Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Peter Gorr's Experience With Solar - Part 4

Year One Results

Promises Made, Promises Kept

In this concluding part I want to review actual production and usage results as well as review once again why a move to a new energy portfolio for this country is so right.  Up until now everything presented relating to system performance was based on estimates and projections. It is just over a year that my system has been in operation and, simply stated, it has performed better than promised.

With my communications gateway connection and online monitoring I have very detailed information to source. Here is a screen shot of my system near the end of a day in June 2012.  I can view each panel’s production in real time as well as historically.  The slightly darker panels show some shading starting as the sun goes down behind some trees. There are many reports I can pull down as I actively manage my energy usage and production.

Recall I designed my system to deliver 80% of my historical electricity usage.  It has delivered over 94% through a combination of a couple of things.  First, it was estimated that I would see just less than 8 megawatt hours of energy per year.  I produced over 8.7 mwh. This is weather dependent and will vary but not by much. Second, I continue to seek energy efficiency measures as I move to more than meet my home electricity demand and make room for adding an electric plug-in vehicle to my electricity demand mix.  If I can replace the thousands of dollars I pay filling a gas tank with the electricity I produce, well, that’s seriously green in more ways than one.

The following chart shows my system performance and my usage.  The 12 month window I am using is June 22, 2011 through June 21, 2012.  This is when my net metering began. Where the red usage line is below the blue production line, I was producing more energy than I used and it was “stored” for me by ComEd (through the net metering program).  Where the usage was in excess of production I either called for my stored energy, if it was there, or paid ComEd for electricity.

In terms of dollars and cents, if I did not have this system I would have been billed $924 for the electricity my home used.  Instead I paid just $53 for electricity from ComEd, a savings of $871.  Since I remain connected to the grid, I do pay the delivery service fee monthly.  What I have affected is only the cost of the electricity supply.
The following is the first bill I received that showed an excess of energy. Note a few kWh of energy is being held and will rollover to the next month if I need it.


What a great feeling of liberation to finally shed myself of the guilt and expense of using dirty energy. This is an emotion I did not anticipate and it has become the most valued. I no longer consider the use of energy as some evil and to be avoided practice although wasteful behavior should always be avoided. Rather it is now a welcomed part of making life comfortable and prosperous. As I became more aware of climate change and its impacts, just turning a light on became something I felt guilty about. What a way to live. Now I flip on a light and it doesn’t matter. Land use is no more than was already occupied by my home (compare to power plants, oil and gas wells), there is no water use (compare to fracking and nuclear), I produce no pollution (compare to any fossil fuel), and no CO2 emissions (ditto), I’m not using up limited resources (ditto again), and it is not costing me anything more than I have already spent (my fuel is free and unlimited).    

Also I was able to sell the RECs (defined in Part 2) I produced from July 2011 through December 2011 for $200 each or $835.  I hope to sell all my RECs in 2012 for $125 each but won’t know until the end of the year.  But I put $1706 into my pocket with potential for more.  If I sell these 2012 RECs, then the first year of operation will have netted me $2,456 in combined savings and REC sales.  Using straight line depreciation of my system as mentioned earlier of $1,848, I am $608 positive.  I originally estimated $702.  Pretty close and I’m thrilled.  Recall, I never expected this project to yield positive cash flow until years from now if ever.  I did it for all the other reasons.  And remember with that electric vehicle in my future, at $4 per gallon, I’ll add another $3,200 to my savings. 

I went into this project to prove to myself and others that there are better ways to live. Not just responsibly but economically. With such a strong case whether you talk the environment, the domestic economy, or the personal economics, then why such an uphill battle for renewables to be a bigger part of our energy portfolio?

I believe the answer, and it may surprise you, is the lack of applying free and fair market capitalism principles to energy. Please note, “free and fair”, not just “free”.  Ironically it is usually big corporations, their beneficiaries, and their bought and paid for politicians that argue for free markets (little to no regulations) but not for fair markets.  Behind the scenes these corporations aggressively fight anything that levels the competitive playing field. What is more central to capitalistic principles than competition? Understand what all companies seek, but would never admit, is securing a monopoly position in the market. This shifts the power from the consumer to the producer. This power gives producers control of pricing and supply which in turn generates massive wealth that can be used to influence public opinion and government policy.   

Case in point, I am now an energy producer as should be my right in a free market.  But there is no market for my energy besides my own home.  It’s the law! I cannot sell my excess energy production.  It is prohibited.  Under net metering rules if I have excess energy at the end of a mandated 12 month period, ComEd just takes it.  In my first year, ComEd took 430 kWh from me without as much as a “thank you”. That is more than half a month’s electricity usage for me. Is that a free market? Someone is certainly getting something for free but I don’t think that is how it is supposed to work. Is it a fair market? I feel robbed and believe I was but the law says it is OK. 

Why is this important beyond what is basic fairness?  While I am producing energy for my own consumption, there is a possibility that I may reach a point where I consistently produce more than I use in a year. Why can’t there be an exchange for me to sell my excess energy at market rates? Wouldn’t this be good for society, good for investors, good for small business development, etc.? The answer is simple; it would be stepping on current large electricity producers’ toes.  In fact if such a market had existed I might have bought a larger system to create a revenue stream for me but state law prohibited it. Any wonder who wrote (or more precisely “bought”) that law.  Shouldn’t we be doing anything and everything to find and open new and dynamic markets that would stimulate demand, supply, innovation, and the economic growth that accompanies such events?

In conclusion, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to go solar but at the same time it opened my eyes to the fact that the energy companies have such a strangle hold on everyone’s energy dollars and energy behavior that breaking that grip is largely beyond the capacity of most individual consumers. Until that grip is freely and fairly eliminated, a future of less expensive, clean, and unlimited energy will be kept from the majority of residents.  It’s irresponsible, it’s anti-American, and it’s anti-free market capitalism. But no, I’m not joining the Tea Party, they should be joining us.


1  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation, The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020, Summary Report, March 2011.

2  Stern, Nicholas, The Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change, 2006, HM Treasury, London.

3 Freeing the Grid, Best Practices in State Net Metering Policies and Interconnection Procedures, December 2010, Network for New Energy Choices, New York, NY.

4  Estimating U.S. Government Subsidies to Energy Sources: 2002-2008, Environmental Law Institute, September 2009.

About the author:  Peter Gorr lives in Palatine, IL and is a husband, parent, and grandparent.  He is a retired business executive and holds a MBA from the University of Chicago in Marketing and Statistics.  He is on the Executive Committee of the Northwest Cook County Group of the Sierra Club, an active member of the Illinois Solar Energy Association, a Board Member of Friends of Busse Woods and a founding member of Friends of Deer Grove East conservation groups.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

2012 Illinois Solar Tour Highlights

The Illinois Solar Tour is organized annually by the Illinois Solar Association.  This free event allows residents an opportunity to open their homes for public viewing of solar vewing up close.  Homeowners and small businesses participate.  It is always enjoyable to see what others are doing, and to share ideas for conserving energy and generating clean energy on site.

Site #1 - the Van Loan home in Naperville

This home features an 8.92 kW rooftop solar array.  Since installing this May, it has already produced more than 6,000 kW-hours, which is about half of what a typical home uses in an entire year.

Site #2 - the Armstrong home in Naperville

This home was designed with passive solar features to maximize the benefit of the sun, and has a green roof along with a photo-voltaic solar panels.  Beneficial landscaping, much of it native and with edible fruits, helps shade the home in the summer.

Site #3 - Brighton Car Wash, Naperville

Jason Morin, co-owner of Brighton Car Wash on 75th Street, enthusiastically explains the operation of hot water tubes mounted on the roof.  Solar energy has saved this small business thousands of dollars, and allows him to use hot water to wash cars with less detergent, providing his customers with a superior service.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

October Eco Events

October calendar:

October 6 - Illinois Solar Tour. This is a large event, but you can drive around at you own pace and see as many solar installations as you wish. It's also free! http://www.illinoissolartour.org/

October 6, Glacial Ridge Forest Preserve workday, Glen Ellyn, 9 am-Noon. Also other dates and locations for volunteer work listed at http://www.dupageforest.com/calendar.aspx

October 8 - Glen Ellyn public hearing about electrical aggregation. Come, learn, ask questions, and voice your opinion. Meanwhile, Glen Ellyn residents should watch for the insert in their water bill. http://www.glenellyn.org/GE/Aggregation.html

October 13 - National Weather Service open house, Romeoville, http://www.crh.noaa.gov/news/display_cmsstory.php?wfo=lot&storyid=86799&source=0

October 13 - Churchill Park volunteer workday, Glen Ellyn, http://www.gepark.org/par_Churchill.htm

October 14 - Danada Fall Festival, also featuring local folk musicians, http://www.dupageforest.com/

October 19 - Starved Rock Lodge Astronomy Day coincides with a meteor shower, http://starvedrocklodge.com/events/event/astronomy-day-meteor-shower-at-starved-rock-state-park/

October 20 - Doug Tellamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, will be speaking at a program sponsored by the Wild Ones, the Sierra Club, the Conservation Foundation, and the DuPage and Will County forest preserve districts, http://illinois.sierraclub.org/rpg/Tallamy2012Flyer.pdf
This is a free event, but registration closes on October 17.

October 22 - The second Glen Ellyn hearing on electrical aggregation, http://www.glenellyn.org/GE/Aggregation.html

Other items:

Nicor Gas rebates, http://nicorgas.aglr.com/Home.aspx

Watch your trees and shrubs, including parkways. Dry conditions are continuing in one of the driest years ever recorded in Chicago.