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!