Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Solar Power: Let The Sunshine In

Spare a few thousand kWh, Sol?
I've been interested in solar power for a long time. When I was a third-grader in the late 1970s, you couldn't easily escape the phrase "energy crisis" in much the same way we say "supply chain disruption" today. Oil was short, and gas lines were long. And there were occasionally people on TV talking about alternatives to oil, coal, and gas including solar power.

The experiments and PR exercises around solar power from back then have evolved into a meaningful part of the 21st-century energy portfolio.  The US Energy Information Administration has forecast that of the 46 gigawatts of utility-scale power generation that's expected to come online in the U.S. this year, about 22 gigawatts will come from solar. For reference: One gigawatt is enough to power about 750,000 homes.

This is part of a broader trend. In 2020 the EIA said that renewable sources accounted for 21 percent or the second-highest portion of the nation's electrical generating capacity after natural gas and eclipsing coal, which has been on the decline since 2007, for the first time. 

This brings me to my home. I bought this home in Dutchess County, New York last June. And based on my readings of the power bills, my family of three is on track to consume about 14,000 kilowatt-hours this year. 

This would put our consumption above that of the average U.S. home. In 2020 the EIA pegged the average annual electricity consumption of American homes at about 10,700 kWh. The highest average was in Louisiana, while the lowest was in Hawaii. It would also put us well above the average consumption in 2020 for residential customers of our local utility, Cenhud. 

The roof, reimagined.
The bills have been higher than we could have realistically projected after living in New York City apartments for more than two decades. The house is bigger than our apartment, there are more appliances that demand power, and there's more space to cool in the summer. The recent shocks to global energy markets — a world roaring back to pre-pandemic life coupled with the war in Eastern Europe — haven't made projecting our energy budget any easier.

The image at left shows what we plan to do about it. Last week we signed a contract with Kasselman Solar to place solar panels with the capacity to generate more than 15,000 kWh per year on our roof. 

What lies ahead is, I think, going to be an interesting process. Ahead of me, there are financial questions concerning how to pay for it all, plus federal and state tax incentives as well as some state-based grants linked to watts generated. Then there's the obvious question: Will the system work as advertised? Will it save us money on our utility bills? In a series of posts here, I'm going to go down the rabbit hole on all things residential solar, and share the experience in hopes that others will benefit from what I learn along the way. Until then, dream of sunshine.