic feet at a very very low temperature)

    Not only do you get a net out of nearly double what you put in, you are also paying less for what you put in that you would if you used that power normally during the day, add a few solar panels and you are laughing.

    The draw back?

    Cost, you are looking at atleast $40k to install this type of system, plus its not exactly off the self - all the individual components are but you can't just buy it as a package, be nice if it was though!!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rohar ( 253766 ) *
    • 540 cubic feet of air ones are quite good .... One of these will store about 1Kwh and is about 3' tall and 1' diameter.

      Ummm, 3' tall and 1' diameter is (scribbling furiously) less than 3 cubic feet. 6 feet tall and 3.4 feet in diameter is 54 cubic feet, so you'd need 10 of them...

      24 KWh of electricity. Since you're efficiency is 64%, so you're using 1.64 KWh at 20 cents per to replace 1 KWh at 30 cents per. The net is more like 3 cents/KWh. * 24 KWh, means you save 72 cents per day * 365 days in a year,

      • Depend son the area - UK economy 7 tariff is 3.5p/unit off peak and 11p/unit peak - atleast where I am.

        Also that 540 cubic feet is how much air at standard presure and temperature (ie room temp and normal air pressure) it will hold when compressed to 6000psi at standard temerature. don't ask me why its rated like that but thats what the tank specs get listed as.
    • You can save more money if you store energy during the cheap period of the night.

      [Long, complex, convoluted, yet still oversimplified air-compression-energy-storage system snipped]

      Don't bother. Cut your energy usage as much as possible during peak rates, so that you put energy back into the grid from your solar/wind/hydro when you'll earn the most money. Same effect, much, much simpler. Your "plan" made some pretty serious assumptions about scale, safety, and complexity. The devil is in the details

      • Yes its an over simplification - its a post on slashdot.

        The tollerance specs on the equipment required runs to several pages each, tanks, turbine generator, not to mention water and air pumps plus the control systems you would need.

        You're right though - the best place to "store" energy is in the grid -especially if you can get a decent sell back price from them.

        As you say water storage for temerpature is also pretty good (but then thats the other side of this system for home use, you store the heat generate
    • What's the point of this? At $40k, that's $333/month over 10 years. Even at 30 years, it's $111/month. And you're running a big risk of either just not getting that $40k back on house resale, or actually getting a LOWER price because of it. Most people wouldn't be gung ho about such a setup, and restricting your pool of buyers will most likely cause the a price hit.

      So, even living there, it's an extra $111 a month. What size house do you have to have for that to really make sense on your power bills?
  • > 29.7 to 35.9 WTF ???
    I pay 0.1008 € per Kwh (and that's green electricity ...) (that translates to about 0.13$ per Kwh. And about half that at night.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:13AM (#19051213)
    When one buys solar power he is paying for all the electricity costs for 10, 20+ years up front. So when the house does not have enough square footage to provide power through the peak-hours then supplemental power needs to be purchased and the owner of the house is now paying twice for power. Solar power is not rocket science, but people need to be better informed about how the solar power equation works. Finally, until solar power efficiency improves there will be plenty of people who won't have enough roof space to get back their ROI on the investment and thus solar power won't be a popular option until 2 things happen; the panels cost less and are more efficient in coverting light into electricity.

    As far as batteries are concerned this is called "power caching" and can be used without solar. I can store all my power for the next day after charging the batteries overnight when the rates are super low - theoretically speaking that is. The solution, before solar, is to sell people "power caching" systems on the grid and then pull that power down during peak times and during brown/black outs.

    I love the idea of solar, but until the cost comes down and efficiency goes up there is very little point to struggle with small home systems.
    • I like this idea. Very interesting!
      (I guess the question then becomes... lifespan of the batteries? Cost of caching equipment?)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I've heard stories from solar power installers about people wanting to install systems on top of a hill surrounded by trees that would only get about 4 hours of light a day, meaning that they'd need about 50% more panels than normal to cover the cost. Then the installers go into the house and see conventional light bulbs and old, inefficient appliances and just shake their head.

      It would be better for people to be spending money increasing efficiency and tightening up their houses than to buy whole new sola

  • The Toronto Exibition Place 100kW Solar PV demonstration project [] cost $1.1 million and they have a mixture of panel vendors.

    They estimated 22 years to reclaim the investment at $0.42/kWh under Ontario's Standard Offer Program []. Which is allowing $0.42/kWh for PV and $0.11 for all other renewable systems.

    You can watch the live output stats [] (requires flash) of the Exibition Palace [] 100kWh installation in Toronto and see historical data.

    The system has been online since last August and they should have a much better month this June, but the 100kW Solar PV installation poorest functional month was 1.8MWh (January) and best was 9MWh so far. At the $0.42/kWh this translates to $756-$3780 per month or 24-121 years to reclaim the investment. At $0.11/kWh this is $198-$990/month or 92-462 years to break even on the investment.

    I would think the real annual output will land in the center and at the $0.42/kWh rate, they will reclaim the $1.1 million in around 40 years if the panels output doesn't degrade severely through that period.

    In higher annual insolation areas like California and Hawaii with peak electrical usage due to AC, solar PV is getting better for low-maintenance installations like a Walmart or Google roof, when the PR factor is taken into account, but in Canada, it's a long way off from feasible due to the low winter insolation and "Twin Peaks" electrical load with the highest peak in February when solar PV has no real output.

    SHPEGS [] is our attempt to design a more suitable renewable power system for Canada, Northern US and Europe.

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:22AM (#19051315)

    The unintended glitch was created in December, when the PUC moved to implement the law by requiring that solar users switch to the higher "time of use" rates for their supplemental electricity.

    Why is the government forcing private citizens to enter into a relationship that is advantageous to the electrical companies and utilities? It's bad enough that they force people to do that with insurance companies, now it's with electricity too. Why not just follow up with food, water and medicine while we're at it?

  • my numbers (Score:5, Informative)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:26AM (#19051383) Homepage

    I'm in exactly the situation described in the article. I've gotten my first quote on a solar system, and will get my second quote next week. I'm trying to figure out if the whole thing makes sense financially, and the TOU requirement certainly doesn't help. Data on the quote I have:

    • 5.2 kW nominal power, 4.4 kW output from the inverter
    • estimated yearly output of 7600
    • $40,900, lowered to $28,100 by rebates
    • 468 square feet
    Last year we used about 12,000, which cost us $2,400. We've instituted a bunch of conservation measures, which should make that figure a lot lower in the future. The critical thing is the summer months, when we'd sometimes been using 1500 per month. This is partly the pool pump (which you have to run longer when the water temp is higher), but mainly AC. Actually although we're in Southern California, our house stays pretty cool naturally, and often we go a whole summer without turning on the AC for more than a few days, but there's always the temptation just to turn on the AC because it feels more comfortable. We just signed up for a voluntary program where Edison installs a remote control on your AC and turns it off at peak times, in return for which they give you some money. We've also started using the pool pump for fewer hours per day, which seems to be working OK as long as I'm very careful about all other aspects of pool maintenance.

    If we hadn't instituted any conservation measures, and if the legislature doesn't backstep on the TOU thing (which seems to have been simply a mistake), then I'm estimating we'd only save about $1,250 per year with the solar system, which isn't much of a return on a $28k investment. Judged purely as an investment, we'd have been better off just putting the money in the bond market or something.

    On the other hand, if we do the conservation measures, then the TOU might not be such a big deal, because we wouldn't be buying much energy at the summer, peak rate of $.36/ My estimate is that if we hardly ever turn on the AC (which we've done in some summers), then the TOU thing becomes financially irrelevant to us, and the system saves us about $1,500/year, which is somewhat better. It becomes an investment sort of similar to a standard real estate investment, where you pay a bunch of money up front, and then get a steady for a long time. One big issue is that you want to make sure your system lasts long enough so that it pays for itself, and that means you want to have confidence in your warranty. The good news is that the companies I'm getting quotes from have been in business for 40 years. The bad news is that the LA Times is quoting them as saying that unless the legislature reverses the TOU requirement, they'll all go out of business within 100 days.

    The real issue is global warming. If it's reasonably neutral in investment terms, then I'm inclined to do it, but it's worrisome to have this cloud of uncertainty.

    • A question: Do they still have net metering available (meter runs backwards if you overproduce)?

      If so, does the net metering also respect the differential pricing?

      This might actually be really useful then, as if you overbuild by 2x, those extra 4kW would be generated during the peak-price time.
    • by radtea ( 464814 )
      On the other hand, if we do the conservation measures, then the TOU might not be such a big deal, because we wouldn't be buying much energy at the summer, peak rate of $.36/

      The cheapest, cleanest energy you can buy is the energy you don't use. Until you've squeezed your energy use down to the smallest reasonable level (where you'll have to provide your own definition of "reasonable"!) it is unlikely to make financial sense to make a major investment in solar or any other type of alternative power.

  • by Calibax ( 151875 ) * on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:34AM (#19051503)
    I don't know what is causing the drop-off. However, I do have solar energy system that was installed in 2003. I was not required to install a time of use meter (the E7 tariff in California) but I moved to that tariff because it makes great sense.

    The normal baseline rate for electricity on the standard residential tariff (E1) is 11.4 cents/kWh rising to 36.4 cents/kWh for usage over 300% of baseline. On the E7 tariff, during summer peak time (noon to 6pm) the baseline cost is 29.4 cents/kWh rising to 52.8 cents/kWh for over 300% of baseline usage. However, off-peak cost is 8.6 cents/kWh to 32.1 cents/kWh at 300% usage.

    What do all these numbers mean? My solar array generates a high percentage of the total amount of electricity generated during peak time. I know this because a data monitor was installed on my solar array and I have detailed numbers on the performance of the panels and inverters. I think it was well worth the $1500 additional cost.

    Bottom line: last year I used 16,345 KWh of electricity, 12,096 kWh generated by the solar panels and 4,249 provided by the utility company. However, I ended the year $191 in credit with the utility. This is because they credit me at the current rate when I send electricity back into the grid, and I'm delivering electricity at the time when I get the highest credit, and I'm using electricity at night when the price is lowest. So, last year I received 4,249 kWh of electricity from the utility that I didn't have to pay for. Without the E7 tariff I would have received ~$1,200 less credit for peak time generation and I would have paid ~$160 more for the electricity I did use.

    Obviously, mileage will vary for different installations. For me, time of use has been, and continues to be, a great financial benefit. It also contributes to home comfort: I sent my home thermostat to a minimum of 72 degrees and a maximum of 76 degrees, and that's how the thermostat stays 24/7 all year. Extravagant maybe, because I could have saved more electricity with different thermostat settings, but I like my comfort. And saving electricity doesn't do me any good because all it gives me is a larger credit with the utility company (and I can't convert that to cash).

  • From my last electric bill...

    Actual energy cost per KWH $0.07

    It was at $0.06 before the energy prices started going up, and at the peak of last summer, it climbed all the way up to $0.09 per KWH. (Fuel rate was 0.010 per KWH.)

    I have no idea how you people manage to pay double or triple those costs.
  • Was i the only person momentarily confused by the title? Or does everyone think that California has .ca as its own TLD?
  • Our new system (Score:4, Interesting)

    by brjndr ( 313083 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @05:47PM (#19059021)
    My family recently put in a solar system while constructing our new home, and it's been up and running for about 4 months now. We live on an orchard in California's Central Valley (near Tracy), and we get plenty of sun. The system powers the home and also meets any electrical needs maintaining the orchard may have. Our power is provided by PG&E.

    Prior to putting in the system, we estimated our electrical need, and tried to put in a system that would result in not having to pay anything all year. The system ran about $150,000, and the rebate was around $45,000. It's a large array, but we have space so it's kept in a fenced area next to the house, not on the roof. In our previous home electrical bills ran in the $400-$1000 range depending on time of year. Temperatures easily hit 100 degrees for weeks at a time in the summer, last summer we had a few weeks of over 110 degrees. Our electrical need is also high, since we have to get our water from our well using an electric pump, run our air conditioning constantly in the summer (my grandmother lives with us, and is home all day), and we bought some electric appliances.

    Since installing the system, we are averaging a credit of $550 a month, which we can carry for up to 12 months. We haven't used the air conditioning, but now the temps are hitting 90, so we'll see how the increase in sun and the increased use of air conditioning balance out. I expect our credit to increase.

    For us, the system made perfect sense. The ROI was originally estimated to be about 7 years, and the panels are warranties far beyond that. We purchased electric appliances because we could use them without worrying about driving the bill up. The exception is we have a gas cooktop, which we preferred for cooking. Not everyone has the space to install the amount of panels we did, but neighbors have been stopping by and asking questions, and a few figured out it would be a good investment for them as well. The panels take up about as much space as 3 or 4 of our trees would have, but those trees (almonds) couldn't produce anywhere near the return.

    The initial investment was high, but it made financial sense for us, and we had the space to put up a large enough array to meet all our needs. The rebate from PG&E really helped us in our decision, but they benefit every month with the surplus electricity we produce which goes back into the grid. We're considering getting electric utility vehicles for the orchard maintenance, which may also take a larger initial investment, but should be cheaper to run since we can just plug them in instead of filling them with diesel. We're still doing research into how their performance is.

Mr. Cole's Axiom: The sum of the intelligence on the planet is a constant; the population is growing.