Solar picks up after 2017 dip

Despite SDG&E move of peak window from day to evening

Solar customers will get highest credits when sun not at strongest.
  • Solar customers will get highest credits when sun not at strongest.

After a decline in new solar system installations in 2017, numbers are back on the rise in the first quarter of 2018, according to data released by industry data firm OhmHome.

California, which accounts for almost half of the nation's solar capacity, saw a 14 percent year-over-year growth in new residential system installations, despite changes in utility rates that make it more difficult for ratepayers to recoup the cost of their systems by reselling excess power generated during daylight hours back into the grid.

OhmHome credits rising real estate values and the emergence of on-site power storage as reasons customers are turning back to storage. Reaching out to local installers for comment it's the latter, along with the long-term downward trend in the cost of solar panels, that's driving growth.

According to stats from Go Solar California a project backed by the state's Energy and Public Utilities Commissions, the cost per watt of new solar generation stands at $4.31, down from $5.24 in 2015 and as much as $10 circa 2010.

"The average system size in San Diego is about 5,000 watts (5kW), meaning the typical cost would be $21,400 before any incentives," explained Daniel Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Solar Power. A 30 percent federal tax credit available through the end of next year, he adds, drops the net cost to under $15,000.

Battery backup, which can add another $6000 to the cost of the installation, is likely a necessary complement to new installations. Most buyers finance their system using notes ranging in length from 8-20 years, issued by specialty finance companies and some local credit unions.

"On December 1, 2017, SDG&E moved their 'on peak' window from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. to 4-9 p.m., meaning the time of day when solar customers get credited at the highest rates moved to later in the evening, when solar power isn’t shining," Sullivan continued. The change affects new solar customers dating back to mid-2016, when a "net metering 2.0" plan was implemented allowing the utility to pay different rates for excess power fed back into the grid based on the time of day it was supplied – older customers are eligible for a flat rate compensation structure.

Despite the changes to the detriment of solar, Sullivan says a system should pay for itself in three to six years.

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That was very clever of SDGE to arrange to buy excess power from homeowners and others at low rates when it is in greatest demand. Well, while evening demand is relatively high, so is afternoon demand during hot weather. A panel owner can run the AC during the afternoon from the home's rooftop supply. How can that owner send anything into the grid after dark? Ans: Can't be done. SDGE complains about peak loads on hot afternoons, yet will not use the price structure to attract more supply. Seems to make no sense, until you remember that SDGE hasn't yet figured out how to handsomely profit from having solar-owning subscribers.

The logical next step is to have one's own power storage, and store the excess being generated by the sun during the day. Then during the peak time, the evening, you use your own stored power and avoid paying the highest rates to SDGE.

Solar powered electric cars are a great idea, and best when you can charge them during the day, using your own solar panels. However, if you're not home during the day, what do you do? Stored energy in your home can be used during the night to charge the car. The big disadvantage of batteries is the cost. Other storage media are being explored for home use, but so far there's little to report.

I installed solar in 2015 and have not paid for electricity since. I send enough power to the grid during most days that I cancel out what I use in the evening/night. SDG&E also adds a $200 a year credit to my account for owning an electric car. I suppose if I had a larger home and family I would use more, but my situation is low power consumption. Moved and no longer own a backyard pool, which are energy hogs.

I’m grandfathered in (somewhat, for a while) in the standard energy rates and not time-of-use. When the recent letter was sent out to solar owners to pick a plan, I used chat to make sure I was not going to TOU and kept a copy of the online conversation. Since the “true-up” (the time you and SDG&E figure who owes who) is once a year, I don’t pay too much attention to the bill. But the last time I looked at the bill I saw what I think is a new fee; “minimum charge adjustment” of $9.54

My system is a 7.5KW system. I have read some stories in The Reader where solar professionals say the system will pay itself off in 3 to 6 years. In my case, the system will take about 9 years to pay for itself. But I also don’t know what rate increases or curve-balls for solar users SDG&E has planned for the future.

I have looked at the Tesla Powerwall and at about $7000 to buy and install, I think it would take at least 25 to 30 years to pay for itself. I simply have no use to store power since I have not been paying for any electric under the current rate structure and things would have to change quit a lot in the future to justify the investment. However, one thing to bear in mind is that after about 20 years, the solar panels are producing about 10% of what they did when they were newly installed. After 25 years, they are just large bricks on the roof. So the system degradation has to be factored in and a plan put in place to replace the panels find yourself back in SDG&E full service.

Since SDG&E has to approve new systems and upgrades to existing systems, I feel they will use the update and upgrade requests as opportunities to bring customers into the new rate structure and time-of-use. That’s what will happen when old systems are replaced they will probably not be able to keep their grandfathered rate status.

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