Saturday, June 26, 2021

Lower power

It’s now been two entire months since the solar electricity system was installed, and one full month with the device to heat the hot water using only solar power. The results at this point are—interesting. There haven’t been any surprises, good or bad, so it’s been “interesting” mainly because I simply didn’t really know what to expect. The main headline, though, is that the system has saved me some money and, because of that, I’m treading more lightly on the planet.

I saw my June bill on Wednesday, though I didn’t get the official bill by email until the next day. This has puzzled me ever since I switched power companies, as I talked about last month. The electric company I used to have didn’t email a bill at all—it was only available to download, and that online-only version had “ONLINE BILL” on it (though in reasonably sized type size). That also struck me as odd. But, more about those companies later.

Right now, the important thing is that over the four months I've been with the new company, I've saved $38.45 over what I spent with the old company over the same two months last year, and all of that is due to the solar power system. That doesn’t sound like much, however, if I look at only the two months since the solar power was installed, it’s a much different story: I’ve saved exactly $100 over what I spent those two months last year. That ain’t nothing.

In June, I saved a bit less than half as much as I did in May because it's now full-on winter. There have been very few totally sunny days this billing month (third week to third week), and a lot of cool and cloudy/rainy days (and that, in a nutshell, is winter where I live). On some particularly dark and cloudy days, there were times I generated maybe a couple hundred watts (as opposed to somewhere around 3,000 – 3,500 watts, give or take, on bright sunny days). That’s still enough to offset basic use, like when my fridge turns on, but not much else.

That all matters because my electricity use is higher in winter than in summer: I run my two heat pumps 24/7, and the hot water cylinder needs to run a bit more because it’s located in a cupboard in the garage, which isn’t heated. And therein lies another reason I didn’t save nearly as much money this past month as I did the month before: I was running out of hot water.

Back in May, just before that month’s meter reading, I had a device installed to heat my water with solar power only. Things didn’t quite go as I thought.

There was a particularly cold snap earlier this month, and when I took my shower one morning, the water was what I’d call “very warm”: Not cool or merely warm, but definitely not hot, either. At the time, I thought I’d bumped the mixer somehow, and accidentally turned down the amount of hot water I was getting—it’s a bit finicky—but I didn’t bother trying to adjust it (because it’s a bit finicky).

The same thing happened the next morning, and later that evening I was washing a few dishes and noticed the “hot” water was merely warm. I realised immediately what the problem was: Because the days had been so dark and dreary, and the temperatures low, I wasn’t generating enough electricity to heat the hot water enough.

The solution that night was to use the “boost” setting on the new device to briefly use electricity from the grid to heat the hot water so I could do the dishes. Then, before I went to bed I set the device to automatically use grid electricity early each morning to heat the water so I can have a hot shower. That’s worked, however, at a cost: I’m using more power from the gird than I did the previous month, mostly to heat the hot water, and because my hot water heater is no longer on the controlled rate for hot water heaters, the electricity its using is more expensive, too (the controlled rate is roughly 1/3 lower than the ordinary rate).

Needing to use grid electricity for heat and hot water, then, combined with lots of very cloudy days, meant that any saving I might otherwise have seen from solar power generation were eaten up by the power I bought. I think—hope?—that the situation will be exactly the opposite in summer.

One final note on cost v. savings: In March and April, before the solar panels were installed, I spent $61.55 more than I did with the old company during those same two months in 2020—and that covered the period during Lockdown, when I never left the house. Even so, the savings I’ve made over the past two months erased that and gave me that $38.45 savings over the whole four months to date.

The comparisons of what what I’ve been billed by the old company and the current one may soon become complicated—or maybe less so? I recently got an email from the new electricity company telling me they've “conditionally sold its retail business” to—drumroll!—the company I switched from. I have absolutely not idea how that will affect my power bills in the future, but right now there’s no change, and there’s unlikely to be any change until the companies begin to merge operations, assuming they do that and don’t keep my current company as a stand-alone brand.

I don't actually mind the change because Nigel and I chose that former company some 15 years ago, and we were always satisfied with our service and charges. Also, that company I'm being switched back to generates 100% of its electricity from renewable sources (mainly hydro and geothermal, but they're adding wind, too), which, given my values, is a very good thing. I do think this turn of events is funny, though.

At the moment, I’m still saving money, despite the dull, dreary, cool, winter weather, which is nice. I’m also still sending electricity out to the grid, though much less of it. On balance, then, I’m giving more than I take, and that’s exactly the position I wanted to be in.

I won’t worry about the economics of all this in the future until it actually gets here. For now, though, it’s all still a powerful experience.


Roger Owen Green said...

"A powerful experience."
OK, if you insist.

Arthur Schenck said...

I live in hope.