Friday, November 4, 2022
Tuesday, November 1, 2022
The power has "blinked" a few times during the night in recent weeks. We notice when certain appliances in the bedroom light up after coming back on. It's annoying, but not so frequent as to rise to a serious problem. I thought this might be another instance of that. It wasn't.
At 2:21 PM our local utility Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. (CenHUD) texted to inform us that "We believe there is an outage" affecting our address. The message estimated that 608 customers were without power at that moment and that it was expected to be restored by 5:30 PM.
My daughter and I finished our lunch and drove home. My outdoor lights — both at the front porch and outside the garage doors — were lit. And inside, my wife was watching TV as if nothing were amiss. To her nothing was. Yet there was no indication from CenHUD that the power outage had been fixed.
As far as I could tell, all the power we were using at that moment was coming directly from the roof panels themselves, and nothing was coming from the battery. I explained all this to my wife, who was suddenly rather impressed. In the months before we signed the papers to install the panel-and-battery system I had made myself something of a pest on the subject of solar power. Now it was paying off. As the implications of the moment dawned on her, she slapped me a high five.
I settled into my office to watch an MLS Playoff game on my iPad. My daughter watched a movie in the family room. Life proceeded as normal.
While I was watching the game, I kept an eye on the SolarEdge app an outage map that CenHUD had provided.
Fortunately, we didn't have to find out what it's like on battery power. CenHUD corrected its outage on schedule and our connection resumed before sunset.
I went back into the monitoring app the next day and looked a little more closely at the data.
It's clear from the data that prior to the grid failure, the panels had been producing substantially more power than the house was consuming at the time. And in fact, had we upped our consumption, say to bake a cake, or had we wanted to turn on the air conditioning, we would have been fine to do so.
Obviously, we were lucky that this outage happened on a day with sunny conditions. Power grids fail during severe weather events all the time. Part of my calculus in adding the solar panels and the battery has been to hedge against these moments and improve our chances of easily lasting through these moments with an easy source of power plus battery backup. And I don't expect everything to work as it did on Sunday. I've been told that when running on all-battery power during the night, we'll want to be careful with our consumption, and avoid high-consuming activities. But as yet I've no experience against which to gauge that advice.
Meanwhile, I have an update on October's performance. For the entire month, we produced 811.87 kWh against total consumption of 515.48, leaving us with a production ratio of 1.58, which is both higher than I reported here on Oct. 19 and also higher than the level of 1.25 I recorded for the month of September. I had hoped to finish with that ratio above 1.6, and before some rainy days last week, it had indeed risen above that level, only to settle lower.
I exported 570 kWh or 70 percent of the total amount produced, and that added up to more than twice the 274 kWh I imported from CenHUD's grid. Overall I produced nearly half or 47 percent of the power I consumed and imported 53 percent. And despite Sunday's brief outage, usage of the battery remained at zero.
I still haven't seen a bill from CenHUD against which to compare these results, though one is expected any day now. That will be the subject of my next post.
Friday, October 21, 2022
I've got a huge collection and I rarely share it. So I thought I'd start posting some of my holdings on Fridays. (The YouTube link is So here's a nice version of John Prine doing "Souvenirs" which he recorded with Steve Goodman in a much more widely recognized version. It's a great song that gets better and more poignant as the listener gets older. The performance is taken from a DVD of Prine doing the "Sessions at W. 54th" which was a public television series produced from 1997-2000 as an East Coast knock-off of Austin City Limits. I remember Prine was touring that year, but for whatever reason, I missed the opportunity to see him perform. His loss to COVID still stings.
Wednesday, October 19, 2022
But there's more to understand. During the summer months, I was running the air conditioning, and on some days the pool heater. AC use was fairly constant throughout the summer. The all-electric pool heater, I quickly learned from watching the data in the tracking app provided by SolarEdge, the manufacturer of the basement inverter, raised the overall electrical demand significantly when it was in use. Below is the graph for July's consumption (red) and total production from the solar panels (green) and self-consumption (blue).
And then came September. It was cooler than expected and despite several days with temperatures in the mid- to high-80s, the overall need for air conditioning declined, as did the desire for comfortable water in the swimming pool. We had it closed for the season on Sept. 15 and rarely turned on the AC to cool the house. Data from SolarEdge shows that my system produced 1.02 megawatt hours against consumption of 821 kilowatts. In short, I produced 1.25 times the power I consumed. See the graphic below.
This aligns with an early hope I had for the system before it was installed: That New York's sunny but cooler days of late summer and early fall would work to our advantage. I was right. October has been even better: As of today, the production-to-consumption ratio has risen to 1.55 with more than two weeks to go in the month.
I'm curious about production during the winter months. For one thing, the days are shorter. The sun hits the panels progressively later in the morning and leaves them earlier in the evening. It's worth comparing a productive day from June to one in October.
Now take Oct. 6, which is pretty close to the most productive day I've experienced so far this month.
There are also a few other things I have yet to fully understand: How does exported power affect my utility bill? The green spaces in the graphs indicate when the system is producing more power than the house is consuming. That power is then "exported to the grid," and the numbers on my utility meter run backward. I've been photographing the meter readings several times a week to track the progress and can confirm the numbers are somewhat lower now than they were from their late August peak. But I don't yet fully understand how this affects my bill, in part because I'm now billed on a bi-monthly and not monthly basis. I'll write more about this as the puts and takes clear up. But overall I'm liking what I see.
Monday, May 16, 2022
This, as they say, is the moment when the rubber meets the road, or in this case, my wallet.
When you start a conversation about getting a solar power syste, the subject turns quickly to overall costs and the break-even point. So let’s start at the top line and with the big number:
•39 REC Alpha 395 Pure modules: These are the “panels” that will be visible from the roof. They’re rated to produce up to 15,405 kilowatt hours per year, which as I wrote previously, works out to a little more than what I think my average annual electrical consumption is. The end result: I think I’ll have the capacity to produce more power than I use, which is important for reasons I’ll get to later. Each module will have a rack to attach it to the roof.
•Two SolarEdge SE10000H-us inverters: These are central to the system and will be mounted on a wall in the basement near the circuit breaker box. Basically, the panels produce DC power. The inverters convert that DC power to AC. They also optimize consumption, manage the export of excess power produced to the external utility grid, and serve as a connection to the backup battery. It also enables remote monitoring and management, so I can keep track of what’s going on with the panels — Are they producing? Are they damaged? — via a mobile app.
•One LG Chem RESU16H Prime backup battery: Also installed in the basement, this will store power generated by the panels. And when the utility grid fails, as it occasionally does, we’ll have enough power to keep the lights on until either the sun comes up or the grid comes back. The battery adds about $15,000 to my gross up front cost.
In approximate figures, here’s how much it would cost to buy it all: ~$70,000.
Here’s how much I’m getting in tax credits: A rebate worth ~$18,000 or 26 percent from the federal government and another worth $5,000 from the state of New York. The federal rebate declines to 22 percent next year and expires the year after that.
Plus I’ve applied for block grant incentives from a state based-program called NY-Sun which will offset another ~$7,700 at a rate of 50 cents per watt.
Total in incentives: ~$30,500
All of the incentives will go straight to the vendor, who has handled all of the paperwork and filings. And when I file my taxes next year, I’ll have a few more forms to hand over to the accountant, but that’s about it.
A few details about the financing: I had to join the Clean Energy Federal Credit Union to apply for a loan for the above amount. It’s a 20-year loan, but realistically I’ll pay it off within 18 months. But in order to be eligible for membership in that credit union and apply for the loan, I had to first join the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association which has a $75 membership fee. This was an odd step, but I didn’t mind it.
All in I’ll be paying about ~$39,500 to get the system installed. When it’s installed and running, I’m expecting to pay a fixed fee to my electrical utility for the life of the system, one that is far below my current average monthly electrical bill, which is running about $300 a month, sometimes higher, sometimes lower. It should also remain the same as electrical rates rise which I expect they are likely to do given the volatility in energy markets of late.
Once the system is running I’ll be watching both the production and utility bills pretty closely for a few months. If my assumptions are right, after you take out the additional cost for the battery, my accountant says I should expect to break even within nine years. By that I mean the amount of money not sent to the local power utility will add up to the same amount I would have paid. I think I can reach that point in seven years. Meanwhile, the investment in the battery is a hedge against grid failures.
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Note: I wrote this in 2008 and happened to mention the story again on Twitter today. I've edited it a bit but it's more or less the same. I've since seen Charles Lloyd perform live about a half dozen times, and even told him the cold pizza anecdote after introducing myself following a performance in New York. He laughed. -aah
One Friday night 14 years ago I became a jazz fan for life. I was a newspaper reporter in Idaho and was paid so poorly that I supplemented my income by delivering pizza in my pickup truck on weekends.The good part about this was that I had a good stereo, and could pick up a good public radio station out of Salt Lake City, KUER, which at that time played a lot of jazz.
Someone got a cold pizza one day because of Charles Lloyd. At the time I was just barely learning about jazz and didn’t yet know what I liked, what I didn’t like. Yes I knew that I liked Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” because that’s very often the record that people who are curious about Jazz start out with. Same for Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out.”
So I was making a delivery and was compelled, literally compelled, to pull over. Something about what was playing on the radio had captured my attention, and there was no way I was going to let anything, not even a pizza delivery interfere with it. It was a long tune, and I realized it had been playing awhile and had a distinctive captivating beat, and a lot of interesting things going on with the saxophone, the piano, and the bass.
What had captured my attention so strongly was Charles Lloyd’s live epic from Monterey in 1966, Forest Flower. It was extraordinary. Have a listen:
As I went on to become a Charles Lloyd fan and to collect many of his records, I learned the Forest Flower is, like “Kind Of Blue“ and “Time Out” are for Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck, merely an entry point. The song, all 18 minutes of it, is actually two tracks, one entitled “Sunrise,” the other “Sunset.” It was a popular crossover hit in the 1960s with the psychedelic set and sold a million copies, and made Charles Lloyd a celebrity.
Over the years I picked up his other records. From the 1960s there are albums like the poppy “Love In“ and “Dream Weaver,” which includes its own epic tune, the 12-minute “Meditation, Dervish Dance.” Like “Forest Flower” it has own hypnotic piano solos. As such listening to mid-1960s Charles Lloyd albums also provide the service of creating an entry point to the work of pianist Keith Jarrett.
But it was Lloyd's later records that went on to capture my imagination as my fandom grew more sophisticated. "Canto" from 1997 had me at the first few notes of the opening track. In 2000 came "The Water is Wide"
I made it my business to learn more about Lloyd, and to see him perform live. I learned that at the height of his fame he stepped away from performing and went into a period of solitude. He played with The Beach Boys. He allegedly played the flute on a few Grateful Dead recordings. And, over the summer he played a concert in New York. I was there, as was a reviewer for The New York Times.
It was a transformative experience, the sort of performance that made you want to be a better person, that made you want other people to understand that music shouldn’t always be something you turn on to fill the silence in the background when you do other things, but that it should move you and make you wish for more art and beauty in life.
After the show, I walked up Central Park West a little speechless. It was a hot summer night, and while it seemed a shame to go home and call it night. The musicianship and artistry of Charles Lloyd was a hard act to follow. I was changed by the warm wail of a saxophone and the delicate breeze of a flute.
I snuck a recorder into the performance, but it didn’t work out. My recording wasn’t very listenable. Fortunately, someone captured a soundboard performance of a July 4 show in Vienna, only three days later, which I obtained from a file-sharing site. I'll add a sample or two tomorrow. For now, here's a YouTube clip from another performance on the same tour.
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
|Spare a few thousand kWh, Sol?|
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.
|The roof, reimagined.|
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.