Category Archives: Solar Power

Solar update

The solar system went live on April 18th, so we’ve had it for about 7 weeks. It’s been interesting, as my awareness of energy consumption has increased dramatically with the monitoring data from the system, and we’ve changed some habits and practices. Also, as “technology” goes, this is dead level easy. Once it’s installed, it just quietly does its job. There will be more later in another post on this “quiet” statement; one side effect is increased RF noise which creates some HAM radio issues.

Now for some details. First, let me say that the system isn’t complete yet, as the Tesla Powerwall battery has not been installed, since it was on backorder. It’s arrived now at the installer, and should be in by the end of June. Also, note that my utility does not support Net Metering, so I have to consume all of my generated power in real time, or store it. Since the battery is not currently in, I’ve left a lot of energy on the table. As we have looked at the consumption patterns, it’s easy to discern when the HVACs run, the water heater runs, the dryer, and other things turn on. We’ve made some adjustments, replaced some lights with LEDs, and we take shorter showers. One of the big items is the battery electric car, a Chevy Bolt. It runs entirely on electricity and has a massive 60 kWh battery. One of the big adjustments we’ve made has been in how we charge the car. Instead of charging as fast as possible, at 7.2 kW per hour, I’ve slowed down the charge to about 40% of that, 2.8 kW. I’ve also set it to charge from 9 to 4 when the solar output is at its highest. The JuiceBox charger makes this easy to manage thru its app. If I need to use the car for long drives on consecutive days, I can increase the rate and draw more from the grid. But if not, let the car capture the sun! The Powerwall, when in, will capture any generated power not otherwise used, and can use that energy after the sun goes down, or for backup power if the grid is out.

So what are the results? We were away from home for 3 weeks in May, so that skews the data, tho the HVACs were on, and we had some construction underway. Here’s the picture so far:

The system has captured, as of this snapshot, 643.55 kWh of power over 54 days. That’s about 12 kWh per day. However, it’s a mix of very low days where 14 kWh Powerwall would have grabbed much more power had it been online, and 20+ kWh days in late May and early June where car charging and HVAC grabbed virtually all generated power. June production, over just 6 days, is over 135 kWh! The projected production with the Powerwall is approximately 16 kWh per day on average.

The car has received 300 kWh over this same time (out of 1.62 mW total consumption), but I think that is slightly understated due to a couple network glitches. Here’s a graph that shows the car charging at 2.8 kW from 9 to 4, with HVAC use skewed late in the day. Note that the house has three relatively old and inefficient HVACs and when these are replaced, the total consumption will drop significantly.

So what’s the bottom line? I think that with the Powerwall the projected production of approximately 5,900 kWh annually is very doable, and I’ll probably exceed that. My savings should be on the order of $600 per year, at current power prices. Assuming modest inflation in grid power, it will pay off in 20 to 25 years. But it’s the right thing to do, and I’ll also have an emergency power system. Also, the instrumentation and data will help to shape conservation efforts over time and that is also a hidden savings.

A fortnight with solar panels

Well, it’s actually only been 13 days, not two weeks, but close enough, since the installation started a couple days earlier. Our system was installed by Southern Energy Management, based in Morrisville, NC, who did an outstanding job. The system installed is composed of 15 REC TwinPeak 290 panels, 11 facing due south and 4 facing west, for a nominal capacity of 4.35 kW. The plan had been for all to face south, but the roof layout and potential for shading dictated the placement. With some of the panels facing west, the peak capacity is slightly less, but the “tail” of power generation is longer in the afternoon, due to the west-facing panels. These are connected to a 6000 W single-phase SolarEdge inverter. I asked for an inverter of higher capacity in case I ever wanted to add a few more panels.

Actually, the system isn’t complete yet, as we’ve got a Tesla Powerwall on order (on backorder, like everything else Tesla makes 😉 ) but telemetry from Southern Energy is that we’ll get it in August, so that’s at least on the roadmap. The Powerwall is an important part of the installation as the local utility does not offer “Net Metering.” This is the arrangement with your utility where you can sent your generated but unused power to the grid and you receive payment for each kWh that you send to the grid. So, we have to use all the power we generate, or it evaporates. That’s where the Powerwall comes in. It has a 13.5 kWh capacity, and absorbs power when you are not using it in the house. The solar system feeds the Powerwall, and the Powerwall then supplies current to the house at 5 kW continuous, 7 kW peak. It will supply power when the sun is down, or if a cloud passes over when a large load comes online. This should enable self-consumption of most of the power generated by the panels.

Currently, we’d be wasting a lot of potential power without being smart about when to run various appliances. For example, run the washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher between 10 and 4 (DST). Take showers mid-day as well, as the water heater is a big power draw. But the big thing is to intelligently manage charging of the electric car. It can hold 60 kWh of power, far more than can be generated, and can accept a charge at up to 7.2 kW. However, the JuiceBox Pro 40 EVSE we have for charging can set various charge rates below its 10 kW maximum, and by spreading the charge out during the sunny part of the day (when you don’t have to charge fast), you can capture much more of the solar power. Here’s a graph that shows this clearly. The JuiceBox is set to charge at a maximum of 3.6 kW.

The large “flat” peak is the car charge from about 0930 to 1530, for about 6 hours at 3.6 kW, or around 21-22 kW of demand. Note, however, that the system peaked at about 3.6 kW for only a short while at “noon” (1 PM DST). The demand from the car, combined with the baseline load of about .5 kW was more than the power that could be generated. The sharp peaks are the water heater, or at 0800 coffee and breakfast, and at 1730, cooking dinner. However, the solar still covered 54% of the house demand, and captured nearly 24 kWh. The Powerwall will work in the same way, capturing power left on the table to cover the overnight hours you can see on each side of the graph. We don’t charge the car every day, and this is where the automatic charge of the Powerwall will be very helpful. Without charging the car, usage that would be covered is more like 5-8 kWh. This, of course, is in a shoulder season without the heat pumps running, and we’ll see how that impacts overall consumption. The Powerwall, however, will ensure that we grab at least 20 kWh or so each day when the sun is shining.

Stay tuned for future analysis once we get the Powerwall in place. It’s really interesting to see how you use your electricity, and it can prompt changes in behavior.