With a Solar House I don’t expect a $250 electric bill, but I got one.
The month of September wasn’t foggy. I sold my hot tub and don’t drive my electric car anymore. My electric bill went up almost 10 fold. This isn’t something you expect in a house that has more solar than it needs. So what happened.
The Renewables Push
Sacramento has been pushing hard for a 100% enable energy future. The governor even signed a bill to phase out the sale of new petroleum powered cars. This scares two big players in the energy sector at the same time. Big utilities and big energy. Many states and the federal government offered incentives for people to put solar panels on their homes and buy electric cars. I did both.
The big energy companies that make up “the grid” realized that if solar goes in faster than new homes are built, then there is less of a need for them. Instead of fighting the solar push, they upped the game. Thousands of acres of dessert land are now home to millions of dusty solar panels. While this might seam great at first, the “grid” has passed its critical peak efficiency. Line loss, weather, maintenance issues and the like make the grid less efficient in a world of solar panels. Solar farms aren’t the best choice.
Democratization of Power
A while back California changed the game too. They made the default choice for new electric customers a locally run “CPA” or Community Power Authority. While this looks like a move in the right direction, it really isn’t. As long as I can remember the city of Los Angeles has managed the water and power for it’s residents. In some ways it is better, in others it isn’t. A CPA appears to be the worst of both options.
Solar panels let the homeowner become a micro power company during the day. At night they need a battery or they need some power from the big grid companies. But if the grid companies are depending on solar too, where does the power come from at night. There is the flaw.
Economies of Scale Fail
There used to be a thought process in American business the bigger is always better. That isn’t always true. To be the most efficient and use the least amount of fossil fuels, the best thing we can do is to run solar every where we can and micro power plants that can start up quickly when solar goes down. Large scale energy storage is still a challenge, but there are some options hitting the markets and large scale electric storage may become a reality.
When a big power plant fails, it effects a much larger area. Hence the threat of rolling brown outs and black outs in California. If we had more solar on roof tops, with local micro generators and storage, the problem could be solved. In a perfect world, a CPA would simply manage and maintain the micro generators and storage. If enough people added larger batteries to their homes, we could very likely have real, local power that worked and kept working. Sadly that doesn’t keep the managers at big power gainfully employed.
SCE Changes The Rules To Cope
This month I got my “annual true up” bill. I have never had this before because we make way more electricity than we use. After over an hour on hold, I received the explanation that was basically, we need your money, you owe it, pay it. The call center operator said it perfectly when he said “Sir, I don’t make the rules, I just explain why you have a bill.”
So being the nerd that I am I went back two years and analyzed all the bills. SCE made one simple rate plan change that hit everyone in their area. Super off peak was gone, and there is a new “peak window” from 4-9 or 5-9 each eventing as the sun sets. The time it starts depends on your plan. Either way I bet you are wondering why your electric bill is up.
With the new rate plan, my home generates electricity at half the cost during the day, and I pay nearly twice as much at night. Now instead of a credit, I get a bill. I use less, make more and pay more. Clearly renewable energy for big energy doesn’t work for regular people. Were was the governor and the PUC when this change happened?