Net Metering under attack in NC. Duke Energy seeks to reduce payment for solar power by half

Duke Energy, North Carolina’s largest electric utility, just announced they are seeking to reduce payments for solar power from 11¢ / kWh to 5-7¢ / kWh.  Article here:  http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/01/22/4632118/duke-energy-to-seek-reduction.html

While this may seem like a minor issue, it isn’t.  This would have a devastating impact on the payback period for residential solar.  And it would make going solar uneconomical for residential customers.

For those not familiar with Net Metering:  when a solar system generates excess power, the house electric meter runs backwards and credits build up.  These credits are currently equal to the rate that consumers pay for electricity (about 11¢ / kWh).  So, when the sun is not shining, you get power from the electric company at the same rate.

Seems like a fair trade:  11¢ / kWh for power from the sun; 11¢ / kWh for power from the grid.

Duke Energy is greedy and wants to discount power from the sun as follows:  5-7¢ / kWh for power from the sun; 11¢ / kWh for power from the grid.

Does that seem fair?

Solar power doesn’t pollute.  Solar power is a renewable resource.  And contrary to what power companies say, solar power doesn’t tax or strain their power grid.  Excess solar power flows to your neighbors houses, providing power near its point of generation.

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Visited by an ELF

The Organic Transit ELF

The Organic Transit ELF, parked under the solar carport.

A few months ago, a friend told me that he ordered a solar-powered tricycle (for adults) from a place in Durham, NC called Organic Transit. At first, I thought he was pulling my leg. Then I checked out their website (http://www.organictransit.com/) and a bunch of You Tube videos.

I was impressed. It is called ELF. It has an electric motor, goes up to 20 mph, has 14+ miles of all-electric range and can be recharged by a flexible solar panel on the roof. It has pedals and is classified as a bicycle.

He picked up his wasabi-colored ELF earlier this week, drove it over and let me try it out. It is easy to drive and accelerates surprisingly fast when you switch on the electric motor. Bottom line, it’s amazing.

Here are a few more pictures of the ELF under the solar carport:

P1000929_crop

Note the solar panel on the roof of the ELF.

Note the solar panel on the roof.

P1000937_crop

North Carolina ranked third in total PV installations (Quarter 3, 2013)

This is not something most people are aware of.  NC is a solar powerhouse, ranking third behind California (first) and Arizona (second).  Data are here:  http://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-market-insight-2013-q3

Let’s encourage the NC Legislature to keep up their strong support for utility-scale and residential solar incentives.

Jan. 26, 2014 Update:  The final numbers are in.  NC rose to number two in solar installations in 2013, ranking behind Calfornia and beating Arizona.  Article is here:  http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2014/01/09/nc-rises-to-no-2-in-solar-installations.html

Construction

Since several people asked, here are a few pictures of the solar carport while under construction.

Columns are 8" x 8" pressure treated lumber

Columns are 8″ x 8″ pressure treated lumber.

Carport before columns and crossbars were wrapped in cementitious material (Miratec, Hardiplank or similar).

Carport before columns and crossbars were wrapped in cementitious material (Miratec, Hardiplank or similar).

Installation of panels.

Installation of panels.

Installation of panels (by the guys from Southern Energy).

Installation of panels (by the guys from Southern Energy).

Lumos LSX180 panel.

Lumos LSX180 panel.

First electric bill after solar installation

We just received our bill for the month of November:Nov2012 electricWe generated slightly more power than we used!  The extra 29 kWh will get carried over to December.  Given how much less solar energy we’ve been generating in December (because of reduced sunlight in Dec), we’ll definitely wind up using the credit.

When I received this bill, I was initially a bit perplexed.  I thought our bill would be $0, but instead it was $10.42.  Turns out Duke Energy (and probably all electric companies) charges a “Basic Facilities Charge” of $9.90 / month.  This charge has never been itemized on any of our bills.  Instead, this charge has been added to our monthly electric usage charge.  In essence, it has been hidden or “buried”.

This charge isn’t just levied on people with solar.  Everyone has to pay this monthly charge (if you don’t believe me, check out the rate schedule here: http://www.duke-energy.com/rates/north-carolina.asp).  We are on Residential Service, Energy Star.

Since I didn’t realize this charge was hidden in our monthly bill, I mis-calculated our monthly rate (I had been dividing the cost of the bill by kWh used; and got a rate averaging 12.8¢/kWh).  Turns out, from looking at this rate table, our rate is actually 9.3¢/kWh.

Let’s see what December brings in terms of power generation.  So far, it’s been overcast many more days than sunny.  And winter solstice is December 21.  Once the days increase in length, the power will pick up.

Solar carport finished and commissioned

To see how much power we are producing click here.  The monitoring software tracks energy production hourly, daily, monthly and yearly.

Finished solar carport

A view from above

The final inspection and connection to the grid was fast (took 4 days).  The solar guys then came out to commission the system on 10/30/2012.  Basically, that means they made sure everything was wired properly, they installed the wireless monitoring card and then they turned the system on.

I have to say, solar power is pretty incredible.  From the moment the system was turned on, I could see from the inverter screen that power was being generated.  The system makes no noise as it basks in the sun, converting photons to electrons (electricity).

Based on the first few days of use, most of which were cloudy, we generated more electricity each day than we use on average.

Solar carport almost finished

Sunnyboy grid-tie inverter. This converts the direct current (DC) generated by the solar panels into alternating current (AC) that can be sent to our house or to the electric grid. On days were we generate more power than we use, this “green” energy will be fed into the grid and used by our neighbors.

View from underside. The panels are stunning and allow natural light to pass through. You can also see the blue sky through the panels.

The panels are installed and connected to the inverter, but the whole system is not connected to our power meter.  The power company first has to install the net meter (one that runs forward and backwards).  Also, waiting for our builder to install a gutter to collect water runoff from the panels.  Rain barrels may be in our future.

Everyone who’s seen the solar carport asks the same question.  What is the payoff period?

Answer:

12 years (if you factor in everything except the cost to build carport structure).

17 years (for everything.  Panels, inverter, solar installation, construction, painting, labor, permiting).

The way we look at it.  Regardless of what payoff period is, we now have a carport that a) protects our cars from the elements and b) should generate 106% of the electric power we use.  Two uses for the price of one.  And it looks pretty darn nice.