Solar Panel Discounts Palo Alto Issues, posted by anna, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Apr 21, 2007 at 11:10 pm
Portola Valley started a community solar panel discount program to buy solar panels from Solar City. They needed 50 participants and got 77. Since then Menlo Park and Mountain View have signed on. Even the mayor of Menlo Park has advocated for the community program.
Where's Palo Alto in all of this? I sure would like to participate and get some solar panels at a discount.
I thought Palo Alto was supposed to be a "green" community, and yet I see our neighboring cities doing more to get these discounts for their residents than Palo Alto.
Posted by Sillaw_E_Retlaw, a resident of another community, on Apr 22, 2007 at 8:28 am
Do we just pull these number from our ...? Just because some power can be generated at 3 cents per KWH, this doesn't mean that the marginal cost is 3 cents per KWH. More marginal power producers burn natural gas, so you need to price that cost plus the transmission losses and overhead to come up with real numbers.
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 22, 2007 at 10:28 am
I'd be interested in such a group purchase. If anyone else is interested maybe we can get something started.
If anyone has a already has a solar system and wants to share size and cost information here, that would be useful. If anyone else has been seriously been toying with the idea on installing a system, maybe they can express interest here too.
I have a fantasy that this forum could be used for something constructive :^), maybe this is just the right thing.
Posted by John, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 22, 2007 at 4:54 pm
The rush to solar tiles is on but compared to countries in Europe we are way behind in creating the self supporting individual home. On DW news they showed new homes being built which had their own individual water purification plants recycling the homes' waste water. These individual water purification systems were powered by solar tiles on the roof.
To give everyone in California this technology would be cheapers than the Governator's $4. Billion to build new dams. Not to mention saving the distruction to the environment.
Posted by GBD, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 22, 2007 at 5:09 pm
Menlo Park and Portola Valley are served by PG&E. In Palo Alto the rates are $0.07/KWH to $0.09/KWH for the first 300 KWH/month and 0.13/KWH after that. PGE rates start around 0.13/KWH and can be as much as 0.32/KWH to 0.37/KWH. So the payback period on the investment can be much shorter if you're served by PG&E.
If you're interested in solar, approach one of the solar companies with information about your electrical usage. They can quickly run the number and give you an idea of the expense. For our single family, one story home it turned out to be a $20K investment with about a 20 year payback (it depends a lot on how much you expect energy prices to inflate over time.)
Posted by GBD, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 22, 2007 at 9:41 pm
I was oversimplifying things. You're right, the baseline rate is 11.4 cents per KWH. The baseline is about 12KHW/day. Above the baseline it goes to 13 cents. If you hit 200% of baseline the rate is 32 cents per KWH. If you have a hot tub or pool or air conditioning it's easier to exceed the baseline.
Posted by Scott Carlson, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Apr 23, 2007 at 12:59 pm
As you can probably tell from some of the comments, the economic calculation of the wisdom of a solar purchase in PA is difficult. My conclusion has been that it doesn't make economic sense, although with the discount from a bulk purchase it might approach it. But why not just buy Palo Alto Green? You're investing in renewable energy without the risk/hassle of a solar system.
Posted by KC Marcinik, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 23, 2007 at 1:17 pm
We reduced our electric usage as much by investing in a $30. clothes drying rack as we did by installing a photovoltaic system. It's portable so we can move it in and out of doors depending on the weather, and so we can use it all year. It's arguably more hassle than checking a different box on your utility account, but about as low-risk as you can get.
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 23, 2007 at 1:56 pm
While conservation is always a good idea, take a care you don't have your woman beating clothes on a rock down crik way.
Central stations are almost always most efficient in generating electricity, and they depend on revenue to maintain operations. If they do not get it for KWs, they will need to get it from a meter charge, so TANSTAAFL. Solar and wind may actually make our energy picture worse by slowing the introduction of more base capacity.
Despite the low electric rates and long payback period, over 170 homes, and commercial buildings have chosen to “go solar”. Most select solar to support clean, renewable, LOCAL power that reduces global warming. It also is great to watch the utility meter spin backwards!
If you have questions about Palo Alto PV rebates, please contact me using this web form: Web Link
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 23, 2007 at 8:07 pm
A pity the City is not promoting cogeneration, that would be a lot more beneficial than subsidy machines and bird choppers. It is time to sell the Utility Department to PG&E and use the proceeds to fund our generous retirement benefits. Buy the Council a Sim City program if they want to play games. They are messing up real people as it is. I had such hopes, alas.
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 23, 2007 at 8:44 pm
I sent an email which Solar city has not responded to yet, but I recall somewhere that their response time was up to 48 hours. I was planning on calling them tomorrow afternoon since time is running out on the MV deal. I have a meeting in the a.m. I'll post here what I learn from them about the program. I also have an email in to the PV Partners program.
Posted by joyce, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Apr 23, 2007 at 11:25 pm
To be accurate, a calculation has to take into account more than the relative immediate dollar costs of energy sources. It has to ask what the longer term cost is to the planet and our children and grandchildren by using the more polluting source.
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 24, 2007 at 1:45 pm
That kind of calculation is speculative and will vary from person to person. Given that it is individual choice, I won't be touching on that.
Also there are trade offs, if I spend 20k on a system, could I do better putting that 20k elsewhere? For example, insulation is a bigger bang for the buck than solar. I actually made $10 an hour after materials insulating an attic crawl space of a 1954 era home by myself once. The rebates and tax credits at the time gave me about $80 after the cost of the insulation bats. As a bonus, my bills went own by a 1/3. I was so impressed by the result, I insulated my walls and was able to eliminate one of the floor furnaces in the house. I recovered that investment in about 1 year. Had I stayed in that house and not moved here, I would have insulated the floors too.
So I agree with the one poster that said there are simpler tricks to getting ones energy use down and improving or maintaining quality of life. Those are the changes I am looking for, but I have already done most of them.
Except if anyone has a lead on flourscent lights that can take the heat of a recessed lighting fixture, let me know. Bonus points for warm, not cool coloring and dimable.
I got one possiblity from Lindsay Joye that I will add to the bulbs I am experimenting with.
So far I have 2 rejects,
2 durabright bulbs from Osh burned out in a month, suspect heat.
2 dimable bulbs from wal-mart, make a lot of noise when dimmed and are cool coloring.
Posted by GBD, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 24, 2007 at 2:24 pm
Another useful figure. The Palo Alto Utilities website says that the average household uses about 650 KWH/month. That about what our family of four uses. At that level a Palo Alto customer is paying $0.14/KHW, a PG&E customer is paying $0.23 and is close to paying $0.32.
The best prospect for installing solar panels is a PG&E customer who's electrical usage is above average, so they're paying a marginal rate of 32 cents/KHW. They don't necessarily need a system that supplies 100% of their needs. A system that supplies a portion of their needs and gets them down to the baseline rate would give the best return on investment.
Posted by GBD, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 24, 2007 at 2:28 pm
I totally agree with Joyce that you should consider the external costs. A lot of the cost are intangible, but you can quantify the carbon emissions cost. Acterra, the local environmental organization, has a link to a carbon calculator on their website at acterra.org. An average household that uses 650 KHW/month of electricity produces about 5000 lbs of carbon per year. A carbon offset for those 5000 lbs of carbon is about $55.
Based on what I've seen, a PV system that produced 650KHW/month would be in the $30K to $40K range. Thus a $40K investment would produce a reduction in carbon emissions equal to about $55 annually.
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 24, 2007 at 3:23 pm
Talked to a Ben Banish (sp?) at Solar City. Ben says we can not cheat and jump on the MP or MV program.
As I understand it currently PA is offering a $3 per watt rebate up to a 3000 watt system. In July the rebate changes and the cap either get removed or lifted beyond what makes sense for me, I forgot that part.
PG&E is offering a $2.40 watt rebate, I believe they have a 300k system cap per my friend for residential.
There is also a fed credit of 2k. I dont know if that is income tested.
Ben's swag at a discount estimate for a solar city group participant is 3k-5k
So for a 3kwatt system
18-21k sounds like a ball park system price.
9k in PA rebates, if I understand the rebate right
lets say 4k for the solar city group discount, if I find about 49 others
call it 20k - 9k = 11k no discount
7k with discount
plus a 2k fed credit.
It sounds like for a group, targeting after July 1 makes sense because then the bigger systems would get better rebates.
To completely offset 750 kwatts of monthly usage, I was told I would probably need a 5.6k system, but like GDB stated, you get better ROI if you still pay the baseline out of pocket and dont put in solar to cover that.
So I have to ask myself is it worth $4k to find ~49 other like minded people, perhaps only ~48 if Anna is interested. ;^) Anyone reading this want to out themselves as interested?
Physical requirements each 1k of system is 8 panels and requires 100 square feet of space. I think he said 14 degrees west of south was optimal, but I did not write that down. Since my house is already built and I would put this on my roof, I figure I am stuck with the south most facing roof I have.
Oh it sounds like you can pretty much cover a roof with panels witch will also have an insulating value, since the sun would no longer reach your roofing material.
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 24, 2007 at 10:22 pm
I need to verify that. I think GBD was right that he was quoting the post rebate price and then I applied it again. Lindsay's info would seem to reenforce that I misunderstood.
Assuming thats right then what he said to me was a 3k system typically would be 18k-21k. Which would appear not to include the group discount, but does include the rebate. I'll call tomorrow and ask him again for the break down.
But there are no deals we will miss out on, so there is no urgency. so far though, its you and me which would not net us a very large discount, ;^)
Posted by Scott Carlson, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Apr 26, 2007 at 9:24 am
Why doesn't Lindsay Joye, a city employee, make this much easier for Palo Alto residents--give us a full breakdown on costs, etc. The website the city has used to, still may, do some of this, but it was never complete and thorough about the full cost of a system. What else is she being paid for? As for that, why is the city paying someone (with benefits I imagine) to promote solar within in the City when it usually doesn't make economic sense? Joye admitted this to me a year or more ago. So, either it makes economic sense or not for most Palo Altans to do this. If it doesn't, then why are we employing somebody in Joye's position. If it does, then she should be making the case much more clearly for it, making it easier for Palo Altans to make the decision.
Posted by scott carlson, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Apr 26, 2007 at 12:13 pm
RS, thanks for going this process. I went through it some time ago and then lost my figures. I haven't had the time to trace through all your assumptions. It appears you haven't figured in a group discount, assuming, as you've said earlier, you can find 48 other people (are there discounts available short of bundling 50 people together?) I once obtained from PA Utilities a ten-year schedule of projected rate increases, which were not neglible, so rate increase must be considered in your calculations, but it is 1)difficult to know what the projections are (I lost mine, and now nobody at Utilities seems to know what they are), and 2)it makes the math a bit more difficult, plugging in the annual increases. There is also a figure, I should think, for maintenace, etc. I find it hard to believe that a system will stay up and running for 20 or more years without some kind of tinkering/updating needed.
That all said, I would join you in a bulk purchase if only we could find a way to make sense. And I have several neighbors that I could bring with me. But again, the numbers have to make sense. See what I said about Lindsay Joye, above. Why isn't she, a City employee apparently hired to promote solar within the City, making this easier for us? Either she doesn't see it as her job, or the numbers don't make sense. If the latter, why not, again, just go Palo Alto Green? You're buying Green energy and saving yourself a huge amount of hassle...
Posted by scott carlson, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Apr 26, 2007 at 12:23 pm
And RS: I'm not absolutely positive about this, but I believe the federal credit is not means conditioned. So you could apply that, but you've already chosen the bottom figure of the range, so you might see it as though you did in fact factor in the federal credit...
Posted by Lindsay Joye, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 26, 2007 at 5:58 pm
I wanted to respond to your posting on two issues: 1) making the presentation of solar economics easier to understand, and 2) why the City is paying me to promote Solar if it doesn't make economic sense.
1) The economic analysis for each PV system must be tailored to include factors specific to each homeowner: annual electric consumption (and therefore, what rate tier you are in), available roof area, orientation (azimuth), tilt, shading, PV system size, component rated efficiency, total system cost, available rebates, financing, and tax credits (including whether you are subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax.) The PV Partners’ website, Web Link, can only provide a simplified analysis as a starting point. A qualified PV provider can perform this analysis for your home, or you can contact me and I can work with you on the specifics for your application. You can contact me via this contact form: Web Link
2) The reason the City pays me to promote solar power (along with my other duties developing energy efficiency programs) is primarily because of CA legislation which mandates that utilities offer rebate programs to support the installation of PV systems. The long term goal is to lower rebates over time as the cost of PV systems drop, with the plan that PV will be more cost-competitive with fossil-fuel based electric generation. Because the Palo Alto Utilities’ PV Partners program is paying for 30% of the system cost, the City has assigned staff time to develop and manage the program. I spend hours each week helping customers evaluate whether PV is right for them.
Finally, I would like to point out that solar power has many valuable benefits. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, PV reduces your exposure to future electric rate increases, the investment does not increase your property taxes (unlike other home improvement projects), and PV can help protect your solar access rights. Plus, rumor has it watching your meter spin backwards can save thousands in therapy bills!
Posted by Lindsay Joye, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 26, 2007 at 7:14 pm
PV rebates are paid from the electric utility rates. PG&E customers pay for the California Solar Initiative rebates, and Palo Alto Utilities' customers pay for the PV Partners rebates. You can only get a rebate from your electric utility; they aren't additive.
These programs are mandated by CA legislation, most recently SB1:
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 26, 2007 at 9:12 pm
ok I wrote a short program and the output is below. Assuming a starting electric of 14 cents increasing 5% per year, and 3k solar system that covers 400 kwh/per month. The following is a year by year of the electric costs saved. So now my hypothetical 19k system gets paid off in aproximately 18 years. Its starting to get close. The group discount of 4k (guess) plus the 2k fed credit would get it into the range that I would consider it viable. At 14 years, its still a little longer than I would like but now I am into the range where the joyce's greater societal good argument has a chance of getting me to sign up.
Posted by Scott Carlson, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Apr 26, 2007 at 9:49 pm
RS, thanks for that math. But the group discount is still very iffy, no? If you find out otherwise, let me know. And I thought you were already assuming the fed credit, as you were working with the very lowest figure available, 19k.
Lindsay, That there is a legal mandate for your position explains a few things. Essentially, my "gripe," if you will, is this: I wish your website and you were as honest with the public as you were with me on the phone a year or more ago, when you said that people in Palo Alto don't do solar for economic reasons. There may be the rare case when it makes economic sense to do it, but we can see from RS's calculations, using very favorable assumptions and figures, that the payback time in the vast majority of cases is too long. Dressing the issue up in terms of azimuth and tilt and shading is almost like smoke and mirrors. Yes, there are social benefits from solar, but there are very few of us who will do it for that reason unless it also makes sense to our pocketbooks. You may spin the numbers differently, but the fact that relatively few people in Palo Alto have done solar speaks for itself, despite your spending hours every week with them. Of the residential systems that have been installed in Palo Alto, how many have a projected payback under, say, 18 years? ...I would add that there are many social benefits, and pocketbook ones, to be had from just buying Palo Alto Green.
Posted by scott carlson, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Apr 26, 2007 at 10:01 pm
I think I would add to my last comment: if the availability of a 4k group discount makes the difference for people like RS (see his figures, his projected payback time goes from 18 years to 27 without the 4k discount, why isn't the City taking an active role in helping people group together to get the discount? That would certainly be a way to promote solar, if that is indeed what the City's goal is.
Posted by GBD, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 26, 2007 at 11:18 pm
RS, the Palo Alto Utilities monthly KWH pricing is 7 cents/KWH for the first 300KWH, 9 for the next 300KWH and 13 after that. If you're using 750 KHW/month then the 400KWH you save with a PV system is costing 10.5 cents/KWH. That will lengthen your payback time. On the other hand energy prices may go up much more that 5%/year.
The power inverters need to be replaced after about 15 years. That's about a $2K expense. Also solar panels degrade in efficiency over time Most people figure they degrade by 0.8% pe year so after 25 years they are only 80% as efficient as they originally were.
Otherwise your calculations come about to the same conclusion as mine - about a $20K expense with a 20 year payback.
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 26, 2007 at 11:59 pm
Scott, discount is based on size of the system and number of participants, I could only guess based on the range Ben gave me.
GDB, yeah I knew the calculations dont exactly fit my specific circumstance, I was trying to give it a best case situation as much as possible. Figuring if it could not survive the best case then, I did not need to wonder anymore.
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2007 at 5:28 am
The discount is paid for by raising the cost of electricity to all for a politically correct disruption of rational utility planning. Miss Joye, I know you are only doing your duty. The law is an ass. Pray for honest reapportionment that will bring back representaive government.
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2007 at 10:31 am
Base load capacity is almost always lower in cost, therefore more conservative of resources, than distributed generation. The addition to the rate base for these gimics is a tax, pure and simple, on top of a commodity as necessary as food or medicine. A tax on the poor to buy toys for the rich. For shame!
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2007 at 2:13 pm
Why not be specific? I have explained why you are wrong. Systems that the poor can never afford and that do not reduce the need for base load generating capacity are paid for by increasing the rates for everyone.
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2007 at 3:57 pm
No you explained why you think I am wrong then added a bunch of judgemental language at the end.
I got this from a VP of PG&E who actually is in charge of this sort of activity. When the PG&E adds generation, they need to add the generation to handle the worst case. Once they add a plant to the system, that plant has to be paid for whether it gets used or not.
What triggers the highest load? Hot days with sunshine, because of the AC load. If they build to the highest load, the rates have to pay for generation capacity and that sites that sit idle a good part of the year. Even if it is not functioning, it adds to the rate structure.
Local solar is perfect to deal with this situation. More of it covers those summer peaks and eliminates their need to build plants they can't use 100% of the time.
One needs to consider the cost of idle generation facilities. When PG&E did, they realized that local solar is a good deal for them. It positively effects their bottom line and thats what they are about, making a profit.
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2007 at 5:59 pm
I am a shareholder in PG%E and I have despaired in their cavein. They just decided not to fight the greenies any more after their clock was cleaned at Diablo and Helmes hydro. As long as they are allowed to pass on all the cost of this stupidity tax to the ratepayers, their behind is covered. Corporations that stand on principal are found in the gutter. Hey, if PG&E could charge twice as much for half the energy they would do it.
Just before PG%E caved they were actively seeking cogen, a real benefit, but Sacramento won. Tell your VP I will be jappy to chat with him, and ask that he bring Black along.
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2007 at 11:36 am
The one thing I did not pass on was the information I learned about for group discounts. What Solar city looks for is a citizen champion that will organize a group of about 50. I understood the discounts to be tiered. The discount structure is all agreed to up front, so the champion and the group members know what discount they will get up front and how many people have to sign up to get them.
Its the Champion's job to get the word out. Organize a meeting time and place, so solar city can make their pitch to a group. Basically if Solar City lets the champion and the group members do the marketing, it allows them to avoid some of their costs and helps them to provide the discount. Also the economies of scale help them to provide the discount.
Posted by Scott Carlson, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Apr 30, 2007 at 8:52 am
RS, don't know if you'll visit this again, but here's a try: despite what I've said about the economics of solar, I'm willing to give it another look factoring in a Solar City discount. And I'm willing to consider sharing the "citizen champion" role with you...i.e., at least talking it over. I think I could probably pull in 25 homes. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org...