business

The Solar Burn, Part 8: A Cruel Snow Job

This is Part 8 of a multi-part series about my attempt to install solar panels on my house. For the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. For the next installation (when available), CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

A Cruel Snow Job

I put a thousand dollars down on a solar array back in early December. This was on the promise that the company I signed the contract with, would do its best to install our panels before NEM 3.0 kicked in. California’s NEM 3.0 (Net Energy Metering 3.0) policy, which begins in mid-April, will drastically reduce the amount solar owners are compensated for electricity they backfeed onto the grid.

I kept my fingers crossed, hoping beyond hope we’d beat the deadline and qualify for the very generous NEM 2.0 policy, that compensates at nearly the full retail rate. I marked off each passing day with a hashmark on the electric meter. I bitterly swore, each time I had to pay our astronomical monthly electric bill of $200 to $300. And I researched the internet, looking to buy a very large hamster that could power our house with a hamster wheel.

In early-January our solar company sent me an email stating that our building permit had been approved, and we’d be hearing from them again soon. But as I measured my fingernails, with nothing better to do in our dark house, nearly two millimeters had grown before I received my next email from the company.

They wanted $15,000, so they could order the panels, inverter, and other equipment necessary for installation. Hands atremble, I immediately wrote the check, then quickly drove the envelope to the post office, killing three pedestrians and five stray dogs, so I could mail it in person. I took no chances on it being stolen from our mailbox, or lost by our letter carrier.

And I waited and waited and waited. Three weeks elapsed, with no word from the solar company. Finally my wife knocked me over the head with a candlestick holder. She was tired of reading by candlelight, and ordered me to call them.

So I hopped on our stationary bicycle, which we use for powering the phone, and rang them up. I was fully, mentally hyped for a confrontation. But there was no argument. Apparently, they’d been waiting for my call, so that they could schedule an installation date.

We scheduled the installation for 10 days later, on Saturday, February 25th. Then my wife and I waited with eager anticipation, while wringing our hands at a weather forecast that looked more and more ominous with each passing day.

The storm invaded our desert on Wednesday, February 22nd, with gale force winds that rattled our house and hounded our hopes. By the next morning, two inches of snow covered our roof. It all melted by the end of the day, but the forecast looked dismal for Saturday. We held our breath and hoped for a break in the weather.

That break came on Friday. No rain or snow fell, and we saw some blue skies between the clouds. But then on Saturday, Zeus went to war with Helios and threw all He had at Him. A miserable, freezing rain began drenching our roof during the early morning hours. By late-morning it transmogrified into a blizzard. And the solar installation crew had not arrived as promised. What was keeping them? I wondered

The phone rang. It was the solar company. Apparently, they don’t install solar panels during blizzards. What?! You lazy mutherfuckers! I impatiently seethed inwardly as I politely spoke through gritted teeth to the kind man. He rescheduled the installation for Monday.

On Sunday, Helios finally recovered from Zeus’s onslaught, and broke out in all His splendor. An inch-and-a-half of snow lounged in the Sun, upon our roof. But this is Southern California, so it was gone by that evening. Helios, who is a native Southern Californian, made sure of that.

Helios rolled up over the horizon on Monday morning. It was 8:00 am. The skies were blue, the wind was relatively calm, and the temperature was pushing toward 40 degrees when the solar company parked their trucks in our driveway. A crew of eight shivering hombres in hoodies, who spoke a lot of Spanish, labored for the next eight hours, hoisting solar panels upon our roof and bolting them into place. It seemed eight was our lucky number, that day. Ocho, that is.

Β‘Ay, caramba! It’s a hazardous job, and apparently this unlucky technician was crushed by a solar panel.

They completed the job by 4:00 pm. The next afternoon, February 28th, the building inspector came by and approved the solar installation. And to my surprise, that was all that was needed to activate the array and start generating electricity from the Sun.

This is because we used a licensed contractor. Had we self-installed the panels, we would have had to wait several weeks to activate the solar array, for approval from our electric company. And speaking of the electric company, we won’t receive final approval from them until they review all the paperwork our solar company submitted for the Interconnection Agreement. Hopefully by late-March we’ll have that approval, qualifying us just in time for NEM 2.0.

After the array was activated, my wife and I became fascinated with the smartmeter that our electric company installed on our house about five years ago. It’s so smart, it can track not only the amount of electricity we’re using, but also the amount we’re backfeeding to the grid. And on the very first day of activation, we were delighted to discover we were backfeeding for the first time! Take that, you bastards at the electric company!

March 1st would be our first full day of activated panels, and we were very curious and anxious to find out just how much our solar array would backfeed. But wouldn’t you know it? Another goddamned storm rolled in and dumped freezing rain and snow most of the day, upon our brand new solar panels.

Want to know how much electricity solar panels produce when covered with snow? Zero, like a snowball, that’s how much.

The next morning we woke up to a beautiful, clear day, with an inch of snow blanketing our solar panels. It took until 10:00 AM for this niveous solution to melt off. Until then, every time we examined our smartmeter, we turned away feeling disappointed and depressed. It seemed we’d been victims of a cruel snow job.

One inch of snow was all it took to completely destroy our hopes and dreams.

But after Helios vanquished the snow, our panels burst forth into the glory of their purpose. The smartmeter showed kilowatt after kilowatt backfeeding onto the grid. It was supplying our neighbors at 30-cents per kWh, most of which will go toward offsetting our future electric bills. Bwahahaha!

That is, as long as we get approved by our electric company for NEM 2.0, by April 14th. That’s what we’re waiting for. And so that’s what my next update will be about. I’ll let you know whether or not we get the Solar Burn, or are able to beat the clock and burn our high electric bills.

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Categories: business

38 replies »

  1. Oh gosh! You did have me laughing as I read this. I was waiting for a picture of the 🐹 hamster. Don’t blame your wifs for hitting you with a candlestick. Of course I would never hit or throw something at you. πŸ˜‰
    I am very glad you finally got the solar panels installed and that your check didn’t get lost by a letter carrier. Never can trust those postal workers, can you?
    This does make me have second thoughts though about solar panels being that we typically have our roof snow covered in the winter. Except for when we decide to send our snow ❄ to California.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Unfortunately, the pet store was all sold out of giant hamsters.

      I think actually, you have taught me the value of ducking.

      Now that I’m retired, I’m suspicious of all new postal workers. Those young whippersnappers haven’t the slightest clue of how carefully we handled mail back in my day.

      Don’t be ferhoodled by my tale. It could be that the sun burns the snow off the panels, faster than off the roofs. You might try watching the roofs of anyone in your neighborhood who has solar panels.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. After my last few utility bills, I’ve been considering drilling for natural gas on my property. It’s either that, or getting a local bear into the giant hamster-wheel. (Giant hamsters are sold out here as well.)

    You’re in a great place for solar, but you’ve noticed what makes it such a poor option here… snow. And it doesn’t melt off, just freezes onto the panels while the roof underneath melts clean. And I suppose the local forest and the mountain blocking the AM sun don’t help either.
    I’d be interested in knowing at what temperature your panels end up working best. They’re rated at 77F, but it doesn’t mean that’s most efficient. They should work best when cool (why the space beneath for air to circulate). A breezy day might make a noticeable difference?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Your location, with all the shade, would be enough to make solar an iffy proposition. Shade is the biggest killer of efficiency. And snow over the panels is the equivalent to shade.

      I don’t know the best operating temperature, but my research agrees with your assumption that they work best when cool. So I’m theorizing that a breezy day would make a difference, especially during the summer. Yesterday was breezy, and we got our best performance from them so far.

      Heat can really kill efficiency, but these panels (Panasonic EverVolt 410H) are designed to handle heat better than competing brands. But I guess I’ll find out for sure in June and July.

      I have software that monitors their performance, including a graph showing production throughout the day. That might provide useful information about the effects of heat and breezes, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Whew, this sent me down a rabbit hole after looking up the tech specs on your panels! Looks like you opted for some good panels… good heat tolerance and a low degradation rate. 22%+ efficiency new. Their output should drop by about 2% after “burning-in” for the first year. (All solar cells do this.) After that, only about .25% per year, which is excellent. However, Panasonic doesn’t manufacture solar panels anymore… so who’s actually making them? They’re apparently manufactured in South Korea to Panasonic’s technical specs. And comparing those, I have a feeling that they’re re-branded “REC” panels. They’re the only other panels that use the same kind of “junction”, and they have some that are almost identically spec’d. REC panels are considered the industry standard in Europe.

        Heat efficiency loss is kind of a characteristic of solid-state electronics. A solar cell is electronically similar to a light-emitting diode, and some of the electricity generated will cause the solar cell to luminesce internally, generating heat. Light-emitting solar panels can release that energy and stay cooler, supposedly getting efficiency up to 30%. I suspect the cost is prohibitive. But a glowing roof..!

        Sounds like installing solar panels would probably suck up a significant portion of my life, compulsively entering data into a massive set of cross-indexed spreadsheets in order to derive an algorithm for calculating output according to weather forecasts. Think I’ll stick with the bear until I can get the hole deep enough to start fracking.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am glad the solar panels were installed in the end, but what a nail biting drama. We used to have a big electricity bill and I loved installing solar. Where I live, there is no danger of snow interfering with the kilowatts produced. May I ask where your panels were made? Ironicially we live in sunny Australia and the panels we purchase here – although the technology was invented by an Australian science organization are built in Canada and Germany and South Korea – all cold countries!! I hope you get the NEM sorted. Sounds complicated. Here is to free power from the sun!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like that you can save your storage for use later on. I wonder how they store it? Does the grid have battery storage capabilities? With the 6.8 KW system we have now and no swimming pool, we couldn’t afford the cost to install a battery as well, but hopefully the price of batteries will come down in time. Instead we get a dollar credit on our bill for usage above our family needs, each month. The installation of solar systems here was subsidised by the federal government and state government and so many people took up the option, they had to cut back on the government rebates and introduce new fees as more people go solar. They continue to do this introducing different fees for “using” their poles and wires to feed back our excess electricity to the grid! Cheeky! I believe the American solar rebates/costs vary greatly from state to state and some states actively deincentivise feeding solar to the system. Is that right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I use “store” in quotes. Actually, the backfed electricity goes toward powering other homes in our neighborhood. The electric company gives us credits for each kilowatt-hour we backfeed. Then when we draw power from the grid, we use those credits at a very low charge of about 2-cents per kWh. However, that is going up to about 23-cents per kWh for new installers of solar. Fortunately, we probably made the deadline and will be grandfathered into the 2-cent charge for the next 20 years. Our state has no rebate for solar installation, because so many people have gone solar already. But our federal government provides a 30% tax credit on the cost of the solar array.

      Yes, some states seem to deincentivize backfeeding solar by doing what are state will soon be doing. And that is, by charging nearly the full retail cost for using up the power credits on backfed electricity.

      Like

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