Thursday, February 07, 2019

I hope PG&E bankrupts every single one of those solar companies.

Some of you might have read that the electricity provider in my State is having a bit of scandal with those fires up North. They filed bankruptcy last week (I think). But there is also something going on with PG&E I haven't seen anyone talk about and I don't know why.

About a week ago I found out that my government officials decided that I was going to pay for solar if I wanted to or not. They have set up a new "solar energy consortium" or something. Which normally I would applaud because I am for choice. I generally feel like if there is a market for it - you go on with your bad self. If people want to pay for solar without incentives, it's your money.

However, I also feel like if something is great enough - you don't have to force me into signing up. That is something I will do on my very own. When you force me to do something it makes me feel like you are lying about something.

I'd been seeing all the notices in the mail, but didn't pay that much attention because I read it was voluntary. So I moved on with my life until a new charge cropped up on my bill from the "Generic City" Community Energy Company.

Turns out "they" were switching everyone unless you called them to opt out.  Mind you I can't even get an email from someone now unless I sign a for real paper consent form which happened recently at a conference. But they were tossing everyone off of PG&E, and you had to call the solar consortium to cancel. Which I did.

So, I go through the opt out process where the guy tells me I have "two" options to opt out. I can opt out right away, or defer my opt out for six months. Which immediately it flips my bitch switch. I was professional with the guy - but I flat out said - "as a customer you are telling me I am going to get penalized for going back to PG&E".

He says - weeeeeeeeel. We don't really know that. To which I said, yeah but you don't NOT know that either. right? Yes, he replies. We don't know what will happen one way or the other he replies.

I chose to top out right away and take the penalty. This apparently makes me a new customer to PG&E so my electricity rates will go up for about six months. I don't care. I'm mad. But I call PG&E back to see what my damage is going to be. Because this company switched me without my consent! PG&E seems to think it's only going to raise my rates about 12 bucks. But WTF?

I don't know if the solar company was trying to scare me into not changing. I mean, 12 bucks sort of gets lost in the noise. At any rate I don't know if this is just my city because even people in my town don't seem to know about it. I had apparently not seen this charge on my last bill. So even I didn't know.


  1. I work in the energy industry and the PG&E bankruptcy will have a lot of impacts.

    PG&E has a lot of power purchase agreements with solar, geothermal and natural gas fired generators. Some of the older contracts are priced at a multiple of current energy costs on a per kWh basis.

    These contracts, along with various natural gas supply and transportation contracts, will likely be repriced or thrown out during the BK proceedings. It will be interesting to see who survives the shake out.

    Regarding solar, installation costs continue to go down while panel performance is going up, making for interesting economics for behind the meter installation at industrial/commercial locations.

    Utilities are reacting to these solar costs/performance by decreasing the tariff energy rate, but increasing the demand charge. However, improved battery storage cost/performance will put pressure on the tariff demand charges.

    I think that within our lifetime, the electric utilities will go the way of the buggy whip manufacturers.

    If we are able to completely disconnect our house/business from the grid in significant numbers, I fully expect the utilities to ask for an "off-grid" charge to be paid because of "muh monopoly franchise" and we deserve it.


  2. Wow. I have a very interesting crowd here. You go from bunny pictures - to that.

    I agree that panel performance is going up. I imagine eventually there will be a Moores law sort of thing happen with them. But until then I see the panels as sort of crazy. Land is a premium here. Every time I see a solar lot I wonder how many condos can go there. And what they are doing in Chiiina. (yes I misspelled that) Beautiful landscapes covered in panels for not even a depreciable amount of improvement in the environment. They are even covering lakes with them!

    Also... it seems to me that most people who have residential solar don't opt for battery storage. Do you think that is true? I am certainly for starving monopolies though.

    Thanks for the comment. That was really interesting.

  3. That would piss me off so much. Getting switched like that without my permission. To have to OPT OUT of getting switched?!

    We have solar panels on the house, and would like to add more. But we got ours through a local, county run, massive incentive program that (after we got our tax rebate back) means we paid less than $5k for a $20k system. We don't, yet, have battery storage. We'd like to, but the batteries are also expensive as heck, and require proper housing of their own, and more maintenance. Battery technology keeps improving, I'm hoping that we can pull it off before to much longer. Though I've been playing around with the idea of a small battery bank that could potentially run the fridge or freezer for a couple hours, just to get us started.

  4. The economics don't really work to use batteries combined with solar panels for a house. Most people that live off-grid or want a back-up for when the utility power is unavailable use a standard deep cycle lead acid battery (think marine gel type or golf cart battery). These work really well for sump pumps and blower motors for your furnace.

    For larger utility scale projects, a lithium battery is typically used. These economics only work if you can get a capacity credit for the storage.

    If costs do come down such that it makes sense to use lithium type batteries in your home, I would recommend that the batteries be placed outside of the house. If a lithium battery short-circuits, a lot of energy is instantaneously released, creating a significant fire hazard. This is why I will never own an electric vehicle where I have to sit on top of the batteries. Take a look at the electric cars that have burned up to see how much time you have to vacate the car. (the car batteries can short out due to an accident, flaw in manufacturing, flaw in charging, etc.)

    Regarding your other comment concerning land use, assuming flat land with no restrictions/setbacks, one megawatt of solar capacity will require about 5 - 7 acres of area. I can build a 900 MW natural gas fired power plant on 25 acres or less.

    One wind turbine (various sizes between 2 - 4.8 MW) requires less than 1/2 acre for the turbine base. Wind turbines do require a lot of spacing between them to reduce turbulence between them. Rule of thumb is seven rotor diameters (new wind turbines have rotor diameters between 126 - 146 meters) between turbines based on the predominate wind direction and three rotor diameters side to side from the predominate wind direction. The turbines also have to be setback from occupied buildings (1,500 feet typically, varies based on zoning requirements), roads (1,000 feet or so), power lines (1,000 feet or so). That is why you see wind turbines scattered out over a large area.


  5. Ruth - crazy right? I mean, if my husband were to call up and try to switch our power they would deny him because he is not on the account, but this company can just waltz right in.

    BunnyGoat - "If a lithium battery short-circuits, a lot of energy is instantaneously released, "

    Yeah, the last Tesla that caught fire here took (I think) something like 12 hours to extinguish. It kept reigniting. They had to tow it off to a place where it could just burn. So while I do agree battery backup would be ideal, what do we do with them when they fail?

    I do appreciate all your insights.

  6. Capital of Texas RefugeeFriday, February 08, 2019 1:44:00 PM

    BunnyGoat: One of the developments I've been waiting for is for the auto industry to complete making its switch from 12VDC to 24/48VDC power systems.

    That's because a home power system based on 48VDC would have a lot less loss from copper wire shell resistance than a 12VDC system. Telcos and some other utilities use 48VDC data center power systems, but the hardware for those is pricey because they're currently the only buyers.

    Being able to pop over to Pep Boys for electrical parts for a home would be a game changer -- maybe even Lowe's and Home Depot would have to stock 24/48VDC power system parts in their electrical wiring aisles.

    But the big reason for me wanting to put in a 48VDC telco wiring system in anything I'll be buying in the future is because I'll probably be living in an extremely beautiful spot with third-world power systems.

    That's not to say that the "national grid" is non-existent as much as it's essentially like a small-town power system without much in the way of redundancy, and by small-town I don't mean in a good way like with some TVA-backed power systems.

    I'm not looking for a solar system, however.

    I'll be looking for a place where I can build lots of big and high concrete walls so I can stash a few hundred gallons of diesel for some generators.

    The "national grid" is actually run almost completely off diesel anyway, so maybe I can get in on their bulk purchasing action if I can agree to provide emergency backup power to my nearby area.

    Maybe a solar system could back that up, but you can't be guaranteed 1 kW/m solar energy all the time even in the tropics because you have to deal with the consequences of living in a Hurricane Bowling Alley(tm).

    I'm still anti-solar mostly because I'd gone through that crap with Carter, and I'm still waiting for the lying bastard to croak.

    As for wind power, take a visit to some spots in Wyoming where there are wind turbines and ask the locals what they really think about them. There are a few people who think they're generating power and cash for the local economies, but many people know they're harming the birds in the area, and so they really don't like the turbines being there.

    There are apparently right-wing environmentalists as well ... who knew? :-)

    Also, the last time I was in Southern California, I saw lots and lots of wind turbines, but there was something wrong with how some of them were moving, and so I asked an engineer friend what was going on with that.

    "Oh, those turbines are free turning, they're not actually generating power, they've been like that for years."

    So much for that wind power ...

  7. My electric bill for this month is eight times higher the last two month's combined.
    What changed?
    I used less electricity.
    Go figure.
    If they snuck this past me I am going to ram the bill down their anal cavities.

  8. Where I'm sitting solar is magic!

    I use solar but I live in an RV and 12v is how it comes.
    If we are in a place where we can plug in we do but if not we depend on the sun.

    No sun & we have to run a gasoline engine to charge the batteries or do without.
    Batteries, I use flooded lead-acid, I bought them at walmart & they come with an amp hour rating.
    I could use more batteries but I do not have the space. They weight enough that making the existing rack bigger is not a simple thing.

    There are direct replacement lithium batteries (size & volts) but they are still really spendy. Too bad too, you can get a lot more usable amp hours out of them.