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 NiƱo 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.