Welcome to the New Site

February 20, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Admin 

This blog has moved from it’s old home at a TypePad server to a new URL and server owned and managed by me.  I’ve also switched to WordPress.

The new URL is http://marktime.org/smithelectricco/

Please update any blogrolls or links within your sites.  I will be using Google to find links to the old site and I will contact you if I find an old link to ask you to update it.

Thanks, and welcome to the new home!

In the next week or so, I plan to update the yearly totals for the solar power system, and write a quick update on my Toyota Highlander hybrid.  The short version – both are great!

Avalanche!

December 12, 2005 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Solar Energy 

Last week, it snowed a lot.  A trace the previous Friday.  2.5 inches on Monday morning.  Then 3 inches on Friday morning followed by rain.  We’ve gone over a week with no solar production because every panel is at least partially blocked by snow.

Sunday, I was sitting in my home office on the 2nd floor working.  Suddenly I hear a LOUD scraping sound from the roof.  I ran downstairs to find out what happened.

The snow that had been completely covering the bottom row (of 3) of panels let loose all at once.  It fell from the roof to the ground.

Later I discovered that the snowfall took out most of our Christmas lights on the bushes.  They were torn off of the bushes and buried under 3-8 inches of snow.  One string was permanently ruined because of a wire pulled out of one of the plastic sockets.  We replaced it with a smaller unused string.  We’ve also left the whole thing unplugged last night and today so that the sockets can dry out.

I’m a little worried about a portion of the gutter that is sagging a bit – I’m hoping it will pop back up as the snow inside melts.

This didn’t happen last year – even in the 10-inch storms.  Of course, those were drier storms and the snow tended to blow off the panels.  I guess it took a small, very wet snow to cause this.

I’m still a bit nervous – the snow on the top 2 levels was still there last night.  Of course, it was only covering 50% of some of the panels and very little of the rest.

At least we’ll get some power today.

My Hybrid Vehicle Shopping Experience

August 12, 2005 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Hybrid Vehicles 

It’s been a while since I wrote about hybrid vehicles.  Too long – I need to update my readers.

Back in May or June, I test-drove a Ford Escape Hybrid.  This is a small SUV – about the size of a RAV4 or so.  It’s a hybrid, so the engine does stop at stop signs and such.  I drove it on a rainy day with reasonable temperatures (actually a little cool).

I discovered that it’s small.  Really small.  Like – if you have the back seat up there’s barely enough room behind it for groceries.  I also found it underpowered – when getting onto I-95 I floored it.  The engine revved up extremely loudly and at a high pitch and it still was lacking in “safe merging onto an NJ highway” power.  We headed back and I discovered that the wait for an order was 6 weeks.  I left – this was not the vehicle for me.

I had been planning to look at the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, but at the time I was told that the local dealers wouldn’t have any available THIS YEAR unless I already had a deposit down.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago.  I checked again with Team Toyota in Langhorne, PA.  They listed 5 in stock on their website (actually, some were reserved already).  I set up an appointment for last Monday to take a test drive with my wife.  She would come out to Langhorne from home and meet me at work.

We got there about 5:00pm.  It took a few minutes to find the Internet salesman.  After talking for a few minutes, he went out and got the one Highlander Hybrid 4WD that they had.

Only one was actually available and it wasn’t a configuration that I wanted (white, no navigation system).  I test drove that one.

The test drive was in light/moderate rain (better than the downpours we had earlier in the day). The salesman went and got it from the lot and only took 60 seconds or so from the time I saw him disappear to when he pulled up
with the HH. The ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) was not running when I got in. I was able to back it out of the spot, drive it down the hill, and into the gas station (it was almost empty) without the ICE firing up. After it was gassed up, we drove off.

I noticed that acceleration was smoother than I’ve ever felt in any car – no power/acceleration drops for shifts. It felt almost linear.  Braking had the usual new car grab to it. The display showed that it was taking power to the battery, but I couldn’t feel it. It rained hard enough that I couldn’t hear the engine starting or stopping – it was really quiet.

When we entered the highway I intentionally floored it. It has more pickup than my 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 and I actually had to back off to avoid running into somebody in traffic. The engine wound way up when I floored it, but it was just audible – in the Ford Escape the same noise was overpowering.

So, it drove like my Jeep but a bit better – more car-like if anything. I had already determined that the interior/exterior/features were to my liking from an earlier test drive of a non-hybrid Highlander.

I bought the HH 4WD-i Ltd with Nav. The accessories on this one include port-added floor mats. I got it in Silver with Ash interior. I will be paying MSRP minus a $200 savings coupon on the dealer’s website (to their chagrin they agreed to honor it). Because I’m a Tier 1 Plus credit risk, they agreed to match my credit union’s 5.5% for 60 months.

The vehicle is scheduled to arrive early next week and I should be able to pick it up about 24 hours later. The Jeep is being traded in.

The Highlander Hybrid has a “Hybrid Synergy Drive”.  The engine is connected via a Continously Variable  Transmission (no gear shifts) to the front wheels, and also to a generator for the batteries.  There are also two electric drive motors on the front wheels and one for the rear axle (making it a 4WD).  The computer figures out whether or not the engine is required and what RPM to run it at and where to get the power from.  Extra power from the engine or power generated by braking is routed back to the battery, and when the engine is off or additional power is needed, it is supplied from the battery.  It will drive as fast as 25MPH on just the battery, and the engine shuts off at stops or long downhill stretches.

More later when I actually have the vehicle.

One Year – Let’s Run the Numbers

July 21, 2005 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Solar Energy 

This is the first anniversary of the first successful meter reading by PSE&G after activating the panels.  That means that we can run the numbers.

All values are kWh.  This year’s date is 7/21/2005 – last year was 7/21/2004.

Inverter 1 This Year:  4279  Last Year:  677  Total Inverter 1:  3602

Inverter 2 This Year:  3544  Last Year:  565  Total Inverter 2:  2979

Total Solar Generation:  6581

Meter Out This Year:  8724  Last Year:  1365  Total Bought:  7359

Meter In This Year:  4823  Last Year:  564  Total Sold:  4259

Net Metering Purchase:  3100

Total Electricity Use = Total Solar Generation – Total Sold + Total Bought = 9681

Solar Generation Percentage = Total Solar Generation / Total Electricity Use = 68.0%

Our installer predicted that we’d generate 2/3 of our usage.  He was pretty much dead on – the real numbers are just a smidge better than that.  Additionally, we reduced our utility demand by that much – reducing utility pollution.

When it comes to dollars, we actually did better than these numbers show.  PSE&G rates increase above 600 kWh per month in the summer.  Our usage allows us to avoid going over 600 kWh net purchase per month, avoiding the higher rates.

Our savings works out this way:

Green Mountain Energy Supply Charge: $0.07508 / kWh

PSE&G Delivery Charge:  $0.0.30305 / kWh (the lowest rate – it’s higher above 600 kWh in the summer and higher in the winter as well at $0.0384/kWh)

Total Rate:  $0.10539 / kWh

Our Savings:  $693.57 for one year

That would produce a 23 year payback but with the added $1251 from the sale of the SREC, it’s a 8.5 year payback.

And the air is cleaner.

SREC Sale Completed

July 2, 2005 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Solar Energy 

Well, my SREC’s for 2004-2005 sold.  I got a check in the mail yesterday for $208.55 for each of 6 SREC’s.

Considering that I was offered anywhere from $115 to $150 by the big guys (Sharp, Mainstay) in the last month, it seems that I did the right thing holding out for a better offer.

That check takes a year off my payback!  If this rate holds up, my payback will drop from 16 years to 8 years!

One question – please reply in Comments.  Is SREC income taxable for Federal or NJ purposes?  I’m assuming that it is, but I’d like to hear from someone who has done some research.

NJ Solar Rebate Changes

June 15, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Solar Energy 

The NJ Clean Energy Program changed some of the rules for the solar PV rebate program.  The changes can be found HERE.

One small change is how the rebate is figured.  The rebate used to be based on the lesser of $5.50 per watt or 70% of the total invoice from the vendor.  Now, it’s based on $5.30 per watt.  Supposedly, this is intended to foster price competition among installers.  For me, based on my installer’s charges, it would have cost me about $900 more – I guess my installer was more expensive than most.  I suspect that my installer will eat the decreased rebate rather than lose business.

They also want an “electric bill showing yearly usage”.  Now, PSE&G doesn’t produce that.  I suppose you could produce two bills a year apart, but the only way I’ve ever gotten yearly usage from PSE&G is via screen prints from their billing system.

They also want a copy of the Completed Interconnection Agreement before they’ll pay the rebate.  In my case, the rebate was paid even though PSE&G forgot to sign and return the agreement.  I wonder how this works with the new BPU rules that state that the system can be activated if the utility doesn’t reply within 2 weeks.

They’ve also added an inspection charge beyond the first 2 inspections by the state inspector.  My installation only required one inspection, but I guess lower quality work might require multiple inspections.

One Year Later

June 15, 2005 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Solar Energy 

On June 14, 2004 in the late afternoon we turned on our system for good.  We haven’t thrown the breakers since.

Tomorrow I’ll give you statistics on energy produced by the system.  I believe that the total is about 6,300 kWh.  I don’t have numbers on our home’s usage for the year – the first good meter reading after installation was July 2004 (PSE&G botched the June reading), so I’ll come back with more details later.

The system has been completely maintenance free.  We do write down the production numbers every night for our interest, but there’s no reason to do so.  The system just hums along in the basement when the sun is shining.

The only minor annoyance is that the system disrupts AM radio.  We hear what sounds like R2D2 perking away behind the radio station when the system is active.  That is not usually a problem – we only listen to AM radio in the morning – but when production is high it does overpower the station sometimes.

We’ve only had one indirect complaint from a neighbor – a co-worker who knows a neighbor reported that they sometimes get sun reflected onto the front of their house in the morning.  They haven’t approached us.  I suspect that this will get better over time as the glass on the panels gets less smooth (though we’ll lose some power at that point as well).

Would I do it again?  YES.  No question about it – this helps the environment and saves us electricity costs in the long run.  One unexpected savings is in air conditioning – the panels block the morning sun from reaching our attic and therefore our cooling requirements are lessened.  For that reason alone, I’d love to put an array on the back of the roof as well.

Selling SREC’s

May 19, 2005 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Solar Energy 

This month marks the end of the fiscal year for Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SREC) in NJ.

Each solar facility creates one SREC for every 1MWh of electricity that they generate.  NJ utilities are required to meet a requirement that a particular percentage of their total power generation comes from NJ-based solar sources.  If they fail to do so, they pay a penalty that’s the equivalent of $300 per SREC.  Other companies (out-of-state utilities, green power companies) purchase NJ SREC’s and Green Tags from other states to back their renewable energy label.

As an example – my system generated 6 SRECs this past year (and may eke out a 7th at the end of the month).

The problem for small producers like us is this:  we’re just too small for large companies to do the paperwork and buy directly.  Enter the aggregator or broker.  These folks purchase SREC’s (and other things like pollution credits) from producers and sell them to buyers.  You won’t get the full value selling to a broker, but you will likely be able to sell them.

I sold mine yesterday to a broker for a minimum $200 per SREC, minus a 3% commission.  They will now try to sell them to a buyer for at least $200 each, and I will get paid what they sell it at minus the commission.  If they fail to sell by the end of July, the certificates will be transferred back to me.  At that point, I’ll probably retire them.

Next year, there’s talk of a bunch of us little guys banding together to sell directly to a renewable energy company.  It’s good to make a few bucks off the greenness of your power – it’s much better to support the green power industry while doing so.

Now you may ask – why the gap between $200 and $300?

I’ve heard several explanations.

  1. The cost of the SREC purchase process has to be paid for somehow – that’s where the margin comes in.  This is especially true for brokers.
  2. The NJ utilities have already built the penalty into customer rates.  There’s no reason for them to bust their tail buying SREC’s.  If they do, they save money.  It’s in their best interests to buy low.  (I don’t know how true this is, but I have heard it.)
  3. Green tags from out of state are cheaper (this is true) – running about $100-150 per MWh.  I believe that this requirement was shot down by the state BPU’s recent amendments requiring that NJ SREC’s must be used to satisfy the requirement.

At any rate, I never expected to be able to sell SREC’s when I installed the system.  For each year that I can sell SREC’s at about this rate, I take one year off the time to pay back my costs.  Now, my 16-18 year payback is one year shorter.

And I just made $1200 for doing nothing that I wasn’t already gonna do.

PSE&G Billing – some sad news

April 21, 2005 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Solar Energy 

I just got off the phone with the PSE&G Customer Service folks, since I hadn’t gotten my corrected bill for last month.

If you’ve noticed that the corrected bills for the Southern NJ area have been slow or missing, it’s probably because the person handling the corrected billing, Bob Honey, died suddenly a few months ago.  They have a new person working on it.  That’s too bad – he did a really good job with it when the billing system remembered to forward the uncorrected bill to him (which wasn’t often for me).

Supposedly, they were going to have the net metering billing automated by the 2nd quarter of this year.  I asked the CSR to add a question about that to my query about last month’s bill.  I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

A Spring Update

April 6, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Hybrid Vehicles, Solar Energy 

It was recently pointed out to me that this site hasn’t been updated recently.  Time to fix that with a few little notes.

Power production is up as expected now that spring is here.  We’re getting about 30kWh on sunny days.  Of course, if you get 2.5 inches of rain and the Delaware has a 50-year flood, you produce nothing.  (The flood didn’t affect the house – just my commute.)

We still have not sold our SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits).  My wife and I are leaning towards NOT selling them, based on the premise that this will force utilities to pollute less.  We’d retire them instead.  A reader points out that we could sell them to renewable companies and help the environment.  Right now, the highest offer that we’ve received (unsolicited for the most part) was $150 each.  Reportedly $175 is the going price now – I expect it to continue to climb until near the end of the SREC fiscal year in a few months.

I’m also in the hunt to buy a hybrid car – probably a Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV.  So far no local dealers are willing to take my deposit – though one dealer thinks he’ll be able to accommodate me in a month or so.  I plan to write more about that quest and the final results here, and therefore I’ve started a new category.

That’s all of the news for now.  Once I get a full year under my belt, I plan to write up the full statistics on my solar usage and production.

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