spending a lot of money to get laws passed to discourage solar power and protect utility company profits. In Oklahoma, for example, you can now be charged more for your electrical connection as punishment for having solar or wind power.
The argument utilities present is that customers with solar need some sort of more expensive grid connection. Well, if there are actually any changes required to the grid to support feeding back excess solar power, I didn’t see them being made. We still have the same cable coming to our house. We did get a new electrical meter, but that’s a one-time cost, right? It seems to me that what’s really bothering the utilities is that solar power threatens to reduce the demand for their product. As profit-making companies, they are naturally expected to show growth every year, and that’s going to be hard to do once solar gets even cheaper. In Germany, uptake of solar power has destroyed the profitability of coal and gas power plants, and the Koch brothers are concerned that the same could happen here. Particularly worrying for them is the development of microgrids, where companies get together and set up their own small-scale grids to trade electricity, instead of needing to buy from a utility. Consumer microgrids are expected to start appearing in the next few years; Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, is working on a portable Stirling Engine power generator for powering microgrids.
DEKA stirling engine
So this is where it becomes relevant that Austin is unusual compared to the rest of Texas. Whereas most of Texas has deregulated electricity provided by private corporations, Austin and San Antonio kept their publicly-owned municipal power companies. The first obvious result of this has been that Austin has cheaper and more reliable electricity than Dallas:
For example, TCAP found that the average consumer living in one of the areas that opted out of deregulation, such as Austin and San Antonio, paid $288 less in 2012 than consumers in the deregulated areas. Over the course of a decade, those savings have topped $4,500 per household.
The second important result is that Austin Energy loves solar power. As a publicly owned company, they don’t need to show annual growth; for them, it’s just fine if everyone suddenly buys less electricity. Since solar power is most effective during the hot sunny days that would normally cause electricity demand to peak, more people installing solar leads directly to Austin not needing to build as many new power stations. In Italy, there are now so many solar panels that peak prices no longer occur at the same time as peak electricity usage; the new peak price zone is in the evenings just after the sun goes down. Shifting demand away from the Texas afternoon heat helps Austin to avoid the rolling blackouts that seem to happen in Dallas every summer. All of which helps explain why the Solar Energy Industry Association cites studies suggesting that solar systems do not shift costs onto everyone else; they actually reduce costs for the rest of the system.
To encourage solar power deployment, Austin Energy have a rebate program to help offset the cost of new solar installations, and a solar buyback program based on a Value Of Solar rate, set independently of the regular electrical tariffs.
So, it seemed like I had a good use case for solar photovoltaics, and I had a utility company that was actively in favor of them. The next question was whether there was a good location to install the hypothetical solar panels. Checking via Google Earth I discovered that although our house is surrounded by trees, we had a large area of unshaded roof facing south-southwest. Furthermore, the roof was tilted at almost the perfect angle.
I should probably mention that some homeowners’ associations hate solar panels almost as much as the Koch brothers. Fortunately, we have no homeowners’ association in our neighborhood. There are sometimes snarky comments in the local newsletter about how people’s houses look, but the south side of our roof isn’t visible from the street.
Everything seemed hopeful so far, so it was time to crunch some numbers… (Continued in part 2.) © mathew 2017
© mathew 2017