Buildings consume 40% of our energy, most of that for heating and cooling. Almost all of this energy is supplied by fossil fuels, resulting in tremendous CO2 emissions. Building electrification solves this problem. Instead of burning fossil fuels in homes and businesses, we can heat, cool, wash and cook using electricity generated from clean, renewable sources.
San Jose is one of the first cities to establish building codes that pursue a zero net energy policy by strongly recommending all electric new homes. But what about existing homes? To find out first hand what was involved in getting to a zero net energy home, my wife and I embarked on a project to completely electrify our 50 year old home in San Jose.
I’ve done quite of bit of energy upgrading on homes and businesses over the past 40 years. Nevertheless, I checked in with a few friends who had done some electrification of their homes (thanks to Howard, Jeff and Dick). The steps we took mostly followed conventional wisdom: address the easy and cheap items first (LED lights, controls), extra insulation, solar with battery backup, EV charger, heat pump HVAC, heat pump water heater and induction cooktop.
There were only two real hassles with this electrification project. The first hassle is familiar to anyone doing a renovation or maintenance project: finding the “best” contractor for each individual task. Because building electrification involves so many different types of contractors, there is no one “general contractor” who can do everything both efficiently and cost effectively. We ended up with five different contractors: insulation, pool, solar, electrical and HVAC. Since I’m capable of screwing in a lightbulb, I took care of the LEDs lights and controls. The biggest hassle was on the electrical permitting side and coordinating with our local utility. Nevertheless, when everything was done and connected, we are enjoying a net negative (for the year) electric bill — including all of our heating, cooling, cooking and most of our driving.
Perhaps the most rewarding event was when our local gas utility PG&E sent an inspector to our house to find out why the gas meter almost stopped completely! To learn more about electrifying your home or business, please listen to this week’s Energy Show. And if you are thinking about making the switch from fossil fuel home appliances to electrical appliances run by solar and battery storage solutions, take a look at our 10 steps to whole house electrification.
Remember the EV1 – GMs experimental foray into electric vehicles? Although the EV1 was a failure in terms of mass market sales, it captured the imagination of both car and environmental enthusiasts. Tesla’s leadership has proven that EVs can indeed be a marketable product. Now, virtually every automaker has a selection of practical EVs and longer-range hybrids.
Future energy sources in our homes and businesses will be a combination of rooftop solar, battery storage and power delivered by the local utility. Reliable and affordable battery storage has — to date – limited this vision to just solar and utility power. But battery storage systems have been improving rapidly, both in terms of up-front costs and overall performance. Get that image of 10,000 little AA batteries powering the new Mercedes AA class car out of your mind. Rather, envision an easy-to-install turnkey energy storage appliance designed to match up with existing and new solar installations.
To help bring solar installers up to speed on commercially available residential battery storage systems, the team at Cinnamon Solar has scheduled a series of hands-on reviews of commercially available energy storage systems. Reviews are based on the installation and usage of each system using commercially available products and software, provided by manufacturers. The intent is to provide useful real-world experiences to installers, home owners and manufacturers as Behind the Meter (BTM) battery storage systems become more popular.
The Enphase Storage System is a modular AC coupled battery storage system designed for residential customers with and without grid-tied solar power systems. Each modular battery is comprised of a 1.2 kwh lithium iron phosphate battery and 280-watt inverter in a 55 pound indoor-rated wall mounted enclosure.
The Enphase Storage System is ideal for customers who want to store locally generated solar energy or inexpensive grid energy so that this energy can be consumed during peak electric periods, thereby reducing electricity energy charges. Key benefits of the Enphase system are that the equipment is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Since the system is AC coupled it does not require a PV system to operate, and is compatible with the entire installed base of grid-tie PV systems. Note that the Enphase AC Storage System does not provide backup power.
The simplicity and modular nature of the Enphase Storage System make it one of the most straightforward systems to design (with the Enphase AC Battery Sizing Tool), install (with the Enphase Installer Toolkit phone app), operate (with the Enlighten web portal) and maintain. Enphase is an established solar equipment supplier with a reputation for delivering good product and service quality.
For more about the Enphase Storage System, listen up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
At 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon in June, I experienced the second power outage at my Silicon Valley home this year. Then, last weekend a transformer explosion at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power substation left 140,000 people in the San Fernando Valley without power. In both cases these power failures occurred during a 100+ degree heat wave.
According to PG&E, there was a “local transformer issue” in our neighborhood; the Los Angeles utility is still investigating the cause of their transformer failure.
Local transformers are those big can-shaped things at the top of utility poles. Most were installed before electric vehicles were commonplace and when temperatures were a few degrees cooler. So when people crank up their air conditioners and plug in their EVs, transformers can become overloaded and fail.
Power was out in my neighborhood for about 12 hours while PG&E deployed a crew to diagnose the problem and replace the transformer. But the blackout would not have happened if just one more home in the neighborhood had a solar or battery storage system.
The output from that incremental solar or storage system would have supplied the electricity needs of that home — and the excess solar or battery power would have flowed back to the local grid, reducing the load on that transformer and preventing its failure.
High temperatures and new electric vehicle demands are causing outages like this all over California. Solar power coupled with battery storage is the cleanest and most cost-effective solution to this problem, but only if these systems are deployed in the right place.
The challenge is to get the power from remote utility solar plants to the homes and businesses that need it. Unfortunately, the local power grid is the weakest link, and it is expensive to modernize neighborhood grids to meet today’s higher power demands and two-way energy flows.
There are two solutions to modernizing overloaded local grids. The “business as usual” solution is to pay the local utility for upgrades that include bigger transformers, wiring, control systems and battery storage. Unfortunately, ratepayers get stuck with higher electric bills for this.
A much better solution is to encourage homeowners and businesses to install their own solar and storage systems. These customer-owned “Behind the Meter” (BTM) energy systems do not require expensive transmission and distribution grid upgrades. Since investments in them are made by homeowners and businesses, utility ratepayers are not burdened with upgrade costs.
With over half a million solar-powered homes and businesses, California leads the country in both solar power generation and solar jobs. This was the result of public policies that encouraged solar installations. As a result, solar costs have come down so much over the past 15 years that incentives are no longer needed.
We have the same opportunity now with battery storage systems as California moves toward an electric grid powered 100 percent by renewables. Two policies will help us achieve this goal.
First, as other states have done, we should ensure that there are no arbitrary limits on a customer’s ability to install solar and battery storage. Second, we need to reduce the up-front costs of battery storage systems, which are relatively expensive at this early stage of the market.
To jump-start the battery storage market and improve local grid reliability, California has proposed SB-700, the Energy Storage Initiative. It mimics the California Solar Initiative in a way that supports home or business-owned energy storage systems with incentives that decrease as costs decline. With policies like this, electric customers throughout California will be the first to benefit from a modernized electric grid that is both lower cost and more reliable.
Originally published July 12, 2017. Barry Cinnamon is the CEO of Cinnamon Solar and previously founded Akeena/Westinghouse Solar. He wrote this for The Mercury News.
In spite of the fact that it’s neither fast nor furious, the Chevy Bolt is currently the most practical and economical Electric Vehicle. Hybrids (like the Volt and Prius) and pure EVs (like the Bolt and Teslas) have seen phenomenal growth over the past decade. Their popularity will continue to grow as battery costs decline and EV charging infrastructure improves.
The two most important considerations for EV drivers are up-front cost and range. At about $30k (with the $7,500 federal tax credit) and 238 miles of EV range, the Bolt excels on both of these dimensions. The only car that comes close is the upcoming Tesla Model 3 – which is expected to have similar pricing and range. Compared to the Tesla Model 3 the Bolt is more spacious and less luxurious (Car and Driver calls it “dweeby”). But the Bolt is shipping now in volume, and is very likely to become the best-selling EV in the U.S.
EVs are clearly not for everyone. Where gas is cheap or electricity is expensive, a number of ordinary economy cars are more economical than the Bolt. And with gas engines there is no “range anxiety” that concerns almost every EV driver. Nevertheless, the benefits of EVs with 200+ miles of range that can be fueled by clean and inexpensive solar and wind are compelling. There’s no doubt in my mind that our grandchildren will be zipping around in cars that look more like the bubble cars in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” than the rolling living rooms that have been on the roads for the last 75 years. For more about the inexorable trend toward EVs, Listen Up to The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
For over fifteen years I’ve been talking to homeowners who want solar shingles. This is a concept called Building Integrated Photovoltaics, or BIPV. The idea is for the outside of your building — the part that is exposed to the sun — to do double duty: roof shingles or coverings that generate electricity, windows that let some light in but also absorb light and generate electricity, or some kind of wall covering that generates electricity. The hope is that money will be saved by combining two product categories (for example, shingles and solar panels), while at the same time improving the aesthetics of the home.
BIPV is a great concept, but very challenging in reality. I’ve seen dozens of BIPV product announcements, done a number of BIPV installations myself, and then observed almost all of these products disappear from the market. In retrospect, there are three reasons that these BIPV products almost always fail to get market traction:
They are more expensive than ordinary solar installations, even considering the avoidance of ordinary building materials;
They are never as reliable as ordinary solar, and;
They have a difficult time meeting new safety requirements (arc-fault, rapid shutdown, fire clearances).
Nevertheless, intrepid companies continue to innovate BIPV products including solar shingles. I remain hopeful that someone, someday will find a way to solve these problems. For more about the promises and challenges of solar shingles and other Building Integrated Photovoltaics, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
Barry Cinnamon has been blogging about the Solar Industry since 2007.
Barry hosts The Energy Show, a weekly 30 minute talk show that runs every Saturday at 1:30 PM on KDOW Radio AM in San Jose California.
Every week Barry provides practical money-saving tips on ways to reduce your home and business energy consumption.
Barry Cinnamon heads up Cinnamon Solar (a San Jose residential and commercial solar and energy storage contractor) and Spice Solar (suppliers of built-in solar racking technology). After 10,000+ installations at Akeena Solar and Westinghouse Solar, he’s developed a pretty good perspective on the real-world economics of rooftop solar — as well as the best products and services for homeowners, manufacturers and installers. His rooftop tinkering led to the development of integrated racking (released in 2007), AC solar modules (released in 2009), and Spice Solar (the fastest way to install rooftop solar modules).
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