We've always tried to be reasonaly responsible energy users. I mostly get around town by bike, and my wife drove a little Corolla. Don't use the air-conditioner, even in Sacramento Valley summers. But there has always been this little dream of doing better - a lot better. A few months ago, my lovely mother-in-law, Rita passed on at age 94. Thanks to a frugal life and careful investing, she left behind a modest legacy. Not anything like a life-changing amount of money, but a nice sum we had not planned on and didn't need for anything else. So, her daughter, my sweet wife got to fulfill a long-time dream and become pretty much solar powered.
The first part of the project was a rooftop solar array. This was a little complicated because we have a lot of trees around the house - the reason that we have been able to stay pretty comfy in our hot summers without the AC. And we didn't want to give up the trees, so we had to do some thoughtful siting of the panels and still give up a bit of performance to keep the trees. That's OK - the trade-off is worth it. For anyone interested, we got 20 panels, with a total max output of around 4KW and got it with individual inverters on each panel, a relatively new innovation that made sense to me.
The whole thing is online, so I can now log into the maker's website and see what my system is producing in almost realtime, along with historical trends etc. It's all working well and watching the output is my current favorite TV show.
Here in California, we have a net metering system that lets us sell power back to the utility when we produce excess. We strove for a system that will balance out over the year. Currently in peak summer, it's producing more than twice what we use - which is fine, that goes to run a lot of AC systems. In the winter, we will almost certainly use more than production, but that will be offset (we hope) by our summer overages.
Then today, we picked up the other half of the project, a new Nissan Leaf EV. Very cool little car. The first thing people ask about, of course, is range. But for us that was not really an issue. The Corolla my wife has driven for the last 10 years pretty much never leaves town, and neither will the leaf. We have another car we use for trips that can't be made by transit. So range is pretty much a non-issue for us.
In many ways, I will freely admit, this was an emotional choice for us. I'm dubious that the whole thing pencils out well in a pure dollars and cents way. But we pretty much don't care. This money came to us as a gift and we felt like we wanted to use it in a way that feels right and that we hope is contructive. And in a way, it's reminiscent of the 90s, when all our friends were making large paper gains in the market while we were pinching pennies and paying down our mortgage as fast as we could instead. People told us we were fools to do that, but then along came 2000, the market took a dump and we had a house paid for. This feels a bit like that. I'm sure we could have found more lucrative ways to use that money, but this just feels right.
And I've already had a fair amount of entertainment out of it - watching the salesman try to explain this extremely - almost comically - techy car to my wife who can just about figure out how to answer her cell-phone and still can't figure out how to read a text message on it. The freaking car is in continuous communication with Japan via satellite, for just one example. Fortunately, you really can ignore most of that stuff and just drive it, if that's what you want to do.
As time goes by and we have more experience with both the car and the solar system, I may try to put up an occasional report on how it's going.