Solar Powered House

Starting next year, the sun will supply about a third of the power used by my house. I have always liked the idea of installing solar panels on the roof and making my own power. I looked for a while at installing a solar water heater, but the water heater system was going to cost thousands of dollars for the panels, pump, heat exchanger, and a plus-size water tank, which would never allow me to recoup the investment since my hot water bill is only about $10 a month. There is a house in the neighborhood with solar panels for power. I looked into that too and I have a south-facing piece of roof that would be good for soaking up the rays. But again, it’s not just the expensive panels to buy and install, but then you have to have voltage regulators that will turn the power into AC and send excess power back to the grid while letting the grid supply power when the sun isn’t shining or demand exceeds the solar supply. Even if I divide the installation costs over a long period and I include federal grants that cover 30% of installation, I don’t think I could ever make a system economical.

If you do install solar power panels on your house you can join a program where you sell power back to Georgia Power for about 17¢ per kilowatt-hour (Georgia Power sells power for about 10 cents per kwh). But right now the program is full and there is a waiting list which will open up as more people sign up to buy more expensive solar power from Georgia power. For Georgia Power’s part, they do not plan on making money reselling solar power, and instead will just be a go-between, buying solar power from people and then selling it to other customers at the same 17¢.

Then today I got an e-mail from Georgia Power saying I could sign up to buy green power. They did this about 10 years ago, but they wanted about 3 times as much for the “green power” which turned out to be power that came from burning methane being emitted by a landfill. If the garbage is going to rot and produce methane anyway, I am glad that someone is burning it (methane is a horrible greenhouse gas, much more potent than carbon dioxide) and producing power, but I don’t want to pay a huge premium for it. I believe most landfills burn the methane regardless, though maybe they don’t use it to make electricity. Anyway, that program didn’t last very long.

The new program has you buy 100 kilowatt-hour blocks of green power. For $3.50 per block you can get power from biomass sources which could include burning landfill gas or wood to create power (Georgia Power buys power from several plants that burn waste wood products). For $5.00 you can get a mix that includes at least 50% solar energy, adding 5 cents to each kwh you buy. You have to commit to buying a block every month for a year. I looked up my power consumption and found that I use about 300 kwh per month, which increases substantially in summer when the air conditioning is going. Because I want to support Georgia Power developing more solar power and because the rate seems realistic, I signed up for 3 blocks of power a month. For 8 months out of the year I should be able to get by on 100% renewable power, and for the year 2/3 of my power will by renewable, at least half of that being solar. And the cost of $180 is a fraction of what it would cost me to put a panel on my house. But somewhere someone else’s panel will be soaking up the rays and converting it to power destined for my house.

6 thoughts on “Solar Powered House

  1. I found out a little more about the program today. The non-solar power is landfill methane, not wood, so that’s good anyway. Also, according to this, Georgia Power’s 2011 power source breakdown was 62% Coal, 23% Nuclear, 13% Natural Gas and Oil, and 2% Hydroelectric. I imagine coal is going down and natural gas is going up (just this week, Georgia Power said it would close some smaller coal plants and switch one to gas). Of note, solar doesn’t even amount to 1%. I still haven’t gotten a bill for this power yet. They said it would go into effect the next billing cycle.

  2. They have an updated product content label for the Green Energy program. Last year, the premium plan was 75% solar, but for 2013, it is only 50%. Solar is getting cheaper, so I’m not sure why the decrease when they have a waiting list of people who want to sell surplus solar power to Georgia Power. It would be really interesting to see what would happen if a ton of people signed up for the Green Energy plan.

    They also updated the breakdown of power sources for 2012-13. Coal is down to 39 percent and natural gas (and oil, which is probably minimal) nearly tripled to 33 percent. Nuclear is 27 percent and hydroelectric is 1%. Solar still doesn’t register.

  3. I got my last bill of 2013. I used 4,533 kilowatt-hours of power in 2013, 3,600 of which were “green energy” kilowatts. So that’s 79.4% of my power consumption coming from renewable sources (half of which is solar). I think conditions were pretty mild, so the power total was down from 5,140 kwh last year, and the lowest total I’ve ever had. Hopefully with the new air conditioner in place all summer in 2014, the total will be even lower.

  4. Today I saw a report at Georgia Power’s website saying that in 2014, the premium green energy plan that I am on was sourced 100% from solar power instead of the minimum mix of 50% solar and 50% biomass (their regular green energy was 100% biomass, which I think is mostly landfill methane but can also be wood waste). That means last year I got 63% of my power from solar. Having used 5700 kilowatt-hours last year, I could have easily used a 4th block to get me to 4800 kwh, but in 2013, when I was mostly on my own I only used 4500 kwh. So I’ll just stick with my 3 blocks I think.

  5. I’m still doing the premium green energy plan, but they are back at 50-50 on biomass and solar. They haven’t posted a 2016 content yet. However, for their regular power, they have really been switching away from coal, which was 62% in 2011 to only 29% in 2015. Natural gas has gone from 13% to 55% of the power source. Nuclear is now 9%, hydroelectric is 5% and the remaining 2% is “other,” which maybe includes solar and biomass and is better than 2011 when there was no “other.” Georgia Power says it may also import wind power to boost its percentage of clean energy since Georgia doesn’t have good stable wind for economical power production. Their latest plans include boosting renewable power by 1-2% of the total each year.

  6. I got an email today saying Georgia Power is replacing this clean energy program with a new one. You can agree to pay an extra penny per kilowatt-hour on 50% or 100% of your power consumption and you will get solar power instead of dirty power (85% of Georgia Power’s supply is from carbon sources coal and natural gas). At 10 cents per kWh, that’s only a 10% premium for clean, renewable energy. I use about 5000 kwH per year, so that would be $50 to go 100% solar. That’s a lot cheaper than it was before (5 cents) so I’m not sure what the catch is. Currently I am paying $180 per year to get at least 50% solar (the rest biomass, so still clean energy) but it only covers about 75% of my consumption. I went ahead and pre-enrolled in the program, which starts January 1.

    I think maybe what is going on is that Georgia Power has made some commitments to the Public Service Commission and others to source more solar power, so they are going to buy or build some number of megawatts of solar regardless. By allowing customers to buy solar from them, they are getting a little extra money for something they were going to do anyway, so it’s like free money. What would be interesting is if more people sign up for solar than Georgia Power is planning to buy anyway (there was an announcement earlier in the year that they would procure 1600 MW of solar production over the next few years, enough to power 250,000 homes). Would Georgia Power increase their purchases beyond their plans? Or would they raise the price to reduce demand and boost profits? I think I know the answer, but if tons of people sign up for solar power, it would be a really good problem to have.

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