Saturday, March 16, 2019

A successful week off the power grid

I wanted to see if solar + batteries could run our house during a prolonged power outage, so a week ago I turned off the main power switch between the electric meter and our house. 

Simple answer: yes.  

More complicated answer: I want to try it again during the summer when the A/C is running more and the afternoons are cloudier.

With an energy-efficient, 1600 s.f. house, 7.5 kW of solar panels, and two Tesla Powerwall batteries, we did not have to compromise on our use of electricity.  Solar + batteries kept the electric car charged and let us machine-wash & dry the insane number of towels that resulted from three college kids spending much of their spring break at the beach.  

We have never needed to do that much driving or laundry following a hurricane.  My only car trip following Hurricane Irma was a run to South Dade to buy a replacement part for my Honda generator.  The part was back-ordered because everybody else needed the same part.  I mail-ordered the part, so if you want a super-quiet Honda 2000i inverter-generator that's been converted to run on propane, make me an offer.

After a hurricane, we'd be grateful to run the fridge, a few lights, charge the phone, make a cup of coffee for breakfast, and run the air conditioner.  We coveted air conditioning at night, wishing we could close our windows and not be forced to hear or smell the noisy, stinky generators that surrounded us.  Solar + batteries can run our central A/C in style.  

I showed in a previous post that rooftop solar is currently the most reliable and profitable investment you can make, even better than the house it powers.  The average American home-owner doesn't have many opportunities to make money while saving the planet, but solar is one of those.  Solar scores #10 out of the top 100 ways to stop climate change listed by

Back on the grid

Last night, I turned the grid power back on.  I have mixed feelings about going back on the grid.  I enjoyed a week of energy independence from our local investor-owned utility; the same utility that has tried for years to run massive power lines through the middle of South Miami; the same utility that sought PR firms to oppose South Miami's solar ordinance; the same utility that spends millions to suppress roof-top solar; the same utility that pollutes the the Southeast coastal Everglades and Biscayne Bay with their hyper-saline cooling canals; the same utility that forces their maintenance costs onto the public in the form of elevated post-hurricane repairs; the same utility that wants to roll back net-metering; the same utility that spends less assisting low income customers than any other urban utility in the nation; the same utility that is building new gas generators when they should be going all-in for renewable power; the same utility that's seeks to extend the operating license on two aging nuclear plants situated on a heavily populated peninsula between two national parks; the same utility that has asked the county to let them cover a biologically productive lake (best fishing around) with solar panels - that's their idea of solar deployment, to fuck-up something biologically valuable, excuse my French.  

So yes, it felt good to turn off the grid power last week, and I felt a twinge of remorse when I clicked it back on last night.

Grid-tied solar has environmental benefits

As an environmentalist, however, I can say it's best to run solar connected to some kind of grid.  Being grid-tied allows us to share our surplus solar power with our neighbors during peak load times, a practice that displaces more carbon pollution than storing our power onsite, at least while most people are depending on polluting utility power.  

The long axis of our house is oriented north-south, so we have long roof surfaces facing east and west.  We chose the west face for solar installation because it shifts power generation into peak load time, that begins in the late afternoon.  Utilities have to make extra power at that time, and the "peaker" generators that supply the peak demand make the most carbon pollution.  By net-metering at the end of the solar day, we can do more good for the planet than if we kept our power onsite for personal use at night.  That's the environmental benefit of net-metering, and to us, it's worth the monthly connection fee we pay to remain on the grid.  Plus, grid power is good back-up to solar power, and net-metering should make our backup batteries last a very long time. 

But, if Florida's investor-owned utilities ever succeed in killing net-metering, we'll turn off the power switch for good and stop paying our electric bill.  Now we know it's possible.  

Is it legal to go off the grid?

People sometimes ask me "Aren't you required to be grid-connected?"  Yes and no.  The government does not want to facilitate squalor, so a house requires utility hook-ups to get a certificate of occupancy.  On the other hand, if you don't pay your utility bills, the utilities will turn off your service at some point.

Thanks Brad

Let me end the week with a word of thanks to our solar muse, Bradley Stark.  Brad was my first friend around these parts to get solar on his house, and he encourage all of his friends to do the same.  He got an electric car and encouraged his friends to do the same.  He signed up for batteries and encouraged his friends to do the same.  Brad provides me with moral support during the dark hours of politics.  He adopted a cat, though he is allergic to cats.  Turns out even an outdoor cat appreciates the environmental benefits of solar panels.

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