Friday, December 21, 2007

SolarGuard is Up and Running

I've had SolarGuard monitoring running on my PV system since November. You can see my system's performance at this new url: (There is a 12-day gap in the record due to a firmware problem that was fixed on Jan. 23.)

SolarGuard sends my inverter's output statistics to SolarCity's computers. There is a transmitter attached to the inside of the inverter that sends the data wirelessly to a receiver in my home office. The receiver is plugged into my router and sends data via our cable modem.

SolarCity can use the data to monitor the performance of my system, and soon will be able to compare my output to that of other systems they have installed in Mountain View. If there is an unexpected decline in production that isn't mirrored by other nearby systems, they will alert me to the problem.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dow Jones News Service Covers Group Buying

Today a very complimentary story ran in several Dow Jones publications including Investors Business Daily and CBS MarketWatch. I've added the URL for Marketwatch to the home page, but in case the story disappears from their site, I've copied the story below.

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (Dow Jones) -- Convincing a group of neighbors to agree on anything is rarely easy. But in a growing number of communities in the U.S. over the past year neighbors have proven fairly persuasive at influencing dozens of their peers to spend $25,000 or more on a rooftop solar system.

It started in Portola Valley, Calif., a sunny community 35 miles south of San Francisco. In December, 78 of the town's 1,700 homes decided to pool their purchasing power and call in a large order for residential solar systems.

California-based SolarCity offered the community a group discount on the rooftop and backyard photovoltaic systems and installed them. The company, which started out installing individual orders for homeowners, began filling bulk orders for neighborhoods in California in 2006 as a way to try to drive down the cost of solar systems.

"If an entire group comes together they get a discount," said Lyndon Rive, founder and chief executive officer of SolarCity. "With three or four homes you don't get economies of scale."
Plenty of money and effort is being spent on developing solar technology but the most neglected part of the renewable story is the installation piece of the puzzle, according to Rive. Increasing the volume of sales of solar systems will help solar-generated electricity reach price parity more quickly with the electricity generated from power plants that burn fossil fuels, the executive said.

Today, the company has community discount programs underway in seven California cities and has completed installations in another eight. The company says that by September it had sold more than 500 residential solar systems in 19 cities and towns.

By the end of this year, the company is slated to open new offices in Colorado and New Mexico and by the first quarter of 2008 SolarCity plans to begin offering community discounts in both of these states as well.

SolarCity's program is focused on retrofitting existing homes with solar panels. But so-called solar communities aren't new. U.S. home builders such as Pardee Homes, Pulte Homes and Shea Homes have been developing planned communities where residences feature solar rooftops for several years.

Convincing 40 neighbors to go green
The company's offer is simple: if a town can get a sufficient number of homeowners to sign up for rooftop or backyard solar systems they receive a 20% to 30% cut off the local market price of a home solar system. The company typically aims to sell roughly 175 kilowatts to each community. Since an average-size home in the U.S. can usually support at least a four-kilowatt solar system, 44 homes becomes the standard target. Commercial buildings and businesses can also be a part of the mix.

SolarCity set a goal of 175 kilowatts for Portola Valley residents. The community easily topped the goal, with the participating home systems accounting for 343 kilowatts. Additional installations in the community have added 55 kilowatts, bringing the town total to roughly 400 kilowatts of solar power.

Other communities have also surpassed the company's goal. More recently, 119 households in Mountain View, Calif. ordered solar systems totaling 367 kilowatts. Another 124 kilowatts were subsequently installed in the community, even though these homeowners did not receive the rebate. Today, 2% of the single-family residences in Mountain View have solar installations and SolarCity installed more than half.

But not all towns receive the discount offer. SolarCity's strategy has been to handpick towns after conducting extensive local research, educating and interviewing homeowners, inspecting homes to determine if they can be outfitted with a solar system, and evaluating homeowners' electricity bills. The process is rigorous and can take up to three months to complete with 200 site visits to 50 homes, Rive said.

Targeting big energy consumers
The cost of a typical five-kilowatt system translates into about $9 a watt, Rive said. SolarCity can shave off about $1.50 per watt by selling in bulk, which brings the cost down to $7.50 a watt, before state rebates and federal tax incentives.

Federal and state incentives are a key part of the discount program. After deducting state rebates and federal tax incentives -- which pay for about 25% of a residential solar system in California -- homeowners in California working with the discount program have paid around $24,000 on average for a system, Rive estimated.

The California Energy Commission hosts a that allows California residential and commercial electric customers use a ZIP code to generate an estimate of the costs and benefits of investing in a solar system.

A report from Navigant Consulting released in September concluded that "the combination of California incentives, more aggressive [photovoltaic] system price reductions and new business models can have a significant impact on market adoptions."

California utilities use a multitiered pricing system for electricity that means the more electricity homeowners use the higher the rate they pay for electricity. Power prices range from 11.4 cents to 36.4 cents per kilowatt hour. This is why SolarCity employees assess the utility bills of interested homeowners to see if they are above average: higher power bills and a higher price for power is likely to shorten the payback period for a solar investment.

"In the Bay area you have homes with six computers that are always on," Rive said. "There are other parts of California that have tremendous huge air conditioning demand."

Terri Steele, spokeswoman for the California Center for Sustainable Energy, agreed that solar is being marketed to homeowners "with large homes, a couple of SUVs in the driveway" and not to the "most energy conscious"' consumers.

If an intense assessment indicates a town is right for solar, SolarCity gives the community a deadline to sign up the needed number of homes.

Mountain View residents had little trouble meeting the target. "It was pretty darn easy," said Bruce Karney, a resident who spearheaded the local buyers group. Karney now works for SolarCity as part of the team that markets and sells solar systems to other communities.
Karney acknowledged that the decision to go solar can be a significant one for many families. "It's a relatively expensive purchase. It's like buying a car," he said.

But Karney also noted that communities with high-price housing may find it a little easier to swallow the initial investment when it represents a small portion of the total value of a home. In Mountain View, the cost of a solar system is less than 2% of the cost of the average home, Karney said.

"The return on investment differs almost for every customer," said Rive, who estimates that SolarCity customers see a return investment of between 8% and 17% .

Boom in solar use
California was a natural focus for SolarCity. The sun-drenched state is the leading solar market in the U.S., representing 73% of the systems tied into the U.S. power grid in 2006.
In 2006, U.S installation of solar photovoltaic devices jumped 33% from the previous year, according to a 2007 report from Solarbuzz, LLC.
The solar boom in California is a result of the California Solar Initiative, a ten-year, $2.1 billion solar incentive program for existing residential homes and commercial buildings launched in 2007.

A new report released by the California Public Utilities Commission says solar "demand is booming." CPUC launched the California Solar Initiative on Jan. 1 with a goal of creating 3,000 megawatts of new, solar-produced electricity by 2017. The program has a budget of $3.3 billion over 10 years.

In the first nine months of 2007,requests for California Solar Initiative incentives "are on track to exceed California's total installed solar from the previous 26 years," according to the report.
Disregarding applications that have been withdrawn or rejected, the program has received 5,109 applications for 160.5 megawatts of demand, worth $320 million in incentives. Residential applications dwarf all others (4,564 applications) and comprise 13% of the total megawatts in the active applications.

As of Sept. 18, there are 1,157 projects installed and operating, and that have either received payment or are about to be paid. The installations add 9.4 megawatts of new solar capacity and total $25 million in rebates.

But California's rebates step down over time and as this happens company discounts like those offered by SolarCity are likely to become more important to customers looking for a price break. "The faster you convert the better your rebate," said Steele.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Berkeley Mayor Proposes Innovative Approach for Financing Solar

Mayor Tom Bates of Berkeley has just proposed a very interesting idea: city financing of solar and energy efficiency investments paid for over 20 years through a tax assessment on the property being improved. See this press release for more details.

Say you want to buy a $20,000 solar PV system. The city pays the contractor and places a tax assessment on your property for 20 years at a rate of $1,500 per year (or something like that). The $30,000 that you will pay includes $20,000 of principal and $10,000 of interest. (This example assumes that the interest rate is 4.5%.)

If I understand the proposal correctly, the homeowner's tax payments are tax deductible (if he itemizes), unlike an ordinary loan in which only the interest paid is deductible (and there are limitations on the deductibility of interest). [Update: according an e-mail from Cisco de Vries in the mayor's office, the tax payments are deductible from your California tax return but not Federal. He didn't explain why the deductibility varies.]

If homeowners can get low interest (because the loan is secured by the taxing power of the city) and better deductibility of interest, it would revolutionize solar financing and potentially many other capital-intensive (but sensible) investments in renewable energy and conservation.

Kudos to Mayor Bates and his Chief of Staff Cisco de Vries!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Solar Water Heater Incentives Go Into Effect 1/1/2008

The Governor recently signed AB 1470, a bill authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman. It's titled "Solar Water Heating and Efficiency Act of 2007."

The bill establishes a framework for a 10-year program of declining incentives for solar water heating that is similar to the "Million Solar Roofs" initiative, passed in 2006, that has lit a fire under the solar photovoltaic market. The bill covers the use of solar thermal devices to provide domestic hot water and to heat homes, but specifically excludes solar pool heating - see article 2861(h).

One thing that is not yet clear is how big the incentives will be. The stated goal is to encourage 200,000 systems, and the budget for the program will be no more than $250,000,000. That means that the average incentive can be as much as $1,250. However, the incentives are also supposed to decline, just like PV incentives. That implies that incentives in the first year of the program (2008) could be $2,000 or even more. In the recent past the California incentives for solar hot water were $750.

Given that the typical price of a solar hot water system (including installation) is usually $5,000 - $6,500, and the fact that such systems are eligible for a 30% federal tax credit, the cost of installing a solar domestic hot water system in 2008 could be as low as $2,100.

Here's the math:

$5,000 initial cost
-$2,000 state incentive (estimate)
$3,000 out of pocket
-$ 900 (30% Federal Tax Credit)
$2,100 net cost

That's about twice what I paid recently to buy a conventional 30 gallon storage water heater and have it installed. The ROI on such a system would be high and the payback period low.

Unless I'm missing a big piece of the picture, it sounds like the prudent thing to do is to schedule your solar hot water site evaluation for late 2007 and arrange for installation in early 2008. Unless Congress gets its act together and passes an energy bill that the President will sign, current federal tax credits for solar will drop from 30% to 10% at the end of 2008.

Thanks to Kurt Newick of Horizon Energy Systems for his assistance with the details of this posting.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Congratulations to Al Gore

On Thursday, Oct. 11 we saw Al Gore speak in Cupertino. He gave a shortened and updated version of "the slideshow" from An Inconvenient Truth. The most chilling new slide was one that showed the degree of melting of the Arctic ice cap this September. Normally, the ice cap shrinks to a size about equal to the lower 48 states. This summer it shrank to a size equal to the lower 48 west of the Mississippi.

Based on this, scientists now project the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in summer by 2030, not 2050 as they had projected only a few months ago.

The next morning we awoke to the news that Mr. Gore had won the Nobel Peace Prize. I hope the Supreme Court doesn't step in to take it away from him.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Installations Essentially Completed

I'm pleased to learn that virtually all the systems purchased between February and April have now been installed. This is almost one month ahead of the date we were given back in the Spring. There are still about 15 systems that are not installed because the work is being coordinated with remodelling, re-roofing, or some other factor where the delayed installation is at the customer's request.

If anyone reading this who was part of the original buying group disagrees, please contact me so I can intervene on your behalf.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

SolarCity's MV Solar Installations Reach 500 kW

One of the questions that I had when I launched the Mountain View Solar Buyers Group was: what will happen for demand for solar after the discount ends?

The discount was available to residents from Feb. 10 - April 30, 2007. During that time about 367 kW of solar was purchased from SolarCity (who I have worked for since June 5, 2007). I recently ran a report, and was pleased to find that from May 1 - Sept. 10, an additional 133 kW has been purchased from SolarCity by Mountain View residents and businesses.

At the same time, sales by other solar companies has been running ahead of last year's pace. Though SolarCity has the lion's share of the Mountain View market, other vendors are doing MORE business here in 2007 than last year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"The 11th Hour" Could Have Been So Much More

Last week I saw a preview of Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary “The 11th Hour.” It will go into wide release on August 17. The film’s website is

The message of this film is the same as “An Inconvenient Truth” – mankind is screwing up the planet and we’re just about out of time to do anything about it. However, the target audience and film’s style could hardly be more different.

DiCaprio (the narrator) and the film’s directors (Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners) are targeting 20-something and 30-something audiences. There are virtually no charts or graphs, but hundreds of quickly cut images of environmental devastation interspersed with a dizzying array of talking heads. Some are world famous, like Stephen Hawking or Mikhail Gorbachev, and most are obscure. The first 60 minutes are all about the magnitude of the challenge and the breadth of environmental degradation. In addition to focusing on global warming, the film also talks about overfishing and ecosystem collapse as well as desertification caused by destruction of rain forests.

In the final 30 minutes the film turns its focus to hope and action. Solar and wind energy are prominently mentioned, as is tidal energy. The film tiptoes around nuclear energy and does not mention any actions that would reduce or reverse overpopulation. Unlike Gore’s film, there is an explicit focus on consciousness raising and the more spiritual side of the transformative journey that lies ahead. The film advocates shopping locally and consuming less. The concept of frugality is explored.

Missing from the film is any explanation of the personal commitments or lifestyle changes that Leo or any of the other environmental experts have made themselves. The same right wing criticisms that Gore has endured over his home’s electric bill are likely to come flying toward DiCaprio and others associated with this new film. There is also a surprising lack of focus on how Europeans (and others) live well using one-half to one-third as much energy per capita as Americans. You will hear nothing in this film about the success that Nordic countries or Germany have had in converting to renewable energy.

My guess is that this movie will not attract the attention or critical acclaim that “An Inconvenient Truth” did unless Warner Independent puts a ton of marketing money behind it – an unlikely event. If I’m right, the film will be out of most theaters by mid-September and available on video by Christmas.

This film will advance the environmental cause, but it’s not going to be the blockbuster I was hoping for. I encourage you to see it and decide for yourself if it will move people to action who may never have seen, or been unimpressed by, Gore’s film.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Map of Mountain View Solar Installations

The pictue above shows the location of homes with solar systems sold by SolarCity in Mountain View and adjacent areas. What a great picture!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mountain View is #3 Solar City in the Bay Area

Back on April 3 I reported on a survey about residential solar adoption around the state. Yesterday, the NorCal Solar Energy Association released a new study that ranked Bay Area cities in various aspects of solar adoption. Unlike the previous study, this one combined large scale commercial solar (like Google and Microsoft) with residential.

Of cities with more than 50,000 population, Mountain View ranked third in watts per capita. The top 5 large cities were:

1. Napa 43 watts/capita
2. Pleasanton 36
3. Mountain View 34
4. San Rafael 33
5. Santa Rosa 28

We came in #8 in terms of total installed watts for cities of any size. The figures for this category:

1. Oakland 6.0 megawatts
2. San Francisco 4.5
3. Santa Rosa 4.3
4. San Jose 3.7
5. Napa 3.2
6. Hayward 3.1
7. Pleasanton 2.4
8. Mountain View 2.4
9. Vacaville 2.3
10. San Rafael 1.8

About 80-85% of the installed capacity comes from Google and Microsoft, but those of us who participated in the Solar Buyers Group should feel proud of our contribution too.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Installations are accelerating

The pace of installations is accelerating. The status of the 130 SolarCity customers in Mountain View is as follows:

Installation complete: 54
Installation in progress: 35
Permitting: 41

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Summer Solstice Potluck

The article in today's Mountain View Voice about the Summer Solstice Potluck reminded me that I haven't posted anything here in almost a month. That's because my new job as Community Programs Marketing Manager at SolarCity has been keeping me really busy. This is my first job with a start-up, and the pace is as hectic as I've heard it would be.

Community programs like Mountain View's have become incredibly popular, and we now have them running in Berkeley/Rockridge, Castro Valley, Rocklin, San Carlos, Menlo Park/Atherton, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and the Willow Glen/Cambrian Park/Rose Garden neighborhoods of San Jose. Oh, and there's also the Stanford program, which covers not only houses on Stanford land but also the homes of all Stanford faculty and staff within a 15 mile drive of Hoover Tower. And more to come soon! You'll find the complete list at

Getting back to the subject of the potluck picnic -- it was really a wonderful evening and a great way for new solar system owners to share shop talk and ask questions of each other as well as the SolarCity employees who were there. About half a dozen installers were there along with an equal number from the marketing and management team.

Our own experience as solar owners has been going very well. We've had outstanding sunny mild weather for the last two months which is ideal for solar power production. Our 2.1 kW AC system is generating about 14.5 kWh per day, and we're only using about 10.2 kWh. The rest is being "banked" for our wintertime use, and my guess is that we will truly find a year from now that we have lowered our electricity bill to zero (except, of course, for the $5 or 6/month that PG&E charges for reading our meter and providing us with a connection to the grid).

It's a great feeling to know that our home's power is provided by free range organic photons streaming in from the sun. Instead of just heating up our shingles, they're powering our home! ;)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

My New Job at SolarCity

The post below is something I have sent to everyone on the MVSolar Yahoo!Group:

Organizing the MV Solar Buyers Group was one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done. Once the sign-up period ended on April 30, I just didn't want to stop.

So, in mid-May I approached SolarCity about joining them as a Marketing Manager for their community programs. My goal is to take what I had learned in Mountain View and share it with Solar Champions in other cities and neighborhoods. It seemed to me that this would combine my passion for community work and the environment with my professional background in marketing and knowledge management.

I'm pleased to let you all know that SolarCity liked the idea and I have joined them as an employee. Today was my first day.

I want to continue to channel your feedback to SolarCity as I have been doing for the past four months. As an employee, I hope I will be even more effective in that role.

Sometime soon I will also be asking for your help in spreading the word about Community Purchase Programs to your friends in other communities where we have or soon will start programs. These include: Berkeley, Rockridge, Castro Valley, Stanford, Menlo Park, Atherton, San Carlos, Santa Monica and the Rose Garden, Cambrian Park and Willow Glen neighborhoods of San Jose.

Friday, May 25, 2007

MV Voice Article Summarizes Success to Date

In today's issue of the Mountain View Voice, an article by Daniel DeBolt summarizes the success the Buyers Group has had to date and suggests that businesses may jump on board in the last week of the program just as homeowners did at the end of April. The link to the article is at this URL and the full article follows:

Bulk-rate solar offered to local firms
Larry's Autoworks and others expected to join by month's end
by Daniel DeBolt

While the strong support from homeowners to purchase solar energy systems has made the headlines recently, there is also a program for businesses that will end May 31.

"Federal tax credits are even juicier for commercial users," said Bruce Karney, the local resident who recently organized the 117-home group buy with Solar City.

After all federal rebates and grants are factored in, Solar City says, a system worth $574,000 would cost just $133,000. Larry Moore of Larry's Autoworks said his system would cost about $300,000 before rebates, but added that it would quickly pay for itself because the shop's electrical bill is $1,800 a month.

"We're an environmental shop," Moore said. "We are the ones who started the whole environmental shop movement several years ago. Secondly it looks like in a few years we would actually lower our electric bill — we would actually be selling power to PG&E."

Karney said that unfortunately many businesses lease or rent their property, which means the long-term investment makes little sense for them.

According to Solar City, several businesses have expressed interest in purchasing up to 72 kilowatts of solar panels. If the homebuyers program is any indication, the company might see a surge of businesses sign up before the May 31 deadline.

Solar buyers group reaches 118 homes
Recent developments have caused the electrical meters at several Mountain View homes to run backwards.

Bruce Karney is one resident happily afflicted with the problem. When his solar panels were switched on two weeks ago it was a cause for celebration. Last month he managed to convince 118 home owners (double his goal) in Mountain View to muster about $15,000 each for a bulk rate on home solar panels. All 118 systems will be up and running soon, producing 345 kilowatts of energy from the sun and preventing tons of carbon dioxide emissions yearly — 5,300 tons over the panels' 30-year lifespan to be exact. It's the equivalent to taking 1,000 cars off the road for a year, Karney said.

"I couldn't be happier with the way the program has happened in Mountain View," Karney said. "By the end of the year over 2 percent of single-family homes in Mountain View will be solar. I think that's great — to go from a really unusual thing to [a situation] where almost every home owner will know someone with a solar system."

Significant federal and state tax breaks for solar panels are expected to slowly decrease over the next few years, which is what may have motivated many of the homeowners to participate in the Solar City group buy. Karney said that in total participants saved $690,000 when figured against standard prices for solar panels. Karney expects that his system will pay for itself in 15 years.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

My Trip to Santa Monica

I was invited to participate on a panel at the AltBuild Expo in Santa Monica this weekend. SolarCity is offering a new community program in Santa Monica, and offered to pay my expenses if I would fly down and talk about what's been done in Mtn. View.

The exhibits were held in a converted airplane hanger next to the Santa Monica airport, and the panelists spoke in a tent. I would guess that there were at least 500 people in attendance at the expo, and about 80 at the panel I was on. I showed an abbreviated version of the slides from my EPC presentation, and people seemed to enjoy the talk.

The most innovative company I saw at the expo was one that offers to rent reusable packing boxes made of recycled plastic. Their pricing scheme is "a buck a box a week" and they deliver the boxes to your old apartment or house and pick them up a few days later from your new one. The company is called EarthFriendlyMoving and I hope they are successful in what they are trying to do. So far they just operate in Southern California, but I think they would do very well in our part of the state.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Our System is Running!

A technician from PG&E came out today with our new digital meter, the final stage of the process of going solar. He pulled the old one out and installed the new one in just a few seconds. It took him far longer to explain how the meter works than it did to install it -- and it's not really very complicated.

After he left I flipped the switch on the inverter and... nothing happened! It turns out that the inverter waits 5 minutes to start sending power from the panels to the grid. I think it's a safety feature, but at first I didn't notice it because I was looking at the meter's display, not the inverter's, which was showing "Reconnecting in 234 seconds... 233 seconds... etc."

Once the 5 minutes had passed, the "Online" LED lit up on the inverter and the digital meter did indeed begin spinning backwards.

In about an hour I'm headed over to the MV Kiwanis club meeting to tell them about the Solar Buyers Group project. It will be nice to be able to close on what I think is a very high note!

Monday, May 7, 2007

MV Solar Buyers Group Sales History

MV Solar Buyers Group Sales History

May 7.... 117 systems and 355 kW -- The final tally is more than double our original goal
May 1.... 113 systems and 345 kW
Apr. 29.... 93 systems and 283 kW
Apr. 24.... 70 systems and 216 kW -- 23% beyond our goal of 175 kW
Apr. 10.... 49 systems and 144 kW
Mar. 31.... 43 systems and 127 kW.
Mar. 23.... 38 systems and 115.1 kW
Mar. 14.... 30 systems and 90 kW -- more than half way to the goal!
Mar. 04.... 18 systems and 51 kW
Feb. 26.... 12 systems and 37 kW
Feb. 21.... 9 systems and 27 kW

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Our System is Installed

Our system has just been installed. The work took place over parts of 3 days. The panels face the street in a tidy 6x2 array. During the day two people stopped by to watch and ask for business cards from the SolarCity crew -- a Sears delivery truck driver and a guy on a bike.

The installation crew demonstrated that the system was working, and I got to watch my meter spin backwards for a few minutes. But, alas, they then shut off the system as they have to do until it is inspected, first by the City and then by PG&E.

Later in the afternoon two neighbors came over for a tour. One of them told me that he had started a solar company in the 1980s, which was a complete surprise to me.

Elapsed time since I first heard about Portola Valley's group purchase program: 111 days.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Final Figures on Participation

117 households
355 kilowatts

Wow! Way to go, Mountain View!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Our Installation Starts Monday

Monday will be a red-letter day for two reasons. It's the last day for homeowners to sign contracts with SolarCity that will allow them to get the group discount price, and it's the day that installation of our solar system will begin.

Even though I've been working on the solar project for three months now, the phone call asking if we were ready for installation seemed like a bolt from the blue. It's hard to believe that in just 4 days we'll be solar owners.

Friday, April 13, 2007

We Did It! 175 kW of Clean Solar Power

APRIL 13 -- We did it!

Today, the number of kilowatts we've purchased just went over the 175 mark.

Dan from SolarCity wasn't able to give me the exact figure over the phone, but he says they have closed a lot of business in the last few days. Congratulations, Mountain View!

My "Guest Opinion" Column in The Voice

The local paper, The Mountain View Voice, printed the Guest Opinion column that I submitted in its April 13, 2007 issue. Here is a link to the article:

The Editor, Don Frances, has been very generous in the amount of publicity he has given to the project in his weekly column, and I appreciate being able to write the 450-word opinion column.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

First Home Goes Live

Steve and Andrea Lacy are the first of our buyers group to have their new solar system up and running and producing clean solar power. They were approved by PG&E yesterday (April 10) and Steve writes about it in this posting to the new MVSolar Yahoo! Group. Congratulations Steve and Andrea!

Monday, April 9, 2007

ABC News and "Fast Company" Pick Up the Story

Today I was part of a group of about a dozen people who were photographed for an article about SolarCity and its Community Power Program that will appear in Fast Company magazine. The photo shoot was at Mary and Chris Dateo's house near Cuesta Park. Their solar system is nearly installed, and the photo included the community champions for Menlo Park and Atherton as well as Twana and me, Mary and Chris, and several Solar City employees.

{Later -- the story and photo appeared on Page 37 of the June, 2007 issue of Fast Company. Unfortunately for our 15 minutes of fame, we were cropped out of the photo. Darn!}

While waiting for the photographer to set up, Nicole from SolarCity told me that the company had been featured on Friday, April 7 in a segment of the national ABC News. I've added a link to it in the "Media" section of the blog.

I also sent in my Guest Editorial to the Mountain View Voice. It will appear this coming Friday.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Congresswoman Eshoo Supports Bill to Enhance Tax Breaks for Solar

About a week ago I e-mailed Senators Boxer & Feinstein and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo about a pair of bills that would dramatically expand and extend the federal tax credit for Solar Power and other forms of renewable energy. The House Bill is H.R. 550 and the Senate Bill is S. 590. The impact of this bill would be enormous. It would raise the federal tax credit for a typical 3 kilowatt solar system from $2,000 to $9,000 !! If this sounds like a law you'd like to see passed, write to Senators Boxer and Feinstein and see if they will co-sponsor S. 590!

Here's the reply I got from Congresswoman Eshoo. The reason why this bill is so appealing is highlighted in red. The bill would be retroactive to cover systems installed after Dec. 31, 2006.

Dear Bruce,

Thank you for contacting me about H.R. 550. I'm a cosponsor of this bill, the Securing America's Energy Independence Act of 2007.

I believe Congress must provide incentives to encourage the development of sustainable sources of energy and I'm a strong supporter of legislation that expands federal investments in renewable sources of energy. H.R. 550 amends the Internal Revenue Code to extend until 2016 energy tax credits for those who choose to utilize or install solar and fuel cell technologies at their businesses and homes. It raises the credit for residential solar power equipment to $1,500 per half kilowatt of capacity and it removes the caps on the maximum credit that can be claimed by home owners and businesses that install photovoltaic equipment. The tax credits may also be applied against a taxpayer's alternative minimum tax liability.

I will do everything I can to see that this bill is enacted into law and I will continue to work to encourage the widespread use of efficient and renewable sources of energy. Adopting sustainable energy policies will help us meet the challenges of global climate change, provide greater energy security, and offer economic opportunity to emerging energy providers.


Anna G. Eshoo
Member of Congress

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

San Rafael Had the Most Residential Solar in 2006

Steve Lacy sent me an interesting link on the Northern California Solar Energy Association's (NCSEA) site. It's a table that shows the cities that are "most solar" as measured on the basis of watts per capita of residential-sized system.

The data that NCSEA analayzed included all systems of less than 15 kW installed from 1998 through May 31, 2006. (15 kW is five times larger than a typical Mountain View solar system, but is about right for a large home in a hot climate like Fresno.) The data showed that San Rafael was the leader with 9.41 AC watts per capita of residential solar. Mountain View was not one of the top 10 cities last year.

I was able to tap into the same data source that NCSEA used, and found that as of 5/31/2006 Mountain View had installed 222.4 kW of residential-sized solar systems. Our population is about 73,000, so that put us at 3.05 watts per capita, roughly 1/3 as much as in San Rafael.

Another 44 kW was installed between 5/31/2006 and the start of the SolarCity program, so if we assume that SolarCity participants sign up for 200 kW, then by 5/31/2007 Mountain View will be home to a total of 466 solar kW.

When NCSEA releases their 2007 figures our solar watts per capita will be about 6.4. That still trails where San Rafael was a year ago, but it should be good enough to get us into the Bay Area Top 10 for cities with a population of over 50,000.

But if you add in the 1,600 kW that Google is installing, the 480 kW that Microsoft brought online in 2006, and the 90 kW from the new City parking structure, then I think that Mountain View has to be THE most solar medium or large city in Northern California, based on watts per capita.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Recap of Today's Meeting at Google

This afternoon Lyndon Rive of SolarCity and I were invited to make a presentation about the Solar Buyers Group at Google. Steve Lacy (a member of the Buyers Group) was our host.

As you may know, Google is currently installing 1,600 kW of solar panels. Some of them are being built as shade structures in the parking lot, and I parked near one of them. It looks like it's almost ready to hook up to the grid. The panels were not tilted, but were parallel to the parking lot. This probably makes for a very simple installation and minimizes problems with wind loading.

There were about 40 Googlers at the meeting, and, as you might expect, they asked very good questions. I think several of them will buy systems. There were many others in attendance who don't live in Mountain View -- I hope they will become advocates for solar in their home communities.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You CAN Afford to Go Solar

I got a note from Eve Carlson who had a suggestion about what the really good news is about going solar -- you can do it with no money down! Read what Eve has to say...

"Try to get the media who cover this (and SolarCity) to "lead" with the really good news that many people can make this change WITHOUT any change in their current costs. I was hoping for that, but found it very hard to find any information that spoke to that when I searched around the Solar City web site or read your blog or articles in the papers. I think many people think they cannot afford a solar system or don't want to "pay up front" for it. I know there are a lot of variables that determine cost, but a simple way to show people what is possible is to give an "example" such as our house.

How you can keep your electricity costs the same and eliminate your electric bill in nine years!

One 2000 square foot house in MV with good sun exposure and a monthly electric bill of $150-$200 (900-1000 Kwh) got an estimate of $17,000 for a system that would eliminate all but $22 of our electricity costs. With monthly payments about the same as the usual electric bill ($212), a home equity loan for $17,000 with a rate of 7% would take 9 years to payoff."

OK, thanks Eve for sharing your numbers with the rest of us. My guess is that as a result of going solar you will find ways to eliminate the last 200 KWH per month and by 2008 your electric bill will be essentially zero!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

First 2 Systems Now Being Installed

I bumped into my neighbor Lenny Siegel today near Mercy-Bush Park. (I was walking, he was biking. Very environmentally friendly of us!)

Lenny said that his system has just been installed, and he is now waiting for the City inspection. That's the first installation that I know of, though I've heard that the Lacy family, who live very near Lenny, are slated for an installation tomorrow or Monday.

We have just scheduled our visit from a field engineer to do the technical design of our system and inspect our existing electrical service and circuit breaker box. He will be here on April 4.

A Note of Satisfaction

This is a copy of a letter that Chris Dateo sent to Lyndon Rive, the CEO of SolarCity. It is posted here with Chris' permission.

March 22, 2007

Dear Lyndon,

My wife Mary and I had been looking at solar power for our home for a few years now, and we were very interested in the program your company had offered to Portola Valley. Indeed when we saw that Bruce Karney had contacted your company and helped bring it to Mountain View, we made sure that we attended the first community meeting at the new Senior Center. [You might recall, I was the gentleman that asked why your marketing seemed to target sizing systems at less than 100% usage, and why not above? ROI is important, I agree, but reducing carbon footprint and our environmental future are even more so!] We signed up and received a call to schedule a site evaluation within a few days.

To this point, we have been nothing but satisfied. Our sales rep Paul came out twice within a few days, and answered all our questions (I am a Ph.D. scientist and I have had many) and has continued to be very responsive via e-mail and phone. Dave (sorry did not get his last name or e-mail), the engineer that came out to our site after we had signed up, was also very informative and helpful, and Cameron who appears to have taken the information from Dave, has been very great at working with us with coming up with a design and answering yet more questions. I have also received an e-mail from PG&E that indicated that we would be receiving a Confirmed Reservation Notice soon, so looks like things are moving along.

I also belong to the Cuesta Park Neighborhood Association which has a fairly extensive (over 300 members and growing) Yahoo Group. There has been some discussion from a few people with regards to poor responsiveness from Solar City and fears that they have overextended themselves. I have been able to respond to these with confidence that the former has not been the case with us, and feel pretty good that the team we have been working with will come through for us when installation is scheduled.

Just wanted to pass this information along. Thus far we are very happy customers. Paul, Dave, and Cameron (and I am sure that there are several folks behind the scene) have all been doing a great job. Thank you also for helping make this happen. I hope Mountain View is able to surpass Portola Valley, not only for a better ROI, but for a step towards a better planet.

Chris Dateo
Montalto Drive
Mountain View, CA 94040

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Who Will Get the $5,000 Discount?

If you have attended any of the information meetings, you know that SolarCity announced that it is giving a $5,000 discount to one of its first 30 Mountain View customers. They did this to incent customers to sign up sooner rather than at the last minute, as happened in Portola Valley. A random drawing will select the family that will receive the discount.

Well, the incentive seems to have worked. The first 30 customers signed up in the period between Feb. 10 and March 16, a rate of a little less than one customer per day.

The drawing to determine the lucky winner will take place at the final informational meeting. It will be held on Tuesday, April 17 from 7 - 8 p.m. at the MV Community Center, 201 S. Rengstorff Ave.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Solar Group Makes TV News

Twana and I were interviewed this afternoon by Tony Russomanno of KPIX (Channel 5) about the Solar Buyers Group. The segment aired on the 6 PM news.

This was exciting for us. We've both appeared on shows on the local Mtn. View cable access TV station in the past, but this is the first time either of us have appeared on a major station.

I've transcribed the segment, which lasted about two minutes. I don't know how long the link to the online video will be available -- maybe a week or two.

Transcribed from

Ken Bastida: Well, from toilet paper to mayonnaise, everyone knows you can save money when you buy in bulk, but Tony Russomanno tells us a buying co-op is letting homeowners extend those discounts to solar power.

Tony Russomanno: The cost of going solar in several peninsula cities has suddenly dropped more than 25%. Bruce Karney realized he could get a big discount if he signed up enough neighbors to buy in volume.

Bruce Karney: I’d like to leave the planet in as good a shape as I found it, and I realized that over my lifetime I’ve put a lot of greenhouse gasses into the air. I can’t directly undo the past, but I can change my behavior going forward.

Tony Russomanno: Karney’s doing things like charting his carbon footprint on the internet, and carefully tracking his electricity use.

Bruce Karney: So, this is a device called a Kill-a-Watt and it allows you to measure the number of watts that an appliance is using.

Tony Russomanno: It took some getting used to for his wife.

Twana Karney: He had strung up a clothesline in the back yard, and so instead of using the dryer he was hanging the clothes outside.

Tony Russomanno: He was drying the clothes -- he didn’t expect you to hang the clothes, did he?

Twana Karney: No, no, this is an equal opportunity household.

Tony Russomanno: But his biggest move was getting a solar power installer to agree to volume discounts. The solar discount program began in Portola Valley and spread here to Mountain View. It’s now moving on to Woodside and Menlo Park, and a public hearing is going to be held in Menlo Park on Saturday to discuss the details. An average installation will cost about $17,000 with the discount, at least $6,000 less than systems purchased individually. A salesman for a competing installer says the savings are real.

Kurt Newick (Horizon Energy Systems): I have to go out as a salesman, I have to work on each home one at a time. If you can do it in bulk you can get the neighbors together it just reduces the amount of time and overhead and expense.

Tony Russomanno: Twenty five Mountain View households have already signed up. They need 60 to get the full discount, and Karney is sure they’ll make it. He says he gets nothing out of the deal for himself.

Bruce Karney: I’m doing this for the public good.

Tony Russomanno: Oh, so he does get something. The knowledge he’s helping to save the planet. In Mountain View, Tony Russomanno, CBS-5.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Story in the Palo Alto Daily News

More good publicity for the Solar Buyers Group just appeared in the Palo Alto Daily News.

It's great to get positive press and to see that other cities (Menlo Park and Woodside) are picking up on the idea.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hey, I'm In the Merc + Well Attended Meeting

The interview I did with Sarah Tribble showed up in the Mercury News today (March 10), just in time to help publicize today's meeting. We had about 50-55 people in the audience. About 1/4 said they found about it through each of these routes: the Mercury-News article, the add in The Voice, the article in the OMVNA Newsletter, and via an e-mail.

There were lots of good questions from the audience again today. I'm really happy with the way Mountain View is responding to this opportunity!

There aren't any more public meetings currently scheduled, but I think it would make sense to have one more meeting in the first half of April. I'll talk with the folks at SolarCity about that next week.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Another Excellent Public Meeting

We had a very good turnout for tonight's meeting. Despite the wet and frigid weather, about 45 folks came to Mountain View High School tonight to hear about the Co-op. Lyndon said that 17-18 families have already signed up, which means that the Co-op is better than a quarter of the way to meeting its goal of 175kW.

He also announced something new: if a family pays an extra 10% down (which means the total downpayment would be 20% of the system cost), then they will be put in the "high priority for installation" group. This could accelerate the installation date by several months.

It was hard to gauge the audience's reaction to this. Nobody asked any questions about it. My own preference would be that the installations be done roughly in the order in which people sign up.

I was pleased to hear that SolarCity has two meetings set up specifically for business customers. These will be held at the Chamber of Commerce on March 16 and 21. The State and Federal financial incentives for businesses are better than for individuals, so I hope some medium-sized businesses will sign on to the program and get us all the $7.90/watt price.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Going Rate For Solar is $9.87

One question about SolarCity that I've gotten a lot has been some variant of "how do I know that $7.90 per AC Watt is a good price?"

It turns out that there is a very informative page on the California Energy Commission's web site that let's anyone calculate the going rate for solar in their community.

If you go to that page, scroll down, and click on "Data Showing Approved and Completed Systems After January 1, 2005" you will get access to a huge Excel file. It contains size, pricing, location, and other data for every solar project in California (including solar thermal).

I extracted the data for systems installed in Mountain View in 2006 and 2007 that were between 2 and 4 kW. The median price was $9.87/AC watt and the average price was $9.80/watt over this sample of 22 systems. The graph below shows that price/watt seems to be the same no matter how large the system is (within this narrow range of 2-4 kW.)

The graph doesn't show up as clearly as I would like in this blog, but I would be happy to share the Excel file or the image on request.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

We Bought Our Solar System Today

A busy day! I went to lunch at Rotary with Twana. She gave a 30 minute presentation explaining the idea of a carbon footprint and how we are trying to cut ours in half in the next 3 years. The audience literally gasped when they saw how large a portion of our CO2 emissions come from air travel. Twana asked for a show of hands of members of the audience: had anyone ever calculated their carbon footprint? Not a single hand was raised.

Right after lunch I met with Don Giberson from SolarCity. He brought over the paperwork so we could finally order our solar system. There were lots of papers to sign -- about as many as when we bought our last new car. I signed everything and handed him the check for the downpayment. It feels good!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Problems with Carbon Calculators

Twana and I were talking about our carbon footprint today. She couldn't believe it was as large as I said it was. I gave her the numbers I'd used in the Rotary presentation two weeks ago, and when she plugged them into the carbon calculator at The Climate Crisis web site, she got lower numbers than I had gotten from Acterra's calculator.

"OK," I thought, "this should be easy to settle. If two calculators are different, I should just be able to go to a third calculator and it would agree with one or the other of the first two."

No such luck! I spent a couple of hours checking out 7 different calculators, and there is far less consensus than there should be. I found at least two cases where there were discrepancies between the footnotes in "How we calculated the numbers" and the actual results that showed up on the screen. I'm very frustrated by this. If one of the goals of environmentalists is to cut CO2 production -- and it is -- we need to understand where to invest and how to change our behavior to do this effectively.

To give you an extreme example of how bad the discrepanices are, the Bonneville Education Foundation's calculator says that 10,000 kWh of electricity produced in California generates 3,264 pounds of CO2. But the's calculator says it produces 7,300 pounds.

The divergence for CO2 created by air travel was similarly large.


My conclusion is that Acterra's calculator is the best one that I was able to find, and it does a really good job of explaining how it comes up with the results it presents. So, I've included a link to it on the right-hand side of this blog.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Our Site Visit from SolarCity

This afternoon we had our site visit to see how big a solar system we would need and what the best place to put it would be.

Don Giberson was the guy who came out from SolarCity. I gave him a year's worth of electricity bills (actually, a year's worth of projections because the work I've done in the last few months to reduce our consumption hasn't yet been fully reflected in our actual bills). We then went up on the roof.

I had expected that the best spot for solar panels was the east-facing roof (the side away from Bush Street), but Don found some shading problems from trees two yards away, and also from the numerous vent stacks on that side of the roof. Our south facing roof is very small, and also had some shading issues from utility wires nearby.

Don said that the west-facing roof is definitely the best place for solar for us. PG&E pays more for electricity produced in the afternoon, so a southwest orientation is ideal. We'll end up paying somewhere around $10,000 for a system that will virtually eliminate our electricity bill. (I project that we will use about 5,000 kWH per year in the future.)

While we were up on the roof two neighbors came by to talk about solar. One asked Don to call her to schedule a visit to her house. Cool!

Solar Homes in Old Mountain View

Today I interviewed Bonnie Prescop for the article I am writing for the Old Mountain View Neighbhorhood Newsletter about homes with solar PV systems. There are five in the immediate area of my home. On the way back from her house to mine, I dropped off about 10 fliers at homes in the neighbhorhood that looked like they had good, unshaded solar potential.

The article will be part of the March edition of the newsletter. My current draft is pasted below. I really like the quote from Terri Petersen that closes the article.

Living La Vida Solar

There are five homes between Castro and Calderon with solar electric systems. By interviewing the solar pioneers I learned that no two solar systems – or solar families – are alike.

The first couple in the neighborhood to go solar was Philippe Habib and Heidi Cartan. They live at 526 View, and Philippe installed the 2.5 kilowatt (kW) system in 2001, which provides much of the energy needed by their family of four. They have an excellent southern exposure, but the steep pitch of their roof made the installation a physical challenge. At one time they also owned an electric truck whose batteries they recharged at night.

Julie Lovins and Greg Fowler were the next family to go solar. They purchased their 2 kW, 12-panel system in Sept. 2003 from Akeena Solar and had it installed on their east-facing roof where it catches the morning, mid-day and early afternoon sun. Julie and Greg have found that the system provides nearly all the electricity their home needs, and their annual electricity bill has been reduced to slightly more than $5/month. They note that the growth of redwood trees in neighbors’ yards is decreasing the output of the system more each year.

Steven and Bonnie Prescop at 752 Calderon were the next family to go solar in November 2003 as part of a remodel that expanded their home from 1200 to 2200 sq. ft. Their 18-panel, 2.5 kW solar array is on the south side of their addition and is invisible from the street. Bonnie runs an in-home day care business that takes a lot of electricity. Even though they nearly doubled the size of their home, their electricity bill is about half of what it was prior to their $13,000 investment in solar electricity. Steve expects the system to pay for itself in 7-10 years.

The 2.5 kW system of Jordan and Wendy Dea-Mattson (311 Jessie Lane) is also quite hard to see from the street. They had it installed by Akeena in mid-2004. Looking to the future, Jordan is very enthusiastic about the cost reductions that will occur when Palo Alto-based Nanosolar brings its new manufacturing facility in San Jose on line late this year. Nanosolar has developed a semiconductor ink can be used to make a solar cell using a simple printing process. The ink is deposited on a flexible substrate and the nanocomponents in the ink align themselves properly via molecular self-assembly.

The newest, largest and most visible solar system in the neighborhood is at 541 Bush Street, near Mercy-Bush Park. This is the home of Tim and Terri Petersen and their two daughters. Their 4.4 kW system, installed by REgrid Power, became operational on Jan. 5 of this year. Thanks to a sunny January, it produced 474 kilowatt-hours in its first four weeks of operation. The Petersens have owned their home since 1999 and paid for their system by taking some cash out when they refinanced their home last summer. Tim says that he expects the system to reduce their PG&E bills by 80-85%. The initial idea for the solar system was Tim’s, and Terri was hesitant at first. However, as Terri said when I interviewed her, “We watched An Inconvenient Truth and I stopped arguing.”

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sustainable Silicon Valley

A couple of days ago Phil Yurkonis turned me on to the Sustainable Silicon Valley mailing list. I signed up, and found out that their monthly members meeting is today. So I drove over to the newly developed area of East Palo Alto near the Four Seasons Hotel for their meeting.

There were only about 20 people there, and we each got to introduce ourselves. Several people had already heard of the MV Solar Buyers Co-op and seemed very impressed with it. I gave out some flyers about the upcoming meeting on Feb. 27.

There were two speakers, and the one I really liked was Alan Pong. His specialty is to diagnose and tune the HVAC systems in commercial buildings. He's been doing this for quite a few years for Ferreira Service, Inc. Just like George Denise's talk on Tuesday, Alan told about how he was able to find enormous savings. He described one project where the heating system AND the air conditioning system were both running most of the day, fighting each other. Until he installed data loggers and analyzed their outputs the building owners had been unaware of the situation. After all, the employees were all comfortable because the battling systems DID keep the air the right temperature. He was a really interesting guy and a very good presenter, and I hope to attend more Sustainable Silicon Valley meetings in the future.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

7 World Crises

Tonight I attended a presentation by Hermann Scheer, the author of Energy Autonomy: The Economic, Social and Technological Case for Renewable Energy. It was held at Google and sponsored by the German American Business Association (GABA). The talk was called "Toward Energy Autonomy," and is described here.

Hermann Scheer is a member of the German Bundestag (Parliament) and President of EUROSOLAR, the European organization for renewable energies. In a career devoted to the replacement of nuclear and fossil fuels with environmentally sound energy sources, Dr. Scheer has received numerous awards, including the World Solar Prize and the Alternative Nobel Prize.

He says that the world faces 7 Crises:
1. Climate crisis
2. Availability crisis for fossil fuel and uranium
3. Social crisis (collision between first world and third world needs). He pointed out that 40 countries import more oil than the value of ALL their exports. In essence, they are completely bankrupting their national economies to feed their thirst for oil, just as a junkie will do anything to obtain heroin.
4. Nuclear crisis due to weapons proliferation. "A stable society should be a prerequisite for being a nuclear nation, but many nuclear nations (Iran, N. Korea, Pakistan) are far from stable.
5. Water crisis due to unsustainably high water consumption rate of the current infrastructure. In many countries we are mining "fossil water" by tapping into ancient aquifers just as we are mining fossil fuel.
6. Health crisis due to a variety of pollutants, such as smoke from coal fired power plants in China. For example, average life expectancy in Russia has fallen significantly in the past 15 years.
7. Food crisis, due to modern agriculture's addiction to chemical fertilizers, fossil fuel, and soil loss.

He then bridged to talking about how Germany has become a leader in the deployment of wind and solar energy. He said there were 3 keys:

1. Guaranteed access to the grid for all renewable producers, whether home rooftop or major producer.
2. Guaranteed payment at a fair rate to all producers
3. No limits on the quantity of renewables introduced.

(Home owners in PG&E territory experience 1 and 2 but not 3. The amount of power we can feed the grid (and get paid for) is no larger than the amount we consume (measured in $, not kilowatt hours).

He said that Germany has added 3,000 megawatts of power each of the last 6 years and created 150,000 new jobs. He said that Germany produces 20 times more wind energy than the UK, even though the UK is windier, and that German wind energy is 30% cheaper than in the UK.

I had to leave before he took questions. I did not leave feeling good about the future of the planet. :(

Second Story in The Voice

Don Frances, the Editor of The Mountain View Voice, gave the Solar Buyers Group some really nice free publicity in his column today. He wrote:

Sunny side up

BRUCE KARNEY'S plan to bring bulk-rate solar to Mountain View — he's calling it the "Mountain View Solar Buyers Co-op" — is coming along nicely, it seems, after a huge turnout for last weekend's kickoff meeting at the Mountain View Senior Center.

"More than 220 people attended Saturday's meeting, which was more than twice as many as my most optimistic estimate," Karney wrote.

"I was particularly pleased to see individuals of all ages, from late 20s to late 70s, in the audience. It's the largest civic meeting I've been to in many years where people didn't show up because they were trying to stop a project."

Karney was inspired by the recent success of Portola Valley, which managed to strum up enough buyers — nearly twice the needed amount, in fact — to get a 30 percent discount from SolarCity, a Foster City company which installs solar arrays.

A discount of that size, Karney estimates, "brings the price of a kilowatt-hour of solar electricity down to about 10 cents — less than PG&E's lowest rate."

Not too bad. The next informational meeting will be Tuesday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Mountain View High School Theater. For more info on the company, visit

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Solar Conversations at Chamber of Commerce Mixer

It's Valentine's Day, and Twana and I went to the Chamber of Commerce monthly mixer before going to dinner. Twana won a really nice gift basket with wine, dark chololate, and other treats!

Lots of people had heard about Saturday's successful meeting. Former Mayor Mike Kasperzak told me that he and his wife Lisa just got a quote on a solar system. By coincidence, the sales rep was a young man that Mike had known for more than 25 years. I like the fact that the solar industry is creating local jobs (unlike the fosssil fuel industry). Even if the panels themselves come from outside the US (some do, some don't), the sales, installation, and administration is all done locally.

Mike O'Farrell, the President of the Chamber Board, said that he would be interested in having a presentation about the Solar Buyers Group at Palm, where Mike is the VP of Facilities. I'll definitely follow up! I think that Alison Nelson, the CEO of the Chamber, is already in touch with SolarCity and planning on setting up a special info meeting just for Chamber members.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Green Buildings at Adobe

I went to the TASC lunch today (Technology and Society Committee). Bob Kirby has been running these events for something like 20 years, and I go about four times a year. Today's speaker was George Denise. He works for Cushman and Wakefield, which manages Adobe's three high-rise buildings in San Jose.

George gave a great presentation (using no Powerpoint!) about all the amazing things he and his team have done to save energy and water and reduce solid waste. They recycle 87% of their waste stream.

He said that they invested $1.4 million, got $389,000 in rebates from PG&E and others, and generated $1.2 million/year in savings -- a payback period of less than a year.

So much energy is wasted in the US -- it's inspiring to hear from someone like George that the savings are just sitting there, waiting to be achieved -- even in a really "green" buildings like the Adobe headquarters complex.

I was able to make a short announcement about the Solar Buyers Group and hand out some fliers for the Feb. 27 meeting (7 PM at the MV High School Theater).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Live Version of "An Inconvenient Truth"

My wife Twana is one of 1000 people who have been trained by Al Gore and The Climate Project to deliver the content of An Inconvenient Truth as a live Powerpoint presentation. She went to Nashville for 3 days in January to be trained. There are about 20 others in the Bay Area who have also been trained.

Today we went to San Jose to watch John Allen deliver the material. He was trained a few months before Twana, and he did a great job getting free publicity. Mike Cassidy wrote a column about him in the San Jose Mercury News on Feb. 6.

The presentation was good, but suffered by comparison to the movie -- but that's only natural, because it was John's first time to give it in public, and Gore has given it hundreds of times. The audience ranged from ultra-environmentalists who don't drive or heat their homes to ordinary soccer moms who just want to know how to get started in energy conservation. John and his computer genius son, Eric, have created a blog to capture ideas and resources about the climate crisis.

The afternoon was interesting for me, and I think it will be very helpful for Twana as she gears up for her first live delivery of the material.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Standing Room Only at Today's Meeting!

Wow, what a great start for the MV Solar Buyers Group! I was expecting 60 people at the meeting at the Senior Center this afternoon, but 250 showed up! Jamie, the lady from the City who was staffing the door, told me that she had to turn several people away because there were no more seats available!

Almost everyone stayed through the Q&A, and there were lots of great questions. I don't know if there's any way that future meetings will top this one, but I hope they at least come close!

In one slide that Lyndon Rive (the CEO of SolarCity) showed, he said that installations could stretch out until December if the number of people signing up for the co-op is really large. Not good! I talked to him after the meeting about instituting some kind of "first to sign up, first to install" policy. He said that is a possibility. I hope so. It seems fair, and it will give people a strong incentive to take the plunge.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

My Presentation to Mountain View Rotary

Twana has been in Rotary for a couple of years, and she set it up that I could speak about the Solar Buyers Group at their meeting today. I put together a short (7-slide) PowerPoint on very short notice.

There were about 25 Rotarians at the meeting, with an average age of 60+. I thought it would be a really tough audience, but not at all! One member, an architect named Dennis Kobza, told me that he has had a solar PV system on his home for 23 years!! Another member, Bert Raphael, has had solar (with battery back-up) at his Los Altos Hills home for a few years.

The presentation went really well, and the image from the final slide had a lot of impact. The photo was published last week in the New York Times. One Rotarian came up to me afterward and said "That picture was the whole presentation! It's all you needed to show." I've copied it below. The caption I used for it was: "Ask not 'What will it cost me to do this?' Ask, rather, 'What will it cost my grandchildren if I don't do this?' "

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Great Story in the Voice

Wow, my phone call with Don Frances has really borne fruit! He gave the Solar Buyers Group a really nice write up in today's Mountain View Voice.

Here's what he wrote in his article.

Bulk rate solar
Local leads effort to hatch a deal with solar supply company
by Don Frances

Recently, dozens of property owners in Portola Valley decided to pool their numbers in an attempt to obtain solar power arrays at bulk rate. As a result, about 68 homes participated in the deal and were outfitted with power- and money-saving solar arrays — at a 30 percent discount.

Inspired by this success, local resident Bruce Karney is announcing he'd like to duplicate the idea in Mountain View, with the same solar company, and he says now is the time to strike.
Karney, a "knowledge management consultant" by trade, says the first step is to recruit as many property owners as possible to meet with the company, SolarCity, and "learn about what happened in Portola Valley." To that end, he's booked a spot at the Mountain View Senior Center for next Saturday, Feb. 10.

"SolarCity has some numbers in mind about the size of the discount they'd like to offer to the people of Mountain View," he said. According to Nicole Ratner, marketing director for SolarCity, the company is considering a similar discount for Mountain View participants — between 20 and 30 percent, depending on market rates.

In Portola Valley (and parts of neighboring Ladera), the 30 percent discount came after residents met the "threshold" amount of electricity, 175 kilowatt-hours, which SolarCity's arrays would generate. Since the average home uses about 4 kilowatt-hours, that meant roughly 44 homes were needed for SolarCity to move forward.

In the end, with the help of some local schools and other government sites, they nearly doubled that goal, Karney said. The final deal was agreed to in late December.

Now is the time for such a deal in Mountain View, according to Karney, because a tax credit for solar upgrades expires in 2007, rebates from the California Energy Commission are still worthwhile, and because "hot August days" are far enough off.

As for the threshold, Mountain View's is also set at 175 kilowatt-hours, Ratner said. Considering Mountain View's size — and the fact that this time the Foster City-based company is also courting small business owners — Ratner is hopeful the threshold will be met.

"I'd love to see it [happen]," she said. "To put Mountain View on the map."

"We started this company to bring solar to the masses," she added.

The next step, Karney said, is for interested residents to attend the meeting at the Senior Center and hear what SolarCity has to offer. At that point "the process largely shifts over to SolarCity, because they need to go out and do individual assessments," he said.

Karney imagines the next few months as a time for getting property owners on board with the idea. Sign-ups would end in April, with solar installations beginning at that time and ideally being completed sometime in July.

"Thirty percent off is enough to get most people excited no matter what it is," he said.

The meeting is in Mountain View Senior Center's Social Hall, on Saturday, Feb. 10 from 3 to 5 p.m. Karney will be there, along with SolarCity representatives and possibly some participating homeowners from Portola Valley.