Saturday, June 1, 2024

The Sun is Finally Cooling My House and Heating My Pool, Almost for Free in 2024

 

Our benefactor.
The summer is getting off to a good start. After last year's equipment problems and weather issues throughout much of 2023, the roaring start we had in early 2024 has continued. 

For one thing, I've now clocked several days during which I've both cooled my house and heated my pool simultaneously and still ended one day with a power surplus. During the sunniest days of Memorial Day Weekend, I finished just a little behind the break-even point on the first and on the second day, finished well ahead. And I did it while hosting a two-day pool party that impressed our friends. 

Here's what the data shows:

On May 25, my system produced 77.3 kWh while the house and pool consumed a combined 82.7 kWh. Only 13 percent of the day's power needs came from the utility grid, the rest directly from the solar array. I ran the pool heater most of the day in order to get the water temperature up to a comfortable 80 degrees. 

On May 26, I only ran the pool heater for a few hours in the morning and then shut it off, which lowered the day's power needs. I ended the day generating 76.7 kWh and consuming 64.2 kWh. The next day, it was rainy, so I left the pool heater and the house air conditioners off. But for those two pool-use days, I ended the weekend consuming 147 kWh against solar generation of 154 kWh. In short, I ran those heavy-consuming items for free. 

Well, almost for free. I'm still paying off the loan at $277 per month at 5.5 percent interest, but even so, that's significantly lower than the power bills I remember from my first summer in the house. In July and August of 2021, we consumed about 5 megawatts. It was a super-hot summer, and we ran the AC and pool heaters constantly without the benefit of solar panels, so the bill that year was pretty high. However, I can't actually see the amount because it's too far back. And with two full years of operational history in the books, I've settled into the understanding that in 10 months out of 12, my power bill is only $19.50, the only exceptions being December and January so far, because I usually end the month having generated more power than I take from the grid. 

And that's important for another reason. According to my utility, CenHUD, as of May, I had a 2.8 mWh generation surplus on the books. This means I could, in theory, run both the AC and pool heater guilt-free for the better part of the summer, working against that surplus. But as it stands, I'm running both and actually making the surplus even bigger. 

Also, sometime in May, we crossed the threshold of our 15th ton of carbon emissions saved and should hit 16 tons by July.  

At this point, the economic arguments against rooftop solar panels essentially fall apart. One local joker in a Facebook group argued that since most people will have to borrow money to finance the panels, the economic benefits get canceled out. But in my case, they're clearly not.

And yes, I grant that not everyone is in a position to borrow about $40,000 for something like this. Most solar households skew toward the higher income brackets. A study by the Lawrence Livermore National Lab found that in 2022 — the year I deployed my system — reported income ranging from 108 percent to 180 percent of their state's median. When only wealthy people can afford to spend money to save money on a necessity like electricity, we have a problem. But there are programs coming online now that will help lower-income families go solar via grants and low-interest loans.  

The cost of electrical power isn't going to decline in any part of the country anytime soon. Demand is rising across the country and, in fact, around the world way too fast for that. The only way for a home or business to counter that trend is to reduce usage or start generating on-site from a free and sustainable power source like the sun or wind. Solar won't work in every situation, but my array is so far proving the case for rooftop solar. 

While I'm at it, there's one additional new wrinkle to report. Last month, we swapped out our old 80-gallon natural gas water heater for a hybrid electric water heater with an 80-gallon tank. I was a little concerned at first. When it was installed, the weather was rainy, and it seemed like the new heater was going to consume more power than the solar array generates and thus erase all the progress I've made. But it has slowed down a bit since powering up. I'll have more to say about it as the months wear on. I'm specifically interested to see how my gas bill declines, if at all. Water heating accounts for about 15 percent of gas usage in the average U.S. home (I read that stat somewhere but now can't find the link.), while the rest goes for space heating, cooking, and drying laundry. 

The up-front cost was about $8,000, and I'll get $1,000 back from the utility and then another $2,000 tax rebate from the federal government when I file next year. (Thank you Biden Administration!) I also had to hire an electrician to install an electrical sub-panel as my current basement panel was maxed out.

The gas bill has been a tough nut to crack because winters in the Hudson Valley can get incredibly cold and so there's no choice but to consume a lot of gas. The new water heater should reduce our gas consumption. I'm also likely to turn off an ornamental gas fireplace we rarely use, even in cold weather. Plus, I'd like to swap out the gas-based cooktop in the kitchen for an induction stove. 

But another big upgrade is looming ahead: The two AC units out in the backyard have about one year left in their realistic operational lifespan. That means electric heat pumps are in my future, which should put a bigger dent in my natural gas footprint. But it should also increase my electrical demand. And yes, another round of tax credits will make the move a little easier on my wallet. Can the current solar array keep up? Or might I have to add some additional panels on the West side of the house? And I haven't even begun to think about an electric vehicle yet. Obviously, there will be much more to consider in the coming 12 to 18 months. 

(Image of the Sun: The Sun photographed in 2010 at 304 angstroms by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)


Tuesday, April 23, 2024

My Solar Array Had Its Best Day Yet ... On Earth Day



We're back to sunny days with relatively low temperatures in the Hudson Valley, and that meant good things for my rooftop solar array. 

In watching the SolarEdge mobile app yesterday, I saw something I hadn't seen before: A day with total production above 90 kilowatt hours. I looked back, and while there were a lot of days with production above 80 kWh, this was the first I could find above 90, so unless I missed one, it now holds the record for the highest single-day production since the system went live in 2022. 

It was also Earth Day, which made it a cool coincidence. I ended the day having completely offset all consumption from the utility grid. My house consumed a little more than 20 kWh direct from the panels during the day and exported about 70 kWh to the grid. And as of this afternoon, the system is on track to book another day just like it by sunset. 

That hints at some additional good news, though it's still a little early to get too excited. Recall that last year, after the repair of a bad string and crimp and the replacement of my inverter, I was worried that the system might not build up enough of a billing surplus by summer in order to offset my AC and swimming pool.

If my math using the data from the app is right, as of today, I'm ahead of consumption by 2.16 mWh with about six weeks to go before my anniversary date. If the days remain this sunny, and the temps don't get crazy high in May, I should have a nice generation bank going into the summer. 

However, I'm pretty sure my math is off, and I'm likely underestimating the surplus. My net meter, which started at zero in June 2022, showed a high of about 2,755 in late September of 2023. Sometime in April, it went below zero and showed a number in the upper 99,000 range. That tells me that since September, I've offset more than 2.7 mWh within the utility's billing year, so my above math may very well be under-counting the size of the generation bank. We'll find out soon. 

Update: Not that you asked, but the Earth Day record held until Thursday when it reached 91.5 kWh.


Wednesday, April 3, 2024

If You're Someone Who Likes RSS Feeds, Today Is Your Lucky Day

 

Someone told me the other day — he knows who he is — that this site appeared not to have an RSS feed. I was a little surprised at that and assumed such a feed was a default feature in Blogger. Not so much it turned out. 

I dug around in the features and settings, and finally found it, turned it on, and now the RSS Feed is working. So you can add this site to Feedly, or whatever other reader you happen to like. 

Personally, I like the thought of a reader app, and have at time experimented with putting news feeds directly in a mail app, like say Thunderbird, which I once swore by but have since given up. 

And every time I have gone to the trouble of enabling a reader app with a bunch of feeds I think I want to follow, I end up spending the time configuring that app, only to find I never use it. Feedly and NetNewsWire both come to mind. 

What I do miss is the RSS feeds that used to be auto-generated by Twitter. Now that was amazing. You could follow a particular Twitter feed using an RSS reader, and even generate your own automated rules and actions based on that. 

One trick that helped me stay on top of certain kinds of stories when I was reporter involved RSS feeds. When a company I followed was close to taking its shares public, I would follow the RSS feed associated with its SEC filings. Using IFTTT, I created automated scripts to alert me either by email or text or both when a new SEC filing would drop for that company. I also used the same trick to watch for important filings from already-public companies I followed. I got a lot of good stories that way. 

Anyway, here's the link


Thursday, March 14, 2024

Solar Performance is Hot in the New Year, and I Wasn't Alone

The first quarter of the year is nearly over, and just as I thought, EL Niño has produced a relatively warm and sunny winter. And at my house that has been good news on the solar power front.

January saw low performance, which is as expected. But February? It kicked ass. And March is off to a stunningly strong start. 

Performance this February bested the same month last year by a fair amount, as you can see to the left. And while March is only half over, the pace is looking really promising. Last March the system produced 960 kWh. As of today, with 19 days left to go, I'm already at 367 kWh. 

But what's even more interesting is that as of today my production is totaled about 3.6x my rate of consumption. If the days stay sunny — which is a stretch — I could potentially end the month with production at FOUR TIMES consumption. That's kind of mind-boggling. 



Here look at a few more graphs, because why not?


            
It's also been fun looking at the electric meter. On January 1 I happened to photograph. It read 1,315 which was down from a peak of 2,595 I captured on Sept. 15. Yesterday I photographed a reading of 835. That means I've exported more than 1.7 megawatts into the grid since the end of the summer. For context,  last summer I consumed about 2.8 megawatts, most of it from air conditioning and heating the pool, which I did only two or three days. (Summer mornings here can start on the cold side, especially in June.)

But what I'm starting to think is this: If production remains this strong through through May, I may just about offset what I can expect to consume this summer, which is sort of the point of the whole system. I'm might just have that power cushion I was hoping for when I started this project

There are a couple other points to consider: We need a new water heater, and it will be electric, not gas. I'm pretty certain we're going to swap out the cooktop for an induction stove. Both will reduce the gas bill, one by a little the other by a lot. But both will boost our year-round power consumption. I'm still not ready to switch over to an electric vehicle, but that day is coming. And yes I'm still paying off the loan I took out to build the array and install the battery, but the payments are manageable. 

And I'm still a little wary about the production problem I experienced during the first half of last year. But now that it has been solved, 2024 looks to be the year that going solar will really start to pay off. 

And I'm part of a national trend that brings both good news and bad news. (Isn't always a mixed bag?) I read here at Popular Mechanics which surprises me by still being around, that the US power grid added 32.4 gigawatts worth of solar power in 2023, which amounted to 52 percent of all added power capacity. Natural gas came in a distant second, with 16 gigawatts of newly installed capacity. Texas and California added the most solar power of all the states. That's the good news. 

The problem is it's not enough. Today's New York Times led with this story about how demand for electrical power is growing so fast, that even all that new capacity I just mentioned isn't proving to be enough. 

Consider this: Electrical utilities have doubled their estimates for the amount of power they'll have to supply by 2028 — four years from now. The demand, The Times says, is driven by electric vehicles, data centers — and get this — factories building batteries and solar panels.

And so what are those utilities proposing to do? Build more natural gas generating capacity, and in some cases keep some coal plants running longer than previously planned. And if that becomes reality, all hope of meeting America's climate change goals by 2035 are finished. There's no way, apparently, to grow sustainable power alternatives fast enough to both meet the growing demand and meet the climate goals. It's going to be a tough slog to get through the next decade and hit those targets. 

Even so, there's still some good news left on the table, but it's more geopolitical than climate-friendly. A report by the investment bank JP Morgan estimates that the US last year achieved energy independence, meaning as a nation we exported power energy than we imported. There's a good summary here and you can read the full JP Morgan report here. I haven't read it yet, but will get through it in the coming days.

Onward!

Saturday, January 13, 2024

How My First Full Year With Solar Panels Worked Out

My first full calendar year with the panels is in the books, and if nothing else, the numbers tell a mixed tale that emphasizes how important weather cycles are. 

First the top line numbers: The system produced a total of 8.55 MWh against total consumption of 7.82 MWh. Exports were 6.3 MWh, and I exported more power than I took from the grid in February, March, April, August, September, November, and December. 

Put simply, I ended the year having produced almost three-quarters of a megawatt more than I used, overall, and I consumed about 2.5 MWh directly from the panels. (The sum of the blue strips on the graphic to the left. Click to make it bigger.) 

By itself, it's good news, but when you compare it on a month-by-month basis, production was lower in CY23 than in the months of CY22 when the system was live. (Recall it first went live in June of '22.) Only November had higher production year-over-year, and then only by a whisker.

Weather was clearly a factor. It was a wet summer and a wet fall in the Northeast, so it wasn't a surprise that production came in below the prior year which was a pretty dry one, especially in the Hudson Valley.

Another factor was the weird production interference the system experienced from the "bad crimp" that was corrected over the summer

As luck would have it, 2024 is an El Niño year, which implies a warmer and wetter winter than the typical seasonal pattern. I'm not a big fan of snow, but the local creeks and rivers are already close to overflowing, so it would be great to see more sun if only to dry things out. If typical, the La Niña cycle that tends to follow will bring a drier summer, and perhaps a lot of sun with it.

So far the system tells me it has produced more than 16 megawatts in its 18 months of operation, and saved the atmosphere more than 25,000 pounds worth of carbon emissions, which according to SolarEdge, the manufacturer of my inverters, is the same as planting 190 trees. To give me that number it used the methodology created by the US Environmental Protection Agency. In perspective, the carbon savings equate to taking 2.6 gas-powered cars off the road for one year, or 1,292 gallons of gasoline consumed. By that logic, it's at least offsetting some of the gas I consume driving my car, but not all of it. We do drive a lot.

On the billing front, we've now had three billing periods come in with that minimal amount I first saw on my bill in May. So we are saving money, but because of the weird problems the local utility has experienced with its billing system, it's impossible to actually do the math and estimate the savings with any precision. Meanwhile, I'm still paying off the loan I took out to build the system, but it's a relatively painless amount every month. 

And obviously, we're still paying the utility for natural gas to heat our home and make hot water. Still ahead for us are questions about if and how to transition toward non-gas alternatives. I'd like a tankless electric water heater, and I'm curious about geothermal heat pumps, both of which qualify for tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act. So while we're off to a good start on reducing our overall carbon footprint, there's a lot more work to do on that front, but it also has to make financial sense. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

I've Officially Fallen For The Grateful Dead

I can't really explain it, but for some reason, I have spent the better part of two decades avoiding the subject of The Grateful Dead. Until now.

Yes, I've written elsewhere about my musical obsessions, my collecting bootlegs of various artists, namely Van Morrison and Charles Lloyd, and John Lee Hooker. Other notable entrants in my 2-terabytes and change of collected music include Miles Davis, John Prine, Prince, Ray Charles, The Police, The Band, and every single known performance by The Allman Brothers Band in New York City. 

And yet, I had avoided the rabbit hole of The Grateful Dead. 

I knew enough to be curious and thought I had paid the band sufficient attention, enough to decide that its enormous body of work just wasn't for me. Some years back I spent a fair amount of time at The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York, aka the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair. It was a notable historical and cultural touchstone, and I made a point of working my way through recordings of the many musical acts that graced its stage.

And there's a lot of notable work to consider. Santana's epic Soul Sacrifice is one. The delicate harmonies of Crosby Stills & Nash count as another. The middle of Sly and the Family Stone's set was nothing short of a musical triumph for the ages. And I hate to admit it, but the only reason I know the name Richie Havens is because as a teenager I happened to see his powerful improvisation Freedom on MTV once during an afternoon home sick from school. It would take me years to understand it for what it was. 

This brings us to the Dead's mostly forgettable Woodstock set. I listened to it in full a few times and concluded that if it was representative, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Pigpen's lengthy "Love Light" was a highlight of an otherwise uninteresting performance. It has since been disregarded as an example of a curse that hung over the Dead when it was given chances to play the big late-60s festivals. 

And that is more or less where I left the issue sometime around 2010. I didn't think much about the Grateful Dead again. I did know, however, that Dead had a big hand in contributing to the taping culture that allowed me the chance to amass my massive trove of bootlegs. Every so often I would grab a Dead show from a torrent site in hopes of boosting my sharing ratio. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn't. By all rights, I should have been more interested than I was. What was I missing? 

In 2017 I finally decided to drill down a bit. I watched the six-part 238-minute documentary "Long Strange Trip" on Amazon. I found it fascinating and engaging. And yet I had no connection to the music, so I wasn't watching it as a fan, but a casual, curious observer. The story, not the music, hooked me.


After that, I got increasingly curious about the music, but couldn't find a meaningful way in. I was moved by the story Dennis Leonard, recording engineer on the European tour in 1972 tells in Episode Three about how the song "Morning Dew" ended up as the closing track on the original "Europe '72" album. It's a beautiful anecdote, the kind that biographers dream of. It motivated me to give the track a few listens. It was interesting, but it wasn't enough for me, yet. 



But now I had an album from which to launch my skeptical exploration. And so I listened to "Europe '72" a few times over. I came to really like "China Cat Sunflower" though I was always disappointed when it would segue into "I Know You Rider" because I found myself wanting the guitar groove from "China Cat" to keep going.  I also had some history with the studio version of "Sugar Magnolia." The live version is a lot more interesting, thanks mainly to Keith Godchaux's gorgeous piano work. His wife Donna's infectious vocals add some life to Bob Weir's on the "Sunshine Daydream" section that closes out the tune. ("Sunshine Daydream" would later morph into its own distinct tune.)

Other tracks on the album were harder to like. "Cumberland Blues," "You Win Again" and "Tennessee Jed" felt like folksy, dated country music trying to be cool. 

Others I found tolerable. Pigpen's "It Hurts Me Too" feels like a standard blues vehicle of the sort he tended to like when he wasn't consuming time and oxygen on "Love Light." Jerry Garcia's vocals on "Ramble on Rose" are kind of catchy. 

Others grew on me like "Jack Straw" and let's face it, "Truckin'." By mid-2018, "Europe '72" had turned into an album I was turning to again and again to power through a tough work day, or to unwind at the end of another. 

I watched that "Long Strange Trip" documentary again, and in 2022, a third time. And each time the story of the Dead became ever more enticing, and the desire to understand the worldwide fascination with the music stood as a challenge. I liked "Europe '72,' but clearly, there was more to it than that. 

It wasn't long before I discovered that there was a "Europe '72 Vol. 2" and again the cycle repeated itself. "Good Lovin'" is an epic jam that I'd play again and again. And the three-track combo of "Not Fade Away" bleeding into "Goin Down the Road Feeling Bad" and then back started making the case for the devotion of the Dead's dynamic and ever-evolving live performances. 

And yet I'd find myself struggling with tracks like "Dark Star" and "The Other One" which required the kind of effort I wasn't yet willing to make as a casual explorer of The Grateful Dead oeuvre. At least not yet. One I actually hated, a song so bad it should be illegal to sing except maybe in the city it's about: "El Paso." Once was too much for me and if there were a court for crimes against musical taste, I'd bring charges and win.

Still, I dug deeper and assigned myself some homework. I decided to listen to the entire "Europe '72" boxed set in its entirety over the course of the summer of 2022. I began to notice how different performances of each tune would evolve over time and learned which ones I liked the best. 

Compare, for example, "China Cat Sunflower" from April 7  then April 11April 16April 17, April 24, then April 26 and April 29 to the definitive version that landed on the original album from Paris on May 3. And yet it would keep evolving after that, significantly through the end of the tour, May 26, by which time it would sound very different, having gone through some very cool contortions on May 10, May 11, May 16, May 18, May 23May 24 and May 25.  

And yes, I literally linked to every version of "China Cat Sunflower" from the 1972 European tour, which is the point. This chronicling of the journey of a song over the course of a particular tour is commonplace among Grateful Dead fans. The attention to detail, like changes in drum arrangements, guitar solos, tempo, and length are all eagerly pored over and examined for flights of creativity and musical choices more than a half-century after being played. 

This kind of madness isn't new, and it didn't start with the Grateful Dead. I'm reminded of the late radio host Phil Schaap and his fervent devotion to the works of the saxophonist Charlie Parker. In a New Yorker profile published in 2008, the writer David Remnick wrote an opening paragraph that any Grateful Dead fan would immediately understand intuitively: Schaap's devotion as expressed by the content of his weekday morning radio program was ....

"...so obsessive, so ardent and detailed, that Schaap frequently sounds like a mad Talmudic scholar who has decided that the laws of humankind reside not in the ancient Babylonian tractates but in alternate takes of 'Moose the Mooche' and 'Swedish Schnapps.'"

Remnick goes on to explain how Schaap would stand up on the air to lingering criticism that his examinations went too far. "The examination may be tedium to you," he says during a broadcast sometime in 2008, "my bent here is that I want to know when it happened because I believe in listening to the music of a genius chronologically where possible, particularly an improvising artist." The case for examining the work of Charlie Parker applies equally to Jerry Garcia. And in Garcia's case, the corpus of material so much more voluminous.

If we wanted to take the issue under further consideration we could. A website called Gratefulstats claims to track the number and length of every Dead tune in its known history. It says that "China Cat" was played 59 times in 1972, of which 18 occurred on the European tour. It further claims that the band played the song a total of 543 times between 1968 and 1995. Another site, Jerrybase, places the number at 579 and helpfully links to an essay on the evolution of the China>Rider combo, a regular staple of Dead shows, to 1974. 

So you can see where this is going: I'm kind of falling in love. And here is where it has taken me. Two nights ago I played the following two-song combo of "Scarlett Begonias" and "Fire on the Mountain" from a Dead show played at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in the spring of 1977. It is arguably the most famous example of the Grateful Dead approach to musical improvisation, and perhaps even at or near the height of its performing powers. 

I lack the words to properly describe it so I'll borrow a bit from Sadie Sartini Garner who described in a brilliantly researched piece for The Ringer earlier this year:
"The jam that leads “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire on the Mountain” on the May 8, 1977, tape—probably the band’s most famous jam—is mind-boggling at a technical level; there are moments in which all five musicians seem to be playing both songs at once. But it’s no less admirable for the way it sustains a feeling of buoyancy, of pleasant surprise, of a seemingly unlimited number of happily beguiling opportunities around every corner."
I listened as a late-September sun set over my darkening living room, intellectually and emotionally unable to let the music stop for about a half hour. If you're not affected in at least some way by what you hear, it may be that this music isn't for you. I thought the same for a very long time. And yet now I can't stop listening. 







But musically is it really all that important? Is this actually music that will matter to the ages? Garner makes a persuasive case in her piece, which concerned the final tour of Dead & Co. a band made up of one and sometimes more surviving members of the original configuration with some other musicians devoted to the Dead canon:
"In 2023, even the most proficient Beatles tribute acts are working the college bar circuit, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone daring to take up the mantle of the Lennon-McCartney catalog with any credibility once Sir Paul calls it quits. But in 100 years, there will still be bands who are able to tour the country playing Grateful Dead music in new and inventive ways, bringing the old corpses to life once again, and there will be crowds eager to hear them do it."
 
(Photo at top by Chris Stone, taken on October 9, 1980 at The Warfield Theater in San Francisco. Image used via Creative Commons license.)  





Sunday, August 6, 2023

A Weird Period With the Solar System Appears to End Well

I've been quiet about the status of my solar system for a few months now, and there's a good reason for that. Sometime in May, things got weird, and it took until late July to un-weird them, and the result of that process didn't become apparent until, well, today, in early August. 

We entered May feeling optimistic. We'd seen our first power bill charging only for delivery and fees, not grid consumption. At the end of a period with sunny and dry weather, we expected more sun and more days producing more power than consuming, or at least offsetting high consumption from the use of AC and the pool heater. Yet in that same peppy post from May 1, I noticed that production in March was higher than that of April. In hindsight, I should have seen that as a red flag. 

Things got weird in the month of May. Production came in below April and by a lot: 731 kWh versus 865 kWh. That by itself is weird. Days get longer in May, and the weather generally gets sunnier as summer approaches. It really should have been accelerating, not slowing down. I reckoned the weather was a factor: It was an unusually cloudy month for May, with several rainy days in the second half of the month.

I also suspected that perhaps the panels were dirty. The same tree pollen that coated my car with a fine dusty patina appeared also to coat the panels. (You can kind of see it in the picture of the back array at left.) In one funny moment, I took my water compressor and tried to manufacture some "rain" on the front panels. It was fun to try, but it made no difference.

As the month progressed, my concern mounted. I put in a call to our vendor, Kasselman Solar, who sent out a service rep to take a closer look. (She quickly dismissed my theory about the pollen dust.) Communication, it seems, between one of the basement inverters and its home base stuck out right away as an apparent problem. The location of my home has exceptionally bad cellular phone coverage, and the SolarEdge inverter relies on a cellular modem to report its production and output, including its exported power to the utility grid. That old saying "proof or it didn't happen" applies here. If the inverter can't report exported power, I don't get credit for it on my bill, end of story. And those credits are essentially the reason the entire system exists. 

One of the two inverters, it turned out, wasn't communicating at all. It had a faulty comms board, the internal part that talks to the cellular modem. Either the board or the inverter itself would have to be replaced. 

By mid-June, a new inverter had been swapped in and all seemed to be on its way to resolution. Yet as June swung into July, production still didn't rise to a reasonable level. Weather continued to present a challenge. June and the first week or so of July were marked by numerous severe thunderstorms and flooding in the Hudson Valley. I couldn't really expect high production numbers under those conditions. (That dust I had worried about? Totally gone.)

Yet as the weather conditions improved, the needle still didn't move meaningfully. In July of 2022, the first full month of the system's production, the system produced 1.43 mWh. In July of 2023, I produced 732 kWh, or about half the level from the year-ago period. Something was clearly amiss. 

A second service visit from Kasselman revealed the problem: In the technician's argot "One of your strings is down." It meant — I think — that a line connecting some of the panels to the inverter was not working. The source of the problem, it was later revealed, was a "bad crimp," which again I think meant either a faulty component or a poor connection. "Bad crimps happen," he said. Okay then. He and a colleague climbed up on the roof, fixed what had to be fixed, and that was that. Problem solved? Not just yet.

The communication problem was still unsolved and appears as of today to have been more significant than I realized. In parallel to all this I had been struggling with steadily worsening Wi-Fi around the house and had decided to upgrade it. Wherever I live, I make a point to get the fastest Internet connection I have, and so I have a 1-gigabit plan from the local cable company.

But the trio of TP-Link Deco M4 Wi-Fi routers the cable installer had suggested just weren't getting the job done. They seemed overwhelmed by all the connected devices in the house: Three phones, three iPads, a smart TV, smart lights, a connected washer, dryer, dishwasher, oven, and fridge, three always-on computers, network-attached storage, a smart speaker system. You get the idea. 

I went looking for a more robust mesh router system. I turned to Wirecutter, the product review team at The New York Times, and read their reviews of wireless mesh systems and settled on the Asus Zen WiFi AX. I bought a set of two and liked the results. (My cable connection is still wonky, but I'm hoping for an upgrade to fiber optics sometime soonish.)

In anticipation of the second visit from Kasselman's technicians, I bought another set of two. All in the upgrade cost me $700. It seems to have been worth it.

In a conversation with the Kasselman service manager, I learned that the SolarEdge inverters are not approved by the FCC to connect to Wi-Fi, but if a router is close by, a technician can connect it to the Internet via an ethernet cable. This is where the Asus routers made a difference. The main router creates a 5 GHz "backhaul" connection to feed the other Wi-Fi nodes stationed around the house. One of the new routers, I reasoned, if placed in the basement and connected by ethernet, would give that inverter a clear no-excuses connection to report its status. On that second service visit, after the fix on the crimp and the string, I had that fourth router powered up and ready for them to connect to the inverter. Now it's sitting on top of the home battery. Eventually, I'll mount a shelf there. 

Today is the first day that it became clear that we're in a different phase with the solar system. The data connection is working, and SolarEdge has updated its monitoring apps, and the data is just looking different than before. And by different, I mean, better. So much better. 

Last year, the most productive days of the summer peaked at about 60 kWh. This week we've already seen two days with production north of 80 kWh. As I write the sun is setting on the third day this week with production north of 82 kWh, of which more than 40 percent has been exported to the grid. And since temps have been in the mid-70s, our use of the AC has declined, keeping overall consumption down. 

It almost seems like the entire system has been running at less than its full capacity since installation. I'm going to try not to think about all the missed sunlight over the last year, and focus instead on the prospect of improved performance ahead. If this is the new normal for sunny mid-summer days then that is very good news indeed. 

One thing I definitely learned: If you live in an area where cellular coverage is anything less than ideal, do whatever it takes to get a hardwired Internet connection to the inverter. That data link is a lot more important than I ever realized.