Once you get done putting in your PV system, have Scott Smith convert your MX bike to electric! (Photo: Geisel)
Edison helps homeowners with solar forensics
No, it’s not another spinoff of the venerable TV detective franchise, but if you’re thinking about making solar part of your new home, or adding it to an existing one, the state’s California Solar Initiative and Southern California Edison (SCE) have done a lot of investigative work for you that could make going solar easier and more affordable.
On Monday evening, SCE Solar Group Project Manager Bruce Delling held a Homeowner Solar Class in the Lee Vining Community Center, which drew the interested and curious from all over Mono County. Created under Senate Bill 1 (SB1), CSI was originally known as the “Million Solar Roofs” program, administered by the California Public Utilities Commission. Kicked off on New Year’s Day, 2007, its goal is to generate 3,000 megawatts (MW) of solar-produced, grid-connected electricity by the end of 2016.
“The intent was to reduce peak demand on the state’s power grid, and alleviate brown outs and other issues with how much generation we have,” Delling said. According to Delling, during peak days, SCE customers consume as much as 26,000 MW, which is up 3,000 MW from just 2 years ago.
How does all this CSI stuff help you, the homeowner? Delling said CSI seeks to create a sustainable solar segment of the energy sector by subsidizing the cost, essentially making it easier for homeowners to install their own local system and reduce overall demand.
Perhaps you recycle, use tote bags at the market and have all your light bulbs changed to compact fluorescent, but adding a solar system will shrink your carbon footprint even further. Solar systems these days are clean, have few if any moving parts, are sturdy enough to withstand changeable, inclement weather and last at least 25 years, probably significantly longer.
SCE posits that solar systems actually reduce the need to build more power plants, since the solar generation is typically at its peak during daylight hours when electricity demand is at its highest.
Much of the Eastern Sierra generally gets about 300 sunny days per year, and many parts of the area are a good fit for solar. Today’s cells can generate power even on overcast days. Shading, naturally, is an issue. Unobstructed, south or southwest facing lines of sight are best for optimum efficiency. One problem currently being debated in the legislature that’s yet to be resolved is what to do about a neighbor’s trees blocking sun to your solar array and what, if any, rights you have to unfettered sunlight for the roughly 4 hours per day minimum exposure time.
The basic premise behind encouraging home solar is that once you have an array online, you can augment your electricity demand in real time, or store it in batteries or generators for later use. If your system generates more than your home needs, any surplus can be sold back to SCE for a credit on your bill.
As you might expect, there are hitches: one is that you’ll need to conduct an audit of your home’s energy consumption and “right size” your system according the findings. SCE doesn’t want a bunch of little “over generators” out there, dumping power back into the grid, and the program doesn’t pay incentives for systems that generate more electricity than your home’s total load.
One exception: if you’re going to purchase an electric vehicle, such as a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf, you can get a waiver for a larger system size to accommodate the additional electricity it will take to charge your EV.
The rebate scale is being set by the CPUC and should be finalized within the next 30-45 days. Right now, Delling advises you should have an electric bill that runs about $150/month or more to get a “reasonable amount of payback in a reasonable amount of time.”
Speaking of bills …
What’s it going to cost? Compared to what solar systems cost several years ago, not as much as you might think. Prices vary depending on size, equipment options and labor, of course, and Delling’s figures show it’s not unusual to see prices of about $7.50-$10 per watt. “Some installers have charged as much as $30/watt,” he said, though local solar contractors indicated they’re generally coming in at less than $10/watt.
Still, guesstimating the retail cost on a 4kW (4,000 watt) system at a ballpark of about $8/watt, you’re looking at about $32,000. But wait … now you get to subtract 15-20% of the cost in SCE incentives, and take a 30% federal tax credit from the net amount. (Off the grid users, that 30% federal tax credit applies to you, too.) And your $32,000 system ends up finally costing you about $18,000, a 45% savings.
Delling said that the CSI program doesn’t count toward Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandate for utilities to draw 33% of their power mix from renewable sources by 2025, since the homeowners are the ones who get the renewable energy credits.
Mono County residents thinking about investing in solar may find the timing particularly good at the moment. As District 1 Supervisor Larry Johnston pointed out to the room, the County has waived developer impact fees for homes incorporating green features such as solar. More good news: expenditures on solar systems are not assessed along with the rest of property taxes, and will show up as “$0.”
Not up for a full-on system, but still want to go solar? Last year SCE introduced solar water heating incentives. Ask your contractor about other solar programs and options.
More information is available online at www.sce.com/solarleadership and www.gosolarcalifornia.ca.gov or call 866.584.7436.