Friday, January 27, 2023

MY HOUSE IS POWERED BY THE SUN (for sufficiently loose definitions of “powered” and “sun”

Among the various things that ate my soul in 2022 was a project to get a solar + battery system installed in our house. Started asking questions in March, and the system was turned on in early October, and now I have solar. Well, not NOW now. NOW now most of the panels are covered in snow and there’s no sun out at all. But I did for a while and I will again soonish.

Why solar? And why, specifically, solar + battery? Well, as a middle-aged liberal who’s even remotely observant, I’d say it was mostly born out of a creeping dread of gradual systemic collapse. Our neighborhood has been, for a variety of reasons, prone to occasional power outages. With climate change, it’s not going to get less prone as the years go by. And electrical power is one of the few systems I can do something about.

There’s no way, right now, I’m going to be even remotely self-sufficient when it comes to water. And, in Minnesota, there’s no replacing natural gas heating anytime soon. Not with my wiring, that’s for sure. But electricity? Electricity can be managed. And sure, I could just get a generator, but remember, liberal. Trying to get away from carbon where I can. So solar for generation and ecological benefits, battery for what’s developing into a very light prepper tendency.

Why 2022? Well, at the time, the tax breaks were about to start winding down. That changed, and, in retrospect, we would have had another decade to get in on it at the highest rate, but that wasn’t a thing in March when we started. If you’re thinking about it, the time pressure is off. 

So, I did the usual stuff. Called a bunch of companies. Talked to them. Easily ruled out the ones who were full of bullshit out of the gate (two out of five). Narrowed things down to three companies, two of whom were virtually identical, and ended up with All Energy Solar based almost exclusively on vibes that amounted to a coin flip. 

So, thirteen panels on a south-facing roof generating mumble mumble if I’d written this three months ago I could have told you but like six or seven of the units they use to measure that kind of thing which I want to say are kilowatt-hours but my gut tells me that’s wrong. Point is, in deep fall it was covering a not insignificant percentage of my energy usage without any attempts at conservation.

And then there’s an Enphase 10 battery that can run the whole house (except for A/C) for like, 20 hours or run a minimal set of stuff for longer. How much longer? I don’;t know because of course since I’ve gotten it the power hasn’t gone out. That I know of.

One nice side effect of the system is that the switchover from grid to battery is so fast none of my electronics register it. So it’s possible there have been minor power blips going on this whole time that the system smoothed over. There certainly were plenty of those before I got the system.

My first full month on the system gave me an electric bill that was 85-90% lower than the same month the previous year. Which is great. But then it started snowing. Now, All Energy was pretty straightforward with me the entire time, but they definitely undersold the effect of snow. The panels are black, so once the sun comes out, they melt pretty fast, they said. And certainly most winters my roof has cleared itself regularly, so that made sense. 

But when winter dumps four inches of slushy slop on your roof, followed by a hard freeze? That shit is not budging. Or, occasionally, it budges all at once, which is fine for the roof and the panels and a mess on, say, the sidewalk it lands on.

Now, I need to say at this point that this winter is the third-snowiest in the history of the Twin Cities, and has a decent shot at becoming the second. And it’s all fallen in large amounts. So this may not be typical. Also, I started the winter without a thing on a pole to brush the snow off them, and by the time I got one, it was useless, and then right after I got one, it got buried on the deck under a 15” two day snowstorm, so next year may well be different.

All that said, I’m not regretting doing this. It’s a long-term bet on relative energy independence and security, and you don’t judge that by a super-shitty winter you’re unprepared for. Another month or so and I figure we’ll be back to producing more than a trickle of energy, and then it’s eight to nine months of making up for lost time.

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